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RV Wireless Internet Access

Note: This posting is updated as new ideas and technologies emerge and are tested.

Something that both motels and RV parks must face, is the need for wireless internet access. The internet has become so much a part of modern society that many people work over the Internet for a living while others communicate with employers through it, do some form of online banking even if it is only to check their account balance, pay bills online, lookup driving directions, purchase amusement and concert tickets, etc. Even when camping for a weekend, the Internet can be a great boon and necessity. Many motels and RV parks are currently adding access. I have read an article about the state of California looking into addin it in state parks. Personally, I won’t stay at a motel or park if they don’t provide it either free or paid (at a reasonable price).

Unfortunately with wireless, the coverage is not even. Some spaces will get better signal strength than others while some will not get the signal at all. At RV parks, there is also an issue which I recently faced when a huge motor home came in next to me, parked at the very edge of the front of his space, and completely blocked my signal. I had to hitch up my trailer and move it 4 feet to the very front edge of my own site thus losing the parking space in front. An external antenna would have helped in this situation but I had not yet found one at the time.

I have found several devices to improve signal and make your internet life on the road much easier. Let’s take a look at them below…

The first suggestion is to use a USB wifi card rather than the built-in laptop card or a pcmcia card. USB devices come with a long cord and an antenna. They can be moved about for better signal and even put in your window. They appear to get better reception per several RVers I have spoken to who solved their issues with them. A very popular one is the Linksys USB Wireless Network Adapter WUSB54G which can be found at Walmarts and computer stores.

Linksys WUSB11

Another idea popular on the Internet is to build a dish similar to a satellite TV dish out of cheap chinese cookware. The dishes when used with a USB adapter can geatly improve signal 5-8 decibels. One seen can improve it by 24 decibels! They are directional and don’t seem to be too difficult to build. Plans can be found by searching the Internet. See http://www.usbwifi.orcon.net.nz/

Try a Hawking HWU8DD. This device is both a USB wirelass adapter and a dish combined. It boosts Wi-Fi distances by up to 300 percent with signal improvement of 8 decibels. Since it plugs into your USB port, it can be moved around and re-aimed as needed. On the front it includes LEDs for signal strength so you can easily see how well it is doing and readjust position. I found this nifty gadget at Fry’s and it should be available online at their site http://frys.com . I have used it and works very well.

Hawking HWU8DD

Another option is the Wi-Fire from hfield.com according to a comment from one of our readers. It extends range to 1000 feet and is very convenient.

Wifire

Lastly, an outside antenna would be ideal since it would be mounted outside the metal trailer skin and can be raised higher to receive over nearby huge A classes if mounted to do so. I found RadioLabs on the internet  with several solutions available for both inside and outside. I bought the WaveRV all-in-one external antenna/network card with 15 foot USB cable. They say it extends the range over 15x the range of your notebook wireless card and up to 1 mile of range to a wireless access point. It is waterproof and can operate in temperatures of -4 to 113 degrees F.  It has drivers for Windows 98SE, 2000, XP, VISTA, Mac and Linux!

I have been testing the WaveRV this week for work just by sticking it in my windows inside. Compared to my Hawking HWU8DD, in an area with poor wireless signal that a regular notebook wireless card can’t even pick up, the WaveRV performed very well and in fact better. It did greatly improve the signal and allow me to work on the internet at high speed with almost no dropouts. I plan to mount it on a pole outside I can raise and lower.

Dangrv.com - WaveRV external antenna

Another option which I am finally trying out now is broadband access by cellular network. Sprint, Verizon, Alltel, etc. support this technology with their data access plans. You don’t necessarily have to be on their phone service to use data service. Their previous “high speed” network was anything but. The 1xRTT standard is faster than dial-up but nowhere near broadband speeds and unuseable for anything but email at that speed. However, they have been upgrading to the new EVDO Rev A standard with excellent almost DSL speed.

It is a delight to use EVDO with an EVDO-capable aircard. Special deals can get you the aircard for free or at a deep discount, depending on the model you want. Cost per month on my unlimited minutes Sprint plan is $60. It’s not cheap but certainly worth it for work. There is also a $36 activation fee currently.

I chose Sprint over Verizon due to the fact that Verizon’s service is not unlimited like they advertise. There is a hidden 5gig per month limit. I chose to forego the free card offered and purchased the Novatel Wireless Ovation U727 instead. It came highly recommended for RVers with a better antenna, port to add an external antenna, microSD slot to use it as a pen drive too, clip to mount on top of your laptop, cable to move it away from the USB port, a lanyard, and a carrying case. It is also upgradeable. You can purchase both service and cards at any service’s store or kiosk. At some, you can take a test drive on a laptop there to get a feel for the speed and even run speed tests at http://speedtest.net which you can then compare to your home DSL.

A great place to get info, recommendations, discuss in forums, and purchase both while also getting better 3rd party support is http://3gstore.com . Those guys really know their stuff and work closely with the services. They know what you need no matter what your situation. It’s also a good place to get an external antenna, amplifier, devices to share your connection, etc.

Caveats: be aware that like cell phones, coverage does not exist everywhere and EVDO coverage is even less. You can usually find good speeds near large cities and they are adding or upgrading cell towers all the time. When you are out of an EVDO area and roaming, you will likely still be able to connect but at miserable 1xRTT speed. You may also be able to connect even when you are not in a Sprint coverage area due to agreements between companies. A combination of wireless RV parks and EVDO should provide me with all the coverage I need and open up my RV park choices quite a bit.

Update: Sprint now has a 5 gig limit as well and they only allow 300 megs for roaming. Since most of the coverage they provide actually is roaming, I had to switch to Verizon with much better coverage. Their signal level is definitely not as good as Sprint’s. In fact it is just as lousy as the signal level for their phones but at least I’m not roaming. As yet I have been unsuccessful trying to use the 1xrtt network through Verizon but am switching out my card so will let you know.

Note: I have found that even with working 8 hours a day 5 days a week over the Internet and some personal on the other 2 days, I am only using 1.5 gigs. I don’t download videos or music and save really large file downloads for when I’m on wifi (in the middle of the night) which is faster anyway.

If you need your own access absolutely everywhere, satellite internet is still the only game in town for that. It is not as fast though still decent and you will have to carry and setup the large satellite dish each time you move. Monthly cost is similar but initial equipment cost is a minimum of $1500.





2 comments to RV Wireless Internet Access

  • Katrina

    Thank you, Dean! Really appreciate your sharing. I’ll have to check that one out too. Does cost twice as much but there’s always Ebay. 😉

  • dean

    I’ve been using the Wi-Fire from hfield.com It extends range to 1000 ft and I like it because it’s small, simple, and I can rest it on my laptop when I’m outside.

    Thanks for sharing your reviews!
    Dean

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