For many, campervan and RV wifi has become more of a necessity than a nice-to-have.
If you use your van to seek a few days off-grid, internet access is probably the last thing you want or need.
But when living long-term in your van, your needs will probably be different.
You might need to work online, stream music, or binge on Netflix occasionally. These all need a decent wifi connection.
Even checking emails once a day and keeping in touch with family and friends on social media needs some internet access.
There are a few ways to get internet in your campervan and plenty of jargon, so it can all be a bit confusing.
In this post, we’ll spell it all out so you can choose the best RV wifi system for your lifestyle.
This post isn’t especially techie, but there are some terms you may not have come across before. We’ve included a simple glossary of terms at the end of this post.
What is RV Wifi?
RV wifi is much the same as any other wifi and provides a wireless connection to the internet.
In a house, typically, you connect a router to the internet through a landline. The router broadcasts a WiFi signal. Any wifi-enabled device within range can connect to it, using the signal to access the internet.
There’s no landline in an RV, campervan, or motorhome to connect the router to, so an alternative solution is needed.
How Will You Use the Internet in Your Camper?
There are several RV internet options we’ll discuss below. But before we launch straight into that, take a moment to consider how you’ll use the internet in your RV.
By taking stock of your needs and how you’ll use the internet, you can determine the best solution for you.
Are you a digital nomad? If you work remotely and your income depends on an internet connection, you’ll want the most reliable solution, even if that costs a little more.
Do you want to stream video and music on demand? Again, you’ll need a decent and reliable wifi signal, though if it’s not 100%, it probably isn’t the end of the world.
Maybe you just want to check emails once a day and browse your social media channels. Your usage isn’t heavy, so you might not see this as critical, so you can get away with a cheaper, or even free, wi-fi solution.
Internet options vary in cost. Weigh up the features each provides against the upfront and ongoing costs to help your choose the best RV wifi solution for you.
RV Internet Options
Because you can’t install a fixed telephone line in your RV, campervan, or motorhome, you need an alternative solution to get an internet connection.
The best RV internet option depends on your needs, your lifestyle, and your budget.
There are four mobile internet options:
- Free wifi hotspots in your RV
- RV park and campground wifi
- Mobile wifi with wireless service providers
- Satellite wifi for RVs
We’ll look at each of these options in detail, the gear needed and the pros and cons, and more.
Free Public Wifi Hotspots
At a Glance
Free or low cost
Not ideal for remote areas
If you don’t need a reliable internet connection and only occasional access, you could use free public wifi hotspots.
Free wifi hotspots are widely available, from fast food outlets to coffee shops, supermarkets to malls, train stations to hospitals.
Though primarily free, you are often expected to trade your email address for access.
Public wifi rarely offers high-speed connectivity, so probably not the best solution if you want to download movies.
The range of each hotspot varies too, so unless you strike it lucky with your parking location, you may not be able to get access from your RV.
But suppose you need to check your emails, update your social media, and don’t want to use your cell data. In that case, these free hotspots offer a convenient solution.
If this is an option you’re most likely to opt for, make sure to read the section below about security.
How to Connect to Free Public Wifi Hotspots
Connecting to public wifi hotspots is easy.
- Enable wifi in your device’s wifi settings.
- Available wifi hotspots will appear in a list. Open networks that don’t need a password won’t have the little padlock you can see circled in the image below.
- Choose your network. Some will take you to a landing page where you may need to enter an email address. Others will connect you right away.
RV Park and Campground Wifi
At a Glance
Free or low cost
Not ideal for remote areas
Most RV parks and campgrounds offer wifi facilities now.
Some are marketed as free and included in the pitch fees. Others may charge a premium, so only those that want the service need to pay.
Some campgrounds offer a mix where a free connection is available in wifi zones, usually close to the reception, but offer a paid option for a higher speed connection.
In our experience, all campground wifi is hit and miss.
Large campgrounds need long-range wifi to get a decent signal across the entire site.
For some reason, not all campgrounds install antennas, routers, and access points capable of the task. The upshot is a poor signal in at least some areas of the campground.
Throw a few trees into the mix and the solid walls of your RV, and getting a usable signal to your device is a tall ask.
Even in zones where the signal is good, wifi speed will slow considerably if the frequency is congested with other users and devices.
Just try using the internet first thing in the morning when the entire campground is waking up. When lots of people want to see what’s been happening in the world overnight, with their morning coffee. Forget it!
In our experience, if you rely on the internet for your income, or can’t live without a good connection, campground wi-fi alone won’t cut it.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve the situation.
RV Wifi Boosters
An RV wifi booster does precisely what its name suggests. It takes an existing wifi signal and boosts it.
They’re often referred to by different names, including wifi extender, wifi booster, range repeater, and range extender.
They have the same objective though: to boost the wifi signal though they do it in slightly different ways.
Depending on the type you buy, a wifi booster can extend the range. It enables the signal to reach your RV and amplifies it, making it more usable.
A booster kit includes an external antenna, an internal antenna, a booster pack, and a power supply.
The best wifi boosters use omnidirectional antennas mounted on the roof. Some of the more budget-friendly options use a directional antenna or even a panel antenna, ideal for keeping your van life costs down.
These need to be pointed towards a cell tower or the public wifi route to pick up the best signal, offering a less flexible solution.
High-end wifi boosters are pretty clever too.
You can configure them so they can use available wifi signals depending on your specified rules. Let’s say you have a cellular data plan (more on that below) and access to public or campground wifi.
You can configure the wifi booster and set the priorities to connect to the lowest-cost network first.
It’s worth bearing in mind that this device is a signal booster. It can take weak signals and improve them to an extent, but it can’t generate a signal where there is none.
Best RV Wifi Boosters
Wifi boosters aren’t the cheapest campervan gadgets, but they certainly provide greater flexibility and connectivity.
For a complete lowdown on this solution, keep an eye out for our upcoming post on the best RV wifi boosters. It will cover everything you need to know about the different types of boosters, how they work and what to look for when choosing a model for you.
In summary, here are our top 4 picks of boosters.
Mobile Wifi with Wireless Service Providers
At a Glance
Widely available through cell service providers
Great solution where no other wifi solution available
Mobile so stay connected on the road
It can be super fast
Private, more secure connection
Unlimited data plans can be costly
Dependant on cell signal
The most popular RV internet option by far, mobile wifi is a great all-round solution for full-time RVers.
With a data plan from your cell phone provider, you can access the internet from your smartphone and turn it into a personal wifi hotspot.
Creating a personal wifi hotspot turns your phone into a mobile access point. You can then tether other wifi-enabled devices to your phone, using its internet access and data.
Cellular service providers, or carriers, offer a range of data plans for mobile internet access. When comparing plans, it’s important to consider all the features and especially any limitations.
Here are a few crucial things to look for when assessing if a data plan will meet your mobile internet needs:
- Text & call coverage
- 4G LTE coverage
- High-speed caps
- Data usage limits & throttling
- Unlimited data plans
Verizon is one of the most popular service providers of unlimited plans used by full-time RVers in the US.
Offering four unlimited plans, Start Unlimited, Play More Unlimited, Do More Unlimited and Get More Unlimited, their 4G LTE coverage is excellent. All plans include 5G connectivity where available.
Prices range from around $70 per month, and discounts on additional lines are available.
Mexico and Canada talk, text, and data are included in their plans. However, data speeds are throttled after a certain level of use.
Giving Verizon a run for its money on price, T-Mobile is a serious contender for RVers who don’t rely on internet access when in remote areas.
While T-Mobile’s coverage isn’t quite up to that of Verizon, they offer less expensive plans with unlimited data.
They have plans that include unlimited 5G & 4G LTE data, Netflix, and all taxes and fees included.
Also offering discounts on multiple lines, T-Mobile provides different levels of throttling on their packages. Make sure to take your data needs into account when comparing packages. If you regularly use over 100GB a month, you should probably opt for their Magenta MAX plan.
From our research, we can see many customers are happy with AT&T’s unlimited plans.
Undoubtedly, their coverage is as good as Verizon’s.
However, it seems AT&T’s current plan availability isn’t as good for full-time RVers who need plenty of data.
Their unlimited data plans limit how much data can be used when tethered. The smallest plans prohibit the use of tethering altogether.
Depending on use, you may need to invest in wifi booster hardware and prepaid data plans or add a hotspot router as a second line.
Mobile Routers for RVs
The downside of tethering devices to your phone is that it drains your phone’s battery quickly. To avoid this, either keep your phone attached to a power supply or use a MiFi router.
A MiFi router acts much like your cell phone’s internet access. It receives an internet signal the same way, but it doesn’t have calling and text capabilities.
Because the router is a separate device, you don’t need to run the battery down on your phone.
You can connect multiple devices to the router at the same time too.
Set up all your devices to connect to the router. When you switch between wifi networks (say from your cellular data to a public wifi connection), you only need to change the connection at the router.
One of the main benefits of using a separate router instead of your phone is they provide a much stronger wifi signal. It makes them a good option for larger RVs and motorhomes.
If you travel abroad often, consider unlocked routers and those without any geographical limitations.
These don’t restrict you to a specific service provider, so you can switch providers easily if better packages become available or use local data SIM cards to gain internet access abroad.
For some reason, beyond us, finding unlocked routers is almost impossible – at least we haven’t found one yet. So if you spend long periods abroad, using your cell phone as a mobile hotspot with a local SIM card is probably your best international option.
Some of the best mobile routers include:
- Netgear’s Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot Router – ideal if you’re with AT&T.
- Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L – one of the most highly rated routers on the market.
- Skyroam Solis Lite – great for international roaming.
You can buy them outright or rent them as part of your cellular data plan if you only need them for short trips.
While 4G LTE coverage is good across the US, there are undoubtedly other remote regions where weak signals can be expected.
Because reliable connectivity is dependant on signal strength, if an internet connection is critical and you expect to be in National Parks or remote areas, you may benefit further from a wifi booster.
Satellite Wifi for RVs
At a Glance
Costly (at least for now)
Slow (at least for now)
Bulky gear (at least for now)
So far, all the RV internet options on our list have one thing in common: they’re not 100% reliable.
In a world where remote working is becoming the norm and vanlife and RV living are on-trend, this can feel like an unnecessary compromise.
And guess what? With deep enough pockets, you can eliminate this.
Satellite wifi for RVs has been around for a while.
With the press of a couple of buttons, a roof-mounted satellite dish deploys and automatically searches for a satellite signal.
The upside is they take up no additional storage space. The downside is you’ll need to park where trees or other obstacles don’t impede the signal.
Tripod mounted satellite dishes are a less costly alternative, but the kit takes up storage space. You’ll need to consider security too when you leave it unattended.
Sadly, aside from the high initial outlay and expensive monthly costs, satellite wifi is much slower than cellular alternatives.
But quite soon, that’s all about to end!
Thanks to Elon Musk’s SpaceX program, Starlink RV Wifi is on its way! We already know of people testing it. Ok, so it’s not fully mobile yet, but it is coming.
Starlink satellites orbit much closer to Earth than traditional satellites. Much closer! This means the communication speed is way faster. As more satellites are deployed, that speed is only set to improve further.
Promising high-speed internet access, with no tiered pricing and a relatively small roof-mounted satellite dish, StarLink will be the digital nomad’s dream come true.
High-speed internet access in the middle of nowhere!
We can’t wait!
On any public, shared wifi network like those in coffee shops and campgrounds, security is a potential issue.
At worst, a hacker could compromise the network, so avoid using your credit card or transmitting any other sensitive information.
If you use public wifi a lot, there are ways to protect yourself.
Enable the ‘Always Use HTTPS’ option on websites you regularly use. You’ll find this setting somewhere on most websites that need a logon.
You can improve the security of public wifi hotspots by using a VPN.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can still be hacked, but any data stolen would be heavily encrypted, making you less of a target.
There are several VPNs available, but rather than opting for the cheapest, consider speed first. A VPN can slow down use. When using public wifi, often already a slow connection, adding a cheap VPN may make use frustrating.
We recommend using a VPN designed for streaming and without data limits.
Tips for Good RV WiFi Signal While Camping
Having excellent RV wifi means we can run our blog on road trips, uploading photos and video. We can Facetime our family and friends and binge on our favorite Netflix series at will.
If you’re anything like us, the best solution for your RV wifi will be a combination of the internet options available.
We use local SIM cards (we’re currently traveling in South America) but aim to use different carriers. Where one provider’s signal is weak, the other often makes up for it.
A wifi booster helps on campgrounds where the signal isn’t terrific, and when we’re in the middle of nowhere, we pine for SpaceX success!
RV WiFi Terminology Explained
Here’s a very light explanation of some wifi terminology.
This describes the maximum data transfer rate of the wifi connection and is expressed in Mbps.
This is the physical location where you connect to the internet. You may see these called wifi zones around campgrounds or in coffee shops.
Acronym for megabits per second and is how a wifi network’s speed is expressed. Typically, the higher the number, the faster the connection.
A router is a device that directs the traffic on the wifi network, broadcasting the wifi signal and transmitting data between your mobile device and the internet.
This is a simple way of turning a device with a wifi connection into a mobile hotspot. Say you have a wifi connection on your smartphone but not on your laptop. By switching on the tethering feature on your phone, you can tether your laptop to it, sharing its wifi signal.
Service providers can slow the speed of your internet connection. An irritating behavior (in our opinion), many unlimited plans begin slowing the connection once you reach a certain limit of data usage. Many also throttle their speeds during busy periods.
Service provider data plans vary, and a popular choice for RVers is an unlimited plan. This describes how much data you can use on your monthly subscription. Watch out, though. Many unlimited plans throttle data or limit how much can be used when tethered.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) cloaks your device’s IP address, so all your online activity is anonymous. It is especially useful when using unsecured wifi networks such as campgrounds, coffee shops, co-working spaces, or those freely available to the public.
The difference between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wireless frequencies is in the coverage and bandwidth. 2.4 GHz wifi has better coverage but is slow when compared to 5 GHz. In real terms, you can download and upload files much faster on a 5 GHz frequency but need to be position much closer to the router to pick up its signal.
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Check out our introduction to RV Internet for a brief overview.