Easy RV Internet

Turquoise graphic of red travel trailer and cellular modem, home router and laptop for easy RV Internet setup
Graphic by: Home While We Roam

The Home While We Roam crew loves hitting the road and heading into nature, but we also love staying connected while we’re gone.  We’re firmly in the camp that believes Internet access should be a public utility. In fact, if we were to rank our utility requirements while staying in our RV, we would say:

  1. Water
  2. Internet
  3. Sewer
  4. Gas
  5. Electricity

We would also bet that other campers are starting to feel a similar way as the digital world and physical world continue their march to merge together. To be clear, we are not suggesting that you should negatively impact one of the prime reasons you go camping, to get away from it all. We are saying, in the same way you still need water to get away from it all, there is an ever-growing population of digital nomads who need Internet access to do things like keep up-to-date with medication, banking and bill payment, and streaming entertainment when the sun sets.

Our philosophy to support getting away from it all is to be prepared and as self-sufficient as possible. Because we understood the impacts of no Internet access, we prepared this post with special vigor. Would you believe that after staying nearly 200 consecutive nights in RV parks across the US, we’ve never once connected to an RV park’s available Internet access? Would you also believe that we did it for a less than $500 investment and less than $100 per month for Internet fees? It’s true, here’s how we did it.

Assess Your Needs

Make your plan

  • What is your existing phone service?
  • What are your existing data needs?
  • Will you need a new mobile Internet provider to support your needs?
  • Do you camp in areas with spotty cell coverage?

Wireless Providers

Let’s talk about wireless providers and coverage for a minute. The top 4 largest US Wireless providers are AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. They all have their pros and cons, especially as you factor in marketing, technology, coverage, customer service and price. We are going to discount everything but coverage for our purposes.

We have camped all across the Southeast, Southwest and Pacific Northwest, with visits to the Midwest and Northeast as well. During our travels, we’ve always had AT&T and Verizon Internet at the same time. This has given us a really nice test platform and, in our opinion, they both crush all other competition when it comes to coverage. Now this comes from personal, anecdotal, non-scientific research, but we feel it is pretty accurate.

Here is our experience:

  • When AT&T had coverage, Verizon had coverage.
  • When Verizon had coverage, there were times AT&T did not.
  • At no time in our travels and camping did we run into a scenario where AT&T was accessible, and Verizon was not.
Man's hand with SIM card in palm of hand
Must have a SIM Card to get started! Photo Credit: Home While We Roam

Our official recommendation is to go with Verizon if you have the opportunity, but AT&T is a good alternative.

What’s Next?

Now that we have a wireless vendor in mind, let’s talk the technology we need. First off, we are talking wireless LTE providers, not satellite providers. LTE is the same technology your cell phone uses. Satellite is too slow for downloading, and especially slow for uploading. Think taking 10s of minutes at a minimum to upload a really small picture to Facebook and Instagram.  When we say go with AT&T or Verizon, we mean to get a data service and an LTE cellular modem that has an Ethernet port. We need this because we are going to recommend how to set up your Easy RV Internet System in exactly the same way you would set up your home Internet system.

Here are the major components:

  • An LTE wireless data account with a vendor like Verizon, AT&T or other
  • A cellular modem (this takes the place of your cable or any other integrated modem you use to access your home Internet)
  • A router with Wi-Fi to save space in your rig
  • Optionally, a device to boost your cell signal in your rig
Turquoise graphic of red travel trailer and cellular modem, home router and laptop for easy RV Internet setup
Graphic by: Home While We Roam

Let’s talk cellular modems.

There are lots of good options out there. We use a modem from Netgear, but D-Link and others have good options, too. There are two key phrases you want to see as features of your model.

  • Supports 4G LTE (or 5G)
  • Gigabit Ethernet WAN port

This is so you can plug in your wireless router and share connection with all your Wi-Fi and wired devices.

It is important to know which wireless vendor you will select, before you purchase your modem, as some trade a less expensive purchase price for carrier-specific lock-in.

Netgear LTE modem on wood surface
Our LTE Modem has seen some mileage! Photo Credit: Home While We Roam

Home While We Roam Tip:

Hotspots like JetPacks will not work in our Easy RV Internet setup. A hotspot is not robust enough in its routing function and typically won’t offer a physical Ethernet port. Both are critical to support future add-ons like an RV Home Media Center.

Getting your devices connected

Next you need a Router/Wi-Fi combo for your RV network. Most people have a router/Wi-Fi combination in their home Internet connection setup. Many will even have a combination, Modem/Router/Wi-Fi combination. For our purposes, we are talking a Router/Wi-Fi only as we have the modem covered in the section above.

If you are a gear head, you can go top of the line or if you just want something that will work reliably and provide good Wi-Fi coverage, any $40-$80 model that supports 802. 11AC will do fine.

Let’s hook things up in 4 easy steps:

  1. Put your newly ordered SIM card in your new LTE Modem and go through setup and activation
  2. Create a space to install your two new pieces of hardware
  3. Follow the steps to configure your new Router with Wi-Fi
  4. Connect the two and start surfing the web on your own, private, broadband, mobile Internet, using Wi-Fi, on all your devices.
Cell signal booster for RVs box, weBoost
Photo courtesy: weBoost

Optionally, boost your signal strength

There are two schools of thought in the wireless boosters camp. Again, our research is not scientific but is anecdotal. We have met folks who swear they get amazing connectivity when using a cell booster and some say they have seen no impact. We have had good success with our booster. We can’t always say that when our neighbors can’t send or receive texts or check email where we can. We also have personal experience of being on calls that drop as soon as we walk away from the rig and leave our boosted coverage area. If you do go for a booster, we recommend an RV Specific model from weBoost.

We also recommend having your local Camping World do the install because it involves running and hiding an internal cable and antenna as well as one hole in the roof for the external antenna. This shouldn’t be more than 2-3 hours on the labor charge.

Home While We Roam Tip:

A cellular booster like the WeBoost (which we have) is a great choice to improve your signal but is not carrier specific. Don’t worry whether you have Sprint, Verizon, AT&T or other. All should benefit from a cellular booster in your rig.

Internet Wherever You Roam

Having your own RV Internet allows you to achieve a new level of self-sufficiency.  We have heard countless stories from camping friends who have pulled into a campsite and been disappointed when they discovered that the Wi-Fi coverage doesn’t quite reach their campsite, or the available bandwidth isn’t sufficient for their needs. Talking these few steps will give you a solid of never running into this scenario at a price point that is reasonable.

At the very least, you can stream Netflix to your heart’s content without worrying about the bandwidth you are consuming from your fellow campers! Stay tuned for our companion post on Easy RV Home Media Setup.


Young couple smiling wearing hiking gearHome While We Roam is an Atlanta, Georgia-based family who love RV life. They’ve traveled more than 15,000 miles around the United States with their red Winnebago Minnie Plus travel trailer in search of simpler living, deeper family ties and epic adventures! Find them on Instagram @homewhileweroam.


 

42 COMMENTS

  1. Just a little FYI: In West Texas, you can get AT&T coverage but not Verizon. Specifically from Garner State Park westward. We camp at Garner frequently, and all our Verizon friends are without service.

  2. All of this sounds great and very doable. But, is this entirely dependent on having cell signal? I’ve been in many areas just around my home (southwest Virginia) where there is no signal of any description. In that case, do you have recommendations for people who choose to go off-grid camping?

    • Hi Rowen. Yes! This setup is entirely dependent on having some cell signal. If signal is minimal, you can use a cell booster to improve it but if you don’t have cell signal like in south west Virginia, you won’t be able to have internet access. The only real option at that point is satellite connectivity but the expense, download, and upload speeds aren’t really going to be viable options. When we hit a camp spot that has no cell coverage, our approach is to enjoy that break from the world and save our Interwebbing for when we get back into cell coverage.

      One other nice thing about having setup a home network in your rig, is the ability to leverage local media for entertainment. If you have digital copies of your music, TV shows, or movies you can use a media server to stream to your devices without being connected to the internet. Even completely off grid! We use PLEX and are working on a follow up post for how that works.

      • Is the SIM card a separate item, or is it in the personal cell phone? I didn’t get a clear picture in your story.

        • Hi, Jack. Yes, the SIM card is a separate piece of equipment. When you sign up for a mobile broadband service, you will get a new SIM card just for your 4G modem. It will be the exact same type of SIM card that your personal cell phone uses.

          You could test taking the SIM card out of your phone and seeing if your 4G modem will connect, but there is a good chance that it will be locked to the unique ID of your phone and will not be able to establish a connection.

    • We use the following:
      Cell service: AT&T, but I’d go for Verizon if you can get a cost-effective data plan.
      Cellular modem: Netgear 4G LTE
      Inexpensive Wi-Fi router: ASUS RT-N12 N300
      Hope that helps!

  3. What about using the personal hotspot on your phone? It provides wireless connections for our two laptops. I have not tried any connection to the TV.

  4. Is there someplace I can go to get more help with getting all of these items purchased and set up? I keep up with technology, but I would like to know where I can find additional help should I need it. I plan to take the list into my local Altex for help in selecting the equipment.

  5. Thank you so much for this article!! We want to be totally independent. We have learned you need three things to make this complete: 1) TV: Dish. 2) Cellular booster. 3) Wi-Fi. I’m having trouble finding a data plan that will support the independent RV life. The best I have found is that Verizon is offering three hotspots with 30 gigs each for $10/month. We can purchase three hotspots because we have three phones on the plan. Is this enough to stream nightly (Fire stick), use a computer daily and print? Thanks so much!

  6. Hi Debbie. Glad you liked the post! Sounds like you have good coverage with Dish, the booster, and Wi-Fi. Your biggest data hog is going to be streaming via your Fire Stick. A good rule of thumb is that 1 hour of SD video will consume about 1 gig of data, and 1 hour of HD video will consume about 3 gigs. So if you are watching 3 hours of HD TV a night, you should expect to consume up to 9 gigs. Your total of 90 gigs is a lot of bandwidth, but you could eat it all up streaming HD depending on how often and how much you are streaming. A lot of services like Netflix will allow you to restrict your streaming to SD only. This could be a good way for you to conserve your bandwidth. Hope this is helpful!-Sam

  7. Two things: Don’t you need some kind of external antenna if you’re setting up inside a metal box (a travel trailer)? Secondly, have you looked into the plans that Google Fi has to offer?

  8. Hi, Bill. Great questions. The answer to your first one is no, you won’t need an external antenna — with the caveat that you have tested and can already use your cell phone to talk and browse the internet inside your rig. This isn’t a satellite setup that requires line of site to that orbiting transmitter/receiver. Those 4G signals that we are using to connect to the internet using a cellular modem are in a similar electromagnetic spectrum that Wi-Fi is. Since these radio waves have a big wavelength (as compared to light), they are much larger than the atoms that make up the walls of your RV and can pass through easily.

    One important note: If you can’t get signal to your cell phone because you are too far away from a cell tower, you can employ a signal booster like the weBoost we mentioned in the article. This does use an eternal antenna, but this antenna is designed to amplify the signal from far-away cell towers and provide that amplified signal to your cellular devices inside your RV.

    We did not include GoogleFi in our research, but if their coverage maps include areas that you camp often and their bandwidth prices are friendly to your budget, they should be a good option vs. AT&T and Verizon. They provide a coverage map so you can check to see if your favorite camp sites are covered.

  9. I just checked with Verizon. Its system at this time does not have the capability of supporting broadband modems. Speed will be throttled over a set limit. I’m very disappointed because I’ve had bad experiences with AT&T and won’t do business with them.

  10. Maybe I need a 12-year-old to understand this, but I don’t get where the data comes from. We have a Verizon Jetpack that has an unlimited plan of 15 gigs before they throttle you. We have our phone hotspots, which are also unlimited (30 gigs before throttling). We also have our laptops and a printer that all have to be on the Jetpack to print wirelessly. How do I get real unlimited data or at least 40 to 50 gigs for all our computer and printing needs without spending an absolute fortune?

    • Hi, Sharon. This is the hardest question. Since so many providers have switched to a throttled approach under the guise of ensuring all have enough bandwidth (really just a way to charge us more), it is really tough to manage. The best and least technical way is to try to take advantage of any new sign-up deals. We may also see some really great bandwidth deals when the Sprint and T-Mobile deal is completed since they need to do something to compete with AT&T and Verizon.

  11. Hi, Sam. Thank you for all this information! We are purchasing our very first RV, a Winnebago Travato, and I’ve just begun researching the internet. The dealer has recommended two options: Internet in Motion and Satellite in Motion, both very pricey. Do you know anything about these plans?

    • Sam Elliott replies: Glad to hear you are purchasing an RV, Toni, and wish you so much fun! This is a good question. These options are both viable options, but as you point out, they tend to be on the higher scale of the budget.

      I looked around to see if I could find Internet In Motion and came up with this: http://www.satsig.net/ivsat/internet-in-motion.htm. Assuming it is the same one you are looking at, this option would be good for someone who is concerned about 100% coverage at all times. They’ve built their solution around being able to connect to multiple cellular providers, which is great for always being able to connect.

      The solution we describe in the blog post advises you to just pick the carrier you have the best luck with. In theory, that means if you picked AT&T and are in a Verizon-only area, you wouldn’t get a connection. If you had the Internet in Motion offering, you probably would always have a connection. One caveat: This site references Sprint and Cingular. Sprint is being acquired by T-Mobile, and Cingular hasn’t existed as a brand since 2007. That outdated info would make me cautious about using this tech without doing a lot more research.

      Our experience with satellite internet tech has not been great. This is because we do a lot of file uploading as well as video conferencing, and most satellite providers don’t offer much in the way of upload bandwidth. They also seem to be pretty stingy when it comes to throttling and total monthly data-usage allowance. So keep this in mind as you research that as an option.

      Hope this helps!

  12. Keep in mind that, even with your own wireless service, that service too connects to a tower, which connects to a cable to the internet. This is the same cable all of the other likeminded data roamers are using. In many places, the cell service is fine, but like the campground Wi-Fi, all of the bandwidth is being consumed by your fellow hotspot users. Gatlinburg is notorious for oversubscribed cellular service. During peak hours, none of the cell providers had enough bandwidth to keep up with demand. If internet is a must in remote places, I say satellite.

    • Hey John. This is a good point. If you are in a highly congested area, your connection could be impacted. The biggest challenge we see with satellite is when any uploading is involved, like video conferencing, talking to Alexa, uploading movies to YouTube. Most satellite services we have seen have a max upload of around 3mbps, which will get noticeable quickly as you are in the five-minute range to upload a 100MB file at that point. How are you using your satellite connection? Streaming movies, multiple devices, or just browsing web sites? Thanks for your comments!

  13. Hi, Korissa. This is a good find, but according to this (older) thread and the Verizon customer-support rep, there are some catches. The way I read it is that there are no limits, but your account may be throttled due to congestion. If you try it out, please let us know what your experience is!

    Here is a newer thread that also seems to confirm Verizon says it can “prioritize your data behind other customers during times/places of network congestion.”

  14. I noticed mixed reviews on Amazon about the Netgear LTE modem working with Verizon. Does anyone know if the size of the SIM card required is the same as with iPhones? Like the iPhone 11? I’m not sure if SIM cards are various sizes.

    • Hey, Katie. The SIM card used in our iPhone does fit into our Netgear LTE modem, as it uses the Micro-SIM standard, which Apple uses as well. We mostly run using AT&T but have tested here and there on Verizon without any issues. Hope this helps!

  15. As you’ve alluded to in your replies, once you get your hardware set up, you have to figure out how to work through the throttling issues. Such a headache. Verizon throttles hotspots after 15 gigs, which isn’t much, as a seasonal camper, and the throttled hotspot speeds are unusable.

    • Hey, Mark. Totally agree and great point. What a headache. We’ve tried lots of options, and nothing is really, truly unlimited anymore. If you are willing to explore gray areas, it is possible to get grandfathered unlimited wireless accounts from third parties. Try searching eBay for “unlimited data hotspots.” Make sure you read all the fine print if you test an option like that.

  16. Great article! Thank you for your contribution. I’m basically a newbie…purchased a 2019 Grand Design Imagine in 2018. We need to work on the road (when we get to go). I purchased and had installed at Winegard ConnecT 2.0 4G LTE + WiFi Ext. and got a Verizon SIM card. The last time we were out was September 2019, and it did not work. Question: Do you have a similar article so our next adventure will not be a nightmare? Any tips? Should I ditch the Winegard and go to this setup?

    • Hi Connie. Thanks so much, and congrats on your rig! We don’t have an article written on this Winegard system yet, but we can talk about it here. It would be great to know which part didn’t work. You couldn’t get service from Verizon? You could get service but your Wi-Fi devices couldn’t connect? All of the above? Something else?

      The Winegard system is designed to be an all-in-one long-range Wi-Fi extender and LTE 4G connection. This is nice because it is all contained in that single rooftop enclosure so you don’t have multiple components to deal with. We have heard some downsides to that because with everything being on the roof, including your Wi-Fi antennas, your devices inside the rig have to connect up to it. Folks with metal roofs might have some challenges, but I wouldn’t think it would be a huge deal in your Grand Design Imagine.

      As far as ditching your Winegard, I really think it depends on what is going on with your current system. The system we describe in this article might offer more stability to your local Wi-FI network since it includes a stand-alone Wi-Fi router that lives inside the rig instead of on the roof. However, they both use a SIM card from Verizon (or AT&T) for cellular connectivity, and so if it was coverage-area issues you were experiencing, you would probably run into the same thing in this setup.

  17. Hey, Sam – thanks for this. It’s exactly what I’m trying to do right now. I have a question: Most cellular hotspots don’t have ethernet, so how are you feeding the Netgear router from that cellular modem? Thanks in advance.

  18. Love this article! It is a huge help. Recently purchased a new camper and trying to get off the grid completely. If you don’t mind me asking how much do you pay for how many gigs of data per month? I have the Winegard ConnecT 2.0 with the router, and I am hoping I did not make a mistake in purchasing it. Do you run or would you run a NAS hardware at home for the Plex software running remote? If I keep my NAS hardware at home and run Plex on my Fire TVs when camping, will that use a lot of cellular data? Thanks so much!

    • Hey, Andrew. Awesome! Super glad to hear it is helpful. Congrats on your camper purchase! We try to keep our data plan under $100 per month. As many folks in the comments have pointed out, doing that and getting unlimited, non-throttled, service is nearly impossible these days. At the risk of stating the obvious, folks that still have grandfathered plans or can get their hands on a grandfathered plan (maybe via eBay) are going to get the best bang for the buck.

      The Winegard is nice tech, and it is essentially this setup, just packaged up nicely and probably makes for less upkeep.

      With respect to running your Plex content remotely, yep, that is going to eat a lot of bandwidth. Not any different than watching Netflix at that point in terms of usage. To overcome that issue and also to be able to watch movies and TV when we don’t have an Internet connection, we take our Plex server with us. We’ve have another article here on that topic.

      Thanks and keep the questions coming!

  19. Hey, Sam, great article. I work from home providing managed services for customers. I’m in the market for RV internet because I want to travel the country, since I work remotely and can work from anywhere as long as I have access to the internet. So I’ve been doing my research, and until I read this article, I just didn’t know how to go about it and be confident that I’ll have internet access “nearly” anywhere I go in the U.S. I currently have Verizon for my cell phone provider and want to stay with them because of the best coverage, as you noted. I’m particularly glad that you provided a link to the NetGear modem you used because I was searching Amazon and came across the LB2120 model, which does not work with Verizon. Then your link showed me the LB1120 model, which does work with Verizon. I now have a clear direction on how I want to go with this endeavor. Thanks so much!

    • Hey, Scott. Glad to hear you liked the article! As an MSP, wanting to work from the road you will need a killer setup! We would love to hear from you again as you get set up and start testing, so let us know how it goes!

      • Hi Sam, I just took the NetGear LB1120 to my local Verizon store to get a Sim card and discuss data plans. Verizon said the device is not compatible/won’t work with their service. Very bummed!

  20. Hi Scott-
    We have a Geo Pro with the wifi sky Ranger 4 builtin. We are Verizon customers, so we already have service and to add a data unit is no biggie. I have been trying to find a Verizon Sky Ranger LTE unit that connects inside the sky Ranger, And no one seems to carry it. It would be a pice of cake to install to the existing hardware. Any thoughts?

  21. Hi Scott,

    Our campground has WiFi, but the signal does not reach all the way down to our RV. Our cell phone service is through Sprint, so some of the options you provided above won’t work for us. Do you think that a signal booster would help us get connected to the free WiFi?

    Thank you.

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