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Stay connected when you disconnect.
We picture camping as getting away from it all. Hitting the open road, unplugging, getting out of touch with reality and in touch with nature. Answering the call of the wild.
But let’s be real. This is the 21st century and we like to stay connected. We enjoy carrying little pocket-sized computers around that can tell us anything and everything we need at any time.
In fact, being without internet of some kind these days can be a major pain. We rely on it for a lot of basic things that we do. Just how relaxing can your vacation be if you’re missing a key part of your life?
Why would you want your RV to have Wi-Fi? Well, the 2019 North American Camping Report from KOA lists these as a few reasons why campers enjoy having the internet around:
- Sharing photos or videos of your trip.
- Researching the area where you are staying.
- Checking in at the location.
- Posting status updates to social media.
- Getting news and information updates.
- Finding out what friends and family are doing.
Relying on campground wifi
We hear you. You’re saying, “Hey, I only stay at campgrounds and any campground worth its salt offers Wi-Fi these days.” You’re thinking, “I don’t need my own. I’ll just use theirs.”
Well, you’re right. You could do that. But we don’t recommend it. Here are three reasons why:
- Getting better signal means staying closer to the campsite office, where it’s busier and more crowded. The farther away you are, the spottier the service.
- Every other camper on site is trying to use the signal too. That’s a breakdown in bandwidth, so your movie will spend more time buffering than streaming.
- Want to try camping somewhere that isn’t a campsite? When you go off-grid, you can’t take the campsite Wi-Fi with you. The best way to experience Wi-Fi is to come packing your own connectivity solution.
There’s a lot that goes into your Wi-Fi decision, so let’s break a few things down.
The 4 Wi-Fi facts to know before you buy.
Most of us are very familiar with Wi-Fi—we’ve probably got it in our homes. But getting it in an RV requires a different strategy, and more considerations. Let’s consider a few facts you should know first.
Fact #1: What is RV Wi-Fi?
As far as the internet goes, Wi-Fi in your RV works just like Wi-Fi anywhere else. You have a phone, tablet, computer, or any other Wi-Fi enabled device, you connect it to the Wi-Fi, and then you do things you would normally do on those devices. You’ve been on the internet before. You know how this works.
Fact #2: How is RV Wi-Fi- different than home Wi-Fi?
As far as application, Wi-Fi in your home or in your RV would give you the exact same product. The biggest difference is where the original signal comes from.
In a home, a cable comes into the house, runs into a modem, then runs into a router that broadcasts the signal throughout the house.
In an RV, the signal is pulled either from a local Wi-Fi network (like what is available at a campsite) or from a data provider like AT&T, then spread throughout the rig.
One more difference is the device. There are products designed specifically to connect RVs to Wi-Fi. And we’re going to tell you about them.
Fact #3: How does RV Wi-Fi work?
As RVers, we’re both fortunate and cursed with multiple devices that help bring Wi-Fi into an RV. We’re here to offer a little clarity (hopefully).
4G LTE Router Vs. Wi-fi Extender vs. Wi-fi Booster
Getting started with Wi-Fi in your RV means considering at least three main pieces of equipment: a 4G LTE router, a Wi-Fi extender, and a Wi-Fi booster.
They all have a role, but what they do is different.
A 4G LTE router uses a data plan through a wireless carrier (like AT&T or Verizon), then routes that signal through the RV. Think of it like your phone’s data plan—there will be monthly charges that, depending on the provider, can cover a set amount of data per month or pay-as-you-go for the data you use.
This subject gets a little muddier when we look at extenders and boosters. Both are designed to perform the same task: provide better coverage. But they’re just a little different.
A Wi-Fi booster tends to work well in homes. It requires more equipment, and by the time the signal gets passed through all of these devices, speeds can be reduced significantly. That alone makes them less than ideal, but when you consider that space is at a premium in your RV, you don’t want to be hauling around extra stuff just to have Wi-Fi, especially when there are better options.
A Wi-Fi extender grabs an existing Wi-Fi signal—whether that’s from the park’s office or from the 4G LTE router—amplifies it, and rebroadcasts it to an even larger area. This lets you get farther from the Wi-Fi source and still enjoy all the benefits. Watch a movie in your hammock. Stream music while you’re fishing. There are loads of possibilities.
Moral of the story? A good RV connectivity solution should include both a 4G LTE router and a Wi-Fi extender.
Fact #4: What do you want in an RV connectivity solution?
Now that you know how RV Wi-Fi works and what to look for in hardware, let’s talk about other considerations for your total connectivity solution. Before choosing, think about the number of people and devices that will be connected and where you’ll be camping most often to help determine the kind of solution you need.
Three options RV campers love in their Wi-Fi solution
- Unlimited Data Plan: Some wireless providers have gotten a little stingy with their unlimited plans. If you aren’t grandfathered in, you may be unlikely to get one. However, some providers do still offer plans through exclusive partnerships. Otherwise, there are options to find a plan that gives you plenty of data, either monthly or pay-as-you-go.
- Multiple Data Plans: Frequently on the move and concerned about those pesky coverage maps? That’s a fair concern. It’s also a reason to consider a couple of different plans through different providers. For example, you can have Verizon on your mobile phone, but use AT&T for your RV. Make your own rules.
- GPS Capability: Hitting a big rally, or a big race, or getting away from the campground for a while? With some Wi-Fi units, you can turn your entire RV into a beacon. With the right unit—and a connectivity app—you can make your way back without getting lost in a throng of other lost campers.
The benefits of RV Wi-Fi
The top 15 reasons to have Wi-Fi in your RV.
- Stream the big game
- Make family and friends jealous of your trip
- Be a food tourist and book reservations
- Don’t let a thunderstorm sneak up on you
- Skype with grandchildren
- Keep the kids from losing their minds when it’s raining
- Turn the folding chair by the lake into your office
- Renew prescriptions
- Pre-purchase tickets for local attractions to skip the line
- Avoid spoilers and keep up with your favorite show
- Double-check what poison oak looks like
- Keep up with the latest world news
- Diagnose (and fix) a problem with your RV
- Plan out a side trip
- Check in on the house
“Campers who say access to cell service or Wi-Fi is important while camping report being able to camp more (an average of an additional six days per year) and take more trips when they have adequate Wi-Fi access.” – 2019 KOA North American Camping Report
How to install RV Wi-Fi
It’s not RV science.
First and foremost, professional installation is available (and sometimes recommended) for any Wi-Fi device you decide to buy. If you’re not a handy type, that’s okay. Most of us aren’t. Before you even start, make sure you have read your manufacturer’s installation guide all the way through and that you have all the required tools and accessories.
Your router and antennae (which may come housed in one unit, depending on what you select) should attach to the roof of your rig to maximize your signal. There will be a few screws, plus you’ll need to run a cable inside. That means drilling holes into you roof—the very thing that keeps your home on wheels dry. So, be sure to seal the holes with whatever approved sealant your RV manufacturer recommends.
Different Wi-Fi product manufacturers may recommend different mounting locations on the roof. No matter where they tell you to attach your router make sure it has a clear line of sight. Anything that may interfere with a signal will impede your Wi-Fi.
Then there’s the power switch. Your product will come with instructions for installing this, but again, if you’re not the handiest person in the world you’re not comfortable messing with power, feel free to have a professional install it for you.
Adding the router or antennae to the roof of your RV will raise the height of your rig. That means the low branches and obstructions you wouldn’t have paid attention to before may now come out of nowhere and knock your brand-new router/extender right off. You’ve been warned.
Camping doesn’t have to mean roughing it. And it definitely doesn’t mean going without one of life’s comforts. It’s easy to get Wi-Fi in your RV, and even easier to have a good trip with it. You can worry a little less, enjoy camping a little more, and focus on relaxing and being safe.
Enjoy your trip a little more, and stay connected.