Wi-Fi is Like a Box of Chocolates

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April 18, 2010

by Chris Guld, www.GeeksonTour.com

Wi-Fi can be the best way to connect on the road:

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  1. All current laptop computers have the capability to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots
  2. Wi-Fi hotspots are easy to find.  Lots of RV parks, cafes, truck stops, and libraries have Wi-Fi hotspots.
  3. There’s no contract, it’s pay-as-you-go.  Many hotspots are even free.
  4. Some Wi-Fi hotspots are extremely fast.

BUT …

“You never know what you’re gonna get.”

You may get a Great Wi-Fi Hotspot

One RV park may have multiple Access Points (the antennas/routers you connect to) and have a full T1 connection to the Internet (a high-capacity, high-speed, direct line thru the phone company.)  In this park, you could be just about anywhere and get a good connection.  When you do, it will be a nice fast web-browsing experience because of the T1.

You may get a Poor Wi-Fi Hotspot

Your next RV park may be using a residential size satellite dish for their Internet connection and only have one Access Point/Router.  A residential size satellite dish may be a good way for one person to connect to the Internet – but not for dozens of people to share.  And the one Access Point means you need to be close to it – it may only work in the clubhouse.

You may even get a Great Hotspot that Turns Bad

Lots of things can change or go wrong.

  1. You may have a great connection – and then some large RV pulls in next to you and blocks your signal so you can’t connect to the hotspot.
  2. Radio Frequency (RF) interference may unpredictably limit your connection to the hotspot.
  3. The hotspot may get its Internet connection from a local cable company, and the cable company has an outage. This happened to us once when a construction crew mistakenly cut the cable.  In this case you’re still connected to the hotspot, but the ‘backhaul’ connection to the Internet is non-existent so you can’t browse.
  4. You might even be at an RV park hotspot where your Internet usage is monitored and you exceed your limit so get cut off.

#4 is fairly rare, but it has happened to us.  We’d had a series of RV parks with poor or non-existent Wi-Fi.  We had to rely on our Verizon tethered phone connection and were approaching our monthly limit,  then we pulled into a park where the Internet was screaming fast.  We were so excited!  We downloaded all our updates, watched our favorite TV episodes and TED videos, and caught up on lots of work.

Then it died.

We were getting no better than dial-up speed.  Only then did we notice the fine print on the login screen, “This service is designed for email usage and web browsing; Downloading large files or excessive use of bandwidth will result in automatic limitation of Access”

Although it was aggravating to be on the receiving end – a hotspot that monitors bandwidth usage is actually a good thing.  We used to support Wi-Fi hotspots and know how one or two users can ruin it for everyone else.

If you really need the Internet …

The main lesson to be learned is that, if you really need the Internet, you need more than one way to connect as you travel.  Wi-Fi can be great, but when it’s not, you need cellular or satellite.  If you do use cellular or satellite, remember that Wi-Fi can be a good alternative when you’re in a bad cell area, or when there are too many trees for your satellite dish.

Lots more Information

There are many more articles here about this topic, just use the menu above which is labeled ‘Communication Tech’ and choose ‘Internet Access.

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Leave a Reply

15 comments

  1. Don Eyre

    At the rates a lot of these parks charge these day a lot more effort could be put into making better Wi-Fi. Nearly everyone that RV’s has a laptop and uses it as their main method of communication. I use Skype a lot and some places that when you can coonect, it is so slow that it won’t work.

  2. Barry Zander

    I just upgraded to 3G for my internet connection tethering my cell phone to my laptop. I still don’t know exactly what 3G means. Is 3G available everywhere there’s a tower or only in select areas? Should everything be faster or just the time it takes for downloads? Even when the phone service is good, libraries are my favorite wi-fi spots for accessing sites other than financial and those that I consider sensitive.

  3. I totally agree with having multiple ways to connect to the internet. Not having internet is no longer an option in the modern world! Sattelite would be nice, but is too pricey.

    We use Verizon with a USB cell modem. The plan comes with unlimited WI-FI access at hotspots that seem to be everywhere. When we’re in the boonies we use the cell modem to go on the internet, that way we stay under our allotted 5 gigs per the plan. I second the library usage.

    More here: http://bit.ly/bYVYqc

  4. SEEN ON CAMPINGTIPSGROUP (Yahoo Discussion Board): “. . .Verizon has a new plan that you may want to consider. Buy a Palm Pre Plus phone for $50, pay $30/mo for their data plan on a 2yr contract and use the phone as a “hotspot” to connect up to 5 laptops.

    The Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus are currently the only two phones that can also be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot. I got one recently and can say that it works as advertised.

    Regular computer data plans from Verizon are around $60/mo, so this is half
    price.”

  5. Driver

    Kenny L….your terms are really confusing partner! Most of the rest of us (I’ve been in a major technology services company for 20 years) understand that WI-FI has nothing to do with having Cellular USB modems that you plug into your laptop. If you have Verizon, you have Cellular access. On the other hand, if you have an internal wireless connector in your laptop, you likely have Wi-Fi connectivity to hotspots (usually Local Area Networks) in various locales. Those are separate technologies, son.

    You just don’t get “unlimited Wi-Fi access to hotspots” from a Verizon Cellular Modem plan. Those are two different things. You should not be writing and advising until you understand the simple differences.

    Your explanation is made even more confusing by your further claim that your “unlimited” Verizon plan is “limited”… to 5GB. You are confusing by not having complete information…again!

    For anyone reading Kenny L’s ongoing ‘contributions’… seriously, folks. This poster seems to have sort of gone around the bend of clarity…you need to go to his site and explore it to see what I mean. Here’s a excerpted ramble:
    =====================================================
    “Turn a people against themselves, and they’re easy to contain.
    Caesar
    The Dilemma
    Ever since I first read the above quote, I’ve never really looked at the human condition the same. In essence, it seems to me we’re all just shooting ourselves in our collective big toe. Recognizing this dilemma, I’ve wanted to start a dialogue, discussing a better way of going through Life together, and most importantly extracting ourselves out of this collective mess, i.e., build a better mousetrap…preferably minus the trap!

    What’s a NuNativs?!?

    Looking at the Matrix from the safety of a mountain peak.
    NuNativs is me, Ken Locarnini, (more about me here), the mad instigator behind this tribal conversation-builder, and then again, and most importantly, NuNativs is ALL of us. As David Wolfe says, “We are the heir to all the ages”. The collective dreams of all humans prior to this time are now culminating in a drive towards a common goal, a blending of universal desire, for paradise on Earth.”

    Not trying to be mean; just want to not have this poor soul waste my time with ill-researched rants like composting toilets installed in RVs, growing hydroponic gardens in toy-haulers, and unlimited, limited wireless cellular wi-fi hotspot misrepresentations.”
    =========================================

  6. FOLLOW-UP: See the following post on ZDNet about the new HTC Droid Incredible and the new $10/$25 a month tethering rates being offered from Verizon:

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/cell-phones/?p=3692&tag=nl.e539

    QUOTE: “. . .For business users I think the $25/month is right at the edge of the acceptable level for cost, but still personally think that is a bit too much. The Mobile Broadband WiFi Hotspot feature on my Palm Pre Plus was $40/month, but is now FREE. I think the service should be free for all devices and the carriers should let you access the 5GB limit you pay for in any way you want. If you are paying for monthly data up to 5GB why should it matter how you are using that data? I think $10 is the limit I would pay for this monthly data access and having it free on my Palm Pre Plus is a major reason I use this device on Verizon Wireless. . .”

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