Among the main concerns most RVers have as they consider hitting the road are their RV internet options. Individual requirements for RV internet vary, but everyone has some level of need to connect.

How can we stay connected to family and friends? How can we find all the information we need while we’re on the road? How can my kids connect with their friends for Minecraft, Roblox, or Fortnite? How can we watch The RVers or a how-to video by the RVgeeks on YouTube? (pardon the shameless plugs!) And for those of us who travel and work full-time on the road, how can we continue our work professionally and expediently?

These are questions all travelers have in 2021 (and beyond) because being connected to the Internet at some level has become a way of life for most of us. That’s why today’s post focuses on RV internet options. We’ll look at what’s available, the pros and cons of each, and what works best for most travelers. Let’s get to it!

RV Internet Options: What’s Available?

There are a variety of ways to connect to the Internet when we’re on the road, with public WiFi and cellular data access being the most common. But each of these RV internet options has some benefits and some drawbacks.

We’re not going to be delving into satellite internet as an option today because, due to its cost (both upfront & monthly) and higher latency, it’s more of an edge-case solution for people who have no other option, since it can provide RV internet pretty much anywhere you might travel. We’re also waiting to see when SpaceX’s StarLink service is opened up to mobile use, as it promises to be a game-changer in many regards… so we’ll have a dedicated post about that when the time comes.

In the meantime, let’s start by taking a look at the cheapest RV internet option, public WiFi.

Using Public WiFi for RV Internet

Public WiFi would include such options as campground WiFi, coffee shop WiFi, McDonald’s WiFi, library WiFi – essentially all WiFi that’s provided free of charge in a public setting.

Free WiFi is one of many RV internet options.
The free WiFi provided by some restaurants, coffee shops, stores, and libraries may be sufficient for travelers who don’t require (or desire) a consistent connection to the internet from their RV.

There are travelers whose internet use is minimal enough that they can save their greatest needs for when they’re near public WiFi. They might stop at McDonald’s and check and reply to some email, or make plans to go to a coffee shop or library for a while to upload or download whatever information they may need.

There are also campers for whom campground WiFi is perfectly sufficient as an RV internet option. They want to check their email or send a note or a couple of photos to family members, and they’re perfectly happy to go to the area of the campground where the WiFi is strongest, spend a few minutes doing what they need to do, and be done with it.

Campground WiFi being notoriously slow and crowded, this doesn’t satisfy the needs of all campers by any means, but there are advantages to this and other forms of public WiFi.

Pros of Public WiFi for RV Internet Access

The main advantage of public WiFi is that it’s free. It’s also widely available, especially if you travel in or near cities or if you tend to stay at commercial campgrounds. Plus there’s always a McDonald’s/Starbucks somewhere… and free WiFi is sure to be found there. But there are some downsides to public WiFi as well.

Cons of Public WiFi for RV Internet Access

As with anything else that’s free, the quality is not always top-notch. So public access, like campground WiFi, can be dicey in that it might not always work, could be crowded and slow, and in fact, is not always secure.

When using public WiFi, you need to keep a few safety tips in mind. If you have the capacity to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network… we use ExpressVPN), do so. This helps to keep your information private by encrypting data sent to and from your device. Bear in mind, however, that you’ll pay for a true VPN. While there are MANY free VPNs advertised, they’re not all as safe as they could be.

Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when using public WiFi as your RV internet option.
When using public WiFi, it’s wise to use a VPN or other means of safe transmission of data.

Always limit your interactions to sites that use reasonable security to protect your information. You’ll know this by the address of the site. When you see “https”, the “s” indicates that the network is secure, so it will encrypt any information you transfer across that network.

If you’re using Google Chrome, you’ll be alerted if a connection is not secure, but in general, it’s best to keep an eye on security yourself, use only networks you know, and use your cellular network if you’re conducting any important business online.

If you’re accessing public WiFi be sure to turn off File Sharing and AirDrop on your devices. These are both easy avenues hackers can use to compromise your device(s).

For additional information on how to safely use public WiFi networks, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s site on Privacy, Identity and Online Security.

How to Boost Public WiFi Signals

If you have access to public WiFi (say at a campground or even in a parking lot), but the signal is very weak from your location, there’s a way to improve your connection, and that’s with a WiFi booster. Here’s how it works:

The most important part of any WiFi network is the access point. This is where the signal originates. It may be located inside the office of the campground or inside a library or a store. You can’t improve or move the access point, but you can improve the receiver/transmitter you’re using to connect to it because that’s on your end. And that’s essentially what a WiFi booster does. It has a more powerful antenna that can better receive the weak signal coming from farther away in the campground (or from within the store, etc).

WiFi booster antenna
A WiFi booster antenna sits on the roof of the RV boosting a weak signal from a campground office, store, or other location.

Generally, the WiFi booster’s antenna will sit on the roof of your RV, pulling in the public WiFi signal from the campground office or other location. Additionally, a device inside your RV will be connected to the antenna and will amplify that improved WiFi signal inside your RV for use with your WiFi devices.

A WiFi booster, of course, only works if there’s a WiFi signal available to boost. A WiFi booster does not work with cellular towers – only with WiFi signals.

There are several options, with varying capabilities, for boosting WiFi (more detailed descriptions about each, read our post: Is Campground WiFi Reliable?):

Sale
NETGEAR Wi-Fi Range Extender EX3700 - Coverage Up to 1000 Sq Ft and 15 Devices with AC750 Dual Band Wireless Signal Booster & Repeater (Up to 750Mbps Speed), and Compact Wall Plug Design
  • EXTENDED WIRELESS COVERAGE: Adds Wi-Fi range coverage up to 1000 sq ft, and connects up to 15 devices such as laptops, smartphones, speakers, IP...
  • AC750 WI-FI SPEED: Provides up to 750Mbps performance using dual-band and patented FastLane(TM) technology.
Sale
TP-Link AC750 WiFi Extender (RE220), Covers Up to 1200 Sq.ft and 20 Devices, Up to 750Mbps Dual Band WiFi Range Extender, WiFi Booster to Extend Range of WiFi Internet Connection
  • Extend Wi-Fi Coverage - Boost Internet Wi-Fi coverage up to 1200 square feet and connects up to 20 devices - Compatible with Wi-Fi Router, Gateway,...
  • Eliminate Wi-Fi Dead Zones - Enjoy Lag-Free Connection to any type of devices, including wired devices via Fast Ethernet port. System Requirements -...
Sale
KING KWM1000 WiFiMax Router/Range Extender, Black
  • Router/range extender. Powered by included 9v power supply, requiring 110V AC plug-in
  • 2.4/5GHz dual-band Wi-Fi for fast speeds
Sale
Winegard - 80800 ConnecT 2.0 WF2 (WF2-335) Wi-Fi Extender for RVs
  • Keep mobile devices, media players, and computers connected to Wi-Fi with a reliable connection and expanded coverage
  • Setup Requirements: Wireless 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz network, computer, tablet, or smartphone with a web browser
Sale
KING KF1000 Falcon Automatic Directional WiFi Antenna with WiFiMax Router and Range Extender - White
  • fully automatic, directional wi-fi antenna with extender
  • provides fast, reliable, and secure long-range signal acquisition from your wi-fi network

Let’s take a look at the difference between WiFi and cellular data.

What’s the Difference Between WiFi and Cellular Data?

The intent behind WiFi and cellular data is the same – to connect your device to the internet wirelessly. However, they achieve this end goal in different ways.

The main difference is that WiFi is a low-power, short-range technology. It’s intended for local use by a small number of users in/around a router or other access point that has a connection to the internet. The access point(s) will broadcast a network name (also known as the Service Set Identifier, or SSID) that client devices (computers, smartphones, tablets, etc) can connect to. Security is provided by way of passwords/passkeys that may need to be entered into your client device in order to be authorized to join the network, or there may be a “captured portal” which is a page you’re re-directed to once you connect to the WiFi network where you have to enter in personal details, login credentials, or credit card information.

Because it’s local in nature, WiFi is not something that you “buy a plan” for. There aren’t really any companies that offer nationwide access to a network of connection points that you could subscribe to. There are a couple of companies that install WiFi networks for local businesses like campgrounds & RV parks, and some of them offer plans you can subscribe to in order to get access to any WiFi networks they have available (TengoInternet is one). But, typically, we recommend that you just subscribe to them for the time period you’ll be at that particular park, since it’s unlikely that you’ll be traveling to enough properties with their WiFi network installed to make it worthwhile.

Cellular networks, on the other hand, utilize a (relatively) long-range technology, and are designed for MANY users to connect to without being in sight of the access point. Cell towers broadcast signal over much wider areas (easily many miles with no obstacles) and are designed to hand users off from one tower to another as you travel across them to ensure consistent connection.

Cell towers
Verizon, AT&T, and other carriers use cellular towers to broadcast their network to consumers.

Originally developed for voice communication only, cellular connections now also provide access to the internet through data plans. These plans are provided by the telecommunications companies (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Rogers, Telus, etc) who install and maintain these nationwide networks of cell towers. Your access to their network is authorized by way of a unique identifier associated with the SIM card installed into your device, so you don’t need to enter a password or buy time-limited service from a captured portal. Once you have a plan & a SIM card with a carrier, you can use your device to access data whenever you’re in range of one of their cell towers.

Now that we’ve discussed the difference between WiFi and cellular data, let’s move on to take a look at pluses and minutes of using cellular data for RV internet.

Pros of Cellular for RV Internet Access

One of the main advantages of using cellular data as your RV internet option is that as long as you have your phone (or another device with cellular data access) in range of your carrier’s tower(s), you can connect to the internet. Your cellular data goes everywhere you go. If you’ve got a cell phone in your pocket and you’ve got a data plan, you can (theoretically) connect to the internet from wherever you are (we say “theoretically” because there are places where there so remote that there is no cell coverage).

Every cellular data provider has a network of cell towers all over the country, providing access wherever you travel. Another advantage of using your cellular data as your RV internet option is that if you have more than one device, you can have more than one cellular data plan.

For example, if you have a cell plan with Verizon and your traveling partner has a cell plan with AT&T, as long as one or the other carrier provides coverage in your location, you’ll be able to connect to the internet. So, if you’re in a location where AT&T is not giving you an adequate signal, but there’s a strong signal from Verizon, you’ll have coverage.

RVgeeks boondocking in the remote area of Trona Pinnacles.
We frequent some fairly radical locations from time to time, and we need a constant connection to the internet for work, so we’ve got a pretty robust system.

There are a few disadvantages to using your cellular data as your RV internet option, however.

Cons of Cellular for RV Internet Access

The most obvious disadvantage to using your cell plan as your RV internet is the fact that it only works where your cell phone works. So, if you’re boondocking in an area where you have no cell coverage, or if you’re driving on a long stretch through an area where you have no cell coverage, you won’t be able to connect to the internet (or make calls, send text messages, emails, etc.)

There are also a couple of disadvantages even when you do have a good, strong cellular connection.

First, with some plans (most, actually), you’ll be subject to throttling after you’ve used a certain amount of data. Even with “unlimited” plans, after a certain amount of data has been consumed on your account, you’re likely to experience some level of throttling. What this means is that your connection will slow down at a certain point. So, depending on your carrier and how much cellular data you tend to use while traveling, throttling may or may not be an issue for you.

And finally, a drawback of using your cellular data as your RV internet option is cost. Unlimited plans can be costly on their own, and if you work on the road and depend on a reliable internet connection, you’ll need a plan with more than one carrier to ensure coverage nearly everywhere you go. This can get expensive.

How to Boost Cellular RV Internet

Earlier we discussed WiFi boosters and noted that there are also options for boosting cellular signals. A cell phone signal booster, (sometimes referred to as a repeater or amplifier), consists of an internal antenna, an external antenna, and an amplifier. Together they form a wireless system that boosts cellular reception, improving cell phone signal strength. The system locates the cell signal, amplifies that signal, and broadcasts the signal to all of the devices in your RV.

These vary in price and effectiveness, and as usual, the two go hand in hand.

If you’re interested in more in-depth information about RV cell boosters, check out our post entitled “Is an RV Cell Booster Worth the Money”. We have a WeBoost Drive Reach unit, which you can buy (and save on) either direct from WeBoost or from MobileMustHave.com:

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We loved our original weBoost Drive 4G-X with OTR Spring-Mount Trucker antenna. But with our recent tech cabinet upgrades, we replaced it with a weBoost Drive Reach RV. It keeps us connected (both voice and data) in some amazingly remote locations. We wouldn’t be “geeks” without it!

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Combining the RV internet options of cellular data and WiFi.
Combining cellular data and WiFi is a popular way to bring reliable internet into your RV consistently.

Using Cell Data for RV WiFi Access

Because you need to have hardware that is capable of connecting to, and authenticating your access to, the cellular network, not every device you want to get onto the internet is able to do so. Laptops, many tablets, streaming devices (like an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV device), and many others are only able to use WiFi to connect. So how are you supposed to get these devices online when you aren’t in a place where public WiFi is available and you only have access to the cellular network?

There are a number of ways to bridge the gap between the two technologies, using cellular connectivity to establish a connection to the internet and then sharing that connection over a local WiFi network. Let’s take a look at those now.

Cellphone Hotspotting/Tethering

This is likely the most common way for RVers to use their cellular data connection with their other devices (laptops, tablets, streaming devices, video game consoles, etc). If your phone is capable of it (virtually all modern smartphones/tablets are), you connect your other devices to your cell phone (either via WiFi or a USB cable) and they are then able to connect to the internet using your phone’s data plan.

While the terms “hotspotting” and “tethering” are generally interchangeable these days, they did have slightly different meanings at one time… with “tethering” referring to an extremely local/short connection (usually USB, but also Bluetooth) and “hotspotting” referring to a slightly longer-range connection using WiFi. But, regardless, the end result is the same: devices that don’t have the ability to connect to the cellular network can share the connection of a second, cellular-enabled device.

You should also check with your cell phone provider to make sure your data plan allows for hotspotting (some don’t). If it does, then you’ll want to make sure you have the amount of data you’ll need to accomplish your end game…whether you want to stream music, movies, and TV shows, play video games, work online, and how many people will need to connect.

To get started, simply turn on your cellular device’s hotspot, and it will broadcast a WiFi network for your other devices to find. Connect them to the hotspot, (you may be able to connect as many as 10 devices), and you should be set!

It’s important to remember that when you create a wireless hotspot, any device within range can see/find that hotspot. For this reason, you should always password protect your hotspot so that only YOUR devices can access your network.

Smartphone as a hotspot or for tethering are two RV internet options.
Using your smartphone as a hotspot or for tethering are two more ways to connect your WiFi devices to the internet in your RV.

One advantage to hotspotting/tethering is that you’re connected to your own cellular device rather than to an open WiFi network or open wireless hotspot. So the information sent to and from your device uses the phone’s cellular connection, which is more secure than a public WiFi network. (Again, a reminder to password protect your hotspot!)

If your cellphone/tablet doesn’t allow you to share it’s cellular data connection with other devices, or if you’d rather not tie your phone/tablet up with that task, there are alternatives.

Mobile Hotspot (JetPack/MiFi) Devices

A mobile hotspot is a dedicated device that connects to the internet over the cellular data network and then broadcasts its own local WiFi network that you can use to connect other (non-cellular) devices. Once connected, those devices are able to access the internet over the mobile hotspot’s cellular connection.

So, the Jetpack (a Verizon device) brings internet connectivity into your RV through the closest cell phone tower, and then acts as a WiFi router inside your RV, allowing you to connect to that WiFi signal with your smartphones, tablets, computers, gaming systems, etc.

There are a number of different mobile hotspots available, all varying in price and overall quality (including speed), but most are quite adequate for average RV internet needs and typical routes of travel. Remember, though – if you can’t get a cell phone signal, then your Jetpack can’t deliver WiFi because it uses a cellular signal to connect to the internet before broadcasting the connection as a WiFi router.

Also, it’s important to remember that a Jetpack (or any similar device that connects to the internet using cellular data) requires a service plan/contract with a cellular provider. So, while you may already have a cellular data plan for your smartphone, you either need a SEPARATE cellular data plan for your mobile hotspot, or you need a shared data plan that you can add the hotspot to. Either way, this means that you’ll need to pay an additional monthly fee for the Jetpack’s data.

Cellular Routers

A cellular router is a sophisticated device that contains a cellular modem (or even multiple cellular modems) and is capable of providing internet connections for multiple devices in a variety of ways (WiFi, ethernet, serial connection). PepWave (and similar) cellular routers are capable of bringing together cellular, WiFi, cable, and satellite internet connections.

A PepWave cellular router as part of our RV internet options.
A Pepwave cellular router creates a local wireless network in your RV.

A cellular router creates a local wireless or wired network that allows all of your devices to connect to its cellular internet source and to each other. They vary in function (and price, accordingly), and are highly versatile.

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For example, some Pepwave routers (ours, in fact) allow for four SIM cards… which means that you could have SIM cards for four different plans on the same router, and the router would automatically select the coverage that’s best in your particular location at a given point in time and switch seamlessly to that provider to give you optimal coverage. Or it could spread your internet usage across all of the plans, helping to avoid using up your data allotment on any one plan. Or it can even perform link aggregation (also known as “bonding”) across multiple internet connections together, turning them into one fat (and FAST) connection that outperforms any individual connection alone!

While cool, a lot of what a cellular router does is overkill for most RVers. And while we live, travel, and work full-time in our motorhome, and we use a LOT of data and a very sophisticated setup, even we don’t require quite that much redundancy.

But one feature that many cellular routers offer, like our Pepwave unit, is that they can also connect to public WiFi networks (that feature is known as “WiFi as WAN”) and then share that connection with all the devices you connect to it. That means you’re getting two devices in one (a cellular router and WiFi booster), enabling you to choose which service/network you’d like to use.

And if you pair your cellular router with a rooftop antenna, like the Parsec Husky 7-in-1 antenna that we use, you get significantly improved cellular and public WiFi connectivity, since the antennas are now (1) outside the RV and (2) higher up above many other obstructions (i.e. other RVs).

What’s the Best RV Internet Option?

The best RV internet option depends on how you intend to use the internet as you travel, but for anyone who needs to remain connected for work or for entertainment (i.e. movies, TV, video games), having multiple options is best.

There are situations and locations where you may have difficulty finding cell coverage. As noted earlier, it can be helpful to have coverage with two different providers for this reason.

If you intend to work online while you travel, you’ll need to have backup methods for accessing the internet so that you are better assured of having reliable, consistent coverage. This is one area where redundancy pays off.

In the end, the best RV internet options are those that provide you and your family with the extent of coverage you need or desire.

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We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

We sometimes receive products for evaluation at no cost, and The RVgeeks are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. But our opinions are our own, you won’t pay an extra penny, and we only link to products we personally use, love and can recommend to friends with complete confidence.
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