In celebration of our 100th issue of our newsletter, we’re looking back to the beginning. Our third newsletter – August 4, 2007 – featured an article “The #1 Best Thing to Improve your Wi-Fi Internet Connection.” If you read that article, you will see that surprisingly, not much has changed about improving your Wi-Fi connection. But, cellular barely existed back then! Now, it’s the primary method used to get online.
Even before we called ourselves Geeks on Tour, we lived in an RV and traveled the country representing a company called Coach Connect (now out of business.) They installed Wi-Fi Hotspots in RV parks and we followed along behind and taught the staff and visitors how to use it. When we needed Internet and we were not at one of these parks, we used our Datastorm Satellite dish (also now out of business.) We liked it so much that Jim became an installer, and we went to all the Datastorm Users Rallies.
We taught “Internet on the Road” at many FMCA and other rallies.
It was Coach Connect that gave us our start teaching seminars at the big RV Rallies. In 2008 we wrote a 4 page article for FMC Magazine that we thought was a definitive guide on Internet on the Road! Now, our friends Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of RVMobileInternet.com, have published a 243 page book on the topic! And, they update it constantly on their website. They keep track of the Cellular providers, all the different plans, and all the different devices. That is a fulltime job and we’re so glad they’re doing it! Chris and Cherie were our featured guests on a recent “What Does This Button Do?” show. Episode #72: How Do I Connect to the Internet while Traveling? Clicking the link will take you to our Show Notes. We normally reserve our Show Notes for members only, but this one we’re making public. You can watch the full YouTube video, (about an hour), or you can just read the notes, or you can read the notes and click the links in the left sidebar to watch the portion of the video pertaining to the notes.
Introduction: Coming to you from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. With Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of RVMobileInternet.com coming to you from an outdoor location in West Texas near Fort Davis.
You will hear some wind sound because of this.
Tip o Week: Turning your phone into a hotspot iPhone: Settings->Personal Hotspot->turn it ON. You can configure the name of the hotspot and a password. Android (Samsung on Verizon Unlimited): Settings->More Networks->Mobile Hotspot->ON If you have a plan that allows you to use the hotspot feature directly, you’re done. If your plan does not allow it, this won’t work. You’ll get a message saying you need to Call Verizon Customer Service to turn on the feature.
If you know your plan does not allow Hotspot, you can use the third party app called FoxFi. First you turn FoxFi on, then it will ask you to go the first setting and turn on Mobile Hotspot. Note: if you already tried turning on Mobile Hotspot directly and were denied (like we just did) this won’t work until you reboot your phone. You must start with the FoxFi app first. Android (Nexus on Project Fi) Settings->Networks->More->Tethering and Portable Hotspot->Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot=ON The first time you do this you need to Set up Wi-Fi hotspot by giving it a name and a password.
Here is our Member Video #412: Turn Your Phone into a WiFi Hotspot
How to connect to the mobile Hotspot using your computer. On either Windows or Mac, just click the button to connect to a WiFi hotspot – you should see your phone’s hotspot show up on that list. Click it, click connect, enter the password. You’re on!
Introductions: Chris and Cherie of Technomadia.com and RVMobileInternet.com. They live fulltime in an RV – a converted vintage bus – and travel the country. They’ve written a book called The Mobile Internet Handbook and are constantly learning about the latest and greatest technology. They are currently parked outside of Fort Davis, Texas precisely because it has extremely poor Internet connectivity. They are testing a variety of cellular boosters to see which one is best. In order to get enough Internet to join us on this show they drove into the center of Fort Davis and set up at a park. They use their phone – on Verizon – as their WiFi hotspot in order to stream their video to us.
Both Chris and Cherie are longtime technology geeks, Chris tells how he used to work for Palm Computing and he traveled the world to scope out the competition. Cherie ran a software development business and took that on the road when she met Chris. As long as they had mobile Internet, they could do their work. So they have become experts in that subject and they wrote THE book!
Overview of different methods to connect on the road. Cellular: from a hotspot device, or a cellphone, with a cellular service like Verizon, TMobile, AT&T or Sprint. Public WiFi Hotspot: there are Public hotspots almost everywhere, but don’t expect to have Internet connections like you’re accustomed to at home. You need to be close to the source of the hotspot, and you need to realize that a lot of people are sharing the same connection. Set your expectations! You will be able to check your email and check a few websites, but don’t plan to stream video. WiFi signals are very Line-of-Sight. The best thing you can do for improving your signal at an RV park WiFi hotspot is to get your antenna up on the roof. Satellite: not appropriate for most people, it is very expensive. But for RVers who like to park in the wilderness, it is the only way to connect.
Is it safe to use Public WiFi hotspots?
Most secure websites, like your Bank’s, use a protocol called HTTPS. If you look at the web address and see the S and a little padlock, it means you are on a secure connection – you are safe. The problem comes when you leave the secure website, go to some open website, like a forum and use the same password as you just did on the bank’s site. Don’t do that! Use unique passwords.
What about using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) – yes, VPN services do provide complete security, but they add complexity and they slow down your experience.
Chris D. mentions that there are advanced VPN services that can even make it look like you are connecting from a different country.
Cherie says that VPNs are overkill, not recommended for casual users.
Cherie shows the PepWave Surf on the Go The antenna on this device will pick up signal from a nearby Public WiFi hotspot and re-broadcast it to you devices as your own private WiFi hotspot. It can also us a cellular USB modem as the source for the Internet and re-broadcast that. WiFi-Ranger is a similar device but more powerful, and more expensive!
Current state of Satellite Internet
Two new options in the past year. Roof mounted robotic dish with pay as you go service. RV DataSAT 840. Not available on tripod. Roof space is a problem if you have a lot of solar panels!
A new tripod option is Mobile HughesNet Ka-Band from RTC.
Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, TMobile. These work thru the cell towers and they go much longer range than public WiFi hotspot. You need to buy a data plan from one of these providers. Verizon has the best coverage nationwide in the US, AT&T is a close second, TMobile has doubled their coverage in the past year, Sprint is a far fourth.
Only the newest phones connect to the new coverage with TMobile. It’s called Extended Range LTE, or Band-12. (Note: in order to read the full article you need to be a member of MIA (Mobile Internet Aficionados – Chris and Cherie’s private membership group) You can join here, and use the coupon code GeeksOnTourMIA for a discount.Do you need a hotspot device, or can you use your phone as hotspot? The problem with phones is that you want it with you. So if Internet is being provided by one person’s phone, and that person goes somewhere else, the Internet goes with them. Or, when you both leave, there is no way to have a remote monitoring device on. Chris and Cherie like using a Hotspot (aka MiFi or Jetpack) device as their primary Internet connection, then use their phones as hotspot when they need more.
Chris G. asks about using the SIM card from one of their Verizon phones (with Unlimited data) and putting it into a hotspot device instead. YES! Verizon allows this. Verizon is under legal obligation to allow the hotspot feature and not to throttle their unlimited.
Although you can put the SIM card into an older hotspot device, an old device will not be able to access the new XLTE signal. XLTE is like the carpool lane. To avoid overcrowding on the primary signal ‘lanes’ the XLTE is rolling out, but you need a current device to get into that ‘lane.’ The newest Jetpack is the AC791-L.
Signal strength vs. Internet Speed
The 5-bar, or 5-dot, indicator is just the phone’s interpretation of the signal strength. Speedtest.net and the Speedtest app is how to test the actual throughput speed. Sometimes there is no correlation between the signal strength and the actual speed. Speed is what counts.
Chris D. demonstrates how to take the jetpack apart to see the SIM card. Take out the one there, and insert another. The SIM card (Subscriber Information Module) is the identification of the contract to connect to the cell tower.
Here is a Geeks on Tour video on installing SIM cards in Samsung phone in Europe
Options for people who travel Canada, US, Mexico TMobile is the gold standard for this! TMobile plans cover “Mobile without Borders” Your plan will work just fine, you just don’t get the Binge On feature. TMobile also works in Europe, but not high speed, just 3G speeds. TMobile for travelers is awesome.
Verizon also allows International use for a $2/day in North America and $10/day around the world in their partner countries. , just not with the old unlimited plans! See details at Verizon International services page.
How do I track my data usage? First of all, no need to track data usage if you have an unlimited data plan! You can still get an unlimited Verizon plan if you’re willing to jump thru hoops – Verizon does not offer them any more. See Chris and Cherie’s report on Navigating Verizon Grandfathered Unlimited Data Plans – Assumption of Liability, Buying & Renting.To limit your data usage:
1. Turn off all syncing for photos on Google Photos, Facebook, Dropbox etc.
2. Turn off automatic updates
3. Turn off automatic video playing on Facebook (see Geeks on Tour video on how to do this: 410. Facebook on Android – Stop Video Autoplay *FREE)Monitor your data usage with tools from your provider. You can set up notifications for when you’re getting close to your limits. You can change plans mid month if you need to.
TMobile’s Binge On
On current TMobile plans, you can watch certain streaming video sites without the counting against your data cap. HBO, Netflix etc. but not Youtube.
Because of their plans, TMobile is the perfect 2d plan for travelers. Verizon or AT&T for the coverage, TMobile for all the goodies.
App o Week: Coverage These Technomads also write apps for iPhone as a side hobby. A great one is for US travelers to see what carrier has coverage in the areas you’re going. It’s called Coverage, Two Steps Beyond is their company.
Easily know before you go: Avoid having to check each provider’s coverage map individually to know where you’re most likely to keep connected.
No internet needed: All maps are stored locally, so you can see where coverage next is most likely even when you have none.
Urban and rural maps: Maps cover the entire continental USA for Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.
Know where to roam: view LTE, ‘4G’, 3G, 2G and roaming areas as separate overlays, focus on the coverage type you need.
Universal App – iPhone, iPod Touch and IPad, OS 5.1 and higher.
We travel all over the country in our Motorhome and we depend on our website, GeeksOnTour.com, for our living. Internet connections are very important to us and we rely on Verizon thru our Android phones to provide that connection. We also live-stream a smartphone educational show every week. It’s called What Does This Button Do? and we do it from our motorhome. In case you are not aware, “Streaming” and “Internet Hog” are synonymous!
I have to be reminded that some people use their phones to make phone calls! Just to be clear, we’re only talking about Internet … Data … connections in this article. Voice is a different topic which may or may not be affected by the same factors.
Most people judge their cellular Internet connection by simply looking at the signal bars on their phone. 1-2 bars = bad; 4-5 bars = good. But that’s not always true.
Using Ookla Speed Test App
Signal strength is only one measurement, and in my opinion it is not the most important one. We have been in places where we were seeing only 1-2 bars, yet our Internet performance – the speed – was very good. We have also seen 4-5 bars and had low speed. We use the Ookla Speed Test app to check our speeds. We’ve seen download speeds ranging from .2 Mbps to 74. But, those numbers don’t always correlate with the signal strength.
In the image above you can see that the signal strength is not that great, yet the speed is VERY good! And, we’ve seen the results go the opposite way as well; where the signal strength has been registering 5 bars, yet the speed is <1Mbps.
When we pull into an RV park now, we drive around with our cell phones out and Ookla Speed test running. At each possible site, we’ll do a speed test. We were recently at the Thousand Trails park in Hershey, PA and we planned to be there for #48 of our What Does This Button Do?, so we really needed good Internet. When we pulled into the park, our signal strength was registering only 2 bars … of 3G. Not good. There were some areas where we saw no signal at all. Then we found one area with 2 bars of 4G, so we started an Ookla speed test and saw less than 1Mbps of speed. We thought we would need to leave and find another park, but we kept looking at other sites and doing speed tests. We found one, where Ookla registered 2-3 Mbps both up and down, so we parked. Surprisingly, we were able to do our show just fine.
Not all Cell Towers are Equal
Realize that the signal strength bars are simply measuring how strong the signal connection is between your device and the nearest cell tower for your service provider. So, there may be times when you are very close and have good signal strength, but it’s an old tower with outdated equipment. A better connection doesn’t help if what you’re connecting to isn’t any good. And vice versa – you may have a weak connection but if the cell tower you are connecting to has the latest and greatest technology, you may still get good results. Realize that “Old” and “Outdated” may be measured in months!
Cellular technology is very fast-moving. If you want to learn more about this, we recommend the excellent book: RV Mobile Internet Handbook by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia. You can find the book and much more on their website RVMobileInternet.com.
The Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story
You can’t just look at the numbers and know how good your Internet connection is. I thought we would be unable to do our streaming show from the Hershey campground based on the numbers, but it went just fine. There are so many factors in this complex technology. It’s your experience that counts. Browse to a website; did it load fast or are you still waiting? Try to play a YouTube video; does it start right away and continue straight thru or does it stop ever few seconds to buffer? Try uploading a video; does it complete or does it die halfway through? If you’re not getting the results you want, there are signal boosters that will help, but only IF the problem is signal strength. If the problem is cell tower equipment quality, you may need to move!
Many travelers use their cellular devices as Wi-Fi hotspots. For example, we have smartphones with a Verizon Data Plan for Internet access. We turn a phone into a hotspot and connect our computers’ Wi-Fi to that hotspot. When the computer is working on the Internet, it is consuming Internet resources from our Verizon Data Plan. Many other people have a mobile hotspot called a MiFi or a Jetpack that their computers connect to. These are also powered by a cellular contract for data (Internet usage.) If your cellular contract has data limits, Windows 8 refers to it as a “Metered” connection. That means it is not free and usage needs to be watched.
Everyone’s limits are different. You need to know what your cell provider contract specifies. Let’s say you have a 5 Gigabytes/month plan. If you download a 2 Gigabyte Windows update, and watch a 2 hour movie on Netflix, you’ve used up the majority of your plan – and you may only be 2 days into your month! If you go over your limits, there will probably be a charge. This also depends on your contract. Some mobile internet providers do not charge for overage, they throttle your connection, meaning they slow it way down.
Other Wi-Fi connections, like a free RV Park Wi-Fi hotspot, or a home network, may be unlimited. That would be considered an UNmetered connection to the Internet.
There are three things that Windows 8.1 can do for you:
Track the amount of data (Internet usage) that is happening over a given connection
Define a connection as metered or unmetered
Limit the Internet usage when connected to a metered connection
You can see your possible Wi-Fi network connections by clicking on the 5-bar Network icon in the task bar (bottom right.)
If you don’t see the taskbar, just move your mouse to the bottom of your screen and it will appear.
You will see something like this (with different names.)
In that list, MrGeek is the name of our smartphone’s hotspot. If you right click on the name, you’ll see: Choose “Show estimated data usage” and the number of Gigabytes used will show up: Click on “Set as metered connection” and special rules will now apply when this connection is in use.
Settings while using a Metered Connection
Updates: While connected to a metered connection, Windows Update will only download priority updates, not all updates.
Store: The Windows Store will pause downloading apps — including updates for apps.
Start Screen: live tiles on your Start screen won’t update.
Search: Bing search will not automatically give search suggestions or web results
OneDrive Synchronizing: You can choose to allow (or not) OneDrive to upload and download files while using a metered connection. Open (or search for) your PC Settings->OneDrive->Metered Connections.
Upload and Download files over metered connections. Turn that OFF
Sync and backup settings over metered connections. Turn that OFF (although this uses less bandwidth and you may choose to leave it on)
Learn more about Wi-Fi and Mobile Internet
If you use Internet while you travel there is a lot to know. If you like using public Wi-Fi hotspots and want to learn how to get better results, we recommend the booklet from our friends at TechnoRV titled: Guide to Boosting your RV’s WiFi. It’s a quick read with plenty of pictures. You will understand a lot more of what’s involved in connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can be an educated consumer. The booklet also details the 3 levels of solutions that TechnoRV sells. We know that they use everything they sell and they know what they’re talking about.
If you want to learn everything about mobile Internet – not just Wi-Fi, but cellular and satellite as well, check out our Technomadia friends. They are devoting themselves to keeping up with all the options and they have a website and a book focused on RV Mobile Internet. See RVMobileInternet.com