With the right setup and gear, you can have internet access almost anywhere whether boondocking or relaxing poolside at an RV resort. If you’re working remotely or roadschooling the kids, you can power through Zoom calls or stream videos while camping just about anywhere.
First things first: What is RV Wi-Fi? As far as the internet goes, Wi-Fi in your RV works just like Wi-Fi anywhere else. You have a phone, tablet, computer, or any other Wi-Fi-enabled device; you connect it to the Wi-Fi and then browse or stream like you would at home.
The biggest difference is where the original signal comes from. Internet solutions for an RV are a little more complicated than a stationary home and need careful consideration.
There are several different ways you can stay connected during your travels. The two primary options are using cellular data from a provider like AT&T or a signal pulled from a local Wi-Fi network. This guide will explain how these options work, what the confusing internet terms mean, the gear you need to maximize your connection, and which Wi-Fi setup is right for you and your RV.
How will you use the internet?
The first step in determining the best RV Wi-Fi solution is to think about the level of connectivity you will need. Deciding how you’re going to use the internet while on the road is one of the most important considerations before you purchase anything.
Will you just be using your email and checking in with friends via Facebook? Will you be working from your RV? Do you have obligatory video conferences? Do your kids enjoy playing video games? Are video calls with family and friends from home a must?
If you use the internet only occasionally like checking email or online shopping then you probably only need a minimal internet setup. Depending on where you want to camp and your cell phone provider, you can probably get by by using campground Wi-Fi or your phone as a mobile hotspot.
However, if you plan on streaming movies or music you’ll need some more gear—and data—for a reliable internet connection. Most people are surprised at how quickly they use up data when they’re streaming.
If you’re working on the road or need internet access for homeschooling then you should be prepared to use at least 100GBs of data per month which is why an unlimited data plan is likely the best option. This way, you don’t have to worry about the amount of data you’re using throughout the month.
You also need to consider where you’ll be camping as your Wi-Fi needs will vary depending on if you’re staying at campgrounds or boondocking.
Do RV parks and campgrounds have Wi-Fi?
You might be wondering why you can’t just use the Wi-Fi network at RV parks and campgrounds. Most RV parks will have Wi-Fi and many RV parks offer free internet but getting a strong signal can be a different story.
We do not rely solely on Wi-Fi at RV parks. While we view it as a bonus if it works well, campground Wi-Fi networks don’t have the best reputation.
RV park Wi-Fi is slow for a few reasons:
- The other metal RVs in between your device and the Wi-Fi router weaken the signal
- The more people who are using the network, the slower the signal
- Rural and remote campground locations may rely on satellite internet, DSL, or fixed wireless internet which tend to be slower
Generally, you can expect campground and RV park Wi-Fi to be a lot slower than your home Wi-Fi or even other public Wi-Fi sources like coffee shops. If you need a reliable internet signal you need to invest in a little extra gear.
You can make the most of campground Wi-Fi by purchasing a Wi-Fi extender or repeater. The extender helps by rebroadcasting the campground’s internet signal throughout your rig. Most likely the signal weakens before it reaches your RV so a reliable Wi-Fi repeater will give your internet speed a boost.
Internet access while boondocking
Don’t expect to find a public Wi-Fi network when boondocking. Instead, you can stay connected with cellular data. You’ll need to keep an eye on your power consumption if you’re dry camping as many internet signal devices (i.e. boosters, satellites, routers, hotspots) will need to be charged or plugged in to get a signal.
Wi-Fi can vary greatly whether you’re boondocking or staying in an RV park. There are a few ways to check your connection even before you pick a campsite like Campendium for reviews on cell phone coverage. These resources give an estimation of the cell phone signal in a destination. For remote work, you’ll generally want at least two bars of signal.
If the signal isn’t quite as strong as you need it to be, check the settings of your apps to make sure you’re using as little data as possible. For example, with video players like YouTube or Netflix, you can choose a lower resolution. Or, if your email is loading slowly, select the option to load it as basic HTML.
Internet terms you should know for RV Wi-Fi solutions
To help you understand the terminology around RV Wi-Fi, here is an explanation of common internet terms and gear options.
Speed test: No matter the source, how fast your internet is running ultimately determines what you can do on it. Since internet speed doesn’t necessarily relate to the number of bars of cell phone signal or the level of your Wi-Fi connection, it’s helpful to know how to test it.
Google has a speed test function. To use it, type “Speed Test” into the Google search bar and click the blue “Run Speed Test” button on the results page. You can also use a speed testing website such as Ookla. You’ll need 1 Mbps (megabit per second) down for basic internet needs like checking email but you’ll want between 4 and 5 Mbps down for streaming.
If you’re uploading files or doing video calls you should pay attention to your upload speed as well. Upload speeds are typically slower than download speeds so don’t be surprised if your results say 10 Mbps down and less than 1 Mbps up.
Hotspot: This is the device that creates an internet connection from cellular data. Just like at home, you’ll have a password-protected WiFi network to connect to.
Companies use the term “hotspot” differently: T Mobile refers to its devices as mobile hotspots, Verizon calls its version Jetpack, AT&T uses the term Unite, and Netgear calls its hotspot device Nighthawk. While they have different names, they do the same job of supplying an internet signal. Most of these devices cost $100 or more.
Your smartphone can also be used as a hotspot. This is often referred to as tethering. Tethering your phone for Wi-Fi tends to be slower than using a dedicated hotspot device for your internet. It can work in a pinch but if you’re planning on boondocking or streaming regularly, tethering isn’t a practical long-term solution and you’ll most likely need a hotspot device.
Booster: Typically referring to boosting cellular data, these devices are designed to increase your signal from one bar of service to two. Cell phone boosters enhance a signal and increase internet speeds. This can mean the difference between getting 3 and 5 Mbps down. These devices range from $30 to upwards of $500.
Repeater, Extender, or Ranger: These three terms are essentially interchangeable. A Wi-Fi ranger rebroadcasts by repeating and extending the existing WiFi signal inside your RV. This solves a common connectivity problem when you’re too far away from the campground’s Wi-Fi router or there’s too much interference between your RV and the router. A repeater device can significantly enhance your internet speeds when using campground WiFi.
Some newer RVs may have these devices already built-in.
Router: Most people use a router and a modem connected to a professionally installed cable for their at-home Wi-Fi. And while this isn’t the typical internet setup you see on the road, you can use a router in your RV Wi-Fi setup as well. Wi-Fi repeaters, for example, use an antenna on the roof as well as a router inside the rig that broadcasts your RV Wi-Fi connection.
Unlimited Data: If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, you have limits on how much internet you can use. Most RVers will find that unlimited data is a more economical option than limited data where you pay for usage in addition to other fees like a protection fee that prevents you from going over your data limit.
If you plan on using cellular data as your source for an internet connection, consider an unlimited data plan so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of your usage.
Throttling: Throttling is when a cell phone provider slows down your signal. This can happen when you’ve reached a certain data threshold or if a tower is overloaded (for example, when there are a lot of people connected at once like at a festival or a concert). Throttling can be difficult to avoid. To help alleviate this problem, you can use two different carriers so you can hop on another network if one slows down.
Common RV Wi-Fi solutions
Once you understand where and how you plan to use the internet, it’s time to decide what type of RV Wi-Fi solution is best for you. Let’s walk through the different options for getting internet access in your RV.
This is by far the most popular internet connection option for full-time RVers. For this RV Wi-Fi option, purchase a hotspot from your data provider of choice.
Verizon and AT&T are considered to have the best coverage nationwide. You can opt to use one provider for your cell phones and the other for a hotspot. That way, if you don’t have a signal with one network somewhere, there’s a chance that we will have service with the other provider.
If you plan on boondocking or spending time in national parks and on public lands, you will need to rely on cellular data. While some remote campsites have decent Verizon and AT&T coverage, other remote areas will not. This is where a cell phone booster comes in handy.
The Netgear MIMO cell phone booster has a directional antenna meaning that it needs to face in the direction of a cell tower in order to boost a signal. For a higher price, you can install an omnidirectional antenna.
Best for: Boondocking, campgrounds without Wi-Fi, streaming, and staying connected while driving
Cons: Unlimited data plans can be costly but for many RVers it’s worth the price for having reliable connectivity on the road
For basic internet needs, you can use RV park Wi-Fi. Sometimes you’ll find a strong enough connection for using streaming services but it isn’t always reliable or predictable.
If you want to use campground Wi-Fi but need faster speeds install a Wi-Fi extender in your RV. Installation takes a few hours and the devices will cost a few hundred dollars.
In addition to RV parks, you can often find free, public Wi-Fi in parking lots of businesses like Lowes, McDonald’s, and Starbucks.
Best for: If you plan on staying in RV parks and campgrounds with amenities.
Cons: Public Wi-Fi can be less secure and easily hacked which makes your identity and information vulnerable. If using public Wi-Fi, avoid logging into online banking or any other accounts you wouldn’t want to be hacked. Public Wi-Fi is also unreliable, particularly at campgrounds.
Starlink and satellite options
Like most new technologies, Starlink’s satellite internet services continue to change and advance. For RVers using Starlink (now called Starlink Mobile) or those considering equipping their rigs with this system, here are the latest updates you should know about Starlink’s satellite internet system.
HughesNet is another satellite internet option that requires a dish to be installed on your RV. If you plan on staying at an RV park for weeks or months at a time, this could be a good option for you.
Best for: Long-term stays where Wi-Fi networks or cellular data is not available. Also, full-time RVers who like to camp in remote areas.
Cons: Starlink’s initial setup costs and Priority-based plans are expensive. Also, speed is affected by population density so can be slower if you’re in more populated regions.
If you’re planning on crossing borders with your RV, a Skyroam device might be the best option for you. This global internet plan is similar to a cellular data plan and designed for international travelers. You can buy unlimited data for a 24-hour period, a monthly subscription, or pay per gigabyte of data.
When compared with AT&T or Verizon hotspots, the Skyroam device isn’t as powerful. Plus, most U.S.-based cellular networks work in Canada and Mexico.
Best for: International travelers particularly outside of North America.
Cons: Cell phone data plans based in the U.S. offer better coverage and signal than global options.
Tips for installing RV Wi-Fi
Professional installation is available (and sometimes recommended) for any Wi-Fi device you decide to buy. Before you start tackling installation on your own, make sure you read the manufacturer’s installation guide and that you have all the required tools and accessories.
Your router and antennae (which may come housed in one unit depending on what you select) should attach to the roof of your rig to maximize your signal. There will be a few screws plus you’ll need to run a cable inside. Since that means drilling holes into your roof be sure to seal the holes with a manufacturer-approved sealant.
Different Wi-Fi product manufacturers may recommend different mounting locations on the roof. Make sure it has a clear line of sight as anything that may interfere with a signal will impede your Wi-Fi.
Then there’s the power switch. Your product will come with instructions for installing the power switch but a professional can also install it for you. Also, note that adding the router or antennae to the roof of your RV will raise the height of your rig.
How to stay connected anywhere
Since no single internet option will cover you 100 percent of the time, to stay fully connected consider using a combination of the above options for increased reliability.
Mix and match these options to best fit your needs. If you’re planning on spending most of your time boondocking, you could skip the investment of a Wi-Fi extender. If you don’t need a constant internet connection, you can choose between a cell phone booster or unlimited data on a hotspot device.
Taking the time to properly set up an internet connection makes traveling in an RV full-time possible. In the age of remote work and virtual schooling, the ability to stay connected almost anywhere allows you to see the world and still support your families.
Depending on your needs, your RV Wi-Fi will come with an upfront cost but it’s all worth it when you can take a work-related video call from your hammock while boondocking in a scenic location.
We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.