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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.
Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy of Technomadia.com and RVMobileInternet.com
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!