How to Get Online On the Road
Nowadays it is possible to get online just about anywhere in the country.
We'll try to keep updated with the latest information about cellular services. But the main object here is to give you an idea of what works for other traveling families, so you can decide what best suits your needs.
Please bear in mind that prices and technology are likely to change faster than we can keep up with them. And rates are likely to vary, based on your "home" service area.
Families on the Road reccommends Technomedia as a good source of technical information about types of Cellular and Internet services. Cherie and Chris provide in-depth details and up to the minute reporting on services and what is changing for those of us on the Road. Technomedia has also written the "The Mobile Internet Handbook: 2016 US Rvers Edition" which you can purchase below.
The Mobile Internet Handbook: 2016 US Rvers Edition by Chris Dunphy
Weighing the Options
by Tom Smythe (FOTR since 8/2007)
- Cards/phones work where you have coverage (most of the US, varies by provider)
- Speeds vary wildly depending on what network you're on and how far from the tower
- Plans work better close to Interstate corridors and larger metropolitan areas (there are exceptions both ways)
- VPNs work well on cellular connections if the speed is good
- Roaming is slow - VERY slow
- You won't know what kind of speed you'll have until you get there
- If the tower is full and more voice users want a line, data connections get the boot first
- Works anywhere you have a view to the South/Southwest (direction depends on which bird you're assigned)
- VOIP works with satellite (but , only if you're willing to pay $290/mo or more and $11, 000 for the dish/kit)
Portable or automated equipment available ($1, 300 to $20, 000 and a wide range in between)
- Welcome to FAP (Fair Access Policy) - download too much and your speed is throttled to dial-up
- Speed suffers tremendously (dial-up or worse?) when an IPSEC VPN is active (not so bad with SSL VPN)
There are so many variables that each situation is unique. For example, we have Sprint using EVDO in their high speed areas. But, coverage gets spotty - even on the East cost where coverage is suppose to be great. I need a phone for my job at all times. I just can't justify the up front and monthly costs to get that with satellite. So, our travels will always be in cell coverage areas. Unfortunately, some of them are painfully slow. We've seen as slow as 1-2Kbps with intermittent connectivity. And this was a location just a couple miles off the I-80 corridor outside of Chicago!
There are satellite programs available that will not run VOIP but will carry VPN slowly (see above). As long as you can get by without telephone/cellular, satellite will allow you to reach far more sites/locations with better speeds than you'd have with non-existent cellular air cards (no tower in range).
"We've had Hughes (was DirectWay) satellite for more than a year (18mo?) and the pricing has not changed at all. It has always been $59.99/month for the most basic/cheapest plan. Starband has a $49.99/mo plan (that requires a 15mo commitment).
The tripod price has actually been going up; a little, each year. You can go with eBay and start at $400 and probably end up at $600 for everything or go through a dealer/installer and pay anywhere from $900-$2000. If you go with the automatic mount, you're looking at $5000-6000 with installation. I would not trust any service other than Starband or Hughes unless you're willing to pay big bucks for Unasat.
Pick your dealer carefully as there are some real sleaze bags out there."~Kathy "Hopalog" (FOTR since 2004)
Learn more at www.datastormusers.com a site setup for mobile satellite users. They have a variety of topics covered using different speeds and feeds for different needs.
Be aware that Satellite works in line of sight. Do not park under trees. Storms may also effect it's efficiency.
"We've had a satellite on a tripod for almost a year and have been very happy with it. It takes my husband about 20-30 minutes to set it up. We bought it used from another FT RVer who is an installer. We've had problems with it twice but we called the installer, and the issues were resolved over the phone. We tried the air cards and the speeds weren't fast enough plus we have 5 laptops so the expense of multiple air cards is out of the question.
As for dialing in the satellite, we use an OPI meter to dial it in as well as one of the computers which 'talks' with the satellite modem through an IP address."
"I see so many people spending so much time lugging out their tripod and then finding a signal, I think its crazy. I know you can buy a sat. tracker, but it still seems a pain to me.The only people that say how easy it is are the people selling it in my opinion. I myself, think its to much work and to cumbersome. Plus its a high theft item, right next to generators."
~ Jody "bootslamer"
"We have an internet satellite dish on a tripod with HughesNet service that we use AS A BACKUP to our Kyocera router and Sprint broadband card. Most of the time, especially near large cities, the broadband card speed is faster than the satellite. See our setup."
~ Laurie Franks
Free Wi-Fi Hot Spots - It is possible to get online for free (or the price of a cup of coffee) at many locations with any laptop which has built-in wi-fi or a wi-fi card. No ISP required. Bookmark the Wi-Fi site on your web enabled cell phone so you can find the next one when you pull into a new town.
- WirelessTrips.com Is a web site run by a family that is dedicated to travel and finding free Wi-Fi spots to work from.
Internet by Cell Phone
Costs $5 a month and you do NOT need an additional ISP. This method does use cell minutes, but nights and weekends are free. You do need to have a compatible cell phone and Verizon's mobile office kit. (It connects the cell to the computer in the USB port)
"Verizon bills themselves as the only company to have true wireless broadband and by the looks of their speeds, I think I believe them.
Here was the deal. You buy the card from them, anywhere from $50 with a $50 dollar rebate and on up into the hundreds for cards that will let more than one computer go online at once. If you sign a two year deal its $59 a month and a one year contract its $79 a month. I haven't done it as I can't commit to two years of anything, but if you can, its probably a good deal.
If I make it to quartzsite this year, I'm going to get the Satellite dish on top of the rv. There you can buy a refurbished model for 2500 which is half of a new one and then pay $59-$89 to get on just about anywhere anytime."
~ Jody "bootslamer"
"I have T mobile service. If I'm not staying at a place with wifi I will use it in a pinch. Its slow, but its better than nothing. I tend to seek out places with wi-fi and then just use my phone for secure stuff."
~ Jody "bootslamer"
"I have a Cingular (now AT&T) USB connector for my laptop.... AWESOME service! I have service in every state except some limited service in Montana, Alaska, North Dakota, Utah, Canada... of course that was before AT&T teamed up with Cingular.
On the plan they have a USB port that connects to any PC, laptop, etc... and is included in our phone plan for $55.99 a month. I have unlimited access and can use it anywhere there is a cell phone signal. I have had great results with it so far. We have had it a month. Lovin it!."
~ Katherine Kuehn
Yahoo Groups for Internet on the Go
- Internet by Wi-Fi- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/internetbywifi
- Internet by Cell - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/internetbycell are two great places to turn to whenever you have a question about getting online.
Also see RV Internet Access
Help for HS Web Masters - If you are running a homeschooling (or as we like to say "roadschooling") web site or travel journal/blog you might want to join the HSWM yahoo group for support and excellent technical advice.
Find modem-friendly campgrounds at
And truck stops where you can log on at http://www.layover.com/friend.htm Enter the state and you'll get a list of modem friendly and internet ready truck stops.