Finding the best Internet for RV Nomads is a daunting task but we have advice for you from two experts who know more about this than anyone else you can find.
With the help of Chris and Cherie of Technomadia, the RV Lifestyle’s top Internet experts, we’re going to tell you what companies and what plans are the best for today’s demanding RVer.
They candidly warn us what companies to stay away from and what service providers are offering the best plans.
Plus we learn why 5G may not be very handy for the RV community just yet and what – and when – that new Starlink Satellite constellation will be ready for RV Nomads.
If you prefer, you can listen to the podcast in the player below. The interview is about 25:00 in.
The Best Internet for RV Nomads
Our guests o are Chris and Cherie of the website Technomadia, which chronicles all things technology-related to RVers, and the Mobile Internet Resource Center, which is a member-supported site that is the most respected and reliable resource for the absolute latest information about Mobile Internet.
Chris and Cherie are true Nomads themselves, traveling the country in a bus converted into an RV, a Class B van and a boat. They truly are the leading experts on anything related to RVing and the Internet.
We interviewed them in a recent episode for our RV Podcast and tapped into their expertise to help our readers and listeners fund the best Internet for RV Nomads in 2021.
Here's a full transcript of the interview on how to find the Best Internet for RV Nomads:
Mike Wendland: Joining us now are Chris and Cherie. You guys are on, let's see, you have a whole fleet of mobile, you're in a boat right now, right?
Chris: Yes. We have a boat, a bus, and a van. So we kind of dive into many different ways of being a nomad.
Mike Wendland: That is awesome. That is awesome. Well, it's been a while since we've had you on. And so much has changed, particularly in the lockdown that we're all going through. So many people now working from home and now people saying, “Well, why should we work at home? Let's go work from the road.”
So let's start off with a couple of questions about those who are out there on the road and need internet. What's the best advice for September of 2020 from the tech nomadic experts here that really know more about it than anybody else I know?
Cherie: It's a tough challenge right now because the needs for a lot that are hitting the road right now, they're trying to work remotely. They may be doing a lot of video work, like what we're trying to do right here. They're schooling their kids on the road. And they want to be able to stream Netflix and YouTube. So they want all the high-bandwidth things.
Chris: Just like they're at home.
Cherie: Just like at home. But these are some of the most difficult things to do over mobile internet. And at the same time, there's a lot of us wanting to do it right now because, well, not just wanting to, we need to with the pandemic and work from home. So the carriers, especially the cellular carriers, are all having supply and demand issue. So they're having to-
Chris: Their networks are overwhelmed. They're trying to price their plans and stuff. Their target market isn't people who live and work full time on the roads. They're trying to design their plans around people who are just, you know, need to be connected in between home and work or just when they're away from the house.
Best Internet for RV Nomads Advice: Be Flexible, plans change
So we're kind of special. The whole mobile community is kind of special. You have to find the right combination of how to use the devices, what devices to use, and what plans to use that will assemble an arsenal that can actually meet our needs.
Cherie: And that stuff changes all the time.
Chris: And it changes all the time.
Cherie: It's more like what's best at this hour. Bevcause as soon as we record this, yu can bet something has changed. Probably as we speak…
Chris: Or tomorrow or something. Because, yeah, tthere's been several major plan changes recently. And we're always kind of that's what we do is we guide people. Like, this is the best bet today, come back tomorrow, it might be changing.
Mike Wendland: Well, it does change. And I've been a victim. That's probably a little too harsh of a word. But I've been a firsthand witness to some of those changes just in the last year or so with AT&T and Togo and with the program with Nomad, which suddenly upped their rates by $50 a month.
Internet Resellers: What to know
One of the things I wanted to talk about is resellers. There's so many places that RVers are seeing that are basically resellers. Explain what a reseller is and whether that is a reliable place where RVers should go looking for unlimited, unthrottled internet.
Cherie: Right. That's obviously the appeal is those are about the only places you're going to find cellular data plans that are advertised as unlimited, unthrottled. And that's what we all want. That's not what the carriers want to provide. And what the resellers are is they tend to have access somehow to a data plan that they're able to make work as an unlimited hotspot device, to use on hotspot devices or routers.
Best Internet for RV Nomads Advice: Be aware of how Resellers Work
Chris: But a lot of times these resellers are basically the equivalent of flea market salespeople.
They have stuff that sometimes literally fell off the back of a truck someplace. They're selling plans that were intended for this, and they're finding a way to use them for that. And when the carriers, they're like, “Well, no, you're using the plans wrong.” They'll just cut all of those off.
Cherie: Right. We've been tracking this industry for a very long time. We see it's almost every three months-
Chris: Resellers come and go.
Cherie: Every three months there's a new reseller that comes on the scene. They get a lot of publicity, a lot of people get them, get them in their setup, and then suddenly they go away. And the reason is, is because the plans behind the scenes were not intended for this sort of usage.
And those plans become then visible to the carrier because they see a whole bunch of loads. So maybe these are corporate plans that were not meant to be sold. Maybe they were tablet plans that are being repurposed on hotspot devices.
Chris: We've seen resellers in the past were secretly selling government plans or school plans and stuff that was intended for students. And they're like, “Oh yeah, they're students,” but they're actually selling them out the backdoor for all sorts of things.
Cherie: All sorts of things. There are also master agents in the background that do have access to legit wholesale plans. And they come and go all the time. But when they see a huge increase in demand and plans being out there and people start using terabytes of data, well, the carriers go, “Whoa, this is not what we intended.”
And they find ways to shut those plans down. And we've seen this cycle. I could almost time it. It's like, oh, Nomad internet. Okay. Yeah, I give that six weeks. We can almost time it.
Chris: And then the next one comes along. And then there are the other things like the prepaid brands that are owned by the carriers that, they're not resellers. Like Cricket is owned by AT&T. They're not reselling AT&T plans.
Cherie: Visible is owned by Verizon. So these are plans that have a little more chance of sticking around.
Best Internet for RV Nomads Advice: Do Your Homework
Chris: Yes. So you got to kind of do your homework.
Mike Wendland: And people will ask you this all the time, so they always say, “Well, what's the best plan for me?” And you mean as of now or in 10 minutes? But give us a couple of things that RVers who need reliable, fast, unthrottled internet, is there any such an animal that is affordable these days?
Cherie: If you're willing to go with Sprint's network, which has traditionally been the worst network, and of course they're being taken over by T-Mobile and that process is ongoing, there are legit unlimited plans that you can get on Sprint's network.
Either through the FMCA's rental plan or there's some nonprofit organizations that if you become a member of them, you have access to their unlimited plan.
Chris: And these are really unlimited, go to town, use crazy amounts of data plans.
Cherie: Yup. And those have been around for a very long time. We feel really good about recommending those if Sprint works for your travels. And we don't know what's going to happen to them in the future with T-Mobile taking over.
Cricket Wireless, which is AT&T's prepaid subsidiary, they currently have a mobile hotspot plan that you can put like on that Netgear Nighthawk, like what you had. And you can get 100 gigabytes of high-speed LTE data for $90 per month. That's a legit plan.
Chris: And then there are some other plans like-
Mike Wendland: How much data do you get then for that end of the Cricket plan?
Best Internet for RV Nomads Advice: How much use does 100 GB Provide?
Cherie: That's 100 gigabytes.
Chris: 100 gigabytes, which is a pretty decent amount.
Mike Wendland: Help people understand, how fast can you use up 100 gigabytes in a month?
Cherie: Depends upon what you're doing.
Mike Wendland: Well, we're streaming now. I do this twice a week. A lot of people are doing Zoom meetings every day.
Cherie: Exactly. So Zoom, let's use that as an example. To do a two-way interactive Zoom meeting or a group meeting, you can burn through about three gigabytes per hour doing that. So that adds up really quick.
If you're having to do four or five Zoom calls a day during your workday, you're going to need a lot of data and a lot of those Cricket plans. So that's why those reseller plans are so attractive is because you're getting that unlimited data. But the risk is that plan may last a month, it may last six months. You just don't know.
Chris: But on the other hand, if your main purpose is doing things like Zoom or Netflix or many of these other things, if you do those tasks instead of on your laptop you do them on a tablet or on your phone, which actually works really great for Zoom and for Netflix watching, all that other stuff, there are unlimited plans that will give you unlimited on your tablet or on your phone if you're not trying to worry about sharing it with a laptop.
Cherie: Right. You can add on Verizon and AT&T if you've got your smartphones on unlimited plans with those carriers directly. You can add them for 20 bucks a month and get unlimited on-device data on a cellular-enabled iPad or tablet. And that's a great way to offload a lot of that data usage.
Chris: And you can do Zoom all day.
Mike Wendland: That would also include streaming Netflix at night after you're doing Zoom.
Cherie: Exactly. And if you do an HDMI out cable, like Apple's got one for their iPads, you can even put that to your large screen TV. So there are ways to use data. It's just, don't focus so much on that hotspot data. Find ways that you can use it on a tablet or smartphone. What can you do on-device?
Best Internet for RV Nomads Advice: Choose Resellers Carefully
Mike Wendland: Back to the retailers for a moment. Do you recommend at any time that people deal with a reseller?
Cherie: We do. We do. We don't recommend specific dealers because-
Chris: They're all basically the [inaudible 00:08:46].
Cherie: But it does make sense. I mean, you just need to go in eyes wide open. We keep vendor lists. Our staff goes through every single vendor that's out there about every week and updates our vendor list to see who's in business, what the pricing is.
And we have huge, huge disclaimers on those vendor lists is, these are all the things you need to know about this style of plan. And our biggest advice is if you just choose to go with them is always have a backup option ready to go. Because those plans can, they can literally go over night.
Chris: Yeah. Consider you're using those plans until you lose those plans. And so, it's great. You might be able to find an amazing deal for 120 bucks a month, it's unlimited. But it might last a month. It might last three months. It might last a year. You just have to have that in the back of your mind. What will you do if you turn it on tomorrow and it's gone?
Mike Wendland: There you go. And that's a big reason to keep your distance, at least in our book.
Chris: Or have a backup.
Best Internet for RV Nomads Advice: 5G has Many Confusing Flavors
Mike Wendland: Let's talk about a couple things that are on the horizon. One that's here now, we're hearing so much particularly from AT&T, about 5G. Is that ready for prime time yet? And particularly for RV nomads.
Cherie: So all three carriers, and we're going to not talk about Sprint, we just consider them part of T-Mobile right now, they all have a plan for 5G and they're all in progress of it. The first thing to understand about 5G is there are three flavors.
There's the millimeter wave ultra fast 5G. That's the short range that you're getting in just a few urban [inaudible 00:10:18] areas. That is not the 5G that us RVers and cruisers… That doesn't really impact us.
Chris: Yeah. You'll see them in an ad show two gigabit per second speed. Crazy speeds. And they're actually offering unlimited plans to use those crazy speeds. But that won't even pass through a window. That is super short-range technology.
Mike Wendland: When you say short range, you mean like basically underneath the tower.
Cherie: Yeah. Feet.
Chris: They're putting the towers, these are for cities, where they're putting the towers on street corners, on every street light on the street corners. And that's where it's just going to provide coverage in downtowns and stuff. Eventually it'll be a lot more places. But don't worry about millimeter wave for RVers now.
Cherie: Verizon is calling that ultra wideband.
Chris: They're calling it different names. AT&T calls it 5G Plus. And then there's the low band of 5G that is basically 5G on top of the same spectrum as 4G. So the [inaudible 00:11:09] people are saying, “Oh, well, 5G won't matter. It's not going to have coverage.”
Well, by the end of this year, all the carriers are going to be turning all this low-band 5G on, and they'll be able to say, “Hey, you've got 5G coverage just about everywhere.” Almost any place they had 4G, they'll have 5G.
But because that 5G is using the same highways, basically, through the sky as the 4G, it will be just really good 4G. It won't be massively different. So no reason to rush out and get a 5G hardware for that, because all you're getting is a new icon in the corner. It's not transformative yet.
Cherie: It's probably not going to be faster. Probably all the unlimited plans that'll come out for 5G will be for the millimeter wave, not this long-range 5G. It's going to get really complicated in the future.
Chris: Yes. For the next few years.
Cherie: And then there's mid-band 5G that's coming out. This is that sweet spot in between that millimeter wave and that long-range 5G that's faster and-
Chris: Has decent coverage.
Cherie: … also it has decent coverage. That's not yet deployed yet.
Chris: T-Mobile has got a huge headstart on that. But still that's like building new towers, putting new stuff out there. That's going to be the 5G that rolls out over the next several years and becomes very significant.
But nobody needs to rush out for 5G now. But you don't need to avoid it either. Like the new iPhone that's coming out next month will have 5G. And by this time next year, every new phone it will just be 5G. That's just the way things are going.
Will 5G be the Best Internet for RV Nomads?
Cherie: Right. But as you saw in the last few months, both Verizon and AT&T launched their first consumer accessible 5G mobile hotspot devices that cover both that millimeter wave in the urban areas and the extremely long range that's layered over the 4G.
And they both are out. They're both very capable devices. They have really, really the strongest and peak of technology for 4G LTE as well. So they're capable for both current use and for future.
Chris: But they're twice as much as their 4G hotspots. So do you really want to invest in that future-proofing now or wait a year or two when everything will have 5G built in?
Cherie: And there'll be more options out as well.
Mike Wendland: They seem to be about 500 bucks just for the device.
Cherie: The new AT&TT Nighthawk 5G device is 510. And the Verizon is-
Chris: Is 399.
Cherie: Yeah, 399. So they're double the price of their 4G equivalents. And the 4G equivalents are-
Chris: Are still great.
Cherie: They're still great. They're still flagship devices.
Best Internet for RV Nomads Advice: What about Cellular Boosters?
Mike Wendland: Here's the question that kind of goes through this whole thing, the importance anymore of a cellular booster. It was all the rage a couple of years ago, and we're not hearing much about cellular boosters. The last time we talked, you said you really don't need it with these new MIMO antennas.
Cherie: Most of the time you don't. I would say 80% of the time, a MIMO antenna, especially an externally hooked up onto a hotspot or cellular embedded router, is going to outperform a booster.
Chris: Right. And the place where boosters are handy is, well, phones don't have a way to work with an antenna. So if you're only trying to work with a cell phone, well, then a booster is still going to help you there. Because you can't put an antenna onto that.
And then there are certain fringe areas and stuff where a booster can still help. Particularly if your main goal is to increase your uploads. If you're doing a lot of video, that might be important.
Cherie: Video broadcasting requires upload speeds. Uploading large files to YouTube, or even just syncing to the cloud if you're doing a lot of backups and things like that.
That's where upload can make a difference. And that's where a booster can have a big impact, because that's essentially putting a megaphone onto your cellular device so that it can shout louder back out, back to the tower.
Chris: What we often teach people is that a booster can cut your download speeds in half, but in the process it might actually increase your upload speed sometimes by 10X. So it's all a matter of most people don't need a booster most of the time, but some people it's really useful to have on occasion.
Mike Wendland: What about a booster in terms of a router or a Jetpack or a MiFi device? Do those help there?
Cherie: Yes, they can. You just want to take off any external antennas that you have on your roof and have that jet… Because the external antenna is where the signal is coming into. So if you remove the external antenna from the Jetpack, then you just put the hotspot-
Chris: Put the booster and the Jetpack together.
Cherie: Yeah. And then they can increase signal to the hotspot as well.
Best Internet for RV Nomads Advice: Satellite Internet and the Near Future
Mike Wendland: All right. Last area I want to talk about, and the part that's really got me excited, is low orbit satellite. This whole constellation that's now up there. I'm just hearing all sorts of great things about that and its potential. How far off are we? Is that a viable option for RVers? Are you guys excited about it? When will we see it?
Cherie: We're actually right now aboard our boat in Sanford, Florida. We are 40 miles away from the launchpad over at Cape Canaveral. And we're watching every single Starlink launch going up. We're super excited about it.
Chris: But there is a reality check.
Cherie: But there is a reality check with SpaceX. And there's two other low Earth orbit satellites going up. There's OneWeb as well as Project Kuiper.
Chris: Amazon actually has their own. They're investing billions and billions of dollars. So a lot of stuff's going to be happening in space, but it takes a long time to build these massive networks in space.
SpaceX with Starlink is way ahead. They have over 700 satellites up now. They are in private beta right now of basically friends and family and employees and stuff.
And sometime before the end of the year, they're going to start a public beta test of Starlink service. But their focus, their primary focus is fixed residential locations. They are intending to support mobile users eventually.
We have no idea how far out it will be before they start to make it mobile friendly. So all they're doing right now is about for houses in a fixed location with very clear views of the sky in all direction. It will get really, really exciting. And SpaceX moves really fast, so who knows how quickly it will get exciting for mobile users. So we're definitely tracking it every day.
Cherie: Right. Earlier this year we were starting to hear RVers in a lot of groups and forums say, “Hey, don't buy any cellular stuff. You're going to have Starlink by the end of the year.” That is not true.
So we do advise that RVers and boaters alike don't plan your mobile internet systems around a satellite quite yet. If you need it between now and this time next year, focus on cellular still. But satellite will be very interesting, and we'll know a lot more this time next year.
Chris: And even when satellite is out, it will probably be a really great complement to cellular. They will go hand in hand. Because satellite is not going to work if you're parked in dense trees or even just even a little bit of trees sometimes can block it.
Cherie: Or a mountain blocking your view.
Chris: Or buildings or things like that. So there's always going to be place for cellular and a place for satellite is going to be coming back on the scene in exciting ways.
Mike Wendland: Well, it's so much to digest, but you have helped see a path through the trees. Mobile Internet Resource Center, Chris and Cherie's service to the internet community that are on four wheels or on a boat. We cannot stress how much we are glad that you guys are out there. That's the only place I recommend people go for information. I'm a reseller of you guys. I tell everybody go there.
Cherie: Thank you.
Chris: We welcome everybody to come over to mobileinternetinfo.com. We've got a ton of… The resources we provide are completely free. And then for people who want to go deeper, we've got memberships.
Cherie: We're all funded by the memberships.
Chris: No advertising.
Cherie: You won't find advertising. We're not sponsored, nor do we depend on selling.
Mike Wendland: I'm trying to do that myself. Move more away from sponsors and move more towards community support. But it's a tough task.
Cherie: It is a tough task, but it's a lot… I think a lot of people are tired of advertising and affiliate sales and things like that. So I think hopefully more and more appreciating people who are creating content and good stuff and doing it with their best interests at heart.
Mike Wendland: Yep. That's what we're trying to do. We'll see. It's like pulling teeth, as you know, sometimes.
Cherie: Definitely is.
Mike Wendland: Hey, thank you, Chris and Cherie for making time for us.
Cherie: Thank you so much for having us on.
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