CELLULAR DATA FOR YOUR RV
Outfitting: Cellular Data Internet Access + WiFi Router
Getting stable, reasonable, non-throttled, internet for your motorhome/RV is damned near ridiculous. RVer’s are stuck with a couple of less than perfect options: shared RV Park WIFI (never a desirable choice) or get your data from the cell-phone companies’ cellular tower.
We did the research, which led us to a great solution that works quite well: Visible’s cellular network combined with a very good mini-travel router to supply stable internet access to all our devices.
What do we need and how do we get it on the road?
To get internet into our laptop in our motorhome, we use the cell towers you drive by throughout the country. These towers transmit wireless cell phone signals out to the surrounding area. This signal is used by your cellphone for phone calls, but that signal is also used to send and receive data packets. When you use your smartphone for something other than talking on the phone, the data needed comes into your phone via these towers.
We need a system to get us data for our computers and electronics as well as phone signal.
A nifty solution is a small device called a “JetPack” or MIFI device. It works just like a phone (you need a SIM card and an account from the company). The JetPack receives the cell tower data, then sends out a low-level wireless signal that your laptop or phone can connect to for internet access. This device is also known as a ‘hot-spot’.
Most cell-phone data plans for a hot-spot come in at around $95 per month. The plan provides you with “unlimited access” to the data and advertises that you get the fastest speeds available from the tower – but there is a catch. After you consume 15-gigabits or 20-gigabits of data, your provider “throttles” you. This means, you still get unlimited amounts of data, but it comes to you much, much slower. Instead of 30-megabits per second (Mbps), you will get 1/2 of 1 Mbps. If you think back to the old days of 14.4 kbps modems, it’s that bad. You can get your email and browse the web, but streaming movies, and gaming are out of the question. This is the status of access in the industry, and it sucks.
The Solution: VISIBLE
Each of the three big cellular companies have a secondary company (or VMO (Virtual Mobile Operator) that markets low cost solutions for cellular access. They offer less expensive phones and pre-paid/no-contract budget plans. The catch is that as a customer, your plan prioritizes lower than their primary customers. If there are 1,000 people accessing a tower, the main customers get priority over you. Not great, but not bad either. As mentioned earlier, Verizon provides the greatest number of cell towers around the country. This is great news for RVer’s since we’re typically set up away from city centers.
Verizon’s VMO is VISIBLE. Visible uses the same cell towers that Verizon uses. Instead of $95 a month for high speed service which gets throttled, Visible offers deprioritized access (meaning Verizon’s customers get first crack at the tower. If too many customers are connecting to that tower, then the secondary customers (Visible) will have a slower signal. This data is not capped or throttled. Visible also requires you to buy one of their phones, for the “hotspot” device or have a phone that is on their approved list. The best part: plans start at $40 per month. That’s it… Even better, they have a group rate feature that can lower your overall bill to just $25 a month!
$25 a month for unlimited, un-throttled, and multi-devices accessible wireless cellular data that can be accessed wherever you are in range of a Verizon tower.
As noted, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile start you off with a fair level of internet speed, but then they will slow you down to 1/2 Mbps (or 650 Kbps) after you consume a certain amount of data. With Visible, you start off with an adequate amount of speed (5 megabits per second) and keep it at that level. No throttling.
What can you do with 5 Mbps? About 80% of what you need to do on the internet. You will browse, check email, read forums, and do social media with ease.
I notice sluggishness when you stream a movie and watch YouTube, though we don’t have any issues with Skype or Zoom calls. When we put Netflix or Prime on the TV, we do get it at 720p, and occasionally the signal buffers, but this is rare.
What can’t you do? You won’t be able to watch a 4K resolution movie, or play Call of Duty, or watch three movies at the same time. In our first test, we connected three iPhones, two iPads, one 40″ TV playing Netflix and two laptops (One playing the news on YouTube). All this happened with relative ease.
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