How much Internet data do I need when living off grid? Even in the most remote areas, you can have internet access from your RV. Here is a guide to figuring out which solution would work best for you.
If you’re like me and Jennifer, it doesn’t matter where you go. Reliable internet is a necessity. This is especially true if you run an online business from the road. You don't want to have to rely on coffee shops to provide free wifi.
And if you’re someone who happens to have young passengers on board, all the more reason to equip your RV with the best internet connections before venturing out into the wilderness.
But don’t worry. Off grid internet doesn’t always mean a bad signal.
Costs for data and technology have changed a lot since 2015. So here is a guide to determine how much data you use and what’s out there to best fit your RV needs.
How Much Data Mainly Comes Down to Video
In terms of the amount of data you use for off grid internet, the true difference maker is the quantity and quality of video you watch.
For every hour of high definition streaming, estimate about 3 gigabytes. For low definition video, cut that all the way down to 1 GB per hour.
Just to give you some perspective, listening to 21 hours of only music equals the data of one hour of HD video streaming.
And basic web browsing and answering emails need far less. Even social media doesn’t use a ton of data unless you’re consuming a lot of video.
Don’t forget video chatting, which is essential on the road, especially if you’re working remotely.
Using Zoom or FaceTime can set you back 1.6 GB an hour, with even more racked up for group chats.
Since you don’t want to be that person who looks all pixelated and freezes up while chatting, it’s good to be prepared to meet your correct data needs before you travel.
If you’re unsure how much data you use per month, you can call your service provider and ask for your average usage.
Having this information will help you prepare for choosing the best off grid internet option for your RV.
Off Grid Internet If Your Usage is Low
The good news is that if you don’t stream a lot of video, you can turn your own smart phone with its normal data plan into a hotspot for other devices such as a laptop or tablet.
This essentially turns your phone into a wireless router so your other devices can get a cell signal.
Plus, you are using data you are already paying for while not traveling.
It’s also easy to enable. You simply need to go to settings in your phone and turn on the Mobile Hotspot feature.
Some carriers charge a minimal fee for this and cap the amount of data using your phone as a hotspot before slowing down your speed.
I would recommend checking the exact policy with your carrier first so you don’t incur any surprise fees.
This option is also only ideal for those who only need to be connected in touristy areas. By using your cell phone plan, your connectivity depends on a good cell phone signal. So, you are beholden to places that get good service from your cell phone service provider.
So if you like boondocking in rural areas, this won’t be a very reliable option.
Investing in a signal booster is a perfect solution for remote connectivity.
A cell phone booster could boost your off grid internet signal by 33% on all your devices. They often run a bit pricey but it’s only a one-time cost rather than a monthly bill.
If You Like to be Very Remote
While a signal booster can help your signal, that still may not do the trick when you’re in a very rural location.
If you absolutely need connectivity from anywhere and everywhere, then satellite internet is your best option for off grid internet.
Yes, the major downside is satellite service can be slow and cost a lot of money, but that’s the price you pay for that kind of access.
Before jumping for this option, first consider how important internet connectivity is to you. If you only need data or phone calls for emergency situations, satellite phones are another way to go.
If Your Data Usage is High
If you’re like Jennifer and me and work remotely with a lot of video and web browsing, you’ll need to get a mobile hotspot for the best off grid internet.
We record our RV Podcast on the road and without mobile Internet, we'd really be stuck. Have you heard our podcast yet? Here's a link to some of our recent episodes.
Using your cell phone alone as a wi-fi hotspot will only work well for one laptop or so at a time.
A mobile hotspot like a Verizon Jetpack works basically like a beefed-up version of your cell phone operating as a hotspot.
So if you have several devices that need access at a greater range, then a mobile hotspot is your best bet for a reliable signal at a fast speed.
The enabled device costs a small monthly fee, usually under $10 a month. You charge it in your RV and it even operates on battery so you can take it on the trail.
Keep in mind that most plans are long-term, so unless you need it all year round you will be paying for it while not using it.
If You Need 24/7 Coverage
Some of us need to be connected all the time everywhere we travel, especially if we’re logging work hours all week while on the road.
If you fall into this camp, it helps to have devices for two cell networks.
This way, if one network has poor coverage, then you have the other network to fall back on. Generally we've found that where Verizon has poor coverage, AT&T usually will connect, and vice versa.
But be aware, there are some very remote places where there simply is no connection available with any network.
When that happens, your best option is to move down the road until you find a useable signal.
If You’re On a Budget, Save Your Data
If your plan has data limits, there are ways to harness your data for when you need it most.
When watching YouTube or other apps that play video, go into the settings and opt to lower the streaming quality.
Be sure to do this on all devices and turn them off when you’re not using them.
And if you have kids, it could help to install parental controls with data limits (because gaming is the mother of all data spending).
The difference really adds up. You can track how much data you’re using that billing month by visiting the settings on your phone.
How do you stay connected with off grid internet in your RV? Let us know in the comments!
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