Researching Cellular & Wi-Fi Before You Arrive
You've got the gear to connect. You've got the data plans. Now you need to plan your RV or boat travels around finding cellular signal to get a reliable mobile internet experience.
A critical part of successfully navigating a mobile lifestyle and keeping connected is knowing where along your routes you’ll have the best chance of getting online with the gear and plans you have chosen to carry with you.
For those who rely on mobile internet, it can be very important to research what to expect for connectivity before heading out to a new location.
While there is no single source that will give you a definitive answer, there are tools available to help. Finding cellular signal in your travels becomes a lot easier when you learn how these tools are best used together.
Doing a bit of research in advance can go a long way to making sure you'll be able to get online once you arrive at your next stop.
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Finding Cellular Signal Video Overview
A quick video Going over our top tips for finding cellular and Wi-Fi signals in your RV or boat travels:
Here are some handy resources for tracking this sort of information down:
Carrier Cellular Coverage Maps
Each of the carriers publishes their coverage maps on their websites to make it easier for finding cellular signal. Some carrier coverage maps contain more information than others.
Here's where each carrier keeps their maps:
Keep in mind, just because a carrier claims to have coverage - it doesn't necessarily mean you'll get it, or that it'll be usable signal. And nor do carrier maps promise a minimum data speed you can expect.
Many things can impact your signal from the gear you travel with, local terrain, weather, tower congestions and more. Carrier maps don't account for those variables usually, and are derived from computer modeling of the towers they have transmission gear installed on.
And carrier maps can sometimes be a bit.. umm.. optimistic. As their maps are also used for marketing purposes too.
But they're still a good place to start to know what at least where your carrier claims to have signal available. If your carrier claims to have coverage, it means with the right gear you probably can find a way to get online.
Coverage? App for Finding Cellular Signal
Although we can go to each carrier’s maps online separately, we decided to make it easier by bringing the major carriers’ maps to your smartphone or tablet.
Get maps for Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular in the US, and Rogers, Telus and Bell in Canada.
Yep, we wrote an app for that!
Coverage? (available for iOS and Android) allows you to overlay regional or city-level resolution versions of the carriers’ maps so you can create a personalized coverage map for the carriers you travel with and the minimum coverage type (mmWave, 5G Nationwide, LTE, 3G, roaming) you seek.
The maps are stored on device after downloading the app, so you don’t need to have coverage to find out which direction to head when you can’t find a signal.
It’s also useful for planning your next stop to look ahead as to if your carriers claim to have you covered.
Learn more about Coverage? - or download it from your app store:
But do keep in mind, just because the carrier claims to have coverage (their maps are in part marketing), it doesn't mean you'll necessarily be able to get it. Many thing can impact actual signal like obstacles, distance to the tower, your modem, signal enhancing gear and tower congestion.
FCC Coverage Map
In August 2021, the FCC published their own 4G LTE coverage map supplied by all of the carriers online - giving consumers another tools for finding cellular signal.
Again, keep in mind that carrier provided coverage maps don't guarantee that you'll be able to get signal.
Crowdsourced Coverage Maps
There are resources out there that aggregate crowdsourced cellular signal and speed reports.
Crowdsourced apps and websites use actual real-world user signal reports to build a coverage map for finding cellular signal and anticipated speeds. And then this information might be used by more advanced crowdsourced tools to geolocate where cell towers might be located.
These resources rely on user data, so to aid in collecting that data, they often utilize a smartphone app that measures signal on your device and then reports that back to the database.
If you're interested in fleshing out if where you're planning to be will have signal - and what towers are nearby, crowdsourced tools add depth to your intel.
Here are the major (and free!) crowdsourced tools and apps:
- OpenSignal - http://www.opensignal.com
- Has both an iOS and Android app.
- Speedtest Function
- Estimates direction to connected cell tower
- Shows device data usage
- Option to disable automatic submission of signal data.
- Option to contribute signal data in the background.
- RootMetrics - http://www.rootmetrics.com/us/
- Has both an iOS and Android app called ‘CoverageMap’.
- Their coverage map shows general signal quality in 10km (6.2mile) blocks - not as useful for finding coverage at very specific locations.
- Option to contribute signal data in the background.
- Cellmapper - https://www.cellmapper.net/
- Only has an Android App.
- Shows tower location information, tower signal sectors, supporting bands, MIMO, and several other tower characteristics.
- The App map can show which specific tower your device is connected to, assuming the tower is in the database.
- Option to manually upload collected data.
- Displays low-level cellular network information data along with frequency band calculations (for some providers and device dependent).
- The site can be confusing to use, but they do have a beta test with a simpler interface at https://www.cellmapper.net/testmap/.
Of course, with crowdsourcing, the maps are only as useful as the data they collect from users of their apps.
These resources tend to have good data for urban areas where they have a strong user base. But, when you get to smaller cities, the maps can show no coverage at all (even when there is coverage!)
Also, it's important to note that these apps may not be representative of the actual signal or data performance you'll get in a location. The reports are based off of the gear used for collecting the data. The gear you have could give you better or worse results simply because of the modem specifications, external antennas or boosters you might have in your mobile internet arsenal.
For those venturing off the beaten path, it's wise to also supplement crowdsourced maps with the carriers' maps and campground/marina reviews.
Many RVers and boaters also depend on a solid internet connection, therefore you’ll frequently find reports of cellular coverage (and Wi-Fi performance) hidden within campground reviews.
Here are some of our favorites:
RV & Camping Sites:
- Campendium – This review site includes specific fields for reporting the number of bars received from each of the major carriers in their reviews (reminder: bars don't necessarily equate to data performance). Campendium's premium members get additional tools, such as a basic LTE coverage map overlays and coverage filters. All users can filter by whether a park offers free/paid Wi-Fi or not.
- FreeRoam - An app and online tool for finding campground locations also included basic LTE coverage map layers for the major carriers (date of maps not disclosed, and the maps require an internet connection to work).
- Recreation.gov - The booking platform for federally owned parks, such as National Forest campgrounds and Corps of Engineers parks. There is an area in their review section that shows camper-provided ratings of cell coverage for each carrier, which the service then 'conglomerates' into an overall 'rating'.
- Freecampsites – A database of remote camping and RV boondocking options, and asks reviewers to report their cellular signal for each carrier.
- CampgroundReviews – This is one of the longest-running review sites, and fellow RVers tend to leave coverage reports in their reviews. The Features & Amenities section for each park also indicates which carriers have coverage, and they also have a space to report campground Wi-Fi. Their app allows users to report speed tests.
- RVParky – RVParky.com is a review site where you might find cellular coverage mentions within individual reviews, although they don't yet feature a filter feature for cellular coverage. You can filter by if a park offers free/paid Wi-Fi.
- All Stays - Their app and website also has reviews where past campers may have noted the cellular coverage.
- RV Trip Wizard - Their routing tools include campground reviews with coverage reports, however it is a paid resource.
- The Dyrt - A camping review website with a focus on tent camping, but inclusive of RV parks and campgrounds too. There are no specific areas to report cellular coverage or experience or search by it, but it might be mentioned in some reviews.
Marina & Anchorages:
- ActiveCaptain - Boaters share their experiences on an app and website, and mentions of internet availability are often included within reviews.
- Waterway Guide - Boaters share their experiences on the website, and mentions of internet availability are sometimes included within reviews.
With crowdsourced reviews, the information is only as useful as the information being shared.
User submitted reports can have a lot of variability and could require parsing through a lot of written text about a campground. Details about a mobile internet connection could be hidden amongst reports on the bathhouse or playground.
Also not everyone has the same mobile internet needs, therefore what is one camper's great experience may not be yours.
For instance, some may report in very general terms like 'I was able to work' or 'I was able to stream Netflix'. Or a review may report a solid connection if it was possible check e-mail, but not mention video conferencing. And some may include what gear they have that made a connection possible, which can have a huge influence on performance.
Also keep in mind when the review was made, cellular technology is rapidly advancing and things can change in a matter of months in some locations.
And of course, don't just read reviews - leave your reviews to help other travelers plan!
Conclusion: Research In Advance
If it's important to you to know where along your route you'll have a good signal, advance planning is important. There are plenty of research tools available to help you, including carrier maps, our Coverage? app, crowdsourced apps, as well as online campground and marina reviews.
There's unfortunately not a one stop shop for knowing exactly what to expect at a particular location, but using multiple of these resources together can help.
Which is why we consider the most essential tool in your arsenal is having REDUNDANCY of options to try at each location.
Cellular Data Guides
Cellular data is a BIG topic, and there's a lot to understand to pick the right combination and gear, plans and signal enhancing options for your needs.
Check out some of these further resources we offer:
For More Cellular Data Plans:
For more on selecting cellular data gear:
For more on getting the best cellular service:
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