WIFI A Must Have In Your RV: How To Get Set Up

Internet access is becoming more of a necessity. When I’m on the road I want connectivity. Let's face it many of the services Today; GPS, phone, google searches etc, all require some kind of connectivity. For me having connectivity allows me to work and find out what I need. I know camping is about disconnecting, and at times I do. So I’m gonna share some of the ways of how to get WIFI in the RV
from free, low cost to a fully paid solution.
It really comes down to what your budget is and how much data you want to be using. Plus how long you might be traveling or how far. Getting free WIFI can either involve going into establishments that offer the free wifi or be within proximity to where the WIFI may not be reached within your RV on your device. (ie parking lots of the establishment.) I’m going to assume you patronize the establishment as I do, but I want to use my WIFI devices in my RV. The solution to getting that extra distance is with either an omnidirectional antenna or directional antenna and the use of a booster or repeater. As a techie, I realize that this conversation can get very complex very soon as there are many solutions out there that can make Things very complicated for someone who is not too technical. So I will just jump right into the pre-made solutions out there and the ones that I like. Then I will talk about other ways to get internet. Some for free and some are low cost, while other dedicated solution that will get you something more at a cost.

Hardware Solutions for WIFI

The use of a long range antenna and repeater will be necessary to get the best signal. Long range antennas come in two styles; omnidirectional (dipole) or directional.

Omni-directional Antenna

There are several types of Omni antennas, but really only one kind for WIFI. This type of antenna looks like a stick and they come in several sizes from a couple inches to several feet. For the purpose of an RV a 4 foot antenna is not that functional unless you have a contraption to collapse the antenna to your roof when moving and set it up when parked. Generally, the longer the antenna the more powerful and the greater distance your antenna will reach. Checking the manufacturer specifications will tell you the max distance.

Directional Antenna

Directional antennas come in several designs for close range to ultra long range. Here they are in order of distance from least to longest:

  • Panel
  • Cantenna
  • Yagi
  • dish

Panel

Cantenna

Yagi

Dish

Both types of antennas have their advantages and disadvantages

Feature Omni Directional
Distance/Range Distance (max 500 yards?) Point to point up to 50 miles
Direction of WIFI All directions focused
Time to Set up Quicker Takes longer
Frequency (5.8/2.8 ghz) Both One or the other

The more complex the solution, the greater distance can be had, but then more maintenance and more possible problems. In the end, choosing a simple solution trumps a complex one. Here are some of the easiest solutions I could find that just makes getting WIFI easier. 

Free Wifi for RV Travelers

Getting free WIFI is definitely possible Today. As I write this my retired in-laws are traveling across Canada and the USA. They are retired and want to do the occasional Facetime, so free is what fits their budget. For them where they can get free WIFI they will take it, from business to cities that offer it for free. They want-to-be able to browse the internet in their motorhome, so with hardware installed they should be able to get WIFI in their motorhome. Of course, they also patronize the business for groceries and things that they might need along the way. Here’s the list of places to check out for free wifi.

  • Walmart
  • Tourist information booths
  • Starbucks & Other Coffee shops
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Apple Store
  • Staples and Office Depot
  • Best Buy
  • Whole Foods
  • McDonald's
  • Home Depot
  • Libraries
  • Hotels (Hyatt Hotels)
  • City public locations
  • Restaurants
  • Auto Dealerships

Just Ask Someone For The WIFI Password!

Try walking into the business and just ask what the password is. This is what I do. Very often they will tell you. Sometimes we just want to get out of the RV and have lunch or a snack at a restaurant or go shopping. This provides the perfect opportunity to ask.

Sign up for a loyalty card With Free WIFI

Other ways to get free WIFI is to sign up for loyalty cards that offer it as a benefit for signing up. In Canada, if you sign up for a Subway Loyalty card you can get free WIFI when you visit the subway. In the US, lots of hotels are turning to loyalty cards to get people to sign up for it. Check out hotel chains such as Marriott International, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and Hilton Hotels

Apps to find Free wifi

Currently, there are a few apps on the Itunes store for free WIFI map locations. The app that I use on my iPhone is WIFImap, which I like and has been very reliable for finding WIFI locations. Like all apps, they come and go and depending on when you are reading this there might be a better app for finding free WIFI locations. The best way is to just look at itunes store or google play store for Free WIFI apps and see which one has the most reviews and highest reviews.

WIFImap (Iphone & Android)

WIFI Map is a free app on Iphones and the one I use. This app is great for free as it is, but if you want to upgrade you can download the WIFI map and use it where you might not have data to find free WIFI locations.

Wefi (Iphone & Android)

This is another great app for Iphone, though it does not have as much WIFI locations as the last app, is still a good option.

Instabridge (Iphone & Android)

Instabridge is one of those apps that are maintained by the users and are shared. It is great app also for finding free WIFI. It is definitely worth having.

Join Low-cost Telecommunications Or Wireless Service 

First off I have to say I love Boingo as a WIFI solution for traveling in general. It’s the company that I use when I travel overseas or anywhere for that matter. What’s great about Boingo that it has a large number partner WIFI hotspots currently, over a million worldwide.  A monthly subscription for $9.95, you get the first month at $4.98 is a great deal! If you have an American Express Preferred Plan or a Master Card you might already get it for free. You can have a look here. This gives you access across North and South America with unlimited access on any 4 WIFI devices. If you are a world traveler, you can get access on your mobile devices for the same deal. As an RV traveler in North America, this is fantastic for accessing a large number of hotspots as there are over 100k hotspots. Boingo even has an app for Android and IOS to find the hotspots that it supports. Ipass is similar to Boingo, but costs more, in fact, $85 a month. If you can get it through your work, I would get both. Both services will get you access to locations that usually charge for WIFI access like hotels, airport, restaurants etc.

Your Internet Service Provider With Public WIFI

In Canada, Shaw, and Telus both ISPs offers free public WIFI that is included in your high-speed internet packages. This is fantastic as I can remember on more than one occasion that getting public WIFI access was amazing. It really saved me on the usage of my data on my cell plan. I believe that in the US, ISP plans with Spectrum, Comcast, Xfinity, COX, At&T, sprint all offer the same public WIFI service.

Campgrounds with WiFi included

One of the top decisions for me when I find that there are several campgrounds to decide on, I always pick the one with the WIFI included in the fees. It is really a selling point for me as it allows me to check on things while we are camping. Not surprising, I just saw that a survey by the North American Campground Association that the number one amenity people wanted when camping was free WIFI. Here are a few websites that offer searches for campgrounds with WIFI. Pitchup and Rversonline. Usually, camp registration websites will have that information as well as apps on your iPhone or Android.

Mobile HotSpots for WIFI

Having a personal hotspot is one of the most reliable ways today to get 4g speeds just about anywhere. However having the right kinds of equipment such as a cell booster, can really enhance this option and get your data in places that where you might only get one bar on your phone. Plus if you are using a hotspot with a WIFIRanger, you are able to combine the data between your WIFI connection and your cell provider to get you more speed. There are plenty of options from lots of companies out there for creating your own hotspot anywhere, and there can be a huge difference in the equipment that you use and the provider of the service. Here’s the equipment that I recommend to get data.  You might also need a couple of directional antennas to get the best signal along with some wiring to hook up the mobile hotspot. If you are going to be in a spot that cell service is limited getting height, for a clear line of site is important and so is pointing to the nearest cell tower. Here is a website that uses a map to find the nearest cell tower. The site uses an interactive map, that you just type in the name of your cell phone provider and it lists all the cell towers. I would do this at home before you head out to your location so you know which direction your closest tower is located. Remember to bring a compass with you when you head out.

Data Providers to get WIFI

Unlimited Data From Your Cell Provider

Here is a company that I recommend as they give you unlimited data for a fixed price. There are no contracts, no data caps, and no credit check. This is simply the best plan out there if you want to work in your RV or really like browsing on the internet when you are traveling. Here's a link to an article with more information on it.

Tethering your Phone With a Booster

This is one of the easiest solutions to get data. However it is limited by your monthly plan, and if you get a call it may slow your data download speeds.

Satellite Internet (with TV)

If you are a mobile worker, or just like to have great data all the time, then this option is probably the best solution. This solution will cost you quite a bit but gets you speed and bandwidth. This type of internet access comes in two solutions. The first is roof mounted, which will cost you three to four times as much as the ground tripod models. The companies that provide this type of equipment is Winegardc-com, and GroundControl. The companies that provide the internet are Hughesnet, and Viasat,   

In Summary

As you can see getting on WIFI can be as simple as pulling your smartphone and tethering, but can get way more complicated, which I did not want to do here. I really tried to keep things simple as the combination of equipment, solutions, and complexity of this topic can get very overwhelming. I have a technology background and could go very deep into this topic, and I have spared you the details. What I have seen over the years is that WIFI has become a “nice to have”  feature to something that is becoming more of a utility that is a”must have”. With Time I am sure that free WIFI will at some point be pretty much everywhere, just like street lights exist on almost every single city block, but until that time the list of options listed above should get you on WIFI in most place if not everywhere.


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