Off-Grid Mobile Internet Connectivity for RVs and Boats
Being off the grid doesn't mean you have to be offline. In fact, some of the best internet can be found while boondocking in an RV or anchored out in a boat.
Finding that secluded boondocking spot with no one else around, no sounds, no traffic, no neighbors, endless beautiful views and fast mobile internet views is an experience like no other.
Getting out in the middle of nowhere is one of the pure joys of RVing or boating. The electrons cranking out over solars, wind or generator; you're a self-sustained entity.
The freedom gained by boondocking or anchoring out in a dispersed location with ample internet connectivity can be addictive. Many nomads, after a successful stay in a secluded area of the desert or an out of sight cove, find themselves scouting our their next off-grid location soon thereafter.
Boondocking involves the art of living for short or long stints in your nomadic rig off the grid. You supply your own power, water, and waste storage - and your own mobile internet connection.
Not all boondocking spots are quiet or secluded; some present other perks, like being low or no cost, having proximity to an area that you desire to explore further, or presenting the opportunity to overnight when no other options are available.
Boondocking Internet Challenges & Joys
Being off-grid is often accompanied by many joys - small and large.
While not always the case, many boondocking or anchoring spots are free of charge or cost very little.
Some boondocking or anchoring spots provide solitude and/or amazing views. Others, like Walmart of Cracker Barrel parking lots, provide a spot to refuel on sundries. Still others, like the tourist parks that dot areas in Idaho, provide quick access to small-town laundromats and bakeries for a few days.
Often, if a boondocking or anchoring spot is actually 'out in the boonies,' it will provide you access to a cellular tower with less congestion than the tower in town. If you're boondocking outside of a business - like Walmart or in a plaza with a Starbucks, you might even get a bit of access to free Wi-Fi. (It's always a good practice to patronize the place if you use their Wi-Fi!)
But, there are also challenges that come with boondocking or anchoring out and maintaining connectivity.
You'll need to be extra cautious of your power levels, monitoring battery charge on smaller devices, and making sure the power source that is supplying any larger devices - like routers - is in a condition to maintain their function.
While the dramatic terrain that sometimes accompanies some of the 'wild' boondocking or anchoring spots is a delight for the eyes, it can be an impedance to the signals that we rely on for connectivity.
And then there are those spots that are wild in both natural features and lack of cellular towers altogether.
Mobile Internet Options for Boondocking
There are three primary ways nomadic RVers and cruisers successfully maintain mobile internet connectivity: cellular, Wi-Fi, and satellite.
We have a fully fleshed out resource section on mobile internet options for those who are just getting started with the possibilities, which we recommend exploring further here:
Each way of connecting will have different applications, advantages, and challenges while off-grid camping that we dive into deeper below.
Cellular Data for Boondocking Internet
Cellular data is currently the best option for getting connected while boondocking or anchoring out near land. This is especially true for those who are looking to explore off the beaten path - but not too far off the beaten path.
If you're dreaming of spending some time out amongst the wild horses of Wyoming, or on the shore visiting dolphin pods in the Intracoastal, you'll likely want to plan around using cellular data.
There are three primary components to a cellular data setup:
- data plans
- signal enhancing strategy
All of the above facets of a cellular data arsenal will come into play when making plans to boondock or anchor out, and will likely be the main components of your mobile internet system if you rely on mobile internet while traveling via RV or boat between boondocking and anchoring spots.
Because cellular data is the most likely system you'll use to get connected while off-grid, we have the most information to share about this.
Choosing Cellular Carriers for Boondocking
There simply is no single network that works best everywhere; a hang-up for those that truly desire to go everywhere with internet access.
All of the nationwide carriers have strengths and weaknesses in various locations across the country. And each offers different plans & policies that make them more or less suitable as a mobile internet solution for boondocking.
As a boondocker or an anchor-outer, you need to consider what carrier - or, more than likely, what combination of carriers - will give you coverage and data in the places you want to visit with internet.
The major difference for each of the carriers is how widespread their coverage is nationwide. And for those relying on cellular-based internet as they move around the country. LTE coverage is important to consider first, and 5G will be what matters in the years ahead.
In the USA, the current four major nationwide carriers are:
- Verizon - Has the most nationwide LTE coverage, and is usually a top pick for travelers, although frequently congested. In early 2022, their 5G mid-band coverage should increase substantially.
- AT&T - Close second to Verizon in terms of LTE coverage but also generally less congested. Their 5G long range coverage beats Verizon's.
- T-Mobile - Still third in nationwide LTE coverage, but strongly leading the race to 5G in long and mid band.
- Sprint - Acquired by T-Mobile in 2020, the two networks & customers will be fully merged by July 2022. Sprint customers can elect to become T-Mobile customer with their THX program, and many Sprint based plans roam onto T-Mobile towers.
Coverage Map Comparison
Below is a quick comparison of the four carrier's native LTE & 5G (the darker color) coverage maps, taken from the January 2022 HD Map update from our app, Coverage?:
For more on the carriers for RVers & Cruisers:
We wrote an app for that!
Coverage? overlays the carrier's coverage maps so you can create a personalized map to better plan your travels around connectivity!
While the carrier's maps may be 'optimistic' at times, using the carrier's maps is a great complement to also checking site-specific crowdsourced resources.
For a full overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the current major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, and the combined T-Mobile & Sprint) in the U.S. as they relate to mobile internet for RVers, cruisers, and frequent travelers seeking an on-the-go home internet replacement, see our guide:
All of these notes really add up to our number one recommendation when it comes to roaming by wheeled or ruttered home while maintaining an internet connection:
For anyone venturing out of main thoroughfares on occasion - or frequently - the best line of defense against the dreaded inability to get connected is creating a redundant mobile internet arsenal - including when it comes to the plans you carry on board. We recommend having plans on multiple carriers if cellular data is your main source of connectivity.
Our full guide on the strategy of Redundancy:
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Cellular Internet for Boondocking
From choosing cellular carriers to planning your boondocking locations around the carriers you have onboard, cellular is the most popular option for mobile internet- even amongst those who seek out areas off the beaten path. With the help of signal enhancement - and some research on what to expect and how to react, cellular can often keep you connected.
Wi-Fi Internet for Boondocking
Wi-Fi might not be an option when you're way off the grid, but for those evenings spent in urban locations - having Wi-Fi extending gear onboard your vessel is a consideration to reach public sources.
Satellite Internet for Boondocking
Those who dream of anchoring out or boondocking way out off the grid may consider satellite internet, but should also be aware of the current options - and the future of what to expect.
Power Consumption for Internet while Boondocking
Off-grid living - even for short periods - requires consideration for your power system, and whether it is ample to support not only your everyday power needs - but also that of your mobile internet system. This section dives into considerations for picking your gear to match your boondocking power setup.
Internet Access while Boondocking Summary
Being off the grid of public amenities presents both joys and challenges, including in the realm of internet connectivity.
The good news: in many places that nomads choose to anchor out or boondock - including those that are truly out of the way - maintaining a solid mobile internet connection is achievable.
With initial and ongoing research, and a willingness to learn and test systems that may be novel to you, you are likely to find yourself streaming and conferencing - or at least emailing and route planning - out in the boondocks.
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