4 Ways to Get Internet on The Go: Wi-Fi For RV, Van Life
How Do I Get Internet In My Car, RV, Truck or Van? Wi-Fi For The Road Trip
20 July 2022

According to Forbes, 74% of professionals expect remote work to become standard in the new normal. Working from home means you’re able to save the money and time that it would take to drive into work to instead focus on your job. But it also means that anywhere that has the same modern conveniences your home has can be a potential workplace. This includes working on the go. 

In a 2020 survey, the RV Industry Association found that 46 million Americans were planning an RV trip in the next 12 months. Being able to work on the go means a stable Wi-Fi connection anywhere at any time. So, what solutions are people using for having Wi-Fi in the car? How do people have the internet on the go? 

In this article, we’ll be going through potential solutions for getting Wi-Fi on the road in your vehicle to help you determine what option is best for your needs. We’ll answer these questions:

  • How can I get wifi in my car? 
  • How much does car wifi cost?
  • How do people get internet for van life?
  • How does satellite internet for vehicles work?

Mobile Hotspot 

Many modern smartphones have a “hotspot” option that will let other devices connect to it like they would a normal Wi-Fi network. When the hotspot is enabled, computers, tablets, and any other device requiring a wireless connection will use the smartphone’s data to access the internet. 

The price and speed of your hotspot will depend on your mobile plan. If you want to avoid being restricted on the amount of cell data your hotspot can use, you’ll likely want an “unlimited” data plan.

Even with an unlimited data plan, most carriers will give you faster data (such as 5G) up to a certain amount of data is used. For example, watching a video or downloading photos takes up a certain GB amount of data. After you exceed that set data amount, they’ll automatically switch you over to a slower data plan. While the data is technically “unlimited,” you’ll notice a dip in your internet speeds after extended use. 

Here are some of the cheaper plans by the larger cell carriers:

  • Verizon: $35 unlimited data, 5 GB of premium mobile hotspot data, then switches to lower-speed once the 5 GB are exceeded. 
  • AT&T: $35 unlimited data, 3 GB of premium hotspot data per line.
  • Sprint: $60 unlimited data, 3G hotspot data. 
  • T-Mobile: $90 50 GB premium cell phone data, unlimited 3G mobile hotspot data.

The mobile hotspot option can get very expensive. You’re paying for the convenience of using your phone as a router, and you will notice the quality dip between a normal internet router and a 3G hotspot plan. We’ve listed only the cheapest options we found; check with your carrier for special offers. 

Also note that the mobile hotspot option can be a potential security risk, depending on how public the area that you’re in is. You might want to consider a VPN, which we explain in this article about virtual private networks.

Make sure that your hotspot doesn’t have the default SSID (service set identifier, or network name) and password. Also make sure that you have WPA2 encryption enabled in your phone settings, so the data sent and received by your phone is scrambled and unable to be intercepted by hackers. You can find all of this in your phone’s settings, and your cellular carrier’s help line should be able to help you if you can’t find these settings.  

Portable Router

A portable router is usually purchased through a cell-phone carrier and will have its own SIM card and cell phone plan. Think of it as a smartphone hotspot without the smartphone. These devices can typically host around 10 devices at a time and have a monthly plan of their own. Most routers will come with a built-in battery, but you should make sure that you have a travel adapter to charge your router while on the go. 

Portable routers can also act as range extenders or boosters, as they help the network they’re connected to reach more devices. This can be useful if you have a premium hotspot plan but need to connect multiple devices to it at once. 

You can choose to either buy a mobile router device through a cell phone carrier or buy a device at your tech supplier of choice. If you buy a router through a tech supplier, you’ll still need to use a data plan from a cell phone carrier. 

Here’s the rundown of the portable router:

  • More expensive: The portable router option tends to be more expensive than using your phone’s mobile hotspot. For example, Verizon’s Jetpack 4G Mobile hotspot device retails for $199.99 and requires a monthly data plan.
  • More secure: Most travel routers have a built-in firewall to protect against outside attacks.
  • Faster, more devices: Portable routers will support far more devices and provide a better internet connection than a smartphone’s mobile hotspot. 
  • Battery powered: Although you will need to recharge it, you can bring your mobile router wherever it’s needed.

If you expect to travel with a group of people and need something that can handle multiple devices connected at a time, the portable router is the best option for you. Even with two people traveling in an RV, you could still have multiple devices with phones, tablets, laptops and other smart devices (security cameras, temperature controls, etc.).

If you’re expecting to rely on public, unsecure Wifi, like from a hotel, restaurant or RV park, you can look into something like the GL.iNet GL-MT300N-V2, which secures your internet connection for private browsing. Take note that this is only a wifi extender with a built-in VPN and will not supply a wireless connection on its own. 

Satellite Internet

The options that we’ve discussed so far have a common weakness: They’ll work only if you have a cell phone connection. Satellite internet lets you have an internet connection anywhere, any time. 

Satellite internet is used in RVs and larger vans that can support a receiver dish and box. For this reason, you won’t be able to use satellite internet in your car. Satellite internet requires either having a mounted dish on the top of your vehicle, a smaller tripod dish that you’ll need to manually set up when you want to use it, or a remote system that doesn’t need a robust receiver but has very slow internet speeds. 

Satellite internet is generally slower than mobile data, but can be used as long as your receiver has a line of sight with the clear sky. You’ll also be unable to use your satellite internet while moving, as when you set up your dish, you have to put in your location coordinates. 

Here’s the rundown of satellite internet:

  • Use from anywhere: … if stationary. If you’re expecting to camp in a very remote area without modern conveniences nearby, satellite internet is an elegant choice that allows you to stay online. If you’re on the go, your dish won’t be able to find an internet connection.
  • Expensive and slow: Satellite internet means you’ll need to buy a dish and have a monthly plan. A provider like RVDataSat has monthly plans from $80/month to $410/month, with speeds of around 1-2 Mbps download. This is very slow, as most residential internet plans have around 100 Mbps download for $40/month. 

In conclusion, if you’re going full-time RV and expect to be staying in some very remote areas, satellite internet is your best and only option for staying online. If you’re just casually traveling across the country, better options certainly exist. 

In-Car Wifi

Depending on the year and make of your vehicle, you may have a mobile hotspot option inside your car while on the go. Toyota, for example, is offering Wi-Fi connectivity with 4G LTE and up to 5 devices with AT&T. 

In-Car Wifi requires a separate unlimited data plan for your car. AT&T is offering the prepaid plan for around $25 a month. The services and plans available will depend on the specific vehicle that you own, however. Larger SUVs and vans equipped with in-car wifi can be a great option if you’ve got one or more people who need to work while on the go. 

While you do have to buy a newer model car that supports in-car Wi-Fi, it’s certainly a feature to look out for if you’re in the market. Be sure to check what plans the make and model offers, though, as you may have limited options!

Photo © Prostockstudio | Dreamstime.com