mobile-internet-overview-guide-for-rvers Internet access is almost as essential as water, power and sewer access for RVers, some would even say it's more essential.

It's an amenity that is vital in keeping in touch with loved ones, earning an income, remote learning, entertainment, making new friends, travel routing and remote banking.

The options for keeping online while RVing are quite different than those available while living in a fixed location.

It is not going to be anywhere near as easy as just "plugging in" to cable or DSL like you might in a fixed location home.

Can you get online reliably everywhere, fast and inexpensive? Probably not.

But being online nearly everywhere and most of the time is within reach with a little pre-planning and understanding your unique needs for internet access.

This 24-minute video and following article is a quick overview of the options. Follow the links to even further information we offer here on the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center.

On the road, you will be battling:

  • Intermittent and variable connections.
  • Varying speeds – from frustratingly slow to blazingly fast.
  • Bandwidth caps.

If your livelihood absolutely depends on keeping connected, you will have to carefully plan your mobile life around this need and prepared to be adaptable.

Assembling Your Arsenal

There is currently no one single technology for keeping online that is appropriate for all the different situations mobile users might find themselves in. Each RVer usually ends up with a slightly different approach that best fits their travel style, needs and budget.

The most fundamental key to successfully staying online while on the road is having multiple pipelines ready to be tried at each location.

Cellular, WiFi or Satellite? Which is right for you?

Cellular, WiFi or Satellite? Which is right for you?

When Plan A is out of range or overloaded, Plan B suffers a hardware failure, and a tree is blocking the signal to Plan C – what will you try next? How many back-up options do you need?

Each individual solution has its pros and cons, and will be more ideal in some locations than in others. Your ideal arsenal is going to be very personalized and dependent upon several factors including:

  • How important is the internet to you?
    • Are you running a business, working remotely and/or home schooling?
    • Do you just need e-mail, banking, trip planning and staying in touch?
    • Do you want to be able to stream video content?
  • How much internet data do you need each month?
  • How many devices do you need to keep online?
  • What is your style of travel
    • RV Parks? Boondocking? Driveway Surfing? National Parks?
    • Will you stay places a few days, a few weeks or a few months?
  • What plans and devices do you have now?
  • Your budget?

The cost of staying connected can add up quickly, between upfront equipment purchases and monthly fees.

Free and cheap options will have trade-offs for convenience. And even expensive options come with frustrations. Even if you bought every gizmo, gadget and plan out there - there will still be days you could find yourself without connectivity.

Here’s a quick grid that shows the benefits of the primary ways to getting online:

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 3.00.07 PM

2016-now-available-adThe Mobile Internet Handbook

For much more information about mobile internet for RVers, check out our 243 page book on this subject. It's the textbook that goes along with this resource center.

It goes into more depth on each of these options, and expands to talk about adjusting your expectations, managing your bandwidth, shopping for plans, entertainment on the road, international travel, equipment selection & installation, signal enhancing, routers, bringing these solutions together and much much more.

Available in PDF, Kindle, iBooks and Print.

Cellular Data

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.51.28 PMCellular data is probably the easiest and most accessible option in most places across the USA. Many RVers depend on cellular data as the core of their mobile internet connectivity.

It's truly mobile, can be extremely fast (sometimes even faster than cable modems!) and is much more secure than relying on public WiFi hotspots.

Cellular data allows you access to the internet anywhere your devices can get a cellular signal from your carrier(s). More than likely you’re already carrying a cellular-equipped mobile internet device – such as a smartphone or tablet. And those devices may be able to get your computer and other devices online by tethering or using personal mobile hotspot.

You have to choose which carrier(s) you want, which plans make sense, what equipment to purchase, and how much speed and data you actually need.

And you might need extra equipment or boosting gear to optimize utilizing cellular in remote locations.


Cellular coverage now reaches into some pretty remote places and has gotten amazingly fast. You can even see speeds in excess of 50 mbps (and you can also get speeds slow as molasses)!

Nationwide Carriers

four-carriers-which-is-best-for-rversThe first choice to make is which carrier, or carriers, you should get service with to best cover your mobile data needs.

In the US, the four major nationwide carriers are:

  • Verizon
  • AT&T
  • Sprint
  • T-Mobile

If you were living stationary in one city or neighborhood, you could ask friends for their experiences with their carriers to determine which would serve you best. But as a traveler, you will be moving around a lot – and in different locations, different carriers excel.

You need to pick carriers & plans that are well suited not just to your home turf, but also for all the places you plan to go.

For most RVers, Verizon has the most nationwide coverage, AT&T following closely behind. T-Mobile has become an interesting secondary carrier with their unlimited data plans and coverage in Mexico & Canada - but their coverage is still far behind the Verizon. And Sprint really only can keep an RVer online who sticks close to bigger cities.

For more information: Guide to the Four Carriers - Which is Best for RVing?

Unlimited Cellular Data Options

unlimited-cellular-data-options-guide-for-rversThe downside of cellular, is most data is sold by how much you use. If you need a lot of data, it can get quite spendy. For instance, a 50GB Verizon plan goes for over $225/month!! (50GB of data is a fairly conservative full time RVing household data budget .)

If you think you'll regularly need more than about 20GB of data a month, it's definitely worthwhile seeking unlimited data.

There are options on all of the carriers, however many plans come with 'gotchas'. Like only being unlimited use on a smartphone (ie. you can't use 'personal hotspot' to get your laptops online too), or network management practices that might slow your speeds after a certain point.

While there are several unlimited data options out there, here are the best we know of for each carrier:

  • Verizon - A grandfathered unlimited Verizon plan is by far the best option for most RVers who need lots of bandwidth and nationwide high speed coverage. They don't throttle speeds and allow for tethering/hotspot use. The options for obtaining these plans are a bit complex and always changing, and monthly rates vary from $45-250.

    For more information: View our: Guide to Verizon Unlimited Data Plans.

2016 Warning: Verizon has sent termination letters to some out of contract high usage account holders, and many of the corporate account holders renting/leasing lines.

If you're considering this path, make sure you keep up with this developing story here:
Guide to Verizon Unlimited Data Plans

  • AT&T - Their direct unlimited plans are for data used only on the smartphone with no personal hotspot allowance, and only available to DireTV/Uverse customers. There are prepaid rental options available from resellers ranging from $65-200/month.
  • T-Moblie - Starting in September 2016, T-Mobile offers their T-Mobile One smartphone & tablet plans with unlimited everything, including data - but with lots of restrictions on mobile hotspot use.  Their older 'Simple Choice' plans include Binge On free video streaming - for as little as $35/month.
  • Sprint - Sprint's direct smartphone unlimited data plans only include 5GB of mobile hotspot usage. However there are options for Sprint unlimited mobile hotspot data plans starting at $10/month (yes, $10 - we didn't miss a 0).

For more options & information: Understanding Unlimited Cellular Data Plans

Selecting Your Cellular Devices

The Netgear AC791L for Verizon

The Netgear AC791L mobile hotspot (Jetpack/Mifi) for Verizon

After picking your ideal carriers, you next have to choose what equipment you're going to use to access your cellular data to use it for keeping your laptops, computers, TVs, game systems and other devices online.

There are several options that will convert your cellular data to your own personal WiFi hotspot, or even an ethernet hardwired network:

  • Dedicated cellular modems like mobile hotspots (Jetpacks, MiFis) and USB modems.
  • Hot spotting off a smartphone or tablet.
  • Mobile routers for more advanced networking capabilities.

For more information: Guide; MiFi/Jetpack, Smartphone Hotspotting or a Mobile Router?

cellular-to-wifi-guideRelated Guides:

Cellular Signal Enhancing

cellular-boosters-for-rvsYou may find that cellular signal strength can vary quite a bit while traveling. A cellular booster or antenna can help make a weak signal stronger, giving a better internet surfing experience.

They can turn a frustrating slow connection to a very usable and fast surfing experience. Even sometimes fast enough to stream video.

For most RVers, it's best to go with one designed to be mobile. These will be able to run off 12v power, (so an inverter will not be necessary if you plan any dry camping) and are designed for the smaller space of an RV.

For more information: Mobile Cellular Boosters for RVs Overviews

In some situations however, using an antenna directly plugged into a device that has ports may yield better results and actually be cheaper.

Related Guides:

Public & Campground WiFi

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.52.11 PMOften the cheapest, and easiest way to get online is to use public WiFi networks.

Many libraries, coffee shops, RV parks, stores, breweries (yay!), motels, municipal parks, and even fast food restaurants now offer free WiFi. There are also plenty of paid WiFi networks to be found too such as Boingo and Xfinity.

Though WiFi has the potential to be blazingly fast, some shared networks can be horribly overloaded. A public WiFi hotspot is highly dependent upon their upstream source of internet (cable, DSL, satellite, etc.) and on how many people are sharing that connection.


In some cases, the upstream connection may actually be little better than old dial-up modems. In some remote places, the upstream connection may actually BE a dial-up modem!


Campground WiFi Realities

Although you would think that a campground that advertises “Free WiFi!” as prominently as it does 50A power hook-ups would actually have worthwhile WiFi, many RVers have discovered that this is often not the case.

Generally, if the WiFi is managed decently enough, it is common for RV park WiFi to be good enough for checking email and doing some basic surfing – generally all that most RV campground patrons are assumed to really need.

It's rare to find campground WiFi capable of supporting video streaming, large file downloads (such as OS updates, back-ups to the cloud), VPN connections and other things that more and more RVers are needing to do from the road.

Just one or two people streaming movies over a shared WiFi network can grind the entire network down to a halt for everyone else. More and more parks are placing restrictions on high bandwidth activities to maintain a usable network for all.

Extending WiFi Range & Mobile Routers

Tip: Before investing in WiFi repeating gear, take your laptop or tablet closer to the access point. Your signal will probably improve, but do some speed tests and some surfing - does your experience improve?  If it does, then in that particular location an extender might help you at your RV. If it doesn't improve, then the internet provided at this location likely isn't good to begin with.. and there's nothing you can do to improve it.

The other major limitation of WiFi is range. Most WiFi hotspots fall off to unusably slow connections just a hundred feet away from the base station - or 'access point'. Many RVers want to utilize WiFi in their RVs - which is where extending gear can assist.

There are a lot of options for WiFi extending equipment ranging in price and features.

And there are inexpensive products that can just sit in a window and perhaps increase your range just enough. Some just plug into your laptop, and some can create their own new WiFi hotspot for your RV (a feature called 'WiFi as WAN').

For even further range, there are stronger antennas that mount on your roof, ladder or a pole outside your RV.
There are also options for mobile routers that can bring multiple internet sources together (such as cellular and WiFi), and connect all of your devices. Most routers intended for home or office use don't have features that support WiFi as WAN or cellular inputs.

There's a whole range of packaged equipment with solid firmware & customer support (pricer), to do-it-yourself configurations for those not afraid to experiment (cheaper).

Related Guides:

Selecting a Mobile Router – Bring Mobile Internet Options Together and Creating a Local RV Network

WiFi Extending Guide (coming soon!)


Other WiFi Options

There are of course other places to pick up WiFi than a campground - such as when driveway surfing with friends & family, in the parking lot of a business that offers it to their customers (please do be a customer if you utilize this option - buy a coffee, beer or sandwich), or if you hold a subscription to a WiFi network like Boingo, Xfinity or one offered by your cellular carrier


Satellite Internet

First: Satellite TV and Satellite Internet are DIFFERENT

The internet bundles you might see advertised by DirectTV and Dish Network are actually usually partnerships with local cable or DSL companies (or stationary satellite service from Excede), and meant for stationary use only. Your satellite TV package will not able to deliver two-way internet connections that are mobile.

satellite-internet-for-rvers-guideBefore cellular internet and prevalent WiFi hotspots became the norm, satellite internet was the ultimate option for getting online at better than dial-up speeds while mobile..

Cheap and increasingly widespread cellular 3G and 4G has eaten into the advantages of satellite, so now fewer and fewer customers are willing to put up with the costs and considerable headaches.

There are currently two satellite options available capable of delivering usable internet speeds for those who really want a solution for going off the beaten path.

  • The MobileSat DataSAT is a roof mounted auto-aiming dish with an installation cost of around $6500 and unlimited data plans priced by speed (ranging from $79.99 - 409.99/month).
  • RTC's HughesNet Gen3 / Gen4  is a tripod for $995, with a 18-month service contract of $99/month for 20GB of data.

Additional Info:


Other Internet Alternatives

With some creativity and compromise, you may find other ways to stay online that include:

  • Subscribe directly to Cable or DSL internet from your RV site. If you're willing to stay in one place for a while, this can be a great option to get fast and unlimited internet. Seek out RV parks and mobile home parks that cater to seasonal and long term stays. They won't likely advertise this feature, but if they offer cable TV at the site, then sometimes you can just call the cable company and have them come out and hook-up cable internet too with a rented cable modem.
  • Borrowing bandwidth from friends as you driveway surf.
  • Co-working spaces in more urban areas - rent a desk for a day or a week and utilize high speed bandwidth galore!
  • Amateur Ham Radio for non-commercial communication.

TMIH-AdGet the Book!

For much more information about mobile internet for RVers, check out our 243 page book on this subject.

It goes into more depth on each of these options, and expands to talk about adjusting your expectations, managing your bandwidth, shopping for plans, entertainment on the road, international travel, equipment selection & installation, signal enhancing, routers, bringing these solutions together and much much more.

Available in PDF, Kindle, iBooks and Print.


Other Resources we Offer:

MIA-final_FullColor webIs internet essential to your RVing lifestyle?
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It's designed for those who rely on mobile internet for their RVing lifestyle.

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Overwhelmed by all the options? Want help figuring out what is right for you?

We do offer personalized mobile internet advising where we help you assess your needs based on your unique goals, travel style, internet needs and budget.

We then create you a customized shopping list for the products and services you actually need.