Many travelers carry several devices that can connect to the Internet. Computers, iPads, iPods, iPhones, Androids, Blackberries, game consoles, printers, and more. These devices often use WiFi to connect.
Public WiFi hotspots can provide faster connections than 3G cellular. There are generally no limits for data when using a public hotspot. I’ll address security in a moment.
Configuring all these devices to connect to different hotspots as you travel can be confusing. Being able to print to a wireless printer at the same time can really be challenging.
How do you connect?
In some RV parks you can get your own DSL or cable Internet connection.
Using a Router
To connect all your devices and have them all connect to the Internet, you can create a Local Area Network or LAN using a Wireless router. Your devices all connect locally to the router, and the router connects to the Internet. This means you only need to configure your devices to connect once. This is especially important when it comes to printers.
There are many ways to make this connectivity happen.
A very popular device is the MiFi, from Sprint, Virgin Mobile, and Verizon. It gets cellular wireless data and provides a WiFi hotspot for up to 5 devices. Smart Phones can now be used as hotspots, too. Data plans vary depending on your provider. Cellular is the technology that works while going down the road. Now there are 4G MiFi-type devices and data cards providing much faster connections in limited areas where 4G service is currently available. This is where it is all going. We’ll probably get a 4G card this spring.
If you have a cellular data card, you can use a cellular router to share the Internet. Cradlepoint and others make good cellular routers in a variety of configurations. You can connect more than 5 devices with these routers. Don’t laugh. I know lots of folks who have too many tech-toys.
Routers have evolved over the years. I got my first router to connect multiple wired computers to a dial-up modem. After that, we got a router to connect our brand new DSL modem to our home/office network. We had a satellite Internet service on the road for years. We had a router that was also an access point to create a wireless network.
Take a look at the Cradlepoint router in the picture at right. It is getting an Internet connection from a cellular device and then it shares that connection by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot inside our RV. Let’s call that hotspot GeekLAN. Our printer connects to GeekLAN, and when our computers are also connected to GeekLAN, we can print. When we are in an RV park with good Wi-Fi, we prefer to connect our computers to that – sometimes for speed, sometimes just to avoid going over our limit with Verizon. Let’s call the park’s Wi-Fi KOA-wifi. The printer is on the GeekLAN network, our computers are on KOA-wifi. We can’t print. That’s a pain! We also have a ClickFree backup device that automatically backs up all the computers on our network. But, if our computers are connected to KOA-wifi, then they’re not on our network.
Wi-Fi Ranger Router can Connect to Wi-Fi
Now there is a router that can connect to almost any Internet connection, including public WiFi hotspots, and you still have your LAN. It is called the WiFi Ranger. Just like the Cradlepoint, you can connect a USB Cellular Data Card or Smart Phone, a Satellite Modem or a land based DSL or Cable Modem. Unlike the Cradlepoint, or any other wireless router, the Ranger will detect and connect to Public or Private WiFi with the proper credentials. So, in the example above, the Ranger can connect to KOA-wifi as its Internet source. The Ranger creates the GeekLAN hotspot. All our computers, printers, ClickFree, and other wireless devices remain connected to our own network … GeekLAN. This makes life in the RV more like life in a house – all your devices get set up once – to your household network – the only device that needs to be reconfigured as you travel is the the Ranger. You configure and control the Ranger with an easy to use web page interface.
I have been using the WiFi Ranger for several months as we travel all around Florida. It impresses me with how it can connect to RV park wireless networks. Even parks that have subscription Internet can be used with the WiFi Ranger. You still need to pay for a connection, but the only device that needs to be configured is the Ranger. Your other devices connect to the Ranger.
The Ranger has not been perfect, but then, what Internet connectivity option is? I will have a more thorough review of the WiFi Ranger soon.
I’ll repeat what I said earlier, “There are many ways to make this connectivity happen.” You may have a solution that works for you and I love to hear about them. Let’s discuss this in a WiFi Ranger Forum Topic.
Thanks for the article, I myself am affiliated with WiFiRanger, but I think that routers for mobile applications is a business that’s just going to keep growing.
It’s great to get people sharing information like this for all of us to read.
I use a Sprint Overdrive mifi hot spot and we connect laptops and smartphones to it. It works great, and can auto switch from 4G to 3G and back. I also have a multi-homed network at home, so the Overdrive can instantly add speed to our modest home connection (why have the full speed and full bill when you would rather not stay at home?). We live in an area with plans to have 4G speeds that rival cable modem. When that happens I won’t need two providers!
I currently use a Verizon Droid X (no Wi-Fi hotspot enabled) but I was looking at the newer Thunderbolt which is 4G capable and had the same thought as you Dave.
When they bring 4G service to my area it is supposed to be faster than my current DSL so there is the potential I could upgrade to the Thunderbolt and use that as my primary Internet connection. Still not sure what I’ll do but it’s nice to have more options than in the past.
I’ve really been impressed with the WiFiRanger. It was soooo easy to set up. Really like that it comes loaed with your ID and password. Used it with the RV park WiFi for 3 months with no problems. Now in a COE park in southeast GA, with a really good AT&T signal. Plugged the aircard into the Ranger, Turned everything on and everything worked great. Also use a Wilson Trucker antenna and amplifier, but didn’t set those up here.
Downloaded NetWorx (free) today to better monitor our data usage since we are grandfathered into AT&T’s old plan. Still can’t go over 5GB/month. I monitor usage monthly on AT&T’s website, and the most we’ve used is 3.9GB/month. But I wanted to see what we were using per day, and I can set it to monitor the monthly usage by entering the date the AT&T counter resets (which is the 12th of each month for us). NetWorx is pretty user friendly also. Did check out the manual for clarification on a couple of things.
Thanks for all you do for RVers.