Right now we are just a few weeks from embarking on our greatest new adventure, living and working full time in a fifth-wheel rv… for month I have been studying different subjects that will need to be addressed so that we can transition comfortably. One of these subjects is online connectivity on the road. Cellular data, free wifi access and other options (like very expensive satellite internet) exist, but there are many questions still unanswered:
I know we’ll need signal boosters for wifi and cellular data, but even after searching online quite a bit, I’m not sure which system is the best. I will try to make a decision by asking this question in some forums to get an idea if there is any system that is used more than others.
Second I will need to get a handle on our bandwidth / data usage needs. To that end I have already monitored our connections over the last few month:
Our biggest data usage seems to be our entertainment, since we ditched cable / regular TV years ago and adopted internet streaming instead (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video etc.), so I am currently trying to figure out if there is any cellular mobile data plan that will work for that – and there may be one: T-Mobile has an interesting option to stream a number of video services like Netflix & Co. to a single device that doesn’t count against a monthly data limit. It’s called Binge-On and could very well do the trick:
However, I don’t know yet how well the T-Mobile network will serve us where we want to go and how we can work within the one-device rule.
Much more research is needed… 🙂
Update #1 (1/11/2016): One big downside of the T-Mobile Binge-On Service is that it doesn’t support Amazon Video Streaming (Amazon Prime Video) and Youtube… 2 big ones that we use all the time. It’s still an interesting option for our upcoming arsenal of internet service, but I wish they would add these sites as well.
Another unlimited mobile data option may be Karma, a relatively new service that apparently piggybacks on the Sprint network (which unfortunately is not much better than T-Mobile in terms of nationwide coverage, but may work perfectly fine in urban areas). They have new plan that is supposed to be truly unlimited data usage for just $50 a month… sounds too good to be true? Probably… one limitation is the speed that they offer – 1.5 to 2.5 Mbps (down from their initial offering of 5 Mbps, which according to them was abused by some users so much that they got into hot water with Sprint, so they “had” to go lower. However, that “may” still be fast enough for a lot of internet tasks (if you are in a area that gets a signal) and not having to worry about how many “data” you have left.
And finally, AT&T is fighting back against T-Mobile Binge-on by now offering another “unlimited” data option, which ties into their connected TV services: if you are (or become) a U-Verse or Direct-TV customer, you can get unlimited data on your mobile devices for a relatively moderate fee. But the devil is in the details (as always): first of, after you use more than 22 Gb in one month, the data rate may be throttled if the network is congested… how much I could not find yet, but it may be to the point where it’s unusable for video streaming. Second, tethering / hotspots are not allowed, because the service is only for approved devices and only one at a time. There are discounts for families, where the 4th device is free, but the more devices you add, the more it costs. Still, for RV’ers who like to watch a lot of “TV”, this option may be useful and worthy, since you can get a Direct-TV package for a modest price (the necessary satellite equipment is also not that expensive anymore) and a moderately priced mobile phone or tablet plan with truly unlimited data. This makes me wonder if Verizon has the finger on the trigger as well… 😉
Update #2 (3/2/2016): Amazon is now supported on T-Mobile Binge-On, so that leaves only Youtube, but overall the T-Mobile service looks extremely attractive and I think ultimate we will sign up for it. If we do and got some experience with it, I will of course update this post accordingly!
But forget about Karma… they totally downgraded their “unlimited” plan now in that after 5gb of usage they revert to 2g speeds, which is in my opinion unacceptable in today’s age.
Update #3 (10/17/2016): Binge-On now supports Youtube as well and we have made the plunge. We got a hotspot device with a $36 data plan (6GB) that includes Binge-On and have used it for a month now. So far it has not disappointed. The feature works as intended with our iPad and Laptops, though one has to be really careful with background services sucking up the regular data (I burned through 4 of the 6 GB in a few days before resigning to use the service only on the iPad with all background data switched off. The account still stands at 4GB after watching video streams worth 35+GB… overall the service is working well!