Internet Web/TV/Phone in Your RV
Last update 20111017
For most of us, access to the internet is a daily requirement. With an internet connection you can access web sites for information, plan trips, find the next dump station, check fuel prices, read/send emails to family/friends, pay bills, make phone calls, watch TV shows and movies. It allows you to keep in touch and entertained in your RV.
If you want to know how it works, this page is for you. Pick out what you are interested in and ignore the rest. Hopefully the information presented here will help you make the best decision for your lifestyle and budget.
Security:Do not use a computer (desktop/laptop), tablet or phone on the internet without a good anti-virus program (free ones are worthless). I prefer ESET NOD for my laptops, tablets and phones.
Internet Access Today: Used RV Park and free WiFi for years. Never worked very well, always had to fiddle with it and these days with all everyone using WiFi, not reliable or secure. In the past (not so long ago), spending several hundred $ on WiFi antennas, routers, cables, etc. made sense as it was the only practical way to go. That was the past. Today it is cheaper and easier to go to Walmart, buy a verizon Jetpack (provides secure WiFi internet connection for laptop, tablet, phone) and a data card and when the data card expires, get a new data card at another Walmart along the way. Not counting cost of the the jetpack, cost is about $15.00 a month for me. It works at rest stops, RV parks, Resturants (fits in your pocket), etc. even in Wyoming.
Bits: Parts that make a word or BYTE.
Byte: A computer word. Each character such as a A b B etc. is a computer word. Some computer words a composed of 8 bits some 16 bits or more. When discussing the internet you will see speeds rated in bits (lower-case b) or Btes (8bits - upper-case B) per second.
Connecting Your Computer to the Internet
Cables: Most RVers probably do not use cables to connect their computer to other internet equipment but some do so:
CAT5/CAT5E: A cable used to connect your computer to a router or switch. It has a connector on each end that looks like an ordinary phone cord connector but a bit larger so it will not fit into a phone jack. These cables can handle speeds from 10 to 100 million bits (Mb) per second which is pretty fast. You can purchase one at, Walmart, Target, etc..
CAT6: This cable is the same as a Cat5 handling speeds from 10 to 1000 million bits (Gb) per second.
WiFi: is a way of connecting your computer (typically a latptop) to a router without wires. There is a low power radio built into a laptop/tablet/phone that talks to the router (which has a more powerful radio). WiFi has become the preferred method of connecting to the internet. A WiFi connection can be secured to prevent unauthorized use and is typically done with a pass phrase that you have to enter into your computer. Some RV Parks have open WiFi and some give you a pass phrase.
You can find free WiFi (anywhere it is not locked requiring a pass phrase) at most modern RV Parks, Starbucks, McDonalds, Barns and Noble, Libraries and Hotels such as Best Western. Some rest stops in Wyoming and Iowa and other States have good free WiFi. Free WiFi is a wonderful way to keep connected. However, it is not safe to use WiFi without a pass phrase as it is possible for someone to join your WiFi session, without your knowledge, and for them to have full access to any secure web page you may have already entered your user id and password into.
Since WiFi uses a radio connection between your computer and the router, distance and blockage (walls wood/metal/trees) can weaken the connection. Interference from other WiFi users or other radio signals on the same frequency (2.4GHz) will also be a problem. Note: Mircrowaves, the kind you cook food in, operates in the 2.4GHz range and can cause your WiFi pause or disconnect when the microwave is turned on :)
You can put an antenna on the outside of your RV to dramatically improve WiFi performance. You probably need to do this if your RV has a metal skin.
You may also use a directional antenna to improve signal strength. Hawking makes an excellent USB WiFi antenna to do this.
Bottom line is WiFi works really well to wirelessly connect your computer/tablet/phone to the internet at home but not so well when at RV parks due to the number of users and interferrence from other WiFi devices from fellow campers.
There are several types of WiFi radios:
802.11 - Original WiFi protocol, 1 to 2 mbs. Way too slow for internet usage. 2.4GHz radio, 20ft range, 1997.
802.11a - little used but has advantages. Speed up to 24Mbps (6/12/24/54 Million bits per second). The advantage of using this protocol is that you would probably be the only one using it and if not, it has many more channels to use which again means little chance of interference. I use this at home where I have zero interference from neighbors. 5GHz radio, about 50ft range, 1999.
802.11b - the oldest and slowest speed. Ok for slow web browsing and email but not very good for downloading or watching TV. Top speed is about 11Mbps (million bits per second) which may seem like a lot but is not when you are talking about music, complex graphics or video. Note that I said top speed as you never get the full speed from the radio. Speed is typically 75 percent of the rated amount, it just works that way. 2.4GHz radio, about 100ft range, 1999.
802.11g - most common and works well for all internet activities including watching netflix and other on-line videos. This is often referred to as 54g and is backward compatible with 802.11b equipment. Speed tops out at 54Mbps. Most laptops/tablets/phones can use this protocol. 2.4GHz radio, 100ft range, 2003.
802.11n - a very confusing standard. Up to 150Mbps. You will see N150, N300 N600 somewhere on the box. N300 N600 works ok. Stay way from N150 rated routers, they are junk. Another confusing part is about about the radio. Cheap routers in this stanard come with one radio, switching between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz as needed which causes delays and sometimes just seems to cause the router to freeze. Best routers have two radios, one for each frequency (keyword is dual band). 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio, 100ft range, 2009.
802.11ac - Not many laptops/tablets/phones use this standard. Speed up to 780Mbps. 5GHz radio, 100ft range, 2013.
802.11ax - Not implemented yet (still being developed). Speeds up to 10.5Gbps. 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio, 100ft range, 2018.
If your computer does not have WiFi built in or you want to upgrade to a faster radio (a/g/n/ac) you can purchase a USB adaptor (Walmart, NewEgg). The USB adaptor may have cord between it and the laptop (typically a foot or two). The cord though a pain to work with, it dramatically reduces the USB adaptor temperature. If you USB adaptor does not come with a cord, you can get a USB extender cable.
Accessing the Internet
Router: You need a device to translate your internet requests (called packets) into a signal the internet can use and translate what the internet returns into something your computer can work with. This device is called a router. Think of it as a super speed modem (Modulator/Demodulator). This box would typically be connected to the phone or cable company to translate their internet signal into something your computer can use. Today, most home routers also provide WiFi radio that allows connecting your computer to the router without a wire. There are two types of wireless routers: those with a single radio and those with two radios, often referred to as dual band. The dual band is the best as it will provide g and n speeds at the same time. With a single radio, you must choose g or n but can rarely use both as it seems to confuse the laptop radios as the router switches fequencies/speeds.
When you want to connect multiple devices to a router, you may use a hub or switch. Most modern routers have switch ports to allow up to four computers to be connected to it. Most routers with WiFi allow up to ten simultaneous WiFi users at a time but you can expect the WiFi performance to slow as more users connect to the router. When routers are receiving or sending large amounts of data (think netflix), it will be slower in servicing other data requests from another user. Same thing happens when too many devices are trying to use the same WiFi router (like at RV parks). Lastly, if one user at the RV park is using 802.11b WiFi, everyone using that router will be slowed down to that speed. Sucks but it is the way it works. A smart RV park will set its routers to work only on the 802.11g protocol which will prevent the 802.11b (old laptops) slow-down.
Most WiFi routers that have an external antenna come with a 3db rated antenna. The range/speed of your router can be improved by replacing that antenna with a 5, 7, 9 db antenna which typically will be larger.
Consumer WiFi routers typically have 200mw (.200 watt) radios which are twice as powerful the one in your laptop (100mw or .100 watt).
HUB: A hub is a device that allows multiple computers to connect to a router through Cat5/Cat5E/Cat6 cables. Hubs are no longer used. They have been replaced by switches. Hubs had poor performance slowing down as more computers are connected.
Switch: A switch is a device that allows multiple computers (by wires) to connect to a router but does not slow down as more computers are connected. Most routers have a switch built into them allowing four or more wired connections to the router.
Methods of Getting to the Internet
Dial-up: In olden times (just ten years ago) most of us connected to the internet through a phone modem (Modulator/Demodulator). This type of connection is just too slow for complex web pages. Best speeds were 28 kilo (thousand) bits per second with the limit artificially set to 56k. Finding a phone jack on the road to connect your laptop is almost impossible today. WiFi is the preferred method.
Wired: The best connection possible, often referred to as broadband (very fast - 1.5Mbps to 7Mbps (now higher)- bps means bits per second). A router is connected to the internet translating the Cable or DSL(Digital Subscriber Line from the phone company) signal to one that can be used by your computer. This is the most common internet connection. Cable/DSL costs about $20.00 and goes up depending on how much they can get away with. You should never have to pay an installation/equipment charge but you may have to bargain for it. Currently there are no limits on how much you can download (usage). Obviously not mobile and so can not be used with your RV unless the RV park provides a connection or you are at home. A note about DSL and Cable internet providers; you hear a lot about how fast their internet is but pay attention, no one advertizes a minimum speed, only a possible maximum speed. Dont be fooled by slick advertizing. When testing the speed of your internet connection, do not use those that are JAVA based speed tests, they are not accurate.
Wireless or WISP: (not WiFi) A directional radio is placed on the outside of your home pointed to another radio (usually mounted on a tower) which is connected to the internet. This is a static connection in that both radios are pointed in a fixed direction looking at each other. The radio on your house is connected either directly to your computer or to a router (best method for security). Costs about $39.00 a month. Again you may have to bargain a bit to eliminate the installation/equipment charge. Not mobile and so can not be used with your RV.
Satellite: Works like a Wireless connection but uses a satellite orbiting the Earth at 24,000 miles. A satellite antenna (usually called a dish) is used to send and receive signals to/from the satellite which sends/receives signals from what is called an earth station which in turn is connected to the internet by a wire. Monthly cost starts at $69.00 and goes up depending on the usage plan (bandwidth). Once you hit the daily or monthly limit (number of characters you can download) your connection is slowed down to less than Dial-up or you are charged overage fees (like going over your cell phone minutes - could be a $1,000.00 or more in one month). This is the most versatile of the internet connections as it can be used anywhere the satellite dish can see the satellite in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Had heard that this type of service is no longer available for non-commercial users.
There are two types of satellite antennas: manual - usually mounted on a tripod outside the RV which you have to set up and point each time you move and automatic - usually mounted on the RV roof which when turned on will set itself up and point to the correct satellite. The antennas look like Dishnetwork or DirectTV antenna dishes though there are flat panel antennas and a dome covered antenna (super expensive). The dome covered antenna has the advantage of being discreet meaning no one knows when you are using it.
With an optional attachment (depending on brand and type) you can watch satellite TV (Dishnetwork or DirectTV with a subscription) while using the internet.
A typical RV setup will cost $5000.00 with an install charge of about $1,000.00. If I could afford it, this option with WiFi and 4G would meet my needs to stay connected though I absolutely need more than 5GBytes (my typical usage is about 32GBytes per month).
3G/4G: Connects to the internet through the cell phone system almost anywhere your cell phone works in the U.S.. Charges generally start at $30.00 a month and go up depending on usage, with a monthly limit of 5GBytes (5 billion characters per month) for even the so called unlimited plans.
3G is suitable for casual web browsing and reading emails but not much else.
4G is fast enough to watch movies. The only kicker is how much is it going to cost? Not cost effective for watching videos.
5G Promises to be fast enough to make data limits a thing of the past. Under Development. Not availabe as of 2016.
Today, the Cell system makes good backup (in the U.S.) for when you can not get a WiFi connection. A hotspot/jetpack costs $29.00 to $49.00 at Walmart (Verison red, Sprint Blue, Boost Orange, TMobile Pink). This provides access to the Cell internet using WiFi. Usually you do not need an an antenna and Verizon works just about everywhere. You buy the jetpack, then a data card. When the data card expires or is used up just get another one from Walmart. 4G is fast enough to watch netflix but doing so will quickly use up your data allowance (typically 250,000 Bytes per TV show).
To use 3G or 4G you need some equipment:
AirCard - usually a USB device that plugs in to your computer. There is a variant of this often called MYFi (Verizon - WiFi or USB) that allows several computers with WiFi ability to connect to the internet through it. You purchase the USB or MYFi device and either use your existing cell phone contract adding a data plan or purchase a separate plan. Costs start at $30.00 and go up depending on the amount of data you are allowed to download. There are WiFi routers you can plug the AirCard into but you have purchase one compatible with your Aircard (it would be too easy if one size fit all).
Tether - Some cell phone companies allow you to use your smart cell phone to tether your computer to the internet using either a USB cable or WiFi (Droid/PalmPre). The phone company will charge extra for this feature. Prepaid phones usually don't have hotspot software.
Booster - This device makes your AirCard, Cell phone or MyFi device work better at longer distances. It repeats your cell phone/device signal sending with more power and receiving with greater sensitivity. It does this by having more power, bigger amplifiers (electronic circuitry) and a larger, better antenna. It generally costs between $300 to $800. An RV with a booster should have no problem connecting to the internet while traveling down the road. It provides a better internet and phone signals. Works best with an antenna on the outside of your RV.
A note about internet speed
The internet is an interconnected system that works amazingly well considering how complex it is. From time to time or even at certain times of the day you will experience a massive slow down in performance (speed). As noted earlier this could be due to interference (WiFi), or just because there are so many people on the internet or (unfortunately) because a web site is being attacked by bad people whose purpose is to prevent that web site from being on the internet. So when the internet slows down, it is not always the fault of your internet provider. There are no direct connections on the internet except for your connection to your internet provider. A good analogy is a bus that stops at every little town along the way. Each connection takes time. Access to a web site may go through 20 or more connections to get there. If there is a slow down on any of those connections you will experience the slow down as well. There is nothing your provider can do to improve the performance if the web site is not theirs. So have patience. Sometimes you just have to try another day. This will improve as time goes on as the industry is refitting the equipment and cabling to move to the next speed level.
About Computer Infections
A computer infection occurs when a virus, worm, trojan, etc., which is just a fancy name for a malicious program, gets loaded onto your PC. This can occur when you go to a web site, click on an advertisement, open an email. To prevent and/or detect an infection, you need to do four things:
1. Absolutely keep your operating system up to date. Do not fail to do this. Yes it is time consuming but if you dont you are reducing the effectiveness of your anti-virus program.
2. You must have a Anti-virus program. Personally, I recommend EST-NOD 32. This software imposes the least burden (does not slow down your computer - especially on computers more than two years old) of them all and is the most effective in finding new infection types. The Anti-Virus program works with the operating system to prevent/detect/remove infections. Note that if your computer refuses to connect to the internet AND your anti-virus program (protection) has exprired, it may be the anti-virus program that is blocking your computer, ESET will never do this but I have seen other brand name anti-virsus programs do this. If you suspect this, reboot windows into safe mode, uninstall the anti-virus program, reboot then run ESET on-line scanner from the ESET website to make sure.
3. Do NOT open emails from anyone you do not know. If you do not know the sender, delete it. Do NOT open it. Scan your emails BEFORE you open them. Sometimes a friend will unknowingly send you infected email hence the need to scan all emails before you open them. Best protection is to use an email service such as gmail (google) or hotmail (msn) and they are free. These services will scan the email before you see them.
4. Practice safe browsing by staying away from porn sites, music sharing (often referred to as peer to peer sharing), pirate web sites, anything called warez.
Sometimes a bad infection will get past the Anti-virus and operating system. If this happens and the operating system is damaged by the infection or the infection removal process you will have to format and install the operating system. To protect against data loss, I recommend you backup your pictures, word processing files, etc. to a portable USB hard drive. A flash drive would work as well provided it has enough free space.
A good tool to help remove infections is malwarebytes which can be downloaded atwww.malwarebytes.com .
If you get a message when browsing the internet that your computer is infected and you must call a number do the following immediately, press and hold the power button on your computer until it completely shuts off. Unplug the internet cable or turn off the WiFi router. Turn the compuer back on, run the Browser, select tools or settings (depending on the browser) and look for an option that resets the browser back to install state. This will usually get rid of that type of malware. If this does not work, you may have to uninstall the browser to remove the infection. If anyone sends you an email, a message to your screen or calls you to tell you that your computer is infected, just hang up, do not talk to them, do not believe them, they are criminals intent on getting money from you. Microsoft will never call you or ask anyone else to call you. NEVER pay anyone to fix your computer through the internet as 99% of the time they are just scamming (stealing) from you.
Enjoyment of the internet or any other program on your computer is dependant on how well the hardware and software are performing on your computer as well as external factors previously mentioned.
There are a couple of things you can do to improve performance:
1. Do not use Sleep or Hibernate. These power saving functions are great in theory but unfortunately over time, they will cause your operating system (windows) to slow down to a crawl. It is best to turn your computer off each and every time you are done using it. One of the strange problems that can occur when you use sleep is that the start menu will forget how to find programs or the USB ports or WiFi will stop working. Computers are designed to be turned off. Doing so will not only improve performance but cut down on energy usage and improve your hardware life span as the computer will spend less time in a hot (literally) condition which reduces component life.
Use CCLEANER fromwww.Piriform.com to repair registry errors once a month and to delete temporary internet files. Defragging the hard drive is good idea as well.
It is possible to connect your computer to your TV and watch DVDs or through the internet, watch network programs, videos and movies from Netflix and Dishnetworks Blockbuster streaming. You can also purchase a stand-alone box to connect Netflix to your TV (http://www.wdtvlive.com), use WII, Xbox, other game systems and most Blue-Ray players to connect to internet and play Netflix or other video streaming services. You can of course do all of this on your computer. The TV however generally provides a much better picture than the laptop with better sound.
To connect your computer to your TV your TV must have an external port that matches one on the computer such as DVI, HDMI, Component, SVGA(VGA) and S-Video. DVI and HDMI connections provide the best picture quality. Component and SVGA(VGA) are pretty good (works for me) with S-Video as acceptable for old tube type TVs.
If you have an older TV in your RV that has component inputs for a VCR and your computer has a component or S-Video port, you can connect your computer to your TV using component cables and/or with a component to S-Video adaptor.
Types of RV TV
TVs: There are several TV types available for RVs. I mention TVs here as I like to hook mine up to the internet through my computer. Used to anyhow.
Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) - These are found in older RVs and are considered to be analog TVs. They take a lot of power to operate, are very heavy and are getting harder to find. You can connect a computer to this type of TV if it has a component port (RCA cables). Can be powered by 12v depending on brand/model but is typically an AC device.
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) - like the screen on your laptop computer. This type of display uses much less power than a CRT, weighs considerably less, comes with more connection ports (DVI, HDMI, SVGA and RCA component). Can be powered directly by 12v depending on brand/model. LCD Tvs use a backlight so you can see the screen. Some LCD Tvs have a new backlight called LED (light emitting diode) that uses less power and allows a thinner case. These are commonly referred to as LED Tvs. These Tvs come in all sizes from 3 to 50 inches.
Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) - display is similar to an LCD TV but instead of tiny pockets of liquid crystals, they use tiny LEDs to display the picture. These type of TVs provide brilliant pictures using tiny amounts of power and very thin cases. These are just starting to become available for homes.
Plasma - These TVs are very expensive, provide brilliant pictures, are altitude sensitive but have short life spans.
You can use the internet as your phone company. This is called Voice Over IP (VOIP). Once you have connected your computer to the internet you use a headset with a microphone, a phone handset or a built-in microphone with a webcam. Why use VOIP instead of a cell phone? Talk for ever, no minutes, use ordinary phones (MagicJack/Vonnage), speakerphones. No cell phone radio held up to my head.
Skype - (http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/home) Can be used for free or for a $3.00 monthly charge. Not bad. It works only on your computer and requires a microphone and speakers (headset with both is best) and if you want video a webcam (camera) attached to your computer. The video ability is great for connecting with the grandkids. Can be used anywhere you can get an internet connection (U.S. Canada, Mexico, etc.).
Magic Jack - (http://www.magicjack.com/5/index.asp) Costs $1.95 per month, connects to your computer through the USB port (a small device about twice the size of flash drive) and allows you to use an ordinary house phone to make phone calls (which means you could use an ordinary cordless phone). There are no local or long distance costs. You just need to connect to the internet. You can use this at your home base in place of your land-line as well as on the road when you have internet.
Vonnage - (http://www.vonage.com/) Costs $29.95 per month and has the disadvantage of requiring you to pay federal/state and local taxes and fees. But it works well.
Wireless Home Phone
Verizon - Verizon (and others) now offer a home phone service that uses the cell phone system. It is a small stand-alone box that does not require an internet connection. It allows you to plug your home phone system into the box which then uses the cell phone system to place and receive calls. You old land-line phone number can be ported to the service. If you already have a Verizon account, you can add this service for $9.95 a month otherwise it is $20.00 per month. You can also take this box with you and use it in your RV anywhere there is a Verizon cell signal.