Will I Be Able To Get Online? Tips for Travel Planning Around Connectivity for RVers and Cruisers

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 a signal.

For those who rely on mobile internet, it can be very important to have this information before you head out to a new location.

Thankfully, there are tools available to help, whether your goal is to connect via cellular or Wi-Fi.

It pays to do some research in advance!

In this Guide:

Video Overview

A Quick Video Going over our top tips:

Here are some handy resources for tracking this sort of information down:

Checking the carriers online maps:

Coverage? App

Got Coverage? - Create a personalized coverage map on your phone or tablet.

Although we can go to each carrier’s maps online separately, we decided to make it easier by bringing the four major carriers’ maps to your smartphone or tablet. Yep, we wrote an app for that!

Coverage? (available for iOS and Android) allows you to overlay regional 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 (LTE, 4G, 3G, 2G, 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.

Got Coverage?

Get it on Google Play


Crowdsourced Coverage Maps

Just because a carrier claims they have coverage, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find it. Cellular carriers publish coverage maps, but they aren't always accurate for some locations.

Additionally, mobile internet users may want specific cell tower location information to aid in aiming antennas or general travel planning which is information the carrier's don't advertise or publish.

There are some wonderful resources out there that aggregate crowdsourced signal and speed reports and create a coverage map based on what other customers are actually seeing in certain locations - we generally call these resources 'crowdsourced'.

Crowdsourced information can provide real-world experience reports of coverage and cell tower location.  Crowdsourced apps and websites use actual real-world user signal reports to build a coverage map.

More advanced crowdsourced tools can then use this information to geolocate cell towers and even determine the sectors for individual towers.

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. Which means that these constantly running apps can rapidly drain your device's battery and also result in increased data usage.  Additionally, there are potential privacy concerns since you are sending data, including your live location, to a third party.

But, 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 info.

Here are the major (and free!) crowdsourced tools and apps:

  • Sensorly - http://www.sensorly.com
    • Has both an iOS and Android app.
    • Speedtest Function
    • Map Trip feature to track coverage and tower changes along a route.
  • 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!)

This discrepancy is why we created the Coverage? app - which will have a better guess at where coverage might be based on carrier maps.

Cellular Tower Finding Resources

If you know you'll likely need to enhance a cellular signal in the area you plan to be - or if you've arrives and realized 'hey! I need to enhance this signal!' - knowing where the nearest cellular tower is can be very helpful.

Get the Book

The only sure-fire way to locate the local cell tower is to visually sight the tower, then point your antenna at it and see what happens. And if you can't visually spot it, slowly rotating your antenna 15, 30, or 45-degrees at a time (depending on how precise you want to be) - and running a full round of speed tests at each direction until you find the optimal point - the most accurate method.

While not sure-fire, you can try to shortcut the process by using online databases like CellReception, AntennaSearch, or Cellmapper to try and locate your nearest cell towers. These databases are often incomplete and since cellular carriers often lease space on privately owned towers it is often impossible to figure out which carrier is broadcasting from where.

There are some apps that claim to show your nearest cell tower - our favorite is OpenSignal. But again, these apps also rely on crowdsourced data - and especially in remote areas they are not always accurate and are sometimes downright wrong.

Also, the OpenSignal app only shows towers for the carrier in the device you are connected with - so if the app is on a T-Mobile phone, you will only see T-Mobile towers. This is not too helpful if you are trying to optimize the signal for your Verizon Jetpack.

Sometimes it is actually easier to go drive around visually hunting for towers on the horizon and within range.

Campground / Marina Reviews

Since so many RVers and boaters depend on a solid internet connection, you’ll frequently find reports of cellular coverage (and Wi-Fi performance) hidden within campground reviews. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Campendium – This review site includes specific fields for reporting coverage on each of the major carriers. This site tends to be frequented by bandwidth hungry RVers, and lists commercial, public and free camp spots.
  • Freecampsites – A database of remote camping and RV boondocking options, and asks reviewers to report their cellular signal for each carrier.
  • RVParkReviews – This is one of the longest running review sites, and fellow RVers tend to leave coverage reports on rvparkreviews.com.
  • RVParky – Another popular review site is RVParky.com where you might find coverage mentions.
  • All Stays - Their app and website also has reviews where past campers might have noted the cellular coverage.
  • ActiveCaptain - Boaters share their experiences on an app and website, and mentions of internet availability are often included within reviews.

And of course, don't just read reviews - leave your reviews to help other travelers plan!

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This article is part of our 'Mobile Internet University' classroom, an included benefit for our premium Mobile Internet Aficionados members.

The course is designed to be self paced, walking you through our content on selecting cellular data plans, equipment, signal enhancing, Wi-Fi, satellite, routers and more.

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