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I'm Buster Brown, I live in a shoe. This is my dog Tige, he lives there too.

Staying Connected - Internet

Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Tige Over
Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Tige Over

Last Changed 12/20/2010

Internet access is a major factor in the Full-Time Life Style for us.  We stay connected to friends and family via email.  We track events of the world.  Mark gets his daily fix for comics through web services. We manage our finances on line.  Mark does some computer support via the internet. We shop on the Internet.  We maintain this and other websites.
Here are many of the Internet activities we do:
E-mail
Face Book
Blog reading
Blog Writing
E-Shopping
Information browsing
Trip planning
Photo storage
Web site browsing
Instant Messaging
Web site updates

We use three PCs in Tige, two laptops and a desktop that acts like a server.  Our printer is LAN connected.  We use a wireless router to connect the three PCs and printer together in a local LAN.

There are several options to a Full-Timer to connect to the Internet
  • Public Library
  • Telephone Dial-up
  • Wi-Fi
  • Air-Card Wireless
  • Satellite Internet

Public Library

Some RVers actually rely on Public Library access to the Internet.  Rationally this would be pretty much be limited to accessing e-mail.  The limitations of access hours and numerous other limitations makes using the Public Library not a consideration for us.

Telephone Dialup

While dialup is still an option, it is really not a viable options for Internet connection the way we use the Internet.  The biggest drawback is the usual lack of a telephone connect at the RV site.  This would mean that we would have to take one of our laptops to the campground office where there is usually a telephone connection available.  Actually dial-up connections in the office are becoming rare.  The other drawback is connection speed.  The maximum of 53Kbps is just to slow for the way we use the Internet.  Hardly anything on the Internet is not graphical.  And no printer.

In some cases, cellphones can be connected to a laptop and be used like a dial-up modem.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is the most prevalent Internet connection used by Full-Timers.  The PC connects to the park Wi-Fi by a card that is inserted into the PC or is built-in.  The trend is for RV parks that offer Wi-Fi, offer it for free.  Some RV parks still charge for park Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi connections can be found in places like McDonalds, Starbucks, Flying J, and state rest stops.  Again some are free, some have a fee.

The park connection to the Internet, DSL, Cable or satellite, is not free nor is the Wi-Fi equipment. The RV parks have to absorb the cost if they offer it for free by embedding the cost into the daily rates.  However, the RV parks are in competitive situations and people look at daily rates before they ask about Wi-Fi meaning the park has to be very careful on how much of the Wi-Fi cost they attempt to recover.  So what does that mean to you?  It is a factor on how much equipment the park invests into Wi-Fi and equipment translates into Wi-Fi coverage.

Just because park Wi-Fi is available doesn't mean that it is usable.  Free Wi-Fi can be questionable.  Even paid for Wi-Fi, like Tengo, can be useless.  Things that can make park Wi-Fi useless can be things like; too many users for the park Internet connection, poor quality equipment resulting in service outages,

To be able to use free park Wi-Fi whenever it is available, we invested in equipment that gives us more range to the park Wi-Fi and well as retaining our local  LAN.  We cover this in detail in WISP.

During our 2010 tour of the West, we maintained a record of park Wi-Fi usage.  We had park Wi-Fi available for 70% of the nights.  However, not all park Wi-Fi is usable.  We could use the park Wi-Fi 58% of the nights.

Air-Card Wireless

Air-Card wireless is a growing method of connecting to the Internet.  An Air-Card is basically the guts of a cellphone mounted in a case that either plugs into your laptop or connects via a USB able.  The Air-Card establishes a connect to your cellular carrier.  It is a wireless dialup, but unlike telephone dialup, its speed is much faster when connected to the latest cellular networks.  Speeds of 1Mbps and higher are possible.  This is like being connected to DSL or Cable Modem.

There are times we wish we had an Air-Card to connect to the Internet while we are moving down the road.  This is a big advantage of Air-Cards.

An Air-Card can be connected to a wireless router.  Then the Air-Card connection to the Internet can be shared by multiple PCs.

Air-Card speed can be as slow as regular telephone if the cellular network is not the latest level.  To use that would be unacceptable.

Air-cards are subject to poor coverage in the sparsely populated western states as depicted in Air-Card Coverage..  Air-Cards usually have a bit more range that cellphones because they have a better power source, the PC.  However not that much more. We were in Dry Creek LA, just 30 miles north of Lake Charles and had no cell coverage.  Likewise, in Virgin UT, next to Zion National Park, we had no cell coverage.

The equipment cost can be anywhere from free with an extended contract to $150-$200 for an Air-Card.  The monthly service runs about $60 for 5GB of Internet traffic.

That 5GB limit is the amount of data received from and sent to the Internet.  For most people, that is more than enough.  But beware of going over the 5GB limit, it  can be very expensive. 

The 5GB limit is a killer for us.  We had a month, an extreme month, where we refreshed the websites and had several software updates.  Our total traffic that month exceed 14GB.  That month would have cost us almost $5000 in cellphones fees at that time.  That is not in our budget.

Since the 14GB month, the fees for going over the limit have been reduced by halve.  But recently Mark needed to rebuild his laptop and incurred another 14.5GB month, still a budget breaker.

There are 10 GB plans available now which is closer to our needs.  And it looks like some of the plans are not as regressive for running over the data allotment.

Satellite Internet

Satellite Internet is available virtually anywhere because the satellites are 22,500 miles out in space and basically visible from anywhere in the Continental United States.  The curvature of the Earth makes places like Alaska and Mexico a little harder to see a satellite.

Because the focusing of the satellite dish is critical, using satellite Internet going down the road is not possible at this time. 

HughesNet, the most prevalent satellite Internet provided sells subscription packages with different maximum available data transfer speeds.  With the different speed packages come different download traffic allowances.  HughesNet only counts download traffic as that is the biggest amount of data usually moved by a user.

For our package, we are allowed 475MB per rolling 24 hour period (a possible 14GB a month)  of download traffic.  Upload data traffic doesn't count.  That usually handles all the things we want to do.  HughesNet doesn't charge for going over the limit, they penalize you by slowing you down (but not stopping) to a speed about equal to dialup.  Being slowed down is painful but not as expensive as the Air-Card.

Satellite Internet has a higher up front cost that the other options.  Figure on $1500-$2000 for a manual tripod setup or $5000 for an automatic aligning roof mount system.

For access everywhere and an adequate data limit, we originally choose satellite Internet from HughesNet.  We purchased our tripod equipment from DustyFoot.  We describe satellite Internet more, our equipment and setup at DustyFoot.

Current Decision

During our 2010 tour of the West, we counted how much we used park Wi-Fi compared to satellite Internet and found we used park Wi-Fi an average of 58% of the nights and HughesNet for the other 42%.  Couple the availability of park Wi-Fi and the availability of a 10GB/month air-card data plan, we felt we could survive with an air-card system which we implemented in December 2010.

We are still a little concerned about staying within the data allocation of the air-card plan.  The average of 58% of the nights camouflages the two months where we only used the HughesNet Internet.  On air-card, those months would have required monitoring our usage to prevent overrun.

We are retaining our HughesNet equipment as a backup plan in case we find ourselves exceeding the air-card data plan too often.


Disclaimer: The information in this site is a collection of data we derived from the vendors and from our personal experiences.  This information is meant as a learning guide for you to  make your own decisions  Best practices and code should always be followed.  The recommendations we make are from our personal experiences and we do not receive any compensation for those recommendations.