As discussed in prior blogposts, broadband cellular service is typically received through a modem that attaches to one computer through a card slot or a USB port, and provides that single computer with access to the internet for a monthly fee. Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T are the most popular carriers that RVers use for their broadband cellular access.
As you might imagine, the cellular carriers really want to collect a monthly service fee for each computer connected to their network, and if you ask them how you can use one card or USB modem to provide access to more than one computer, they are likely to tell you it cannot be done and that you need to get another card or USB modem and pay another monthly fee for each computer that needs internet access.
Some people have actually been told that if they try to “cheat the system in any way”, they are breaking the law and will go to jail. Probably not true, but the carrier could certainly cancel your account. (I am not a lawyer and you should ask your lawyer for advice if you want to know more about that.)
In this article, I will discuss two popular ways to share one broadband cellular connection:
- the hard way — using your computers built-in “internet sharing” software, or
- the easy way — using a cellular router actually designed for the task.
All modern computer operating systems like Windows XP/Vista and Mac OSX, have the ability to do “internet sharing“. The basic idea is that whatever internet access that one computer might have, can be shared with other computers using a different network port or even a wireless adapter.
If your computers already have what it takes to share an internet connection, then this can be the least expensive way to accomplish the goal of having more than one computer access the internet on just the one broadband cellular monthly service fee. Even if you have to add something like another network or wireless adapter, the upfront costs aren’t that expensive — maybe $20 to $70.
As good as I’ve made it sound so far, how can this be the “hard way” to share an internet connection?
The challenging part of internet sharing using just the software already on your computer comes from troubleshooting problems that can (and most likely will) occur along the way.
For even the slightest of geeks, “networking” can be very easy and painless. People who are network-savvy know what to look for before, during, and after problems are evident on their computer networks. You know these people because if you aren’t one, you probably have a few on speed dial.
For the folks who readily admit that they have never setup a computer network, and for whom terms like “NIC card”, “ethernet port”, “wireless adapter” and “TCP/IP Settings” — are just a bunch of letters thrown together than have absolutely no meaning… Networking even just two computers can be a daunting task.
There will be challenges that occur when internet sharing, and finding help can be a real … what’s a good word here… OK, i’ll play it safe — It can be a real pain.
Look at how many articles there are. Check out the verbiage in some of those articles. Can you handle that? if so, then rock on with your bad self and rejoice in your low-cost network.
Just remember this: If (or when) problems occur, your internet sharing solution
- will not be supported by Microsoft, Apple, or the people that made your computers;
- will not be supported by Sprint/Verizon/AT&T/Alltel or any other carrier or ISP;
- will require you to keep one laptop ON (not asleep) to always feed the others;
- will add some wear and tear to your ‘routing’ computer;
- can affect performance on all computers, depending on type of internet activity;
- always have certain types of activities that simply may not work right.
Alright then… what about the “Easy way”?
The easy way is to buy a “cellular router” that is designed to do the job, and optimizes the connection performance at the same time. Cellular routers are a lot like the cable/DSL routers you may have used in stick-built, but differ in that the cellular routers are designed to accept a cellular data card or USB modem and use it as a connection to the internet. Your average cable/DSL router can’t do that.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you need a router that specifically supports the cellular data card or USB modem that you use — not all cellular routers will handle any/every model device that’s out there and if the router you choose doesn’t, it can turn the ‘easy way’ into the ‘even harder way’.
You also want to think about what you want to use your router for, and how you connect to your router. Some routers do a better job of handling the more complicated types of connection — like VOIP/Skype, VPN, online banking, online gaming, and even video/audio streaming. Some routers have four ethernet ports to hard-wire computers that don’t have wireless connectivity — some routers only have one ethernet port, or none at all. Some routers have no wireless capabilities, some have WiFi G, and a couple of them now have WiFi ‘N’ radio technology that allows you to use your wireless computers even further away from the router than ever possible.
The last thing to look for in a router, might actually be the first thing to look for, and that’s to find out about the manufacturer’s track record for supporting the cellular routers they make. Broadband cellular is a fast-evolving technology and you want to make sure that the manufacturer of the cellular router you choose, is keeping pace with the industry by releasing bug fixes and updated firmware on a regular basis. This will ensure that the router you buy today, will continue to be useful during the term of your cellular service contract and beyond. On the subject of support, you might also want to buy your router from folks that routinely serve the needs of the RV community with pre- and post-sales support — but thats obviously a highly biased opinion.There you have it. Lots of information to help you decide how to share your broadband cellular connection.
Next article will focus on pieces and parts that make up a whole selection of gear to outfit your RV with broadband cellular.
Until then, if you have questions or comments about this article, please join in on the forum discussion created just for this topic by clicking here.