How We Stay Connected
Staying connected while working on the road is way more challenging than anyone expects it to be. If you are reading this post you are probably searching for that holy grail solution for your own personal setup. We have been on the road since 2018, and after a ton of research, buying equipment, and talking to other RVers, we have found the easiest to use solution that is truly unlimited, works just about everywhere, is reliable, and simply just works.
We are going to break down this post into two main categories:
- Data Plans
Let us explain our exact setup, why we have this model/version, and other options you can look into that might fit better for you.
We have 3 hotspot plans onboard. That might sound crazy, and it totally is, but let me dive into it.
Our primary data plan is an unlimited AT&T plan through MobileMustHave.com. It is truly unlimited, no caps, no throttling, and is a dream. We have put several terabytes of data through this plan and never had an issue with it. We have had it for over 2 years, and it’s been a really solid option for us.
We recently added a secondary unlimited T-Mobile Plan through OTR to our setup. Again, this is a truly unlimited, no caps, no throttling card on the T-Mobile network. We went with T-Mobile because with the merge to Sprint, they are going to have a pretty solid network in the next few years. They also have such few customers, comparatively, that if you get service from T-Mobile, it is lighting fast. Their towers are rarely overloaded. Also, with T-Mobile 5G rolling out, they are doing a lot of work to get better, faster service everywhere.
Lastly, we have a personal hotspot plan from Verizon. Our iPhones are all on Verizon, so it was a $10 add-on to get a 15GB hotspot plan. We have this mostly as a back-up in case we pull into a site without AT&T or T-Mobile service. 15GB cannot get you much, but we can work for a day or two off of it, and it works in a pinch.
Our monthly breakdown for all 3 data plans:
MMH AT&T Unlimited Plan: $120/m
T-Mobile Unlimited Plan: $80/m
Verizon Hotspot Addon: $10/m
In most cases, 3 plans are not necessary. If you are doing a summer trip, you are retired, or you only travel for a couple of weeks out of the year, staying connected isn’t vital. However, for us and many others, we live and breathe with it (figuratively, of course). We work full-time jobs on the road, run Where Wild Ones Roam from our RV and live like modern millennials with kids. We stream Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, etc., so we NEED to be connected. It is worth every penny so that we have available, reliable internet and data.
If you are looking for a scaled-down version of what we have, we would suggest the AT&T plan to start with and then add another carrier if you wish sometime down the road.
Do not, DO NOT, only have one carrier if staying connected is important to you. If you have AT&T phones, find a different carrier for your hotspot plan. If you have Verizon phones, use this AT&T plan. There have been so many cases when we have no service from one carrier, but the other has full bars and great speeds. This is a great redundancy plan and helps you stay online.
There are a LOT of options for hardware. The date of this post is June 2020 and with technology, stuff updates all the time. That being said, this setup is expect to last us for years as it uses LTE-Advanced and 2019 cat-12 modem technology.
The main brain of the system is a Pepwave MAX Transit Duo from MobileMustHave.com. This is a dual cat-12 modem with dual-band WiFi, GPS, Speed Fusion, LTE failover, and a whole lot of other cool IT stuff. The advantage with this device is we can run two hotspot plans off one device at the same time. We have our AT&T and T-Mobile unlimited plans always on and always being optimally used.
This device has a couple of key advantages for us.
This pepwave has two built-in modems that independently run their own hotspot plan. With two active lines, we have double the bandwidth. I can be on a zoom call, kids can be streaming a movie and there is still enough bandwidth for Kris to work, stream, chat, etc. That has made a huge difference. This is all on one device, so you never have to switch WiFi networks either. This router also supports a feature called bonding — Pepwave calls it Speed Fusion. This is a big topic all in itself, but in short, it merges all the data streams together and creates a much more stable connection.
With built-in dual-band WiFi, that means all devices will connect to one source with optimal bands for connection. Most devices like phones, smart home devices, watches, etc, will use the 2.4 GHz band, but power powerful devices like laptops and TVs, will be able to use the 5GHz band which has a shorter range, but faster. I will discuss this more below, but with the roof antenna, our WiFi range is extremely far — about 200 feet.
The Pepewave creates a very similar WiFi network to what everyone is accustomed to in a house. From printers to smart devices such as phones, tablets, and laptops, everything connects to a single device. The pepwave can support over 100 devices connected. We currently have about 25 devices connected with no slowdowns or any performance changes.
For power, we ran an 18-gauge wire directly to the battery of our rig to provide power 24/7. This way when boondocking, driving, or anytime we are not on shore power, we stay connected to the internet! You can run this on 110v if that is easier which we did until we ran the 12v power wire.
This router is paired with a Poynting 7-in-1 roof mount antenna that greatly improves signal reception and WiFi range. Having this roof-mount antenna does a couple of key things:
- Improves ability to capture cell signal for the Pepwave
- Improves the ability to capture local public WiFi
- Creates a WiFi access point on the roof for extended WiFi range (of our own personal network)
- Built-in GPS antenna (a stock feature that works with Pepwaves)
We have seen about a 4x increase in the reception with this antenna. It has made a BIG difference in some areas we have been camping in. For example, the location we were at when we installed it, we were receiving about 2 bars on AT&T, and speeds were okay (about 20 Mbps). After doing the install, our reception jumped to full bars LTE-A, and we were picking up a signal from multiple towers. Speeds improved to about 25 Mbps, but our connection overall was way more stable and everything loaded faster since we weren’t losing as many packets in the data transfer.
MobileMustHave.com has made this very easy by creating bundles that include all parts needed. You can get everything we have in the Ultimate Road Warrior Bundle.
This setup has created an internet solution that works like ‘home’ WiFi. It is always on, always available, easy to connect to, and almost always has connections to towers. This solution has made the internet something we don’t even think about now. We check speeds when we arrive somewhere new, but nothing needs to be plugged in, adjusted, set up, or anything. It’s just there.
We mentioned it briefly above, but this solution works while underway. Since we have it powered via 12v directly, even when towing, we have full internet. With the roof-mount antenna broadcasting our internet over 200 feet in all directions, we have full reception in the truck. This means long drive days are full of steaming movies, online games, and working, if needed.
For us, this setup has revolutionized our internet connection. We no longer are fighting over hotspot connections, managing tethered data limits on our phones, running to cafes to upload big files, or testing service when we get places to decide if we can stay or not.
Comments on Cell Boosters
Before people ask in the comments about boosters, here are our two cents of the topic.
For the first year, we had a booster onboard and used it maybe 4 times. We had traveled to 30 states from Texas to Maine to Florida. Boosters are really only good to use if you have no service and want to boost your signal to get you a few bars. Boosters restrict your data connection to a single band on a tower. If you can only reach one tower anyways, it’s not a big deal. If you are in a place where you have at least okay service, the pepwave will be connecting to multiple bands and multiple towers. Using a booster will most likely slow your signal if using it when not needed.
We do still have our booster (similar to this one) installed, but it is set up on the desk to help with phones. It is not set up to work with the pepwave and roof antenna. This gives us a small boost on our phones when sitting at the desk in the very back of the rig and can help if calling in for conference calls. However, we do turn it off when in areas of good reception.
Other Options to Consider
MobileMusthave.com has a wide range of options for internet solutions. If you are looking for a simpler setup or just don’t need all the redundancies, they have great options. Here are our thoughts on three other solid options.
Pepwave BR1 Mini – Currently listed for $349 – similar pricing to most hotspots.
- Runs on 12v or AC power
- Failover SIM slots
- Built-in WiFi
- Works with all carriers
- Great price
- LTE-A supported
- It only has 2.4ghz WiFi (missing 5ghz WiFi)
- Slower cat-6 modem
- WiFi-as-Wan is an add-on
Full-Time RV/Boat Bundle – Pepwave BR1 MK2 with Poynting Antenna
- 12v or AC power
- Failover sim slots
- Dual-band WiFi
- Includes roof antenna
- Slower cat-6 modem
Speed Demon Bundle – Pepwave MAX Transit Cat-18 with Poynting Antenna
- The fastest modem they make — Cat-18
- Failover SIM slots
- 12v, AV, USB power
- Dual-Band WiFi
- Speed Fusion capable (with wan, WiFi-as-wan, and cellular)
- Single modem
- Not much else, this setup means business and speed!
Andy is doing work with MobileMustHave.com, but all opinions and views are directly his own from Where Wild Ones Roam.
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