If you are traveling, and especially, if you like to go boondocking off grid in your RV, you often won’t have cellphone service, or an internet connection. That is a simple fact. In order to optimize your chances of getting cell service while on the road, and while off grid, most fulltime RVers go with Verizon or AT&T, because they have the widest coverage, as well as the strongest signals. Check your area coverage maps for all the cell providers in your area, but if you plan on travelling West of the Rockies, or in more remote areas Back East, I’d strongly recommend Verizon or AT&T.
Another thing to consider, certain activities online can burn up the GBs faster than others; streaming video, online chat, and Skype will put you close to burning up your plan faster than anything. (Downloading longer videos from You Tube will cost you fewer MBs than streaming. You can get a video download plugin on your Firefox browser.) Uploading a lot of video and audio files will also burn up your GBs. So be aware of your useage, and keep track of what you need to do when, as far as uploading. Be aware of your limits on data. You can supplement some of your online activity, making your data plan go further, by using public WiFi, such as public libraries, Starbuck’s or McDonald’s, or at the campground. It is also a good idea to use a “VPN Tunnel”. VPN stands for, virtual private network, and will encrypt your activity when on public wifi networks. The Firefox browser has VPN plug ins available, and you can also subscribe to VPN services.
In addition to looking at your provider’s cell coverage maps, a good thing to do, especially in rural areas, is to find out where the cell towers are. Getting as close as possible to a tower will ensure a better signal. CellReception.com has cell tower maps, and there are other cell tower map sites too. One more thing to consider, park your RV as high up as possible, and line of sight to the tower; being in a rocky valley can block a cell signal.
Cell Tower Maps
Cell Coverage Maps
You can also get a cell signal booster, designed for a car or truck, which can bring up the number of bars you have, either on your phone, or your internet hotspot. The SureCall Fusion 2Go RV Kit is a very popular brand of cell booster. This has an exterior antenna to put on your roof, as well as a booster to keep inside, to which you will connect your device. These can be pricey, but they also can be well worth it in order to stay connected. I have a 4G SureCall fiberglass antenna on the roof, and it definitely makes the difference between a weak signal and a better one.
But what about satellite internet? Many think the logical solution to the internet problem is satellite internet; unfortunately, at this time, it’s not as practical as it sounds. Satellite internet can actually be slower than 3G/4G, and you will need to spend quite a bit of money for the equipment (new, at least $1,500) The equipment can take up an entire shelf or cabinet inside your RV. Most satellite internet providers are also geared to stationary set ups, and will charge more for mobile service. It is do-able, but if your goal is to live in an RV so you can live more affordably, satellite internet may not be the answer.