This broad overview of on-the-go TV and Internet services comes to us from Karl at Premier Coach Works (www.premiercoachworks.com) – thank you Karl for sharing your experience and knowledge with us!
I am the owner of Premier Coach Works, an RV repair shop in Phoenix, Arizona. We see a lot of folks with RVs every winter when they make their way from the northern states to our sunny city, and we get a lot of questions about everything from RV maintenance and repair to customization and optimization of the vehicle for the most comfort. In this post, I talk about what the options are for accessing television and internet when you live on the road.
One of the biggest obstacles for those embracing the full-time RV lifestyle is the lack of options when it comes to accessing television and internet. In our modern world, it is nearly impossible to stay connected to current events without access to internet, and satellite TV still remains the best option for watching shows and movies in an RV, for reasons that will soon be explained. Though the providers of portable internet and television are few and far between, there are so many components that can enhance the RV experience that it can be difficult to discern which products actually fulfill your specific needs.
This is a simple guide for obtaining and improving the internet and television reception in your RV, so that you don’t have to miss out on such a huge wealth of entertainment and information.
Recent marketing trends reveal that more and more homeowners are dropping cable and satellite subscriptions in favor of online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. However, this option may not be viable for the RV. Unlike the internet service one can obtain in a house or apartment located in a city featuring a decent internet infrastructure, internet in an RV can be unreliable due to its reliance on satellites that can be obscured in rural and forest areas. In addition, internet packages for homes on the go often have a data cap, which makes it impossible to stream a lot of media without shelling out hundreds of dollars every month for the speed and data to do so. This is why many people choose satellite or antennas for TV on the go. Here are the options available at this time:
Dish Network: Dish offers full-time RV-based packages as well as a bundled package for your house and RV. The full-time option is pay-as-you-go, which means that you don’t have to deal with contracts. They offer several different bundles of satellite and receiver equipment and programming packages. They also have 24-hour customer service and physical dealer locations all across the country in order to assist with technical or installation issues, even though they advertise that the satellites themselves are easy to set up, take down, and store. The main drawback is that the satellites are unable to pick up local stations, so you will need a HD antenna to receive localized versions of ABC, CBS, NBC, and so on.
DirecTV: DirecTV used to be the major satellite provider for those on the road, but has begun to focus more on direct connection services. They still offer a comparable service to Dish, with many different programming options.
Crank/mounted Antenna: This allows you to receive local broadcasts from nearby channels, and often in HD. It probably won’t pick anything up in remote areas, but it can potentially receive dozens of channels in a number of locations. Some antennas are mounted on the roof of the RV, while others can be raised with a crank from the inside whenever required.
Cable: Many high-end campgrounds offer some form of cable service, although with less channels than a portable satellite. However, this is a good option for those who spend most of their time in a park. Some campgrounds charge for the service, so it may be cheaper to use a crank antenna or personal satellite. If you go with the satellite option, you will need to determine which type of satellite receiver works best for you.
Types of Satellite Dishes
Uncovered: This large dish can only be used when parked, but is a powerful receiver. It unfolds when you want to use it, and requires a clear line of sight to the sky. It performs extremely well, but is cumbersome and vulnerable to wind. I don’t personally recommend this dish, though if you use DirecTV and want HD channels, this is likely your only option.
Portable: This is the model most seen at campgrounds, consisting of a dish on a tripod. In order to properly use it, the tripod must be secured to the ground with weights or stakes and there must be a clear line of sight. The main disadvantage of this dish is that you have to point the dish at a precise point in the sky to get a clear signal, and it can take some time and effort to get the channels just right.
Dome: This is a dish antenna surrounded by a fiberglass dome. Not only does this dome protect the antenna, but some newer models can track the satellite signal to remain steady even when driving. It is resistant to wind but is unfortunately also vulnerable to moisture. Rain or dew on the dome can obscure the line of sight and make it hard to receive a clear signal. This is my preference because it is the easiest to use and is compatible with DirecTV SD channels and Dish Network HD channels.
When it comes to internet services, there are several options available, including cellular data, Wi-Fi hotspots and public internet.
Cellular data provides a typically stable connection and can be used to power a Wi-Fi hotspot for multiple computers or other devices. However, data usage often has a limit, making it difficult to do a lot online. If you only need to check email, read the news, watch the occasional YouTube video or browse social media, this is a good option. You can also purchase a cell phone booster to increase the phone’s ability to receive service in remote areas. Boosters range from being as simple as a cradle for your phone that amplifies its signals to permanent booster kits that can be installed in the RV itself for 3G or 4G speeds.
Satellite providers regularly offer satellite internet as well. The most popular are HughesNet, StarBand and Dish. Satellite internet is reliable but generally more expensive, as well as being reliant on bulky equipment. This is a good option for those who tend to use the internet more heavily, regardless of expense.
Mobile Wi-Fi can come in handy if you don’t use a data-enabled cell phone or tablet. Essentially, mobile Wi-Fi is a portable hotspot device provided and maintained by cell phone carriers like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. The major providers require a contract, set data limits, and allow you to share data with people in your household. However, you often lose any extra data you fail to use during the monthly period seeing that there are no rollovers. Check out the comparison of data plans from the good folks at DIY RV here – http://www.doityourselfrv.com/Downloads/RV%20INTERNET%20WIFI%20DIYRV.pdf
You don’t have to shell out a fortune to gain access to some of the cherished comforts of home. With different options becoming available with the advent of newer technology, keeping up with current events and staying in touch with friends and family via the internet while traveling is easier than ever.