Life En Route

Internet Access

We require reliable Internet access for work, so Internet was another one of those categories where we didn’t want to hold back. We have a robust solution that hasn’t failed us yet.

The primary sources of Internet for RVers are 4G/LTE unlimited plans. You can get plans from $25/mo to several hundred dollars per month, that appear to do the same thing on the surface. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works.

Your bandwidth on a cell tower is delegated based on your plan – if the tower is nearly empty, you will probably have good performance with any plan. However, as the tower becomes congested, it will prioritize bandwidth according to where your plan lies on their network. Third party resellers – those like Cricket, etc are usually lowest on the totem pole. Native enterprise plans, on the other hand, are usually at the top of the priority list.

Due to that, we pay for grandfathered enterprise unlimited plans for both AT&T and Verizon through a reseller; bundling the plans together costs around over $239/mo. That’s not cheap, but we use 600GB-1TB per month on them, without issue.

In addition to cell signal, we’re now beta testing Starlink.

Moochdocking with family in Pittston, PA.

Starlink uses LEO satellites to provide connectivity, and runs about $100/mo. When it’s available, which is currently in limited areas but expanding rapidly, it’s high-bandwidth and low-latency, and so far seems to be reliable. There are no data caps with Starlink at this time.

With the service figured out, we needed a good solution for a modem/router. You can use individual hot spots, but we wanted a more powerful device and settled on a Cradlepoint AER1600 router after trying several alternatives.

The AER1600 router has a modular modem port, and we upgraded from the original CAT6 modem to a Cat18 modem, keeping the Cat6 as a backup. Cat18 is the latest modem technology with the most bands and available performance – having access to more bands means having an edge when struggling to find signal.

The modem supports dual SIMs with automatic carrier selection, so the same device is used for both AT&T and Verizon, and the router uses some user-defined health-check criteria to choose which carrier to use.

It also has a WAN port, that you can configure it to prefer, if the connection passes specific health tests. We use that to preference Starlink over 4G/LTE, when it is available.

For low-signal locations, where we can’t get usable signal with antennas alone, we use a cell phone booster. The model we have is a weBoost Drive 4G-X, with external antennas. We often find ourselves in situations where we can use our mast-mounted antennas for Internet access and achieve much better speeds than with the weBoost, but need to use the weBoost to make calls. Other times, the weBoost is our last resort and the only way to reach the Internet.

For higher signal locations in the fifth wheel or when using the WeBoost, we use the antennas the Cradlepoint comes with. In the truck camper we use an external Panorama Mako 4×4 antenna.

For lower signal locations in the fifth wheel, we have a 2×2 MIMO setup that consists of two log-periodic antennas mounted on a mast.

With multiple antenna solutions, a booster, solid cellular plans, and Starlink, we haven’t found but a couple locations that we couldn’t have usable Internet.