RVers are no strangers to the advent of the connected “Internet Age.” It seems like every private RV park in the country and plenty of publicly operated campgrounds offer Internet access through Wi-Fi connections. And it’s so convenient to use to keep in touch, pay bills, get information on campgrounds, and solve problems through the use of forums. The list goes on and on, and as our connected daughter chirps, “It’s all good!” All good until your in-park Wi-Fi connection runs like sand and glue. Is there anything to be done to improve your connectivity?
What’s the Problem?
Some of the most frequent complaints about RV park Wi-Fi service are these: “My computer can ‘see’ the park’s Wi-Fi signal, but we just can’t get anywhere with it,” or “We can connect, but it’s so darn slow!” There are plenty of variables in a Wi-Fi system; the farther you are away from the access point, the greater the loss of power in the signal itself, and the more opportunity for the signal to be blocked.
Tech folks often say that the real issue isn’t the ability of your own computer’s Wi-Fi device to see or receive the signal; it’s a matter of not having enough power to get back to the access point. What’s to be done?
One Possible Fix
There are various approaches. Some people use external Wi-Fi antennas, and in some cases, these can help. However, an external antenna system coupled with equipment to amplify your own signal is usually required. One such system we’ve tried and had reasonable success with is the Rogue Wave.
Another system adds a switching system for those who have service through a cellular provider like Verizon or AT&T. The WiFiRanger looks for a wireless Wi-Fi hot spot and ties you in, while maintaining a “lock” on your cellular-based service. While connected through Wi-Fi, you won’t run up your phone bill, but if the Wi-Fi should drop out, the system will shunt you over to the dependable 3G or 4G service. The hang-up here, like with Rogue Wave, is the additional price of the equipment. An entry-level WiFiRanger is nearly $110, while one that works over greater distances runs nearly $300.
Both the Rogue Wave and the WiFiRanger have their supporters and detractors. But here’s another issue: You could invest the money in one of these antenna-and-amplifier devices and still find the Wi-Fi connection in the park is frustratingly unusable. If there’s a glitch in the park system, all the antennas and amplifiers will do you no good. And if the park system is overloaded, you may get a signal, but one that only an electronic slug could appreciate. Here’s why:
Like anything else, the quality of the system is limited by its weakest link. If the park’s Internet connection is limited, and a whole lot of folks log on and start using the web, everyone will suffer. We’ve heard of some large RV parks that use a limited, DSL-based Internet connection to try and serve 100 or more customers. That’s like trying to have 10 RVers take a shower at the same time—with the water to their rigs being supplied through a pipe the diameter of a drinking straw.
If you need a dependable Internet connection, our experience has been to basically give up on Wi-Fi hot spots and fork over the monthly fee for a broadband connection through a cellular provider. We use one of Verizon’s 3G/4G network devices called a Jetpack that serves as our own traveling hot spot. We operate our printer, laptops and tablet off the system. For the $50 to $60 a month we spend, it’s saved us plenty of frustration. And when we have big downloads to manage, our frugal (OK, “cheap”) souls find their way to a free Wi-Fi hot spot like McDonald’s or Starbucks, buying a cup of coffee or a burger, and downloading what we need. Even then, you may find issues like you did back at the park. Is there really any way to win? n
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. Visit icanrv.com for more information.
Rogue Wave is manufactured by Geosat Solutions of Hollywood, Florida. (wavewifi.com; 954-922-9585)
WiFiRanger is from Blue Mesh Networks of Meridian, Idaho. (wifiranger.com; 208-321-5544)