Wi-Fi has evolved into the so-called fourth utility at campgrounds and RV resorts, but many still feel a big disconnect between what they need and what they get when logging on to campground Wi-Fi systems.
Campground Wi-Fi networks often fail – for many reasons – to provide the infrastructure (i.e. have the backbone) needed to support the technology needs users are accustomed to at home.
So says Catherine DeStasio, marketing manager at TengoInternet, a Austin, Texas-based company that has installed more than 1,200 campground Wi-Fi networks in the last 13 years.
“As consumer Wi-Fi expectations are increasing, their satisfaction is decreasing because delivering a good Wi-Fi experience is complex,” DeStasio told Roadtreking.
To be sure, nearly all travelers these days expect connectivity.
Expedia/Egencia recently released a study that found 94 percent take at least one mobile device when they travel for personal reasons.
Calling it the “new normal when it comes to travel,” Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO of Expedia Inc. and president, Expedia Worldwide, said in a release that the survey of more than 8,800 adults in 25 countries shows how important tech is to travelers.
For example, the survey found that 76 percent of respondents call their smartphones “very important/critical” to their daily lives while 70 percent said the same about laptop connectivity. A majority of travelers also said that the decisions they make on where to stay are largely dependent on access to Wi-Fi.
DeStasio said inadequate or complete lack of Wi-Fi service can affect just about every aspect business – from guest and staff satisfaction and brand reputation to occupancy and, of course, profitability.
Reports indicate that at KOA franchises alone, 73 percent of guests want Wi-Fi.
DeStasio said there are three main things campground guests want when it comes to Wi-Fi:
- Fast, on-demand connections to stream services such as Hulu, stay connected to social media, and use phone/video communications like Skype
- Connect multiple mobile devices at once and throughout the property
- A free component
So if Wi-Fi is in such demand from guests, why don’t all campgrounds offer the latest and greatest in connectivity? Myriad issues exist, including:
- Limited or no access to an adequate Internet circuit (ISP): Your computer may connect to a campground’s main server without wires via a Wi-Fi connection, but that server still needs wires to connect to an ISP and those wires may not be as super-fast and slick as the fiber optic ones you stream Netflix on at home.
- Limited Wi-Fi equipment
- Limited service/support for networks
- Interference: Trees, buildings, aluminum, and hills greatly impact signals already liked being pushed to the limit.
- Density: The number of people trying to use a network that’s weak to begin with can slow or stop things completely.
Alas, offering connectivity appears to be high priority these days – at least for many organizations.
There is the anecdotal evidence of organizations like TengoInternet, along with:
- Parks Canada is expanding Wi-Fi offerings with plans to offer connectivity at up to 150 visitor centers and campgrounds within the next three years.
- The U.S. National Park Service has made it a priority, too, through its so-called “Go Digital!” initiative. Yellowstone National Park officials, in the most controversial example, are weighing installation of a $34 million fiber optic line that would run through Grand Teton National Park and into Yellowstone with the intention of improving connectivity for guests. That’s according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit that opposes complete wiring of the National Park System.
- And Google is reportedly spending up to $3 billion to deploy a fleet of nearly 200 mini-satellites that would provide and Internet signal from the sky.
For now, however, it appears many campers and RVers will have to be patient when it comes to getting the same Wi-Fi in the wild that they get from their couch — unless other available options are used.
For example, many campers and RVers carry along their own Wi-Fi networks that run off cellular connections, like the Mi-Fi card I use from Verizon. However, problems can arise when so many other RVers — equally disappointed with campground Wi-Fi — also pack their own Mi-Fi networks. The result is cellular networks get overwhelmed because so many campers are using their own data cards
I use the Wilson Sleek cell phone booster and a small external antenna that magnetically attaches to the roof of our Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL to get access when I am in really remote areas with weak cell phone coverage. But I'm not happy with the antenna. I think I need a longer, better-grounded antenna. Just have to figure out where and how to mount it.
There's even another alternative: satellite Internet. But expect to pay well north of $1,000 for such a system and well over $100 a month for limited bandwidth use. It's also extremely slow.
It's like we just can't win — for now.
Idfeas, anyone? Use comments below.