Phone and Internet While RVing

If you’ve been thinking about going full-timing, the thought of how phone and internet access will work on the road has probably crossed your mind. The number of options available for travelers has never been higher, and it’s easy to get confused with the vast amount of information available out there if you’re not a technology enthusiast. I’m not a tech expert myself either, but I’ve learned a thing or two while working at Best Buy (yes, that’s the ‘retail job’ that I’ve had since January, consider the beans spilled), and researching what I plan to do myself come September.

On Saturday my old flip phone of 3 years stopped working. I didn’t drop it, there was no exposure to water and no advanced warning. The display just went out in the middle of a text conversation and that was that. I had been hoping the old phone would last me until I was already on the road, so I could see what my needs and finances looked like before I had to make a decision about what to do, but sometimes things happen and you just need to roll with it.

I’ve been with Verizon for over five years now and have been happy with the coverage and service, so although I looked at pre-paid options I never truly considered another provider, especially since if I renewed my 2 year contract (this will be the third time since I’ve been with them) I could get a discount on the new phone.

Is Verizon the best provider for full-timer RVers? It’s a trick question. When you’re living stationary, you only need to worry about coverage in the area where you live and where you travel to frequently. When you’re full-timing though, you gotta think about coverage everywhere.

All of the companies have areas with strong coverage and areas with weak coverage, there isn’t one that does it all. The solution that gives the best coverage would be one that involves getting service from multiple companies. That being said, if you can only choose one it seems to me like Verizon and AT&T routinely get the best marks for overall coverage so I’d stick with one of those.

I know what you’re thinking, if you’re single you definitely don’t want to have two phones from two different companies, what a waste of money. Even if you’re a couple you probably don’t because you can get discounts for having two phones on the same plan. But who said both devices had to be phones?

Another part of my intended connectivity arsenal is a broadband USB card that plugs into your laptop, which acts like an antenna that allows one to access the internet using cell phone towers from one of the fore-mentioned companies in places where WiFi isn’t available. The catch being that, like with a cell phone, you need to pay a monthly fee for something like this.

Lets say I got a broadband card that uses AT&T towers for instance. If my truck breaks down out in the middle of nowhere and I am not getting a Verizon signal on my cell phone to call for help I could always power on my laptop to see if the AT&T towers are delivering, in which case I could get on the internet to find tow trucks in the area and use a program like Skype to call for help from my computer.

While you can go directly to Verizon, AT&T, etc. for a broadband card, I’ll let you in on a little not-so-secret. There is a company called Millenicom that is very popular among the full-time RVing crowd, because their prices are much cheaper for the same services. What Millenicom does is buy data in bulk from the other big-name wireless companies for a significantly cheaper price than you and I can get it for, then they turn around and re-sell it to their customers for a rate that earns them a profit, but is still less than the standard retail price.

The deal is sweetened even more because most of the time you don’t need to sign a contract with Millenicom. If you decide after 5 months that you no longer need your broadband card (or decide to take off in an airplane across the ocean for a while to somewhere where it wouldn’t be useful) you can suspend or stop your service with limited or no fees.

There are plenty more options though when it comes to connectivity. Depending on your financial situation, how important having a reliable phone signal and internet access is to you, and how much you like technology, you can really go nuts with the whole connectivity thing. Cherie and Chris over at Technomadia for instance have several good posts about their extensive network, which is vital for them since that is how they earn their living.

But don’t let that make you feel like you absolutely need all of that stuff to go RVing. Remember there are as many ways to make full-timing work as there are people out doing it. Take my friend (and frequent IO commenter) Misty at Next Stop: Everywhere for example. She’s a full-timer who has leveraged her more limited budget to good use by investing in a WiFi signal booster to access the internet on her laptop. Her first solution cost about $40 and did a good job of enhancing the WiFi at campgrounds to reliable levels, but she ran into a wall when she arrived at her current location in Northern Ohio to realize the campground didn’t have WiFi at all.

Not about to give up, she spent about $150 for an even stronger antenna, and can now do her translation work comfortably at her campsite, using WiFi borrowed from a hotel down the road. It may have been a sizable initial investment, but now she doesn’t need to worry about keeping up with monthly fees.

Personally, I’m going to have WiFi access at the campground in Kansas so I won’t be investing in a broadband card or antenna until I get there and see what it’s like. There’s no point in spending the money yet if it’s not necessary. I’m still mostly using the library here for internet since the campground WiFi is awful.

And that about wraps things up. One thing I haven’t talked about yet although those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know was that I got an iPhone to replace my old one. Expect more on my reasons why and what I think of it at a later date since this has already gotten awfully long and I still need to get everything together and go hang out in the library parking lot to post it.

I will ask a question before I go however. Which cell-phone service provider do you use, and what do you think about the coverage?

Image courtesy of deargloom57

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  1. Reine on August 28, 2012 at 2:43 am

    Becky, be sure to get the GAS BUDDY app for your iPhone. It’s a free app that lets you check gas prices for your current location or for a specific city. We use it when we travel, especially with our Casita and it often saves us 15 to 40 cents a gallon. Those pennies saved really add up over time.

  2. Kim on July 20, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Re: the Kindle. That can get into lifestyle creep too as I am finding out. I have the 3G model and absolutely love using an e-reader. But yesterday, I stepped into Best Buy and demoed the Kindle Fire. Now I want it! I’m a little disappointed in myself for not being happy with the thing that made me happy day before yesterday.

    So point taken with today’s post (7/20) about things making one happy. Oy!
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    • Becky on July 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Hee! The Kindle Fire was already announced when I got my black and white e-ink version, and having played with them all at work (I work at Best Buy) I actually prefer my black and white one. It can’t access the internet, play games, and hold pictures and videos like the Fire can, but it’s much easier to read outside in direct sunlight when the Casita gets too small and I want to make use of my yard, while the Fire (like tablets and many laptops including my own) have reflective LCD screens which are hard to read in bright conditions.

      The Kindle Fire (and the Nook Color) are essentially tablets when you look at their capabilities, but they’re being branded as e-readers. I had thought long and hard about whether a tablet would be useful for me but with all the writing I do I wanted something with an actual keyboard so I got a small 11″ laptop that is not quite as portable as a tablet but works better for my purposes. Then when I got my smart phone, that filled the want for something smaller and more easily portable that I can access the internet with, although the small screen being a phone is a downside. My 3rd gen Kindle I use exclusively for reading, and I enjoy how it fits in my purse and is readable in any lighting conditions.

      It all really comes down to what you’re needs are how you plan to use it most. My mother has a Kindle Fire and she absolutely loves it, but then she doesn’t have a laptop or a smart phone so that’s her all in one tool for reading and remote internet access.

    • Misty on July 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      Haha, I’m sure it can! There’s always another gadget. 😛 I love the Kindle Fire, but if I already had one of the regular e-readers, I probably wouldn’t bother. It’s super new and shiny, but the backlit screen can get annoying after awhile, if you’re using it mostly for reading books! I’m not sure it would be worth it to upgrade, particularly if you already have a laptop. 🙂
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  3. Sam on July 13, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    I’ve used cell service since bag phones and have had numerous providers over the years. I’ve traveled from the east coast to the west coast, from Florida to Maine. For coverage and reliability, the best by far, has been Verizon. While not all encompassing, it’s very, very good. In 8 years, I’ve spent perhaps a total of 2 weeks in campgrounds without service.of any kind. Although it was available within a short drive. Their 4G is expanding rapidly. I’m often amazed at pulling into a C.O.E park 12-15 miles from a town the size of Anderson, SC and find the high speed service available.

    I have a Verizon 4G “halo statue” ** with 450 prime time minutes for $40/mo and 4G MiFi with 5G for $50/mo.The Wilson Sleek booster has had extremely good reviews in fringe areas on the 3G network. I suspect that the newer 4G version of the Sleek, will be just as capable when it arrives on the market. The newer basic cell phones, lacking the external antenna port, aren’t compatible with the older Wilson 3 watt amp.

    Millenicom is a good choice for many. The Advanced and Hotspot plans use the Verizon footprint and the rest are off the Sprint footprint. Personally, I’m not a fan of Sprint and I prefer walking into a Verizon store if/when I have a hardware issue as opposed to dealing with someone over the phone. YMMV. Good luck with your choice.

    ** halo statute: a southern colloquialism for the old 4 party rotary dial telephone.

    • Becky on July 15, 2012 at 5:36 pm

      Wow, what a plethora of information! Thanks for chiming in Sam.

  4. george on July 11, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I use a pay as you go phone plan. The phone is a Samsung, and the plan is Net10. This is my only phone, and I use text mostly, but also use the voice part of it when needed, and I manage to keep my cost down to around $10 to $15 per month.

    So far I have been able to get by with the wifi at campgrounds, although it’s true that sometimes it’s rather unreliable. Often I have had to walk to the office area of the CG to use the wireless close to their building, but that works okay for me, because in those cases, I just use it a couple times per day.

    For truly reliable connections for TV or data ( internet ) I suppose one would need to use a satellite dish, but it’s not that important to me to justify the cost.


    • Becky on July 11, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Thanks for responding George. Looks like there are plenty of options out there for RVers who want to stay connected on the road and yet keep their costs down, that’s great to hear!

      Another downside to satelite in my eyes besides just the cost is the inconvenience of having to put it up and take it down everytime you move. Plus you have to stick with campsites that are more open in order to receive a good signal. Then again if I get solar equipement I’ll be having to do the same thing. Again, I’m sure it’s worth it for some folks. 🙂

      • george on July 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm

        I’m going to be curious to see how our favorite little Becky is going to implement solar !
        Knowing how well you research things, I’m sure you’ll do some thorough homework on it.

        I recently bought an inexpensive solar panel to try out, but other than just making sure it works, I really have not had a chance to make it work in the real world. I want it because this coming fall/winter I plan on doing some boondocking where I will need to be able to recharge so I can use the propane furnace overnight.

        • Becky on July 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

          I’ve already done some research on it but there is more to go. The biggest questions are do I stay with one battery or upgrade to 2, and do I mount the panels on the roof of the trailer or use portable ones.

          Like you the big reason why I want to do it is so I can boondock in the SW this winter.

  5. Misty on July 11, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Haha, I use T-Mobile. I’ve heard of some people having terrible problems with it, but I’ve never been in a situation where I needed it and it didn’t work (yet!). Of course, I also don’t use many minutes so this is the most cost-effective solution for me. My current plan is $30 for 1500 texts or minutes in any combination, plus a small amount of data usage. Last month I used a whopping 61 minutes. ;p If i keep using minutes at that rate, I will probably just spent $30 to buy as many pay-as-you-go minutes as that buys. I did the math, and that would last me about three months at that rate, which is when they expire anyway!
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    • Becky on July 11, 2012 at 11:40 am

      Well, if it works for you than it’s all good. 🙂

      If I hit 100 minutes in a one month period it’s been a very busy month for me. My plan gives 450 phone minutes, and 250 texts. That counts incoming and outgoing texts and I frequently go over it. The next package for texts though costs $10 more and I never spend more than 2 or 3 dollars when I go over so it’s really not worth it for me right now.

      When I got the iPhone, I kept the same plan (since it’s cheaper than their newer ones) and just added their smallest data package for the internet stuff which was 2 gb. I’m not sure yet how much I’m going to be using in a month, I’m being conservative for now and seeing where I end up.

      Thanks for sharing Misty. 🙂

  6. Marvin on July 11, 2012 at 12:03 am


    Becky ,

    I use what is available ( free ) for computer and TV .

    The things I use for trip planning , are usually available as a pdf , or can be saved on a Mac laptop . There is a huge amount of consumer business places that offer free wifi . Many states offer free wifi at rest areas and welcome centers .

    I have a cell phone on a cheap plan , but do not use it much .

    I do not watch much TV – I find most of it boring .

    While I embrace technology , I refuse to be a slave to it . I still read old fashioned books , and either trade them in or give them away .

    Be Safe


    • Misty on July 11, 2012 at 8:18 am

      Hey Marvin!

      I pretty much feel the same way as you. I use the internet for work and writing, and that’s about it. I have a TV in my RV and it’s never been turned on. I don’t even know if it works! I’ll probably give it away soon so I can use that space for storage!

      I used to be the same way about books (In fact, I still have a small book collection taking up space in my RV, because I just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of all of them).

      However, last Christmas my dad bought me a Kindle, and I have to say it’s pretty sweet if you’re an avid reader. A lot of libraries now have Kindle downloads that you can get access to for about the same amount of time as a library book (though there have been some copyright disputes over that, I think). But personally, I just pay a few bucks and buy books from indie authors so that I can support what they’re doing. 🙂

      Of course, as an aspiring author, I’m also slightly biased because the Kindle and other e-book readers are putting the control back into the hands of artists. The big publishing houses don’t like it because they can’t compete, but here’s the truth from an “insider” in the industry… When you pick up one of those “old-fashioned” paper books, very little (and in some cases none) of the money paid for that book went into the author’s pocket. It went to pay for operating costs and the salaries of middle men. Now, some of those middle men are important (editors, cover artists, printing costs…) but a lot of them are unnecessary to the process. By contrast, when you buy an indie author’s book with the Kindle, you may pay only $2-5, but 60-80% of that money goes straight into the author’s pocket! In some cases, even more than that! This is a good thing, because it allows authors to make a living wage, which means that talented authors are actually spending time writing instead of staring into space flipping burgers at McDonald’s to pay the rent!

      Not to mention that you can carry around a library in the palm of your hand. That’s pretty sweet, too. 🙂

      So basically, I love my Kindle, even though I do sometimes miss the smell of old books. XD
      Misty recently posted..Life and death and picturesMy Profile

    • Becky on July 11, 2012 at 11:33 am

      Thanks for sounding off Marvin. One of the great things about RVing is that there are so many different ways to make it work. And yeah, it’s hard to argue with free WiFi. In fact right now I’m at the local library again making use of theirs. 😉

      There are a few television shows that I find interesting, but I can watch those using programs like Hulu on my laptop at my own convenience and at no charge. Like you I find most TV boring, I hadn’t watched my old television at the apartment in years.

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