Cellular, wifi, and networks – OH MY!

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In the camper, I need to support a plethora of devices- from laptops, to handheld devices, to TV/entertainment related devices, and even a wireless printer. It’s amazing what gets stuff into 42′ of house. Couple in juggling between an unlimited data plan as my primary, a backup cellular data plan, and a tertiary fallback to campground wifi – it’s a confusing mess to put it politely.

Network Overview

In general, my camper is setup very much like a typical house. All of my devices connect to a router and in turn, my router connects to the Internet.

Network diagram
Network diagram, my devices connect to my WifiRanger and my Internet comes from cellular or campground

Our Network Backbone (aka our router)

We use a WifiRanger (specifically their Go2) as the backbone of our network in the camper. All of my devices connect to it – laptops, iPods, iPads, Rokus, Wii, wireless printer, and our wifi hard drive. This lets me have a single network in order for everything to talk to each other. This is important because if you’re juggling multiple networks, it’s just a pain. There is always something on the wrong network from something else. I also found that it was infinitely faster and makes a stronger wifi network than using a mobile hotspot.

The WifiRanger isn’t the only product in this market space. But, I believe that it’s the most user friendly.

Sources of Internet

Yes, I said and mean “sources” – plural. I have multiple sources of Internet as I require it for work. If I can’t work, I get fired. Being fired would be bad. We also use it for my daughter’s roadschooling. And then there’s the entertainment aspect of it.

Fortunately, the WifiRanger Go2 lets me manage where I’m getting my Internet from (called “Wifi-as-WAN”). I don’t but can configure it to serve some devices from one Internet source but others from another. i.e. put the kids on crappy campground wifi but me on the faster cellular data.

Primary – Unlimited Verizon Dataplan

Tech cabinet with boosters, hotspots, and media drive
Tech cabinet with boosters, hotspots, and media drive

My primary source of Internet in the camper is an unlimited data plan with Verizon. I discuss mobile data plans in this article. I use a JetPack 6620L that publishes a wifi network and just put in WifiRanger at it. (I had issues with getting the tethering to work right.)

Secondary – AT&T Wireless Shared Data Plan

Our cell phones are on a shared data plan. Around home, we point them at the camper’s wifi network because it’s typically pointing to an unlimited data option in order to save on data used (just like you would your house’s wifi network in a stick & bricks house). As part of the shared data plan, I also have a line for a mobile hotspot (a Unite). I do this because of the rare occurrence that AT&T edges out Verizon in speed and quality of service. I can’t recall the last time I went to my backup as AT&T and Verizon typically run pretty neck and neck. But, it’s there if I need it.

Tertiary Backup – Campground Wifi

I’ve had a few different cases where I had either no cellular service or it was pretty terrible. In these cases, I had to opt for campground wifi. In these cases, if there is an option for upgrading to “better” service, I do that. The nice part of this is that with the iPhone 6 and above, they natively support Wifi Calling (aka VoIP). It lets me make/take calls and send/receive text messages with only a wifi connection.

The added benefit to having a router (aka my WifiRanger) as part of my network is that it presents my 10+ devices all as a single device for the campground wifi. It lets me cheat the # of device restrictions that some providers impose.

Out of courtesy to my fellow campground guests, we don’t stream TV if we are on the campground network. Most campgrounds have very limited bandwidth and streaming can degrade the performance for everyone around you if you do.

Boosters and Whatnot

In the foreground is my wifi booster attached to my TV antenna and in the background is my cellular booster antenna
In the foreground is my wifi booster attached to my TV antenna and in the background is my cellular booster antenna

I also have 2 different kinds of boosters in my system – one for cellular data and the other for wifi boosting. The boosters can take weak signal and make them stronger. They are limitations, though, and I’ll describe them below.

Cellular Booster – weBoost Drive 4G-X

If I’m in an area of marginal cellular service, I’ll turn on my cellular booster. There are a couple of serious limitations with this booster:

  1. Like all boosters, it can’t make something out of nothing. You need SOME cell signal for it to boost. If you have “NO SERVICE”, the booster likely won’t help you.
  2. This model of booster only has a coverage area of 18-24″ (yes, inches) around it. This means that your phone/hotspot/whatever is being boosted has to be in that imaginary bubble. My way around this is a Bluetooth handset; I leave the phone by the booster’s internal antenna and then can use the phone from anywhere inside and outside around the RV. There are other boosters on the market that make a bigger “bubble” but come with their own quirks.

Wifi Booster – WifiRanger Elite

In the rare event that I’m using campground wifi or am parking lot docking it and I don’t have good cellular service, I’ll revert turn on my externally mounted antenna wifi booster. This was installed/attached to my crank up TV antenna.

You have to be realistic in what this does- it boosts your signal to the wifi network’s “towers” or “access points” but it can’t fix a campground’s slow/crappy service. The best way to test if it’ll help is to go stand near the campground’s wifi “tower” and connect. If it’s super speedy there but not in your camper, your wifi booster will help; if it’s still mostly slow, that’s the same experience you’ll have with a boosted connection. Commercial internet service isn’t cheap and many campgrounds don’t have the expertise to handle it properly.

I can honestly say, with using my unlimited cellular data and staying in RV parks, I can only remember one night at a Walmart parking lot where my wifi booster came in handy. In fact, I’d likely not buy it again and save the $200 or so.

1 COMMENT

  1. We’ve had a heck of a time getting reliable internet when we travel but it seems to be getting better. Some parks (and other places like Walmart and truck stops) are finally upgrading their systems so they are pushing better internet. We also added a Winegard Connect (http://www.winegard.com/connect) to our 5th wheel which made a big difference. We’re still limited if the parks network is bad, but in a lot of cases we now get a pretty strong signal.

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