We’ve come a long way since dial-up. Just five years ago, if you wanted to get Internet while RVing, you had to schlep your laptop up to the office and plug into the one phone cable. It was very slow, and you needed to limit your time so other guests could use it.

Now you have 3 choices for high-speed, wireless Internet access:

  1. Wi-Fi
  2. Satellite
  3. Cellular

Geeks on Tour using Satellite dish for Internet

We depend on our Datastorm Satellite Dish to give us Internet wherever we are.  But we also use Wi-Fi when available, and we tether our cell phone to the computer when the other two methods are not available.

All three of these, when working well, will get you high-speed.  Almost as good as the DSL or Cable you can get at home.  What they won’t get you is unlimited high-speed like you can get at home.  The satellite option has the most clearly regulated limit.  It’s called ‘FAP’ and it stands for Fair Access Policy.  You see, everyone with a satellite dish for Internet is sharing the satellites.  The satellites I’m familiar with are owned by Hughes and Hughes takes care of managing everyone’s usage so no one customer takes more than their fair share of the bandwidth.

Getting ‘FAPPed’ means that Hughes has caught you going over your limit and they throttle your bandwidth down to just barely a trickle.  You can still get online, but getting anything done is painfully slow.  What is the limit?  Well, it depends on your contract.  Mine is for 350 megabytes/day.  That’s a lot.  Both Jim and I can do all our work with websites within that limit.  But, if I decide to download a movie from, say, Movielink.com – that’s at least 2 gigabytes.  No can do.  If you want to understand more about it, you can watch the video: Bandwidth Limitations on Satellite Connections.

Cell phone companies who provide high-speed Internet either with an aircard, or with a tethered cellular device (phone or pda) also have limitations.  According to Verizon’s broadband plan, $59.99/month gets you 5 gigabytes of bandwidth.  If you go over, you’ll be charged .49 for every extra megabyte.  5 gigabytes is a lot.  But, if you watch online videos, and especially if you share the connection with your spouse or others, you could certainly go over.  Up until recently, Sprint’s broadband plan was truly unlimited, but that is changing.  Make sure to read the small print!  Verizon has a page which gives examples of browsing activities and corresponding bandwidth.  And, if you need to brush up on the megabyte/gigabyte math basics, here is a Geeks On Tour newsletter – the last article is a beginner tutorial on byte measurements.

I left Wi-Fi for last because every Wi-Fi hotspot is different.  You never really know what you’re going to get.  Although equipment for a Wi-Fi hotspot often has the capability to limit bandwidth to individual users, it is rarely used – especially in RV parks.  The amount you can use depends on how considerate you are of others.  A hotspot is a shared connection.  If there are a lot of people using it heavily, everyone suffers.  Think of an old telephone party line.  You would get pretty angry if one person was hogging it all the time.  Same thing with Wi-Fi, it’s just harder to identify the culprit.  Then again, if there are only a few people in the park and the Internet source is a nice fast connection, go ahead and download that movie.  You could brush up on the original Andromeda Strain before going to see the new one!

Chris Guld

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  1. Yeah, I remember that time using internet such a difficult one, limited time and limited place.Gladly we have so many ways nowadays to surf the net freely.I hope this will be free lifetime.

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  4. cheryl norman

    Hi, I am about to become a full time RVer. I am trying to find out if I get satellite internet will it support live tv? Which brand is the best one for this service? Thanks for any help, I am a novice.

  5. Rick Johnson

    All cellular carriers seem to be moving towards the limited “unlimited” plans. Sprint was the most recent one to move to that platform. We just purchased a kit at http://www.wifiinmotion.com that has made our class c one big hotspot. It is secure, and allows my wife and I do both browse the web at the same time. It’s in the $900 range, but based on our “business-on-the-road” needs, it’s been well worth the expense.

    Also, in their FAQ section on their site, they offer examples of what 5 Gig relates to in the real world, which was really helpful.

    Keep trekking down the road!

  6. Marty – there are so many USB wi-fi adapters. They also change all the time, some of our favorites are no longer made. The thing to ask for is USB Wireless Network adapter specification: 802.11 b or g. We like the names Hawking and Buffalo, but there are plenty of good ones out there. Expect to pay around $80, but even the $30 Belkin or $50 Linksys at Walmart will probably be an improvement over your built-in.

  7. Marty Hill

    Another question for Chris, I also attended the RV-Dreams Rally where you spoke of a USB connected external antennae for the laptop for better WI-FI reception in campgrounds and other areas. I am having difficulty in locating an antennae. Do you have any brand names for such a devise? Thanks Marty

  8. 5 Gigabytes per month on cellular offers quite a bit more flexibility than 350 Megabytes per day. Very few users will ever have a problem with the former, but I know several who have “hit the limit” with the latter.

    Also NOTE WELL that this article does not address the MOST important aspect of internet access–SECURITY. WiFi has pervasive, inherent security risks, of which every user should be aware before logging on. Both Satellite and Cellular have inherent security which all but eliminate certain risks–those related to someone tapping into your signal.

    Please do yourself a favor. Google “Wi Fi security risk” and see what I’m talking about. Wi Fi can be secured, but you MUST be vigilant and careful at all times when using it.

    IMHO, you should only use Wi Fi as a last resort if satellite and/or cellular are not available to you when travelling.

  9. John, You’re right. The terms ‘bandwidth’ and ‘data transfer’ are similar yet different and what I am referring to in this article is actually data transfer. I like to use analogies. Data is like water coming through a hose. Bandwidth is the size of the hose – a firehose delivers much more water per second than a garden hose. Data Transfer is the amount of water actually delivered. In the case of getting ‘FAPped’, it’s like Hughes is crimping your hose!

  10. Darrel, I also am unaware of any limitations on Alltell wireless data service. However, with the recent announcement of Alltell being purchased by Verizon, the end is probably near.

  11. Hi Chris, I’m not aware of any bandwidth limitations using Alltel cellular service.

  12. Thanks for a very informative update! This is useful information, both for time on the road and for those of us who live in rural areas where cable or other hardwired high-speed connections aren’t available.

  13. John Hilley

    I know that by common usage the meaning of bandwidth now means to most people the amount of data transfered, it actually is the rate of communication in bits/second. Thus a bandwidth of 1.5Mbs is different type of measurement than data transfer of 5GB/mo. One is the rate and the other is the cummulative amount over a period of time. One is measured in bits (b) and the other Bytes (B), which are often interchanged erroneously.