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Cell phone & Internet Service While Traveling


BobSchmeck

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We primarily boondock (aka dispersed or dry camping) when we travel. We've tried out Visible with a router with good luck but it's not perfect. What cell phone/Internet services & plans do you use? What's your opinion about it?

Also, do you use a booster antenna? What make & model, & what are your thoughts on it?

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Check out Mobilemusthave.com I run their Road warrior bundle with two services in the router (ATT and T mobile). The signal is great and allows to pull in wifi connections. Also allow a single point connection fulltime. Good systems. Price feels expensive at first but good hardware and service is top notch.

 

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When we cut the cord ~4 years ago and moved into our new house I let my wife take care of getting phones and plan.  No idea what her reasoning was but she when with Sprint.  She got an Iphone 8 and I a Iphone 6.  My only request was that I be able to tether my laptop to the phone for coverage. 

Sprint & T Mobile are pretty much worthless, hardly get a signal at the house.  Sprint even sent me a Magic Box which did not work.  In May, my first trip after building the house, I tried to tether my laptop and or use the phone as a hotspot >>>>worthless.  When I got back I called Sprint, which was T-Mobile at the time and they advised me to go to a T-Mobile store and have my SIM card changed to a T-Mobile card, it did not help one bit. 

In June I went on another trip and looked at all options, decided to go with a Cricket Hotspot $55 for 100GB.  I was pretty impressed with how it worked, reception in some very remote areas (WindCave NP, Devils Tower, Northern MN and Wis) I got reception, sometimes slow but I got a signal every time I tried.  I ended up using the Cricket Hotspot to make wifi calls since I wasn't getting a T-Mobile signal.   In the middle of now where I'd have a Cricket signal but no T-mobile but some times my T-Mobile phone said it was connected to ATT.   When I got back from the trip I canceled the Cricket service since I didn't know when I'd be going on another trip.

Getting ready to go on another trip so went and got the Cricket account started again, it cost me ~$30 for a new SIM card and activation.  I will probably go ahead and set up the automatic payment which will save me $5/month. 

I was going to try and get an ATT account this time, they offer a $55 with 100GB also but they said I could not use my Cricket Turbo hotspot and they did not have any of their hotspots in stock. 

 

 

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I use Visible in an iPhone connected to a GL.inet GL-AR750S mobile wireless router that i connect everything to in my RV. This has worked quite well overall though I do get a lot of drop outs and hanging connections... So I did a lot more research and found that boosters really only help uploads in general which won't cure my problem. A solution presented itself through further research and I have ordered a Netgear Nighthawk M1 for two reasons... If you look on youtube you can find instructions to allow it to use a Visible SIM, and most importantly, you can connect a double antenna to it which significantly improves download connectivity, so you can buy MIMO antennas. I ordered a cheap one initially and I bought a used Nighthawk for $150. A more elaborate antenna would be this one... https://www.amazon.com/Periodic-Antenna-Waveform-600-6000-Boosters/dp/B095JB5BWY/ref=sr_1_19?keywords=external+antenna+for+rv&qid=1636998401&qsid=147-9756269-3765250&sr=8-19&sres=B00DN3J03O%2CB07R8WB2ZD%2CB07YGPDPW8%2CB0076CH4B8%2CB07HB9Y8S7%2CB088FBV6HF%2CB082SHKT3Q%2CB074YDSKFN%2CB08PCDDG8J%2CB07ZPPJM55%2CB07JN6FNZ4%2CB07R9JGLV5%2CB08ZT1BR4J%2CB095JB5BWY%2CB07MG6ZXCD%2CB07BQ44CW1&srpt=ANTENNA

If you don't mind spending a couple of hundred bucks on an antenna then that's probably your best bet. The upside of all this is that you can still get away with paying between $25 and $40 per month for your internet connection, and using the Netgear Nighthawk you aren't restricted to only one connected device in your RV.

I'm still waiting for delivery so cannot yet comment on performance, but i did a lot of research around the subject and am pretty sure this is going to work well for me.

 

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It seems to me that if you need a cell phone signal, you should look at the largest service provider which is Verizon, though there is an area in Kentucky with no Verizon available, There are coverage maps available for all providers and tower locations in a area. Been on Verizon for 20 years and very satisfied. I also have a Sprint wi-fi from FMCA with unlimited when available.

Gary 05 AMB DST

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9 hours ago, Rikadoo said:

Hey Gary i read where you have the FMCA sprint wi-fi, im contimplating that special, however my question is can it be used for streaming movies or is it mearly data.

Hi, a streamed movie is “Data”. We full time in our RV in the U.K. and only have cellular data, which works perfectly for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime movies and programs. Your only issue would be the amount of data allowed by your package; we have unlimited for £17.50/month.

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There's an app called 'Open Signal' (icon is turquoise with a radio tower) that lets me find what direction the closest tower is, strength, speed test, network availability (3G,4G,5G), overlays a road map showing other users and closest WiFi by name. 

I built a directional antenna array with PVC to hook onto the slideout hardware feeding into an Inseego MiFi 8000 (aka Verizon JetPack) .  It tested well but so far haven't needed it or been so far out in the boonies not even Neil Armstrong could help.  It's also cumbersome to set up (I like doing things the hard way) and haven't figured out a way to efficiently bring the cables into the coach other than through a window.  My stays are 1 - 2 days tops.  It also looks pretty geeky hanging off the coach. 

So that's the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

- bob

 

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2 hours ago, hitechpete said:

Hi, a streamed movie is “Data”. We full time in our RV in the U.K. and only have cellular data, which works perfectly for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime movies and programs. Your only issue would be the amount of data allowed by your package; we have unlimited for £17.50/month.

Peter, WOW! Your Monaco is in the UK? How is it on the British roadways?

Gary 05 AMB DST

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Hi Gary, It’s ok, even on Welsh mountain roads, though it can be a little scary as I skim past hedgerows with tree branches hidden from sight by new leaf growth. I do prefer motorway (freeway) journeys as the RV gives much better fuel economy.

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12 hours ago, Rikadoo said:

Hey Gary i read where you have the FMCA sprint wi-fi, im contimplating that special, however my question is can it be used for streaming movies or is it mearly data.

Rik, in the west the FMCA T Mobile works great for tv. We  have Amazon, Hulu and Netflix and have no problem with any of it.  The only problem with the plan is it is LTE. When we signed up we were promised 5G in the future. Well the future came and we got 5G from FMCA for 10 gig and then it throttled. After going back and forth with tech at FMCA it came out that T Mobile was not going to honor the plan they had with Sprint. We are now back on 4G with a different hotspot but it does work well at around 25 mb down.

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22 hours ago, BobSchmeck said:

We primarily boondock (aka dispersed or dry camping) when we travel. We've tried out Visible with a router with good luck but it's not perfect. What cell phone/Internet services & plans do you use? What's your opinion about it?

Also, do you use a booster antenna? What make & model, & what are your thoughts on it?

I see you’ve got a lot of good opinions already, so let me add a bit about our experience since the early aughts.

We have had Verizon as our primary call carrier since before RVing and have consistently found that their coverage is pretty good. 

Surfing and streaming both use the same data pool. You don’t need super fast download speeds to stream TV and movies if you don’t need 4K resolution. Speeds as low as 10mbps can work. What you need is a data plan that has the volume, as a movie or a few hours of TV could be 5-10 gigs which added to other use could exceed a lot of data plans monthly. This can result in throttled speeds and/or over charges.

In our experience, “5G” is still hype. Coverage is spotty and most 5G signals still result in speeds barely better (and sometimes worse) than 4G. And, good 4G is fine for what we need on the road.

We have evolved to a multi-carrier strategy using “MiFi” devices. We are on our third upgrade with VZW, and have tried the FMCA Sprint option the past two traveling seasons (2019 and 2021). The VZW service is by far the most consistent in terms of usability but not perfect. FMCA’s Sprint deal did not, I believe based on our experience, take much advantage of the T-Mobile merger until this past fall when signal availability and download speeds jumped to an acceptable level. This past season we added an AT&T prepaid plan, and it filled in the middle ground acceptably. Our travels this year took us from Phoenix to Florida, to Connecticut, to South Dakota, and back to Arizona.

We have returned the FMCA Sprint device both times we had it because they charge $13+ “rental” per month of non-use. I have suspended the AT&T prepaid plan for the winter as well. I have to keep the VZW plan active as it is a grandfathered prepaid plan that I’ll lose if it drops out.

I’ve been researching (https://www.rvmobileinternet.com) cell boosters and mobile cellular routers and antennas for a while but have not done much because things are still evolving on the carrier and hardware sides until 5G becomes mainstream. We are still a couple of travel seasons away from that in my opinion, although all the major carriers have announced plans to disconnect their 3G networks in the next year to focus on 4G/5G blended services. We do have a Netgear MIMO antenna that suction cups to a window and can connect to each of the MiFi devices, but I’m not able to reliably see a real world improvement.

We have a couple of friends who have been experimenting with Starlink satellite service, and it may evolve into something that works for the average RVer in 2024 or later. We may end up full circle to the old MotoSat service we started with in 2003. Or the Starlink tease might keep us from investing $800-$1,200 in a “real” embedded 4G/5G RV system (assuming that is even available given supply constraints and price increases).

So, my bottom line advice to folks is to use VZW for phones and a MiFi, then supplement with AT&T and/or FMCA Sprint MiFi devices if the budget allows. Unless there is something specific to the locations you frequent that would be better…

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We have been streaming full time for 2+ years.  Visible a month unlimited used for data only.  Verizon "unlimited" on cell phones for regular use... 2 phone plan.  Once in a while in a high use area the Visible will be slowed to the point streaming is not possible so we use the hotspot on one of the VZN phones.  We travel a lot nationwide and have almost always had coverage.  I do use the app Bob suggests above, mostly to check speed. 

We use a Weboost 470510 4gx booster (have not made the leap to 5g yet) with a 12" tall roof mounted  stick cell antenna.  IF you have a 1 bar signal the booster will improve the signal to about 3 solid bars.  The inside antenna has about an 8' cord  so if in a really low signal are you can move it right next to a cell phone...we call that "hillbilly wire" and doesn't happen too often.

HARDWARE...we do not use a router or mifi but rather use either hotspot or tether via usb to computer.  Tried several routers early in the game with mixed results.  AND we DO NOT use any Apple products...Samsung S8 phone for Visible and Verizon and a ZTE 10 for Visible. We do have 2 Visible accounts at $25 each so there is a backup in case of a phone failure, just me. Also the ZTE was a freebee at the time and has a better transmit radio than the Samsungs so that one we use for TV all the time.  HP all in one computer running Win10 is tethered to a Visible Samsung for internet.  Keep in mind that with Win10 you can setup your tethered phone as a local network, turn on hotspot and run as many devices as you want....no router needed.  So you could use one Visible phone and run Smart TV or Firestick streaming, tablet, and printer all at the same time. 

SHOW ME THE $$... two Visible accounts $50 Verizon//2 phone geezer plan $85//YouTube TV $65= $200 per month total comm/viewing bill.  That is way less than we spent for VZN and DirecTV which we had for years.  We have been doing this way back to when we had an 8 FOOT dish antenna on the fifth wheel., an a cell phone in a bag that you could move from car to car for 12v power, no batteries, so a little bit of experience with this game.

FACTS... no matter what you do if there is zero reception/signal you can not get one...BUT we have had a no signal indication of phone and then managed to get a bar or two if the booster inside antenna is right next to the phone.   Service varies widely...YouTube, Hulu etc. say you need a reliable 25mbps signal...that is a CYA for them to cut down on complaints, we have streamed as low as 3mbps without buffering.  Visible has had speeds as high as 120mbps but anything from 10mbps works very well.  IF you are at a football game or other big event where 90,000 people are on the phone texting, sending pics your signal will be slow until they all get out of the parking lot after the game.   Our data use runs about 400gig per month average and has never been throttled for use, Visible and VZN can both go down to almost unusable temporarily in high traffic areas like the example above. We also use an Firestick that can be adjusted down to 720K for slow service areas. The new 4000k "smart" TV is not smart enough to know that it not connected to a high speed land fiber optic connection.

After years of sat use roof mounted auto seek, ground dish peak through the trees and terrible "customer" service would not look back.  Streaming in the trees unless really low signal is not a problem. Internet running down the road is cool.  "Recording" all your shows while in motion or doing anything else without a thought... for less money than years ago.  Almost as "spoiled" as the kids with constant comm.  🙂

As always your experience may be different but when March Madness occurs and we are in the trees with a game on big screen, tablet, computer all at once...WOW just WOW!!!  

Sorry this got so long but I see a lot of bad information and questions on streaming and had nothing broken to fix this morning. 

PS...just talked to the kids and they are in the Keys where cell service is very directional and he went to a MIMO and solved that problem.  I will be exploring Norman's link above as we will be in the Keys for a month starting next week too.⛱️

 

 

       

 

Edited by Twomed
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Mobile internet is about as frustrating and the air leaks that pop up from time to time.  We settled on a Cradlepoint cellular wireless router and have been very happy with, as long as you have a cell signal.  This router can have two sims from different carriers and it will default to the best signal.  On our winter trip this time our space comes with free cable internet from Spectrum @ 200mbs unlimited.  So it comes down to you first need cell service.  We tried a cell omni directional antenna mounted outside, junk.  It was not a We Boost which some say works well.

Really hoping Starlink can get off the ground and they can make it mobile.  Until then, good luck.  We now have AT&T, dumped Verizon which we had for years but they throttled us after 30 gigs.  Our AT&T is unlimited, so they say, but we haven't used it since we have the cable internet here in the park and it's free.  I speed test it from time to time.  We have never been below 100 mbs and I've had as high as 230mbs.  Now if they can just harness that for over the air RV use.

We tried the AT&T Spark with the adaptor, which works but it times out and you have to reboot is every 20 or 30 minutes.  Word of advice, should you try the Spark be aware of the fact that 95% of the kids working at the AT&T store will not know what you are talking about and will tell you you need a separate account for it, not true.  It's just a piece of hardware you buy and then pay the monthly fee, no contract, no separate account except for the month to month service.  This is a last resort, but it does work IF you have a cell signal.

There is a good store in Idaho with some folks that know there stuff on this, the name I can't recall, but they helped me with the Cradlepoint.   Good luck.

Woody Miller

09 Dynasty

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We have had the ATT Mobley for 4+ years now. I did move the SIM card into a unlocked Netgear Nighthawk M1 4G LTE Mobile Router (lots of instructions on how to do it out there). We can connect multiple devices to it and it doesn't time out like the Mobley did. Also have a Wilson weBoost Drive 4G-X Cell Phone Booster.

We can get very good service in a remote area we travel to that we'll have weak cell coverage in.

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Thank you everyone who contributed.  It gives us a direction on were to start searching.  

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