RV Internet Explained! How We Get RV Wifi on the Road

sitting outside RV with internet hotspot device

People often ask us how we are able to get good internet while traveling in our RV, especially since our jobs depend on the internet. However, recently the number of people working remotely has exploded. And in just the last few weeks, we found ourselves answering this question on the daily with other guests at the RV park we were staying in. It seems many people weren’t quite prepared for the challenge of working from an RV and finding solid internet. So, we decided it was time for us to share exactly how we get wifi on the road!

** This post was originally published in 2020 but updated in 2021 **

The Benefits of Having Internet Access While Traveling in an RV

While many of us dream of being out on the open road and traveling in our RVs, campervans, or whatever type of camping setup you have, a lot of us are still used to our comforts of home. Let’s be honest…we all want to have our cake and eat it too. And why not!

For Leisure

Like after a fun day of exploring the Great Sand Dunes National Park and then being able to come back to the RV in the evening chill out while watching Netflix. Or maybe catching up on the newest show that everyone’s talking about on Hulu. Or maybe you are like us and enjoy playing music from our online Pandora or Spotify lists. And you can’t forget YouTube (which we are on pretty much all the time for music and videos!). 

For Working

For those who travel and live full-time in their RVs, there’s also the working aspect like we mentioned above. When it comes to working in an office, you take for granted having high-speed internet connections for doing a lot more than just checking emails. Many programs are internet-based, including project management tools, as well as Zoom calls and so much more!

Honestly, it’s impossible for most of us to work nowadays without a great internet connection.

For Safety & Communication

Then, there’s the general communication and safety side of things. Just being able to stay connected to your friends and family easily. Sharing photos and videos of your travels and making sure everyone knows you are safe and reachable if necessary wherever you are exploring.  Or being able to contact someone for help if there’s an issue. 

For School

And finally, for those with families who live full-time in an RV…they might need great internet access in order to do online schooling!

The point is, having an internet connection is almost mandatory in today’s world And we are all SO used to it! So even when we are out traveling it’s critical to have good wifi for our RV!

But the kicker is…RV Internet it’s much easier said than done!!!

How to Get Internet Service / Wifi in an RV – Do I Need a Service Provider?

If you are residing in a typical dwelling, such as a house or apartment, people will usually have an internet service provider. Often times it might be the same company that they get their cable TV or satellite TV through. Companies like Comcast, Xfinity, or other cable providers usually have internet packages.

But these are not mobile internet options, so you cannot take them with you in your RV.

However, there are other types of technology where you don’t need to have an internet provider and you can actually get mobile internet through devices that you bring with you in your RV.

Essentially, it’s Mobile Internet.

 

Types of Mobile WiFi Internet Options: Satellite vs. Cellular

There are a few different types of mobile internet options to choose from. The first option is to go with satellite internet. This was initially what we considered, just because it was the first thing that came to mind. Our original class C RV that we first purchased already came with a satellite mounted on top, and we often see these same satellites at the various camping stores. As long as you have a mobile dish or a dish that’s mounted on your RV, then you could get a satellite package that would work. Popular satellite TV & internet packages for RVer’s can be bought through Dish as well as a few other companies. 

However, after doing some research we discovered that we could actually get internet through the cell networks just in the same way you use data on your phones. Think of it like this, many people can actually turn their phones into a hot spot – where you broadcast the data signal from your phone and tether other devices to it (like your computer) to use the internet through your phone. Now, your phone isn’t intended to always be used as a hot spot. So another option is to buy an actual hot spot device, which is designed exactly for this purpose! 

What is the Best WiFi for an RV?

It’s tough to say what the best wifi for an RV is because it depends on where you will be traveling/staying and your budget. The good thing about satellite internet is that you can get a satellite signal in some pretty remote areas where you don’t get a cell signal. That is a benefit for people who really like to be off-grid and out in some rural areas. However, satellite tends to be more expensive – at least from what we found. 

Our RV Wifi Set-Up: How We Get Internet in Our RV

After doing a ton of research and comparing different options, we decided that cellular internet was right for us because we felt that satellite internet just wouldn’t be worth the cost for us.  Plus, we just don’t really watch a lot of TV. In fact, we haven’t had cable TV in over 6 years (and have never had satellite / dish TV). Over the years we usually just watch TV through the internet anyway – such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and YouTube. 

So for us, we felt like cellular internet was the way to go! We found a number of packages and devices that were affordable and would give us the flexibility that we needed. 

Wifi With Cellular Hot Spot Devices 

In order to have cellular internet, you will need to have some type of cellular hot spot device. As I mentioned before, you can actually use your cell phone for this or even a tablet (if you have cell service on it). However, this is not ideal for long periods of use because your phone could get hot. So if you really plan to use the internet a lot, I recommend investing in a proper hot spot device.


What is a Hot Spot Device & Can I use a Wifi Hot Spot in an RV?

Basically, a hot spot device is a type of mobile router where you can put in a SIM card but it’s used just purely for data (not for making phone calls). And yes, these devices are perfect for RV travel!

The great thing about these hot spot devices is that as long as you have cell service with that provider, then you will have internet access. So that means you could be in California, then drive to Colorado, and even Florida — all with internet access. 

And just like you may use your cell phone when traveling down the road in your RV, you can also use your hot spot device! For example, just the other day we were driving down into Florida and I needed to hop online and do some work. Josh was driving and I was in the passenger seat, and I set up my computer and was working on the internet while cruising down the interstate!

However, you will need to consider the package and provider that suits your needs best. Below are a couple that we have.

Verizon RV Internet Hot Spot & Plans

The very first hot spot and mobile internet plan we got was from Verizon. We actually bought a Verizon JetPack hot spot a few years ago from Amazon. Then we went to our local Verizon store in Denver and told them we needed to buy a data package for the hot spot. 

Neither of us had our cell phone plans through Verizon, although we could have gotten that too and bundled it. However, they did offer a pre-paid data plan specifically for the hot spot. We purchased that and were able to reload it with however much data we needed. So for example, we could buy 20 GB of data, and then we it ran out we could just reload with more.

It was a good option when we were just traveling on weekends in the RV or for extended vacations. However, once we started traveling and living full-time in our RV we realized we needed an unlimited plan so we didn’t have to keep reloading.

AT&T RV Internet Hot Spot Options (Netgear Nighthawk)

Another option is to go through AT&T. They have a number of packages and hot spot devices available for purchase, just like Verizon. However, through some fellow RV friends in Facebook Groups, we discovered a company called OTR Mobile.  They are a reseller and had unlimited AT&T internet plans specifically for mobile internet needs like ours! 

We could have brought our own unlocked hot spot device to them, but we decided just to buy a combination plan and device through them. We purchased a Netgear Nighthawk MR1100 as well as a monthly unlimited plan subscription, which auto-renews every month. 

* NOTE: OTR Mobile Now Works with T-Mobile, although we still have a grandfathered AT&T plan with them.

However, if you buy an unlocked Netgear Nighthawk device, then you could just get a data-only SIM card plan through numerous other providers too (not just OTR). As the popularity continues to grow, more companies are offering these types of plans to support travelers who need internet just like us!

Do I Need to Buy a Hot Spot or Can I Use the Hot Spot on My Cell Phone?

Yes, you can use your hot spot on your cell phone!  The hot spot on your cell phone works the exact same way as the cellular hot spot devices do, which we mentioned above. However, you must make sure that your cell phone plan allows this feature. I know some people with certain carriers who have to pay for a “hot spot” as an add-on feature. So be sure to check.

If your phone is super fast and you have a lot of data, then you might just be able to use your cell phone hot spot and “tether” your computer to it if you need to send emails, etc. 

For example, my parents don’t use a ton of internet and they don’t stream. But they travel half of the year in their RV and often need internet for small things like checking emails and sending documents, etc. For them, they don’t really need to invest in an expensive device because their cell phone hot spot works just fine. 

However, Josh and I work full-time even when we are traveling and we tend to use a lot of data! And it can overload our cell phones. For example, we use the hot spots on our phones a lot — but when we need to download or upload big files, we find that our cell phones get too hot and are a bit slow. So that’s when we’ll switch to the dedicated hot spot device rather than our cell phone. 

Can I Just Use the Internet at an RV Park?

Oh, don’t we all wish!  Many RV parks today advertise “high-speed internet” to attract guests. It’s a good idea; however, in reality, it just isn’t something you can depend on. Most of the time this “high speed” internet isn’t much to get excited about. Plus, if there are a lot of people staying at the park and people are trying to stream, then the bandwidth will get sucked up and you won’t be able to use it.

This is super important to know, especially if you work from your RV! I can’t tell you how many times we have heard other campers vent to us at how they get kicked off of Zoom calls and can’t even download a file from their email on the RV park’s WiFi. 

I’m telling you now, never depend on it. Great RV park WiFi is awesome if you have it, but it’s a nightmare when it doesn’t work and you don’t have an alternative!

Understanding Bandwidth…

If you are not familiar with bandwidth, let me explain. Imagine a pipe where water is flowing through, like your drain from your RV. It’s only so big and can only hold and process so much water at a time.  If a bunch of people tried to connect to your RV’s drain pipe (imagine they could)…then you have to share limited space with a lot more people and their water. 

The drain can only handle so much at a time, so if everyone was running their showers, doing dishes, etc. then it’s possible that the drain could back up and not flow very fast to empty the water!

That’s because the pipe can only handle so much at a time…or else you will need a bigger pipe!

It’s the same idea with bandwidth and processing information. If lots of people are using it at the same time and lots of information is going back and forth, it gets clogged up and will go slow.

What’s an RV Wifi Booster & Can I Just Use That?

Ah yes, we get this question a lot! A lot of people will see these advertised online, like on Amazon, and wonder if they might do the trick. That answer is…it depends!

But first, let’s understand what a wifi booster (or wifi extender) actually is and what it does. Because we find that a lot of people get confused!

1. You Must Have an Existing Wifi Signal to Boost

A wifi booster is a device that basically helps to amplify an existing wifi signal to make it stronger in a certain area. So right away you can see the first issue — you must have an existing signal! If you have no internet connection or no wifi signal of any kind, then you can’t boost anything!

However, wifi boosters for an RV can still be beneficial for some travelers if they know they will have a signal and want to make it stronger. For example, if you are camping at an RV park that has wifi but you are parked quite far away and have a weak signal then you could use an RV wifi booster on your rig to make that signal stronger.

So yes – wifi boosters on your RV can work. 

2. Boosting Crappy Internet = Expensive Not-Quite-as-Crappy Internet

However as mentioned in the previous section, RV park wifi is often not very good in general. Even if you can boost the signal, you might still have trouble because of the bandwidth issue that we mentioned earlier. 

Think about it, most RV parks are not in the internet / co-working business. Internet is considered a “perk” for many of them because it’s not their core business or revenue stream. So a lot of them won’t pay to upgrade to blazing fast internet that all their guests can use for free!

At the end of the day, our experience is that if the RV park internet is crappy to begin with, then an RV booster will just give you an expensive and maybe a bit stronger crappy signal. 

But that’s just our experience and opinion! Feel free to do whatever you feel is right for you. We know a ton of people who invest in wifi boosters for their RVs!

What is the Difference Between a Cell Booster and a Wifi Booster & Which is Better?

This is a GREAT question…and a really important one too! People also hear about these or see them on Amazon and get a bit confused. A cell booster is similar to a wifi booster in concept, but instead of boosting wifi it boosts a cellular signal!

Think of it like this, you are in the mountains and only get 1 bar of service on your Verizon cell phone. However, if you installed a cell booster then the system will amplify that signal and maybe you could boost it to two or even three bars — which could greatly improve your service. 

However, just as your wifi booster needs to have a wifi signal to boost…your cell booster will need an existing cellular signal. If you are in a complete dead zone with absolutely no cell service, then there’s nothing to boost!

To summarize:

Cell Booster = Boosts Existing Cellular Signal

Wifi Booster = Boosts Existing Wifi Signal

Which is Better, a Cell Booster or a Wifi Booster?

Okay, here’s where things get tricky so I’ll do my best to explain this as easy as possible. As we mentioned above, wifi booster will only boost existing wifi signals. So it’s possible that if you are at an RV park and the RV park’s wifi is not very good or you are sharing with a ton of other people, then having a wifi booster might not do you a whole lot of good. You could still be “boosting” bad internet. 

A cellular booster (such as this WeBoost that we use) actually boosts your cellular signal. So — if you are using your OWN dedicated hot spot device for your own internet that runs from cellular, then having a cell booster will actually help you speed up your own internet through the cellular system. 

Does this make sense?

For us and especially for those who are full-time RVing, we highly recommend that you do not depend on 3rd-party wifi, such as that from an RV Park. We recommend that you bring your own personal dedicated network with you via a cellular hot spot device. So buying a cellular booster will actually help you to improve your own internet, whereas a wifi booster may not.

If you had X amount of money to by one of the other, we recommend buying the cell booster instead (if you have your own cellular internet hotpots that you are using).  Below is the WeBoost system that we use. This is a cellular booster that improves our cellular signal, which we then convert to internet through our various hot spot devices. 

You WILL Need Good RV Internet for Full-Time RV Living & Have Back-Ups!

One thing to keep in mind is having backup options, especially if you are full-time RV living and working from the road. This is true for us because we have really important work and clients, who we have to be available for. So we never want to be caught with poor internet, if we can help it!

For that reason, we have all the major US networks covered.

Our primary internet is through our Netgear hot spot on an unlimited AT&T plan. However, just in case of an emergency, we also still have our Verizon JetPack that we use as a backup. In addition, my cell phone is actually through T-mobile and I have an unlimited plan with hot spot capabilities through my phone that are pretty fast if I ever need to use it (and I have). Lastly, Josh’s cell phone is through AT&T too.

So you can see, we have our bases covered just in case. 

Click to Watch Video Below – I Explain all of This in an Easy-to-Understand Way!

 

Great RV WiFi Means We Can Do So Much More!

Having great internet in our RV means that we can travel, work, and live in our RV just how we did back in our house! We are able to do our work, have Zoom calls with clients, upload videos to YouTube, and even stream Netflix, Hulu, and more! In fact, both Josh and I can be streaming at the same time! As long as the cell service is strong, we really don’t have hardly any problems with our RV internet with this setup.

 

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