How do you work from the road full time and stay online?
What do you use for solid, reliable internet???
These are questions we get asked in just about every place we park our home. We made a video on this topic, but I wanted to share a short write-up I recently did for a friend considering full time RV-ing while working as a full time telecommuter.
First off, let me just say that this is an infinitely complex question, and everyone's setup will be different. So, what I'm sharing here works for us, but might not be the best solution for you. Additionally, some of the options we use might no longer be available by the time you read this. In fact, since I completed our current setup, AT&T no longer allows hotspots on their unlimited plans. This arena is in constant flux.
Let me also start by letting you in on how I learned everything I know about mobile internet:
MIRC / MIA : I very highly recommend you go to Mobile Internet Resource Center (MIRC) and start learning all you can. Chris, Cherie, and team have put together an unparalleled one-stop-shop for all you could ever want to know about mobile internet! I also recommend paying for the premium membership (Mobile Internet Aficionados – MIA) as that will give you full access to the paid content on the site as well as forums and facebook groups. You can also get discounts on many of the items they review (discount on our GoAC paid for our membership). The MIA resources helped me come up with phase 1 of our setup as well as stay on top of the constant cat and mouse game between consumer and carrier. It was via the MIA Facebook page that I learned ahead of time that AT&T was about to stop allowing hotspots on unlimited plans. I rushed out and bought one before we even had our RV, and now I'm grandfathered in on AT&T. MIA has been absolutely invaluable!
Note: This is not a paid endorsement and we have no affiliation whatsoever. I just feel very strongly about highly recommending them!
Disclaimer: This article, while attempting to be readable by anyone, will have lots of “lingo” only understood by some with a little bit of knowledge. Theres a solution for that! Have I mentioned MIA?
Here is our current (phase 1) setup, working from the router and moving upstream:
Our Mobile Router is the Wifi Ranger GoAC. This serves as our “home” Wifi as well as hard wired network router for things that require faster than wifi speeds like NAS (Network Attached Storage). What makes this router “mobile” is that it can connect upstream (to the internet) via another wifi (wifi as wan), or by tethering (USB) to a mobile hotspot or phone. Having a mobile router as the heart of our networking solution makes for a stable “home” wifi, which means our computers, appleTVs, iPads, etc. never have to be updated to connect to anything but the router. Just change the upstream connection on the GoAC and everything connected it automatically uses that connection. The WiFi Ranger goAC can also be paired with the EliteAC roof antenna to boost wifi-as-wan from campgrounds, etc. But campground wifi’s are rarely usable or stable, so I didn’t bother.
Both of these hotspot / mifi devices have dual TS-9 connectors for an external antenna, and both support USB tethering. Note: AT&T's newest LTE Hotspot is the Nighthawk. MIRC has a great review of that. In fact they have great reviews of just about any mobile internet device. Of course, both of these have built in wifi, so they can be used stand-alone as well.
THIS is the tough part! You can have the best gear in the world, but if you don't have access to enough data, or you have to pay through the nose for every gigabyte, working remote may eat every dollar you earn working remote! Income cannibalism? We were lucky that I had joined MIA early enough to get the heads-up about AT&T and their “enhanced” Unlimited plans and not allowing hotspots. So, while this is an overview of how WE do it, you should definitely head over to MIRC and get the latest scoop on who'd offering what in terms of cellular data plans. Here's a good article from them on the four major carriers.
These are our two current data plans:
- ATT: Unlimited Plus (no longer available ) – With all of our current devices (4 iPhones and 2 iPads) on this plan, adding the hotspot only added $20/mo to our bill. Data is truly unlimited but subject to network management (per device) after 22GB. Network Management is simply traffic de-prioritization IF you are on a crowded tower. It is NOT a hard throttle like Verizon puts on “unlimited” users after just 15GB.
Note: As of this writing, I’ve never actually experienced any throttle (knock on virtual wood). And we use WAY more than 22GB.
- Verizon: Loyalty Plan (also an old / potentially unavailable plan) – This Unlimited Data Plan might be available. It has gone back and forth over the past few months. I was able to obtain this via the MIA membership connections, and due to some current controversies and fear of losing our own plan, I can't go into the details here. Your best bet for up to date information on this plan (and any other plan), is to use the resources at MIRC / MIA.
Putting it All Together!
Before we book a site, we always use the iPhone Coverage app (Coverage?) to check the latest network maps where we will be. We also read reviews on Campendium and RvPark Reviews, looking for notes about cell signals. If it's on the edge of coverage or has no coverage, we simply don't go there.
When we get to each new site, it’s a little dance of trying each hotspot in my preferred location (on the window behind my desk – colocated with our NAS). If I get decent bandwidth (> 10mbps) in that location I just go with whichever has the best speed test. Always speed test – number of bars can be very misleading. If speed is lacking (< 10mbps), I speed test each HotSpot, pointing the antenna out other windows to cover each direction. If both are over 25 – 30mbps, I use the one with the least data usage that month.
Future Plans for Improvement (phase 2)
So far, we've been pretty lucky with this setup. However, it is a bit of work to set up each location, and sometimes it's not 100% stable. The day I'm writing this, I've had the modem (tethered usb) disconnect from the GoAC about 3 times, causing me to have to unplug / plug in the USB to get it to reset. But usually it is pretty solid.
At some point I want to upgrade to a solution with a permanent external (roof) antenna with both wifi and cellular antennas in a single solution. At the same time I will upgrade to a router that can connect to said antenna and has at least two built in modems (just insert the SIM cards). Of course, when I do this, there will be an updated blog post and video!