Years ago I wrote a simple book about mobile technology for RV’ers. After the second edition I let the book fade into history, as things are changing so quickly in the mobile tech market place that keeping up for a book is rather difficult. Plus I was distracted by the gallery and photography business for a while. So, the book is no more.
At the time the idea of Wi-Fi in RV parks was still catching on. Today all RV’ers are aware of mobile internet solutions of one kind or another. And RV parks make it a point to address their Wi-Fi access. Traveling across the country over the last few weeks I saw so many parks with big signs up along the road for their “Free Wi-Fi.”
So, RV’ers can remain connected throughout the country at any park of their choice now?
No, not really.
“Free Wi-Fi” is an interesting concept. There’s a broad range of options from park to park. Even KOA, the most well known RV Park chain in the nation is inconsistent on their Wi-Fi.
Free Fast Wi-Fi throughout the park
This is what RV’ers are hoping for when they land at a park. And in all honesty it’s rare. Actually, arriving at La Mesa RV Park in Cortez I was happy to find that what the owners were advertising was completely true. Completely free fast Wi-Fi throughout the entire park! Wow!
I walked all of La Mesa with a network monitoring tool just to get an idea of any soft spots without coverage and I found none. It’s a smaller park, and the installation of equipment (which is expensive) was done well. Additionally, the network was banging fast. Even when other campers were home for the evening I could stream episodes of Archer from Netflix. I was beyond impressed, and I told the park owner that their setup was rare.
Free Regulated Wi-Fi throughout the park
This seems to be the more common theme. Yes, there is coverage throughout the park. Yes, it reaches every single site. And it’s not super fast, and it is heavily regulated and monitored.
At one KOA along my travel route the woman at the office asked how many wireless devices I had. Each one needed it’s own pass code. And if you used “too much bandwidth” the device would be throttled. In other words, they’d slow your network access to something slower than dial up if you dared to actually use the network.
I tested the network out, got my e-mail, and then decided to post a blog. And that’s where it went wrong. I was uploading less than 5MB of photos to the blog when I got throttled. And so the images took over a half hour to upload. “Too much bandwidth usage” isn’t really a measurement, and you’re never sure what that line is.
At another KOA there was a single password for network access for any number of devices, and they didn’t regulate my use at all. The Wi-Fi login was also very different between the two KOA’s.
Free Regulated Wi-Fi with a timer attached
Other parks have gone out to large Wi-Fi companies to supply their wireless internet. These companies do work in RV parks and Hotel Chains. They do cover the parks well, and the speed is usually good….but there’s a timer or a limit attached. And when you hit the timer or bandwidth limit……..?
BAM! You’re shut down and you get a message that you can buy additional time from the vendor. A certain number of GB per month for a certain dollar amount a month.
You know, I wouldn’t mind this in theory. Pay so much a month for internet access? We do it already in our homes. The issue is that not all parks use Vendor X. Some use Vendor Y & Z. So do I buy time with all of them? That could get expensive fast. There’s no “standard”, and this becomes frustrating quickly. I stayed at a park once in OR that had this scenario, and I asked the park manager about the service. Basically I asked, “What other parks use this company for when I move on and still haven’t used the bandwidth I bought?”
The park manager didn’t know what other parks the company served, so I took a pass on the service altogether.
Then we have plain old “free Wi-Fi” in many parks that just doesn’t cut it. It’s super slow, it doesn’t cover everywhere, and if you put a few people on the system it’s over. This is the case that I’m currently dealing with.
One of my favorite parks in the universe has no true Wi-Fi service. They have Free Wi-Fi at the park office. It’s a little home Wi-Fi Router that you could purchase at Wal-Mart or Best Buy. There are no repeaters, and when you walk a little way from the office your service is gone. Also, their ISP providing the connection is providing a 1.54 Mbps connection. With today’s bandwidth requirements it isn’t going to cut it. If you can get 45Mbps at home for just you, what do you think sharing 1.5Mbps with 30 other people will feel like?
Unusable and unworkable.
So, for the RV’er on the road Free Wi-Fi isn’t all that. What are the other solutions? Crazy expensive satellite dishes on your rig? Maybe one of the new Wireless Wi-Fi devices from a cellular company? I’ve got one, but only 10GB a month.
7.5 years after writing my book on mobile tech for RV’ers, there’s still no perfect solution. You’ve still got to be creative about network access. Use cell company Wi-Fi devices when nothing else is available. Parks that have good coverage? Switch over to their network and save your bandwith on the cell device. Places with no hotspots and no cell coverage?
Get out of your RV and enjoy the place you are. You can connect later when you move on down the road.