In this day and age staying connected is vitally important, and when you’re living on the road it’s not as easy as calling up your local internet provider, or asking your neighbor what cell carrier has the best coverage in the neighborhood. So since I hit the road in 2012 I’ve written periodic updates on what I personally do for phone and mobile internet, and it’s time for another one.
Last summer I made a big change and switched from a 5 gb data plan with Verizon to the Unlimited plan. I’ve long held to the philosophy that life should be lived in the real world instead of online, and been frugal with my data usage – reading is my preferred form of entertainment, I don’t even have a Netflix subscription. But the launch of the IO YouTube channel demanded that I step up my internet game in a big way: one can not regularly upload videos on 5 gb of data!
So I looked into the “new Verizon Plan Unlimited” as it’s officially called.
The plan costs $65, plus $20 per line, and you get $5 off if you set up automatic payments. So for me it’s $80 plus taxes and fees ($3.68 on my bill as of this writing), for a total of $83.68.
It’s not truly unlimited. In the terms of service Verizon states that they hold the right to throttle your speeds in high usage areas after a certain number of gbs, I want to say it’s 22. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will.
In the nine months I’ve been on the plan, I can remember only one month where I noticed how slowly things were loading near the end of my month, and then on my data reset day, speeds magically got faster. When I was in Lubbock, TX late last fall and Borrego Springs, CA earlier this year, my speeds were slow no matter what, because of tower overload. Then there have been months, like this last one, where I went over the limit by the end of the month and was not throttled, probably because I was in a low-population area with low demand.
More importantly to me, the Unlimited plan has a tethering limit.
Tethering is using your phone as a hotspot to get other devices online. So in my case, turning the hotspot feature on my phone, so that I can get online on my computer.
The Verizon Unlimited plan has a tethering data cap of 15 gb, after which you are throttled down to what amounts to 3G speeds. This is a hard cap, I get a notification when I’m nearing the 15 gb limit and it kicks in automatically. And as I’m uploading those big video files on my computer, I regularly (but not always) go over the 15 gb tethering limit.
It’s worked out okay so far.
Uploading videos at 3G speeds takes time, but it does work. I keep the length of my videos pretty short (4-7 minutes usually) which makes it easier, and when there’s good WiFi around I’ll use that for uploading videos to save some data. Watching videos on 3G speeds works fine, you may get some buffering before the video starts, but usually once it starts it’s fine. In fact, I still camp in plenty of areas where I force my phone from the LTE network onto 3G network because it’s a stronger signal and I actually get better internet that way.
Overall, this plan has worked out well for me and I’m glad I made the switch.
Before I go, an important note.
I’m not a mobile internet guru and know just enough to make informed decisions based on what works best for my needs. Of course, everyone’s needs are different and there are plenty of other solutions out there. The latest research still suggests that Verizon has the largest network in the US (good for RVers who camp all over the place), with AT&T close behind. Sprint and T-Mobile have smaller networks, but better pricing and data deals.
Most full-time RVers choose Verizon and/or AT&T as their primary carrier. Some choose one of the smaller carriers in addition for the data perks, or go with a smaller carrier if they’re more the snowbird type and know the locations they bounce between all work for that network. See the next section for further info from true experts in the field. If you’re currently RVing, you’re welcome to share your particular solution in the comments.
Lastly, this field moves quickly and plans and prices are always changing, the numbers I’ve listed here will not necessarily be true down the line, so make sure you do your own research when it comes time for you to hit the road!
- Mobile Internet Resource Center – My friends Chris and Cherie of Technomadia have an entire website and group dedicated to mobile internet, keeping on top of the latest developments and offering advice. If you want to learn more about your options for mobile internet, this is the place to go!
- Getting Lucky with Mobile Internet – My last article on this topic, published in 2015 and updated early 2017. If you want to know more of my long, sordid mobile internet history, you can read it here. Yes, I started out getting online exclusively through campground WiFi. What a different age that was.