Connectivity has become an increasingly important aspect of our lives, whether it's keeping up to date with social media, using email and messaging to communicate with each other, or even having a place to turn for entertainment. Our cell phones can access the internet from almost anywhere, and wireless connections are frequent in homes and public areas.
It can be easy to have access to the internet when you're in a fixed location, and you can plug in a wire, pay a bill, and be done with it. But when you're in an RV, potentially traveling across the country, something as widespread as staying connected can become a whole lot more complicated.
And for some people, that's the point. Camping in an RV often provides a chance to get out into the great outdoors and leave tech behind, but not everyone follows that sort of ideal. Full-timers and half-timers like to have wi-fi as a way to communicate with their loved ones back home, and even casual campers can like the added convenience of having quick access to the net, even when away from home.
If you happen to be someone trying to figure out how to get wi-fi in an RV, we've got you covered.
Because connectivity has become such an essential aspect of our lives, it's no surprise that there's more than one way to get wi-fi in your RV. Each option can provide their pros and cons, which we've looked to cover below. The goal is to find the best choice for you!
Satellite internet can provide connectivity for homes outside of the usual installation spots of some networks, so it's no surprise that this option can also offer wi-fi for your RV as well. Generally, these come in mounted satellites or separate units, but the former tend to be better choices since they hook to the outside of your RV without taking up any internal storage space and you can use them on the go.
Working with mounted satellites means that you'll need to pay attention to where you park, plus they can also be expensive with hardware costs alone, not to mention service bills. Even so, an automatic satellite will adjust itself to find the available signal. Since they are such a substantial investment, satellite internet is better for full-time RVers, rather than someone who uses their RV sparingly.
Cellphones have plenty of capability, including using 4G and LTE signals to connect to the net. Most newer smartphones also come with hotspot capabilities, allowing them to turn into a router of sorts and provide internet to other computers and devices. All you need is a data signal, and you can be good to go.
The convenience of these hotspots is that they're readily available, and you can turn them on and off as you like; this option means that you don't need to use more data than you need, and it's a cheaper option in many cases. However, you may not have an extensive wi-fi range, and you can run into data caps if you don't use a specific plan. Also, no signal means weak internet connections, which aren't suitable for streaming videos.
While hotspots can function through your cellphone, you can also purchase standalone hotspots. These tend to work on the same cellular networks as phones; the main difference is that you have a separate device to run the wi-fi connection, without draining your cell's battery in the process. This method also means you'll have a separate bill, generally dependent on how much data you use.
Most of the pros and cons of a standalone mobile hotspot overlap with using your cellphone: you can use them as necessary, you still need a phone signal to make them work, and streaming video isn't as reliable. The main difference is that you don't need your cellphone to carry all the weight. Using a wi-fi booster can help improve your signal as well.
When it comes down to it, not everyone wants or needs an internet connection 24/7 while in their RV. For some people, it's a matter of practicality, and others have their preferences. If you only want to connect at some but not all times, you may not need to worry about putting wi-fi in your RV at all. Instead, you can work with public hotspots.
Depending on the campground you go to, you may find wireless internet access as one of the available amenities. In some cases, the connection is free, while in others, you need to pay an additional fee to use the network. It's something worth researching before you settle down in the RV park for an extended stay.
When looking into campground wi-fi, you also want to pay attention to where internet access can happen; sometimes, there may not be a signal throughout the whole park. If you're paying for the service, make sure you can connect from the area you use; otherwise, you may end up with a waste of money.
The exact connection speed can vary over these networks, just like the potential mixed bag of connecting to public wi-fi in a restaurant or at an airport; sometimes, it's a matter of luck. Free wi-fi can become slow if a lot of people are using it at once, but it's also a matter of the internet provider as well. Once again, signal boosting gear can help here.
For full and part-timers who only occasionally want to check in with their loved ones, keep in mind that you can also use public wi-fi by making a quick pit stop at a café, restaurant, or public library to connect to the net. Then you can log off when you've finished and go back to enjoying the wonders of the open road.
Costs of Wi-Fi in RVs
When it comes to bringing wi-fi into camping trailers, you can usually expect to pay some extra costs for the service. Depending on the rest of your trip budget, that may become the deciding factor in which option you decide to use. Here's a quick breakdown:
● Cellphone hotspots will have varying costs. Many providers will include at least some hotspot use in their regular plans, though there tends to be a cap. If you need more than that, it's usually possible to increase your data amount for roughly ten to twenty more dollars per month, depending on your provider.
● Standalone hotspots also have varying costs, in this case, determined by how much you use them. As a result, the more wi-fi you take advantage of, the higher the bill you'll see. Prepaid plans can provide an alternative if you want to control costs, but they also run the risk of running out of data when you need it most.
● Satellite connections quickly take the most substantial investment, because you first need to install the appropriate hardware into your RV. In some cases, you can be looking at the cost of over one-thousand dollars for initial setup, and then you'll need to account for the monthly service bills, generally starting at sixty dollars. Usually, this option is best for people who don't have very tight budgets to consider.
Which Option is Best for You?
If you're even reading this article, you've likely decided that staying connected is essential while RVing. The question then becomes: which option should you use? We believe there are two critical factors: how much connection you need, and what your budget is.
As discussed above, satellite internet can be a hefty investment, so it's usually best for full-timers that need reliable connections and has the money to spare on hardware, installation, and service costs. Otherwise, you're burning money instead, and installing a satellite isn't an option if you're renting an RV.
However, relying entirely on hotspots can become expensive, mainly if you use a lot of data regularly. If you're the type of RVer that only takes the occasional trip, we recommend trying out working with your cellphone's available hotspot options and seeing if that's enough. Usually, you won't break your cap with occasional use, and you don't need to worry about adding any extra cost.
Additionally, you can choose to trust the public wi-fi available at campgrounds when it's reliable, then use hotspots when prospects don't look good. This approach can give you some leeway in budgeting that doesn't leave you completely stranded if you need to make a connection.
While RV manufacturers haven't gotten around to figuring out how to make wi-fi an included amenity, there's still plenty of options for staying connected on the road—you just need to know how to find them.