Wondering about RV internet options? It’s a question that comes up almost daily on our Cool RV Stuff Facebook group. I figured it’s time to give the complete and thorough rundown on this. As a full-time RVer and a professional internet coder who works on the road, I’m extremely well versed and current on the subject.
Basically, you have three RV internet options on the road:
1) RV park or campground WiFi
2) Cellular data plans and a hotspot (or phone that can be a hotspot)
3) Satellite internet
Here are the basics on the pros and cons of each, and how to go about getting it.
RV Internet Option 1: RV Park and/or Campground WiFi
Some campgrounds or RV parks will offer RV internet options. They will make sure you know all about it on their website. However, most RV parks have very inadequate bandwidth and equipment to serve an entire campground or park. There are a few parks that are the exception, but they are rare indeed.
As a result, on most campground’s WiFi systems, you will get very slow speeds. It may even drop out entirely and frequently. Usually, during popular times of the day for people to be online (evenings), it will almost be unusable. That’s because so many RVers will be trying to use the same internet source at once. (Imagine 100 cars trying to drive down the same 2-lane highway at the same time. It’s basically the same concept. Things will be slow going.) This can be frustrating if you are trying to accomplish anything besides possibly simple browsing.
Add to that, it is considered bad etiquette to try to stream using RV park interent. Since there are so many others trying to use the same limited service it is best to use it sparingly. Some parks will even block you if you are using that much of their bandwidth.
Other RV Park WiFi Considerations
Basically, unless you have a favorite park you go to, and you know they have a great RV internet setup, this isn’t something to rely on. You’ll likely only be able to get email and do very basic web surfing. Even then, it may not be usable or reliable.
Many RVers also ask about WiFi range extenders. Extenders basically repeat an internet signal so you can access it even when you are further from the source. However, if you are extending a slow campground WiFi signal, you still aren’t going to have good internet. You just may not have to go to the clubhouse to access said terrible internet.
Pros of RV Park Internet Options:
- Already included in the cost of staying at a campground.
- Very little to set up, other than getting the campground’s WiFi password.
- You can rarely do much with the speeds you will get, other than very basic stuff (no streaming).
- Signal WiFi can be very weak, so you may have to go to the office or clubhouse to use it.
- You are totally at the mercy of their bandwidth and how many people are using it at any given time. This means it may go down completely when you really need it.
- It isn’t available to you while you are traveling, only when you are there.
- It is basically impossible to use this as an RV internet option if you plan to do any kind of remote work.
RV Internet Options 2: Cellular Data Internet
One of the best RV internet options for people who travel is a cellular data plan. To do this you can use your phone as a hot spot. Another option is to get a separate hot spot. You will still receive internet over a cellular network, like Verizon or AT&T when you have a dedicated hot spot.
The biggest challenge is to find a plan that allows you to use the amount of data you need at an affordable rate. Many “unlimited’ plans are still only full speed for a certain number of GB. Then they slow down to a crawl. Or they only apply to data on your phone, not on a hotspot. While technically that’s still unlimited, they use the term pretty loosely. After you use a certain amount, their service will get “throttled” and will become almost unusable except for getting email. Doing things like streaming movies will eat up the GB quickly too. So, it can be challenging to find a big enough plan.
Many RVers have recently begun using Verizon home internet or T Mobile home internet. Both have some restrictions as far as traveling in the fine print. However, many RVers have found they can bring their device with them and get unlimited internet on the road. Use these types of plans at your own discretion as the term “home” has a loose definition for some full time RVers.
“Unlimited” Cellular Plans
There are RV internet options (like Visible Wireless) that are truly unlimited, but limit your speed to 5Mbps. For most uses, that is plenty fast enough. You can use if for things like basic streaming. However, things like gaming or high resolution streaming may be challenged at that speed. Speeds from Visible can also be slower if your signal strength isn’t great. It may also be difficult for full time RV jobs that require frequent video calls. But they are a great option if you think you will use a lot of data and don’t want to pay a ton of money.
There are 2 challenges for cellular data coverage. One is the range of the service (coverage) you are using. The other is the number of users (cell traffic) their towers can handle at one time. Verizon and AT&T (or resellers that use their towers) tend to be far superior in their coverage and traffic capabilities.
Some people have some success with T-Mobile. They tend to have less traffic on their towers which can mean less slowdowns. Since T-Mobile bought out Sprint they have been able to expand their coverage. Now,it is more of a true competitor with Verizon and AT&T. If you frequent the same campsites often, it is wise to see what cell phone company offers the best RV internet options in your area. If you travel more extensively and must have internet, such as for work, the key is redundancy.
Many full time RVers, like Kathryn, who writes most of our content, have multiple hotspots on different plans. That way if one plan doesn’t work in a particular location, there is a backup internet plan.
Cellular Data Plans for RV Internet
Okay, now that you have the basics of what cellular data is, I’ll say that tracking the plans cellular companies offer is a nightmare. It would take a full-time job to do. I’m a web programmer, so I follow this stuff closely and have lots of tech training. But even I can’t keep track of it all.
Luckily, there are some folks that do exactly that at rvmobileinternet.com. They have a bunch of free information about RV internet options on their website. Their free information is usually enough for people to be able to make a choice. They also have a paid membership with even more information if you need to know everything. For example if you are a remote worker, it may be worth it to access all their information.
If you want to know what I use, it would be Visible Wireless. I chose it because can be very affordable. It costs as low as $25 per month if you join a party pay group which is easy to sign up for. Additionally, it is technically unlimited — although it is capped for speeds of a maximum of 5mbps. They have great coverage because they use Verizon’s tower system.
Coverage Limitations for RV Internet Options
This is probably pretty obvious, but cellular data is going to be limited to places you can get cell service. Verizon (and Verizon resellers like Visible) and AT&T (and AT&T resellers like Cricket) are generally going to get better coverage than other companies. However, it really depends on where you are.
For example, T-Mobile is getting better coverage lately and can perform well in places with crowded cell towers. When towers get congested with many people using them at the same time, T-Mobile may outperform because fewer people use that service in general. Their coverage in cities is also better since obtaining the Sprint network.
But for the most part, if you have one of the big two (or even better, both), you will be able to get cell service in many areas. This is especially true if you are near a major highway or within 10 miles or so of a town. (Places like National Parks do tend to be cellular dead-zones, though.)
Double Check Your RV Internet Options Before Travelling Somewhere
Apps like the Open Signal app can give you an idea of what towers are located where and what coverage you might expect. Cross-checking with camping review sites like campendium.com will let you know if other RVers had success with different cell companies at a location you are considering.
You can also join Campendium’s membership program to easily use their map showing cell phone coverage overlaid with campground and boondocking options. Many boondocking locations, however, are quite remote. This means they may lack any RV internet options besides Starlink, which I’ll talk about more in a minute.
If you have some signal and want to improve it, things like MIMO antennas (an external cell antenna) and web boosters (like WeBoost) can help. But that’s a complicated subject in itself, so I’ll write about that in a separate article. If you have no signal, a booster isn’t going to solve the problem since it can’t boost “nothing”. So in those cases you’ll have to do the old-fashioned thing of finding the nearest Starbucks, McDonald’s, lodge, or campground office and use their public WiFi.
Pros of Cellular Internet Options for RVs:
- This is one of the RV internet options that can be used in most places. (So long as there is cell service.)
- Cell service tends to be available near highways and everywhere that isn’t extremely remote.
- A good plan will allow you to stream and work, as well as web basics within their limitations.
- It also works while you are moving / traveling.
- Requires very little additional equipment (a hotspot) and often can just run off your phone’s hotspot.
- Requires a little more setup than just using park WiFi.
- Cell plans are super confusing to compare and rules are constantly changing. For example, the home internet options have gone back and forth between if you are allowed to travel with them or not.
- Many plans have data caps where you lose service or it is unusably slow after you go over that limit.
- Some “truly” unlimited plans (no speed limits, no throttling, no network managing) can be pretty expensive.
- Cell towers can be overloaded with users in your immediate area. Or you may have reached your data cap and so your service becomes very slow.
RV Internet Options 3: Satellite Internet
Right now, there are two options for satellite internet: the old satellite services, and Starlink. Starlink for RVers is now here! There have been some growing pains with this RV internet option. But it has been improving steadily over the last few months.
Starlink doesn’t work everywhere yet, however coverage has expanded significantly in recent months as more satellites are launched. Unless you pay for the $2,500 dish and similarily expensive internet plan, it also doesn’t work while in motion. But Starlink does work when you set up from different locations, which is what most of us really want.
There are some limitations, but they are sending up more satellites nearly every month. This allows for more “forgivable” coverage. (Meaning you won’t lose service as often when your view of the sky isn’t completely unobstructed). This is also allowing additional areas are to be opened to service. But Starlink has already solved many of the problems of old satellite services, such as really large receiver dishes, slow speeds, high latency, and high cost plans.
Starlink Internet Updates
UPDATE: Starlink has an “RV” plan. This is a significant improvement and makes Starlink a real option for RVers. (Still a backup system is wise if you require uninterrupted internet service. The Starlink dish also uses a fair amount of power which can be a drawback for boondockers.) Check out our full article for more specific information.
Currently, the Starlink plan requires around $600 + dollars to get the equipment. In some areas there is a waiting list for residential internet but RV plan users can typically get on the plan immediately. Other downsides include that it needs absolutely nothing blocking the signal (no trees at all blocking the view of the sky, etc.). It also isn’t available in all areas, and has a monthly $150 subscription for the RV plan. This is recently increased from $135 a month and could very likely increase again in the future.
Unfortunately, the company recently removed the option to have a residential plan with “roaming” (also called portability). That means if you plan to use Starlink at home and on the road you’ll have to pay for the more expensive and less prioritized RV plan. Starlink has been constantly changing their policies. Because of that, the best bet is to head to their website to get the most up to date information.
Older Satellite Technology
Old satellite services are still also available. Companies like Hughesnet use larger, expensive dishes and have high latency. High latency means it doesn’t react to things you click or load very quickly). The subscription can be pretty high too. For these reasons, as far as Rv internet options go, it is not the best choice for most people. The only reason to choose it would be if you absolutely can’t get any other service and must have internet.
Note: Satellite internet and satellite TV are not the same thing, and there are good options for satellite TV (like Dish network with a Tailgater dish) that work well for RVers and are pretty affordable.
The ins and outs of satellite internet are pretty complex. But if you are interested, here’s an overview of Starlink, another good, very detailed article on the subject. And one on Starlink specifically. With the recent changes, Starlink is a viable RV internet option for RVers with unobstructed views of the sky (think desert camping) as long as you can bite the bullet on the prices.
- Can be used anywhere with a clear view to the sky.
- Expensive at the moment, with prices for RVers that have steadily increased over the last year.
- Can’t be used while in motion except with the very expensive Starlink flat dish.
- Doesn’t work if therea re any obstructions.
- May have temporary drops in signal that are sometimes noticeable when gaming or on video calls. Kathryn has used Starlink for video calls up to 10 hours a day and has had less problems than with cellular hotspots, though.
- May have slow or even unusable speeds in areas with lots of use and poor coverage. Think snowbird destinations like Florida.
- High latency (doesn’t react quickly to actions) on older systems.
Which RV Internet Options are the Best?
Those are the basics. If I were to recommend a way to work or play on the road, cellular is the best option at the moment. It is the most affordable option for most people and is reliable even in areas with obstructions.
However, the best case scenario if having internet is a must is to have at least one cellular plan and also Starlink. Kathryn works on video calls live with clients all day every day. So, she has 2 cellular hotspots (Verizon phone hotspot and T Mobile) and Starlink.
Choosing the Right RV Internet Options
The next step is to find the best plan. While you can use a phone as your hotspot, it isn’t a bad idea to get a dedicated hotspot from a cell provider. Usually you will get slightly better performance. You will need one of the two if you are going to use the internet on a laptop, computer, or smart TV. Be certain that the plan you get is for data that can be used on a hotspot. Often they will say unlimited data and they mean just for the phone. They will still have limits on when used as a hotspot.
How much data do you need these RV internet options to provide? I can’t tell you that. But I will say, that if you stream, it’ll be a bunch. If you just surf and get your email, then not nearly as much. Some people can get away with 10GB per month. We full-time. I work online and we stream, and I blow through 100GB a month. But suffice it to say, get as much as you can for how much you are willing to pay. And shop around, since the cellular companies are constantly changing their offerings. Again, if I were to put something here, it’d be obsolete by tomorrow, so check company websites, check cellular reseller’s websites for current deals, and visit rvmobileinternet.com.
I’ll be writing an article soon about cellular equipment, like hotspots, antennas, cell boosters, etc. These can help you significantly extend where you are able to use these RV internet options. So be sure to check back soon for that article.