What do you need to know about connecting to the Internet on the road?

20040906 can you hear me nowby Jim Guld

It depends. That’s my stock answer when people ask me about technology. In this case, it depends on how much you need the Internet. It depends on where you travel. It depends on how much you want to learn. The possibilities are endless. Understanding that there are  3 distinct technologies for getting a wireless Internet connection is very important: Cellular, Wi-Fi, and Satellite.

Our History with Internet on the Road

We have an Internet based business that requires us to be connected almost all the time to provide customer support, make additions and updates to our websites, stay abreast of news, and see what our friends and family are up to on social networking sites. We also have a weekly live broadcast called “What Does This Button Do?” that focuses on Smartphones and Tablets. We really need high speed connectivity to make that work.

Installing our DataStorm dish in 2003

Satellite: When we started full-timing in the RV back in 2003, the only way to reliably connect to the Internet was with Satellite technology. We installed a MotoSat DataStorm unit. That cost over $6k and service was $115/month. WiFi was just beginning to be available and you couldn’t rely on it. Some things haven’t changed much. Cellular data was only a promise. MotoSat has since gone out of business and our dish went into the dumpster the last time it needed expensive repairs.

Cellular: Cellular data is the way to go for most of us these days. We have been at it since the beginning. We started by tethering our old flip phone to the computer via USB and using the phone as a data modem. Very slow. When 3G came along, we upgraded and were able to tether at much higher speeds. We even found a way to create a WiFi Hotspot with the 3G phone and connect multiple computers. When 4G came along, we got a Mobile Hotspot device with higher speeds yet. Although 4G coverage was still pretty sparse.

When Chris and I got 4G smartphones which could be Personal Hotspots, we were living large. Coverage continues to improve everywhere we go. Speeds are also improving with Verizon’s XLTE rollout. It is not uncommon for us to get download speeds over 20Mbps and comparable upload speeds. We supplement Verizon coverage with AT&T data on our iPad, which can also be a Personal Hotspot. We are also researching cellular boosters to improve our experience even more.

WiFi: We still try WiFi when it is available. It can be the fastest connection in a given location, but that is rare. With our WiFi Ranger Go router and Mobile external device linked, we get a much longer range connection to public hotspots than we can get with just our computer’s connection. A better radio and antenna can work wonders.

So, how do I learn about this stuff? Every way I can.

The Mobile Internet HandbookI am reviewing a new updated Mobile Internet Handbook from our friends at Technomadia. Chris and Cherie are even geekier than us. Geek’s Geeks, as it were. They have put together an amazing amount of information in a book you should all get. They explain the different available technologies to get and stay connected. They present information about boosting signal, both cellular and WiFi. They give recommended solutions for anyone from power users like us, to casual browsers and emailers. You will see real-world comparisons and great tips.

The best tip is to manage your expectations.

What are you using?

5 replies on “What do you need to know about connecting to the Internet on the road?”

  1. Jim, that is why we kept the aircard. Luke has an old “dumb” phone. I just wondered if the data connectivity was mote efficient on one devise over the other. I often use my smartphone connected to the aircard for online use.

    Thanks, Judy

  2. Judy,
    From what I understand, there is no real difference between an aircard and a phone running as a hotspot connecting to the Internet.
    An aircard may be a better choice, because Internet is all it has to do and it can stay in the rig if you go to the store.

  3. I have a Verizon 14 GB (heavy user) Data plan that includes my Samsung Galaxy S5 Smartphone, and a Pantech 4G LTE USB Aircard in a router for “secure” shared use of two laptops, two Kindles, and others we allow to share our hotspot with a password we have shared with them.

    If we have a decent 4G Cell Service to both devices, do they handle downloads the same? Is there an advantage to use one device over the other as a hotspot? Hope this question is understandable.

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