Q&A: Getting reliable internet on the road

Image of Amy working at her computer in the camper using reliable internet
Reliable internet is possible when working on the road

If you want to travel and work remotely from your camper you may have wondered, How can I get reliable internet in my RV? This can single-handedly be the biggest roadblock people face.

You could easily go with a hotspot on your phone, but that may not be strong enough for video calls and if you want to watch Netflix on occasion. So for something more robust, you might need a little tech savvy to pull it off. Knock on wood — but we’ve literally been solid with internet since we started our travels. So what did we do? I sat down with my hubby, Joel, to find out.

Develop your plan

My husband and I both have frequent video calls every day (although he takes most of his off camera, I don’t). This was the issue that gave me the most anxiety as we sold our house and prepared to hit the road. I am the COO of a PR agency and I could not let down my colleagues (or my boss) by being, well, iffy. My husband has many calls every day as well, and while he uses less bandwidth because his calls are not on camera, it’s still important that he remain connected.

So after talking to folks who’ve worked remotely — and also doing our own research — we started formulating our plan and taking action to acquire reliable internet.

Amy: Where do you begin researching something like this?

Joel: The internet is a great thing! Not only was I able to connect with people on Facebook who’ve “been there, done that,” but I found a couple of websites to help me round out my research. Resources like mobilemusthaves.com, technorv.com and rvmobileinternet.com were the primary sources of information for me, but the more research you do, the better.

Amy: Once you’ve done your research, what’s next?

Joel: At some point, you have to take the plunge and spend the money. We decided to go with a Pepwave Max Transit Duo CAT-12 cellular modem router, and a Poynting 7-in-1 mountable antenna. This all came as a bundle, so everything I needed was in one box.

Amy: I assume you could pay a lot of money to make this happen. What kind of budget are we talking about?

Joel: We spent a little over $1200, but we REALLY needed this to work. There are less expensive options (and more expensive) out there, so you have to go with what best fits your scenario. If you just need to occasionally check email and are not in a big hurry to do so, most campground wifi will probably work. If you watch a lot of streaming (Netflix etc) then you’ll want something a little better, and if like us, you have to depend on your internet to do your job, you want to make sure you have a solid solution which has redundancy built in.

Equipment required

Image of Pepwave antenna on top of our camper.
We use this Pepwave antenna to help us receive reliable internet

The Pepwave Cellular routers in general, take a cellular signal and translate it into a WiFi signal your computer, TV, tablet or smartphone can talk to, the same as the WiFi you have at your house.

Amy: So what equipment did we end up buying?

Joel: We bought the Cat12 version of the Pepwave Max Transit Duo. This modem actually has two Cat12 modems which means you can use two different SIM cards at the same time. This is REALLY important because it gives you some redundancy. We use T-Mobile and AT&T SIM cards. Once we get to a new spot, one of the first things I do is see what the signal strength of each provider is, and I can prioritize which one to use. If T-Mobile is faster, I can use that SIM. If AT&T is faster, I can use that SIM. If they are both pretty good, we can use both at the same time.

The other advantage of this system is that you can also connect to an external WiFi system, like a campground or your neighbors WiFi (with their permission of course), and this will add to your redundancy

Amy: I hear a lot about signal boosters, did we get one of those? Or is there any equipment you chose not to purchase and why?

Joel: Our Poynting 7-in-1 antenna acts as a signal booster by providing some level of gain, but in general just having a capable antenna up on the roof is more boost than we need for where we typically are. You should do some research on where you are going to be and make sure you have coverage for whichever SIM card you have (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.).

Installing your internet equipment on your RV

Our Pepwave mounted in the closet out of view

Amy: There was a bit of “some assembly required,” tell me about what you did to our brand new camper to get our antenna up there.

Joel: Measure five times, cut once. The biggest part about installing the antenna on the roof is….well, I had to drill a 1 1/4″ hole in the roof of our brand new 5th Wheel. Drilling the hole isn’t hard, getting up the nerve to do it was the issue. This also took a little planning. We have some floor to ceiling space right behind the TV in the living room. So I knew I could drill the hole and drop the cable into that space and run the cable to where I wanted to mount the router.

Our antenna came with a 6-foot cable, so once the hole was drilled, I just dropped the cable down into the hole and used some Dicor Self-leveling Lap Sealant to seal around the antenna. This will be far more durable than Silicone or other typical sealants.

Once the cable was in, all I needed to do was fish it over to where the router would go, connect the cables and fire it up.

Amy: Where did you get the SIM cards, and how do you know how much data to buy?

Our current internet speed in Hinckley, MN

Joel: We use T-Mobile for our cell service, so they seemed like a good place to start. RVMobileInternet.com is a good resource to use here. They keep their eye out for deals on data, but generally you have to go into the store to get them.

We know we use about 300GB of data per month at the most, so we bought 300GB worth of data. T-Mobile had a deal going where you could get 100GB for $50/mo. We got two of those cards. Then AT&T was not doing a deal so we are paying $100/mo for 100GB of data. So when we can, I prioritize T-Mobile over AT&T because we have 2x the data.

DON’T buy into these deals that say “unlimited data”. What they mean is its unlimited data, BUT after a certain amount of data used, they significantly throttle your data back to slower speeds. So read the fine print!

Will StarLink work for my travels?

StarLink will likely provide you reliable internet — but just not for everyone yet because it’s not available everywhere at the moment. This Camping World blog post explains that — through Elon Musk’s SpaceX — beta testing StarLink on RVs could start by the end of 2021. However, this means for StarLink internet while you are moving. Currently you can sign up for StarLink as a beta customer, and get more than 250Mbps down and 50Mbps+ up while you are stationary. The trick is getting the gear and then updating your location. Here is a great video that explains how to use StarLink in your RV. We have not yet gone to those lengths because our current system is working really well for us, but it’s definitely in the plan. We’ll keep you updated when we do!