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Understanding data usage and the MiFi data card

| Updated Aug 2, 2013

Staying in touch while RVing is a challenge we all face. And a key tool many of us end up acquiring is a data card that lets us set up our own Wi-Fi networks to connect our various tablets and computers to the Internet.

True, many of today's tablets and smartphones have a feature that will let you do that without the need for special card. But a special data card adds, in my view, more convenience. It can be plugged in and kept somewhere in the RV and be always charged, always ready and not pull down the battery on the other devices.

All of the various wireless providers have them and they are branded under various names. I happen to use the MiFi card on the Verizon Wireless Network, also referred to as a Jetpack. I've tried other  providers but it has been my experience that Verizon has the most reliable connections nationwide.

The Verizon 4G MiFi card

The MIFi is one of several gadgets they sell that creates your own wireless network. It is essentially a wireless router that acts as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. MiFi stands for “My Wi-Fi” and it can provide internet access for up to ten devices at a distance up to 30 ft. I've shared before how it is the primary way I update this blog and our Facebook pages and the RV newsletter while we are traveling across North America.

But since so many of you have written to ask about the monthly price, I thought I'd do this brief little post that explains data usage and the costs associated with the card.

With Verizon – and this is pretty much true of the other providers – you first need to get the device. Verizon has a couple MiFi/Jetpack models that are free with a two-year contract, and some newer ones with longer battery life that cost up to $49. That's a one time fee, should you choose to purchase one of the newer models.

So that's step one, get a contact for it and get the device.

Now come the fees. It all starts with $20 a month fee to add the MiFi/Jetpack to what they call a Share Everything account.

This is on top of whatever you are paying for cellular service each month.

Then you add the cost of your sharable data, or the data the card or router will be pumping to your devices on your hot spot network.

4GB is $30 a month
6GB is $40 a month
8 GB is $50 a month
10 GB is $60 a month
12 GB is $70 a month
Plans go all the way up to 30 GB for $185

But how do you know how much data you need? There is a special tool that you can access to help you estimate the tier of data you should purchase. Click HERE to get the online data calculator. You enter in some information on how you'll be using the Internet and it helps you come up with the best plan. Once you select a plan, you can adjust it up or down anytime, but it's best to use it for a month use to see the patterns.

I asked Michelle Gilbert, Verizon's Public Relations Manager for Michigan/Indiana/Kentucky Region, to help come up with some examples. Here's what she reports:

5 GB of usage is equivalent to:

  • 25 emails per day
  • Viewing 5 web pages per day
  • Streaming 60 minutes of music per day
    Streaming 10 minutes of lower quality videos per day.
  • Uploading and/or downloading 2 photos per day

12 GB of usage is equivalent to:

  • 50 emails per day
  • Viewing 25 web pages per day
  • Streaming 60 minutes of music per day
  • Streaming 30 minutes of lower quality videos per day.
  • Uploading and/or downloading 2 photos per day

Clearly, streaming video and music takes up the most bandwidth.

These data plans are relatively new. There used to be a flat fee unlimited plan you could get. Those were the good old days, before so many discovered their usefulness.. This summer, when I was at a huge RV rally in Gillette, WY, my computer showed I was in the range of 14 other Verizon data cards.

You can experiment with the online calculator and come up with your own usage but generally, I would suggest RVers start with a 4GB or 6GB plan. That means $50 or $60 a month will be added to your cell phone bill. But that's the cost of being connected and not having to put up with the always-bad free WiFi we encounter at most campgrounds.

Is it worth it? That's for you to determine. For me… that's a big 10-4!


Mike Wendland

Published on 2013-08-02

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

19 Responses to “Understanding data usage and the MiFi data card”

December 16, 2013at9:52 am, Arl Williams said:

Just checked the Share Everything pricing listed on the Verizon web site. $50/month now gets you 1gb ($70 for 4gb, $90 for 8gb), but the monthly connection fee is still $20. There are several grandfathered plans, which is a constant source of confusion. Information I have gleaned from the iRV2 forum suggests that many full-timers use — $70/mo. for 20gb on the Verizon network, plus about $165 for the jetpack and initiation of the service.

December 16, 2013at10:39 am, Arl Williams said:

I should add that Millenicom is a no-contract service — can be turned off/on monthly — and the $165 is not a recurring fee.

December 16, 2013at8:48 am, Pam Hicks said:

I must have a different Verizon mobile hotspot on my phone – it does not involve tethering (that is a different option), up to eight devices can be connected at the same time & I can make or receive phone calls while I am using it. I pay $70 for 7GB on a Verizon Mobile Hotspot Corporate Email Plan. My employer generously gives me $83 monthly toward my data costs. I’m still evaluating how much data I need. I just got an Ipad & I use way more data than I used to with my Blackberry tablet, but I am also learning to be smart & download anything than I can in advance at home before my commute. This mobile hotspot is accessing the same Verizon signal that a Mifi or something similar would access. I like the convenience of using my phone because I have it with me anyway.

December 16, 2013at8:28 am, Debbie said:

We went noticed that some Verizon stores are official company stores and some are just independent-owned sales outlets. The company stores have more access to authorized rates. The independents do not. We went in a Verizon company store last week to get details about the new Jetpack plans. We found that the rates went up and the gigs went down. The discrepancy of plan costs people are talking about is probably the result of Verizon terminating all those discount and grandfather plans. All old plans were terminated as of November. Verizon sent out notices for months to let everyone know. The new rates give you less gigs for the money than previously. The overage rates have gone up to $15/gig if you go over. However,, the bottom line is…mobile internet is more costly than land line internet but way better than satellite dishes. Being mobile is worth it.

December 15, 2013at3:15 pm, Mike Wendland said:

My prices came direct from Verizon’s Public Relations head in Michigan

December 15, 2013at4:36 pm, BBabe said:

Perhaps the discrepancy is you (Mike) spoke with a public relations representative, whereas consumers would speak with sales representatives when we call the vendor with these cost questions? Not that a public relations representative for the company would ever “misrepresent” the costs of the service to a journalist, right? 😉

December 15, 2013at4:46 pm, Mike Wendland said:

Actually, it would be just the opposite.

December 15, 2013at2:17 pm, June said:

I called Verizon with your rate quotes and they said the prices were wrong. We pay 50.00 for 5 gig and 10.00 for each additional gig. Confused were your prices came from

December 15, 2013at11:35 am, Liz'n'Bruce said:

We’ve had a terrible time with our WiFi hotspot from Canada. We use Rogers. Had to pay $50.00 to Rogers to get it unlocked and then found out that AT&T will not support it even though it will “roam” on AT&T from the Rogers SIM card. There doesn’t seem to be a pay-as-you-go option for us, so we’re stuck with the free WiFi connections we can find for the 3 months we’re in the US. Plans are even more expensive down here than they are in Canada! I didn’t think that was possible!

December 15, 2013at10:22 am, Peggy said:

I also use the Verizon MiFi, and agree with all the above comments about it. It is really nice to be able to connect pretty much no matter how much ‘off the grid’ I may be.

December 15, 2013at9:54 am, Yan Seiner said:

For me the advantage of these devices is that they don’t use up your phone battery. My Nexus 4 sucks the juice in AP mode. The hotspot runs for a good 8 hours. Mine also allows for the use of mini-SD cards, so you can put your music, movies, etc. on the hotspot and stream them without using your bandwidth.

Lastly, if you’re so inclined, most of these hotspots come with external antenna ports, so you can add an external high-gain antenna like this one:

For international usage, I highly recommend T-Mobile; they now have free worldwide data and texting. The one restriction is that the majority of your use has to be in the US, but that’s not a problem for visitors.

Speeds are restricted to 2G (typically) but still, it’s free 2G.

August 04, 2013at12:55 pm, Susan Adamé said:

Mike, I am a bit confused. If you already can create a mobile hot spot WIFi with you phone, what is the advantage of this device? Do you get a better connection or is it less expensive? Thanks for all of this great information!

December 15, 2013at9:55 am, Bob Wangen said:

Hi Susan,
You can create a hotspot with your phone, but the cost of “tethering” as it is called is much higher than the MIFI hotspot. Also you can use the phone while you are online which you can’t do with your phone as a hotspot.
We have used the Verizon hotspot for almost three years now and have been able to stay under our 5G usage most of the time. When we go over we only pay an additional $10, rather than jumping to the next plan. We find that has met our needs.

December 15, 2013at10:31 am, J. Dawg said:

I have Verizon and my phone can function as a hotspot without any extra costs. I have the most recent share-everything-plan. I can also use the phone when it’s on as a hotspot. Th only downside I’ve heard of using the phone as a hot spot is that it will drain your phone’s battery faster. For me, I use my phone as the hotspot when needed. I didn’t want to have to carry or charge another device.

August 03, 2013at5:36 pm, Debbie Broadstreet said:

A big plus for us to use the Verizon MiFi is that it is a secure internet connection. We do all of the following online: banking, pay bills, purchase gear and make various reservations with credit cards. WiFi hot spots are not secure – it is too risky to do any of these activities over a WiFi. The Verizon MiFi plans come with a $10 per Gig if go over your allowed limit. This is actually cheap and nothing to worry about. If you find you go over a lot, you can just up your plan limit at anytime. Mike is right – it is the only connection that is available nationwide. Other phone companies may be good for certain local areas, but if you intend to travel across the US, Verizon is the only way to go.

August 02, 2013at4:58 pm, Mike Wendland said:

Looks like you were grandfathered in before they changed rate structure and added the Share Everything plan.
Be sure to turn off data roaming when you go into Canada! It costs a bloody fortune! Verizon does have a plan that lets you get data on your phone in Canada but it’s costly. Call and check as it all depends on your contract.
I have heard of some RVers who buy wireless service from Canadian companies when they are traveling there a lot to get around international roaming fees. I’ve thought of this with all my trips to Kitchener and Roadtrek. Meantime, I just try to use free WiFi when I come across it over there.

August 02, 2013at4:51 pm, Dan said:

I have used Verizon MiFi card for several years now. Never heard of the Share Everything account. I pay $50 per month for 5 GB or $80 per month for 10 GB. With either of these it is $10 additional for each 10 GB I go over. It is my only internet provider as I also use it at home, having cut the land lines several years ago.
Now, Mike, with many of us headed to Canada for a number of weeks or more, tell us what to use use while there.

August 02, 2013at2:48 pm, Laura H Postema said:

I’m now on my third wifi hotspot device…mifi , and I love it. This latest 4G model is wonderful. I like that I’m always connected and not reliant on the iffy ‘free’ connections sometimes available. Thanks for posting…your examples are spot on. We’ve increased our data when we’ve needed extra, and decreased it when we needed very little. It is the price of staying connected…and it’s worth it to us.

August 02, 2013at1:59 pm, Tana Fauske said:

I have used a Hotspot for the past year, and love it. I also like the fact that you can used up for several connections at the same time. I usually am on IPad and hubby is on his laptop.

I had Verizon data on the IPad, but in this area it was not reliable and half the time I couldn’t connect once I got 50 miles from home. I got a Samsung Hotspot with service from USCellular, same as my phone coverage, and get good coverage and 4g most of the time.
Of course, if there is a fast food place around, we just park within range and catch up on the news.

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