Saturday, April 9, 2011

Life in the RV – Part 5 – Internet and Phone

A long wordy and somewhat technical post.


We each have laptops. We also have an iPod Touch onto which we sometimes load PDFs of trail maps, etc to take with us. We have several ways to connect them to the internet.

Campground WIFI

These days most private campgrounds have to offer WIFI to remain competitive. None of the state and national parks we have been to offer it.

The quality of the WIFI varies greatly from campground to campground. Some have large high bandwidth connections while other may be remote enough that they use a satellite link.

One campground we were at, on a sat link, was limited to 400 Meg a day for everyone in the campground or they were cut off for 24 hours. It happened twice while we were there.

The larger campgrounds with lot of users or the small ones with low bandwidth links usually block such sites as YouTube or NetFlix. Even then they can be painfully slow.

Broadband Internet Sticks

When there is no WIFI we connect using a internet stick such as the Rogers “Rocket Stick” or the Bell “Turbo Stick”. These connect to the cellular network and use the same services that allow you to surf on your smart phone. I actually have one of each. I initially bought the Rogers one but then discovered, when we went to Newfoundland last year, that Rogers has no coverage there.

I bought both sticks outright and they were on month to month pay as you go plans. I knew I would only use them in the RV in the summer. They are both cancelled right now. I will probably have to pay a activation fee to get the one I choose going again.

Here in the states I bought a Verizon stick at Walmart. Again I bought it outright so it is not on a plan. I just buy top up cards at Walmart for $50. This gives me 1 month of usage and 1 Gbyte of data. I can’t currently top it up online as you need a credit card with a US address.

I think there are cheaper options than Verizon but most want a US address to bill you.

I only activate a top up card when I know we will be at a campground that has no WIFI. If the stick is active we sometimes use it even when there is campground WIFI because the campground’s connection can be so slow as to be unusable.

So far we have only been at one campground in the wilds of Oregon where I could not get a cell connection for the stick. Verizon has pretty good coverage just about everywhere and seems quite fast.


I don’t like connecting our computers directly to these “public” networks as everyone on them can talk to ours.

I bought a router called a Cradlepoint MBR1000. I created a private encrypted network to which computers connect. This allows our computers to hide behind the firewall on the router and not be directly accessible.

The Cradlepoint has a USB port that I can plug in the internet sticks. This allows me to share the cellular internet connection amongst our computers.

I also bough another little box called a Pepwave Mini. When there is campground WIFI I configure the Pepwave to connect to the campground network. It is then connected to the Cradlepoint with an ethernet cable in the same way that your cable or DSL modem is connected to your home router, and shares its connection with our computers.

Some campgrounds still charge for the internet or give you vouchers that are only good for so many days. Using the Pepwave it only looks like I have one computer on their network so I only need one voucher.

Another advantage of the Pepwave is that it has a better antenna than the laptops so it more easily connects to the sometimes distant campground access points. I can also leave it in the front window where the line of sight is more unobstructed.

Future Upgrades

I would like to get an even better antenna for the Pepwave. Perhaps a large omni directional one on the roof or even a directional one that I can aim at the campground access point.

I would also like to get a cellular amplifier. A company called Wilson makes unit with an large antenna on the roof and  an amplifier. The amplifier can either connect directly to your stick or phone if it has an antenna port or it can rebroadcast the amplified signal via a small antenna inside the RV.


Neither one of use the phone very much. In the RV we mainly use it to call campgrounds to make reservations.

I have a Bell phone and Jennie has a Rogers. They are both pay as you go. Mine is $100 a year and hers is $10 a month. We have never run out of minutes. They just expire.

Since roaming charges in the US are horrible we just went to Walmart and bought a $10 phone by Trac-phone. Then I bough 300 minutes that expire in 180 days for I think around $30. The only problem with this is that I don’t seem to be able to call Canada with it.

Last year sometime we got rid of our Bell landline at home and switched the number over to an internet phone from Vonage. $20 a month with many more features vs $50 a month for the Bell phone. You get a little box that you plug into your internet router and then plug your phones into the box. At home I just disconnect our inside phone lines from the Bell line coming through the wall and plugged the Vonage box into one of our phone jacks so that all the house phones can use it.

The advantage of this is that since the Vonage box works from any internet connection I can take it with us in the RV and now we have our home phone with us at all times. We usually leave it off though due to the usual nuisance calls. If someone leaves a message I get an email with a sound file of the message attached. The sound quality of the phone can suffer when the campground WIFI is bad.

To talk to our daughters in Canada we first try the Vonage phone and if that doesn’t work we try Skype on the computers.

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