Mobile Internet Tips for Working Remotely from an RV

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So, you want to work remotely while traveling ...

For most RVers who work remotely while traveling, internet is not a luxury - it is essential.

For many in this category, internet access is more important than water, power, or sewage hook-ups.


What is the BEST mobile internet solution for working remotely?

The answer: Whatever works best at your current location!


Not the specific 'aha!' answer you were expecting?

The truth is, staying connecting takes a bit of work.

But, it's nothing that you can't handle. In fact, there are plenty of folks who are currently working remotely while traveling the North America by RV.

The options for accessing the internet while traveling full-time 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.

And the caveat of needing reliable, fast internet access in order to maintain your income and lifestyle puts added pressure on creating a set-up that supports these needs.

Can you get online everywhere, reliably, with high speeds, and for cheap? Probably not.

But, being online nearly everywhere and most of the time for an affordable price is within reach.

Staying online while working and traveling is completely doable if you're willing to plan ahead, be flexible, and build up a solid internet arsenal. Your travel style, your internet needs, and your budget will all be factors in creating a set-up that works to support you.

This guide is meant to give you an overview of the considerations and options for building and refining an internet arsenal that will support your remote work tasks.

We strive to offer unbiased mobile internet information
specifically for RVers by RVers.

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In this Guide:


Video: Mobile Internet Tips for Working Remotely

This 50-minute video is an archive of a webinar Cherie & Chris (founders of RVMobileInternet.com) co-hosted with the Escapee's RV Club on May 18, 2017.

It covers our top tips for mobile internet considerations for working remotely.

We highly recommend checking out all that the Escapees RV Club offers - they provide resources on many aspects of the RVing lifestyle; from education, domicile, mail forwarding, community, advocacy, parking options and more. Of particular interests is their Xscapers club, geared specifically towards the working aged RVer with job boards, tax & accounting information, health insurance information and an amazing community of like minded RVers.

 


Assessing Your Needs for Working Remotely and Traveling Full-Time

A reality you will face while traveling and working remotely:

What works best for you in one place, may not work best in the next.

Therefore, there is no singular 'best solution' for all mobile internet situations.

If you're staying in one place for a long period of time, you can find what works best in that location and optimize for it. It's not much different than moving into an apartment or house in a new location.

Mobility, however, presents some unique considerations, especially for those who require internet connection. If you want or need to move locations fairly often, you need to be prepared for the reality that what works best will change each time you relocate.

For travelers who don't rely on internet to support their career or income stream, we often suggest starting with the basics and adding on as you need enhancements. However, if internet is essential to your way of life (and supporting that way of life!) then we suggest being as prepared as possible - or at least having contingency plans in place when internet access refuses to be had.

On the road, you will be encountering:

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

With planning (and some flexibility), most limitations of mobile internet can be overcome.

Considerations to Make in Assessing Your Needs

We all have different requirements for our mobile internet - from the tasks we need to accomplish to the adventures we want to have. This why the intersection between affordability, reliability and flexibility can be evasive.

When considering your setup, there are a variety of needs and desires to contemplate:

How do you like to travel?
  • Do you yearn to park out in the 'boonies' where no one will come knocking for days? Or are you a city-slicker, preferring to be near to modern conveniences (and also better access to internet)?
  • Do you like staying put for months? Or do you move along every few days or weeks?
How Critical is a Constant Connection?
  • Do you need to be connected from 9-5?
  • Does your line of work allow for breaks in connectivity?
  • Do you have scheduled meetings to attend?
  • Can you work offline at times and upload work when you are able to get back online?
What Activities are Required for Your Line of Work?
  • Do you do video work?
  • Large file transfers?
  • Remote desktop activities?
  • Do you require a VPN?
  • Is your work mostly text files?

Work requirements can impact the speeds you need to be able to maintain, the amount of data you need to be able to tap into and the reliability needs of your setup. Someone who just needs to upload a few text files on their own schedule can have a very different setup than someone who needs to be in several video conference sessions a week.


Redundancy

We've said it before, and we will say it again and again - there is no 'one size fits all' answer to what is the 'best' mobile internet option. However, we do have a best practice suggestion for anyone who relies on mobile internet daily: Redundancy.

Don't jump out of an airplane without a reserve parachute, and don't try to work online from the road without at least two ways to get online.

Redundancy is having multiple options on board for gaining internet access. Redundancy is key in building the most reliable mobile internet solution.

Example of a redundant mobile internet approach:

  • Having two or more cellular carriers on board (we often see folks with 3+).
  • Cellular signal enhancing gear to optimize the performance.
  • A device or router that can access public/private WiFi hotspots.
  • Openness to seek out a cafe or coffee shop for a little free WiFi with your lunch.

Why is redundancy so important?  Think of some of possible ways your connections might fail you:

  • The signal for your main mode of internet connection may be too weak at your current location to utilize.
  • You download a firmware update to your mobile internet device that renders it an expensive paperweight.
  • You literally drive over your antenna. (Oops)
  • A huge RV pulls in next to you and blocks the line of sight to your internet source.
  • The cellular tower you're connected to may be scheduled for maintenance and go offline right during your critical video conference call.
  • Your cellular device could reach it's data limit just moments before you get all your files uploaded.
  • There's a big event in town, meaning the cellular towers at your current location are painfully overloaded.
  • A hotspot devouring Tyrannosaurus Rex appears out of nowhere, and devours your hotspot. (Ok, maybe not, but...)

 Why WiFi Likely Won't Be a Primary Mobile Internet Source

Often the cheapest, and easiest way to get online is to use public WiFi networks. But it may not necessarily be the most reliable or the fastest.

Public WiFi is more often than not summed up in one word: disappointing. This is especially true if you have high-bandwidth needs for working remotely.

Many campgrounds advertise free or paid WiFi. Though WiFi has the potential to be extremely fast, many shared WiFi networks are overloaded, causing slow speeds and variable connections.

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

For many remote workers public places with possibly decent WiFi may not be ideal. Will your client or boss be able to hear you over clinking glasses and patrons cheering their favorite sports team while you are on a video conference? Do you have the ability to focus on your work with your table neighbors catching up on their gossip?

If you're in a location with a library, you might be willing to tote your laptop and set-up for the day. But how long can you go without your full workspace if it includes a large monitor or ergonomic desk?

Security Issues & Public WiFi

Remember that public WiFi spots are just that - public. Who knows what that random stranger sitting next to you is running on their computer? That cute old couple a few seats or rigs down from you could be part of the Russian Mafia. Ok, ok, maybe they aren't part of a nefarious cause intentionally, but, can you be certain that their computers are not running malware or viruses that could be trying to do harm to other computers on the network?

For those who are dealing with confidential data as part of their daily work (i.e. medical records, accounting), WiFi may not be a great option.

But sometimes, WiFi can be totally worth it.

If security issues don't slow you up, you may get lucky with WiFi sometimes!

'The Test': take your device close to the WiFi source and perform the tasks you are required to perform. Is the network fast enough for your needs? Don't forget to take the time of day into consideration, especially at campgrounds/parks. Speeds can be much faster when folks are out exploring the area (and you're home working), but can be reduced to useless by late afternoon/evening.

We have encountered and heard reports of parks with awesome WiFi speeds. These parks have usually invested in backhaul (the amount of bandwidth coming into the campground) - often due to the reality that no cell carriers service the area. Call ahead. Question the park (in depth) about their set-up.

Or maybe you'll be driveway surfing. When staying on a friend or relative's property, having access to their WiFi network can be a real treat - if you can reach the network.

Range is a major limitation of WiFi. Most WiFi hotspots fall off to unusably slow connections just a few hundred feet away from the base station. When you do stumble upon a WiFi gem, you'll may want to have the ability to access the network from your RV.

This is where WiFi extending gear comes into play.

For More Information:

Getting Better Wi-Fi – Selecting Long Range Wi-Fi Extending Gear (Antennas, Routers, CPEs)

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


Cellular Mobile Internet - Likely a Strong Component of your Setup

Cellular data is probably the easiest and most accessible option in most places across the USA. Most working RVers depend on cellular data as the core of their mobile internet connectivity.

Cellular coverage now reaches into some pretty remote places, and coverage maps amongst the four major carriers continue to expand.

Cellular is truly mobile, can be extremely fast (sometimes even faster than cable modems!) and is much more secure and reliable than public WiFi hotspots.

Cellular data is most easily accessed through hot-spotting off of a smartphone. However, when working remotely, you'll probably want to look into a dedicated cellular data device and/or router better suited for the task.

For a more information on these options, and a comparison of using dedicated mobile hotspots versus your phone versus a router, see our guide: Ways to Use Cellular Data To Get Online: Jetpack, Smartphone or Router?

When it comes to cellular data, more important than gear is finding the right plan for your needs.

Picking Your Carriers and Plans

The first choice to make is which carrier (or better yet, carriers) you should get service with to best cover your mobile data needs. And again we will mention: redundancy in carriers is key to consistent internet access.

The cellular carriers are not in the business of providing a home or office internet replacement.

This is a sticky point for those needing to work remotely - we want and need a solution that replaces the cable or DSL connection we might have had at home. This type of internet replacement is not something that the four major carriers are chomping at the bit to provide. Most of their plans are suited for those who have a home internet connection, and just need a bit of data while out and about.

A Word about "Unlimited" Data Plans

We've recently seen a resurgence in 'unlimited" data plans on all of the four major carriers. All of these plans have big 'gotchas' designed specifically to prevent folks from using their cellular data as a home internet replacement.

The major gotchas:
  • Network Management
    • When you use more data than the average user (as defined by the carrier - usually 22-32 GB of data in a month), they have the right to slow down your connection if  (and only if) you are on a congested tower.
  • Mobile Hotspot / Tethering Restriction
    • Most carriers put a restriction (high-speed data cap and / or throttled speeds)  when using your smartphone as a hotspot to create a WiFi network.

For more information on unlimited data plans, how they work, and the various options available, see our guide: Understanding Unlimited Cellular Data Plans: Network Management, Throttling & Mobile Hotspot Usage

The Carriers

The major difference for each of the carriers is how widespread their coverage is nationwide. And for those relying on mobile internet, 4G & LTE coverage are the most important for the fastest speeds.

In the US, the four major nationwide carriers are:

  • Verizon - has the most nationwide coverage, but their most attractive plans can be more difficult to get.
  • AT&T - close second to Verizon, and currently has the most accessible and usable unlimited plan.
  • T-Mobile - the carrier to watch with a rapidly expanding network and usable unlimited data plans.
  • Sprint -  coverage generally only useful when close to bigger cities and along interstates, but has attractive plan options.

Below is a quick comparison of the four carrier's 4G coverage maps:

 

Although we can go to each carrier’s maps online to scout out ahead if our next location will have coverage for our carriers, we decided to make it even easier. We wrote an app for that!

coverage_new_iconCoverage? (available for iOS and Android) overlays our versions of the four major carriers maps, so you can create a personalized coverage map for the carriers you travel with, and plan your travels around connectivity!

The maps are stored on device, so you don’t need to have coverage to find out which direction to head to find coverage.
Get it on Google Play

All of the coverage maps displayed above are from the app!

There is no 'one best' carrier. The carriers are different in price, coverage, and plan offerings.

The goal is to pick the best carrier(s) for your travel plans

Coverage is the primary consideration for most who are required to be online for work.

Which brings us to our mobile working mantra:

Redundancy!

Having more than one carrier on board is essential to consistent, usable internet access while working and traveling. Cellular glitches happen - different carriers excel in specific locations, you could lose signal, not have signal, towers can go down, you could get network managed, hit your data cap or your 'too good to be true' data plan could suddenly disappear.

Save yourself the mini (or major) internet withdrawal meltdown - practice redundancy.

For more information:

Guide to the Four Carriers - Which is Best for RVing?

Tips for Finding Cellular Coverage & Planning Your RV Travels

Current Top Pick Cellular Plans

For most nomads who work full time online, a form of an unlimited data plan is sought after. In addition, second or third data plans (capped or another unlimited data plan) on a additional carriers are recommended.

We're constantly tracking the most affordable options for cellular data, including unlimited and high data cap plans.

So what is the best data plan currently? That changes frequently.

That being said, here are our current top data plan picks:

  • Verizon - A grandfathered/legacy unlimited data plan the best option for most US nomads who need lots of bandwidth and nationwide high speed coverage - the plans are not subject to network management or throttling (except HD video). The options for obtaining these plans are a bit complex and always changing. Monthly rates vary from $45-249. For more information: Guide to Verizon Unlimited Data Plans.
    • Note: Verizon's new unlimited data plans only include 15GB of high speed mobile hotspot use per line (including Jetpacks) and are subject to network management. All Verizon plans are now subject to video streaming throttling (including gUDPs).
  • AT&T -  The best deal going right now is the 'Connected Car' Mobley unlimited data plan for $20/month direct from the carrier if you can find the Mobley device in stock and a power adapter. It is subject to network management after 22GB of usage.
    • Alternates: Their Unlimited Plus plans are pretty attractive. Smartphones & tablets are subject to a 10GB high speed mobile hotspot cap, but mobile hotspots and the Home Base are exempt from this cap.
  • T-Mobile - T-Mobile One+ International smartphone plans include unlimited 4G personal hotspot use for $95/month which is a great option (those over 55 qualify for a $20/month discount!). Reseller Millenicom still offers the older style 'Simple Choice' data only plans that include unlimited video streaming for as little as $35/month, as well as unlimited hotspot data plans for $70/month.
  • Sprint - Joining a non-profit (such as Calyx Institute, PCs for People and 4GCommunity) to obtain an unlimited Sprint plan due to some prior agreement the carrier inherited is the most affordable option out there. Pricing starts at $10/month (yes, $10 - we didn't miss a 0). For more information: Non-Profit Sprint Plans.

For more options & information: Understanding Unlimited Cellular Data Plans

Member ExclusiveSelecting Cellular Data Plans – Pricing & Carrier Guide

Cellular Signal Enhancing

If you are depending on cellular, getting the best signal possible is imperative.

You may find that cellular signal strength can vary quite a bit while traveling, which can impact the speed and reliability of your data. There are things you can do to improve the situation with cellular boosters and antennas.

Boosters and antennas can turn a frustratingly slow connection to a very usable and fast surfing experience.

Enhancing cellular signal and data performance is a tricky subject, and sometimes requires trial and error at each location for each type of device & cellular carrier. It helps to understand a bit more about frequency bands, decibels, signal to noise ratio and MIMO to help decide on your signal enhancing strategy.

But, going through the trouble of setting up a cellular signal enhancing solution will benefit you with:

  • Fast speeds
  • More reliable connections
  • Better battery life
  • More places you can stay while getting great signal

For more information:

Understanding & Optimizing Your Cellular Performance (member exclusive guide & video)

Mobile Cellular Boosters for RVs Overviews

Selecting a Cellular Antenna


Alternate Options

Cellular isn't the only option that RVers rely on in their travels. Here are some other options to consider as part of your arsenal:

Seeking Out Public WiFi Hotspots

Places such as cafes, libraries, stores (even parking lots!), and breweries often offer free WiFi. Just please pay it forward for future nomads coming through, and do be a patron while soaking up the bandwidth. These establishments provide WiFi as a perk for their customers, not necessarily for the general public.

Co-Working Spaces

Did you know there are places across the country where you can rent a desk to work from? These can be a great option to get a little time away from the RV, connect with other remote workers, grab some high speed internet and even space to spread out to get work done. Look up local co-working spaces in your area.

Changing Your Location Within A Campground or Area

Sometimes seeking out a new campsite that is not obstructed or is in a different section of a campground is enough to get you the cellular signal you desire. Or, if the campground has decent WiFi, moving closer to the WiFi source may provide you a valuable back-up (or primary) internet option for that location.

Cable Internet at Campsites

If you're staying in a campsite long-term, find out if you can 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.

Satellite Internet

satellite-internet-for-rvers-guide

Mobile satellite internet has  made a recent resurgence to make it a viable option, but it is really only ideal for those who are truly going off into the boonies where no coverage map has reached before. Satellite has trade-offs:

  • high costs
  • latency (high ping times)
  • data and speeds caps
  • bulky equipment to lug around and setup

There are only two mobile satellite internet options currently available:

  • 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).
  • HughesNet Gen 5  is a manual setup tripod option for about $1200-1500 and monthly rates vary based on amount of data desired (with slower speeds after the selected data cap). The new Gen 5 Jupiter activated in Spring 2017 is advertised to deliver up to blazing fast 25 mpbs speeds, but mobile support is only available through select resellers (not directly through Hughes).

For more Information Info:

Mobile Satellite Internet Overview

Planning Your Travels Around Connectivity

For those who rely on connectivity to maintain their lifestyle, planning your travel around connectivity is essential.

Research in Advance
  • Read campground reviews for reports on cellular & WiFi
    • Make sure to look at the date of the reviews - if the review is over a year old, you should be hesitant to trust it as the cellular carriers have been expanding their coverage maps rapidly.
    • Campendium.com - a review site that asks reviewers to report signal strength on each carrier.
  • Our app Coverage? overlays the carriers coverage maps to help you plan your travels.

    Crowd sourced signal maps

    • These consider user submitted reports of signals and coverage.
    • These only register where there is an active user base. You'll sometimes see entire sections of states without reports.
    • Apps: Sensorly, Open Signal, Rootmetrics
  • Coverage? App
    •  iOS/Android mobile app
    • Overlays carrier maps to create you own personalized coverage map based on the carriers you utilize.
    • Disclaimer:  We created this app for planning our own travels around connectivity!
Sanity Tip: Separate Your Work Days and Your Driving Days

If you have a big deliverable, webinar or online task - do not arrive the same day that you need to be online. It can take time to figure out which is your optimal connection in a new location, and travel days can sometimes take more time than you anticipated (traffic, delays, construction, break-downs, etc.).

Don't assume you will be ready to pop open that video chat and conference away upon arrival to a new location.

You may be greeted with an easily accessible, awesome signal. Or, you might need to play around with antennas, boosters and different carriers to find what will be the optimal choice.  And of course, you might arrive to your new campground to discover your neighbors are hosting a huge reunion that is too loud to work next to, or that the front office lost your reservation.

Save yourself a lot of stress and arrive at least a day before a big work day, so you have time to work through all the redundancies you built into your setup if need be.

Leaving Room for Plan B

So, you've built a redundant mobile internet arsenal to meet your specific travel style and mobile work needs. You've done your research and planned around reported signal coverage and strength. You've left yourself plenty of time to set-up and test your connectivity after moving to a new location.

You've just dialed in to your daily conference call on a strong, fast connection, when suddenly... nothing.

That's right, your connection has given out in the middle of your work day. Maybe you've lost power and your hotspot has shut off. Maybe the network you are on has crashed. Maybe a giant rig being driven by big-foot has pulled up next door, blocking your signal enhancers.

→ Have your back up option accessible and ready to pop-in!

→ Always prepare clients and colleagues for your variable connectivity.

Working online while living a nomadic lifestyle is a surmountable challenge for most who are up for the preparation and flexibility building and maintaining a mobile internet arsenal requires. Where there is a will, there is usually a way. If there is one thing that we can suggest for almost everyone looking to work online while traveling: redundancy! (And yes, we've been pretty redundant with that recommendation)


Ready for more? We suggest heading over to our general overview of mobile internet options:


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

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

We start with an online interview and then a 1 hour private video conference call followed up with a customized written report with a shopping list for the products and services that we think will best meet your needs.

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