Real-Deal WiFi for RVers
We travel in our RV 4-5 months per year, and when we are on the road we want online access services similar to what we enjoy at home. Who wouldn't?
These are the services we need:
General internet access for email, news, social media, travel planning, etc.
Streaming content for entertainment
Web-based telephone service anywhere (as long as we have internet, we get this via T-Mobile)
Sound familiar? We've tried all the usual solutions: local campground wifi, signal boosters, etc., and all came with the usual restrictions: limited bandwidth, low speeds, weak signals, and ultimately usage throttling.
Even using a personal phone as a wifi hotspot, providers throw the phrase unlimited data plan around rather loosely. For most, we've discovered that unlimited is actually limited to so many GB of LTE data per month. Once you reach that data usage plateau, the carrier will automatically dial you back to 3G speeds, which are not practical for streaming, and barely anything else.
After doing some considerable research, last year we invested in a streaming solution that continues to work well for us on the road and in a cost effective manner, and it all revolves around the device pictured above, the MoFi 4500 Router model MOFI4500-4GXeLTE-SIM4 V2. When combined with a 3rd party monthly service plan (no contract) and a little know-how, this device continues to fill our online access/streaming needs at a reasonable cost and in a true unlimited fashion.
During stays in a couple dozen campgrounds ranging from the Florida flatlands to the mountains of New Mexico and Wyoming and points in between, we've only experienced a couple of cases where we were not able to get decent internet streaming access. If there's a cell tower in the vicinity, we have been online.
How It Works
While there may be a number of turnkey options available, we are professing what amounts to a home-brewed solution composed of several elements that must be brought together by you in order to enjoy a similar traveling service. That all starts with the following acquisitions:
A portable 4G/LGE Router or Hotspot
A compatible SIM card for your provider (typically AT&T)
Most importantly: a truly unlimited internet access plan from a 3rd party - no contract, paid monthly, cancel any time, minimal fine print
Once all these elements are in hand, the one-time-only configuration fun begins, which we recommend you do at home before hitting the road.
Each of these is discussed below.
1. 4G/LGE Router or Hotspot
By reputation, the MOFI4500-4GXeLTE-SIM4 V2 Router is the the best made. It is certified with Verizon, Sprint, AT&T & T-Mobile. We purchased a COMBO version that also included a pair of MoFi Ultra Wide Band Antennas for even better reception.
This robust router features a metal case with 4 Ethernet ports and 1 WAN port, but we only use the built-in WiFi. It also features extended WiFi range with a built-in Wireless Repeater Mode, if you should have the opportunity to connect to an outside WiFi source like a WAN.
A feature we really like on the the MoFi 4500 is that it is a directional cellular receiver. If you know where the cell tower is, you can orient the MoFi 4500 broadside to that tower, even move it around within your RV (windows are good spots for reception). You can also fiddle with the antennas (45 degrees from vertical is suggested) to improve your connection.
The MoFi 4500 also comes with comprehensive, built-in configuration software that also includes a Wizard to help you with the initial setup. More on configuration below.
Like any other high-tech device, you get what you pay for, and the MoFi 4500 is no exception; it's not cheap, but you can definitely shop it. We bought ours on eBay - it was reconditioned and guaranteed.
Be sure you get the MoFi 4500 Broadband Router model MOFI4500-4GXeLTE-SIM4 (or better) with the upgraded wide-band paddle antennas (sometimes referred to as a COMBO).
If you have any pre-purchase questions, you can contact MoFi Network directly. We did, and they were very happy to help us narrow down our router choice.
2. Compatible SIM Card
The SIM card you use will be based upon the cellular carrier providing your internet access.
Both 3rd party providers we have used in the past have been exclusive to AT&T, so we needed a SIM card that is AT&T compatible, just like you would need for an unlocked phone.
Note that some 3rd party providers will require that you to purchase a preregistered SIM card directly from them for a fee, of course. But at least one 3rd party provider we have used allowed us to purchase our own SIM card (we got it at Walmart) and then register it online.
3. 3rd Party Unlimited Access Plans
Speaking of 3rd party providers, so far we have tried two different monthly plans, and we intend to use yet another 3rd party provider on our next trip.
The 3rd party providers we have used are:
UbiFi: Offers a monthly plan via AT&T for $99. It worked very well for us. Quality of support from this provider is very good.
Net Buddy: Offers a monthly plan via AT&T for $65 - very affordable. A Verizon plan for $75 is in the works, but not available as of this post. It worked very well for us, but we would recommend NetBuddy only to experienced users. Quality of support from this provider is limited at best, but you get what you pay for.
Other 3rd party providers we are aware of and their relative costs ($=low, $$$$=high) include:
Infinite LTE Data: Offers a monthly plan via AT&T for $$.
MobileMustHave: A full service vendor offering several monthly data plans. $$$$
NomadInternet: Offers both turnkey and SIM-only data plans. $$$
NoLimitData: A variety of plans starting at $$.
Of course, there are others; we will add those providers to this post as we become aware of them.
Note that several 3rd party providers offer a limited time free trial, usually 1-2 weeks, which we encourage you to take advantage of; you can use any trial period for your at-home setup prior to your trip. In the unlikely event that it doesn't work, you can usually cancel without risk.
Do your research, shop around, read the reviews, and choose one you think will work best for you.
Resources That Make It All Work
Everything we do regarding internet connectivity on the road revolves around our MoFi 4500 router. Keep in mind that your goal should be to get the system setup, configured and working before you hit that road.
Rather than attempt to reinvent the setup wheel, here is a link to a very good setup video featured on MoFi Network's website: MoFi 4500 Router Setup Video. (Know that there are several other YouTube videos that go into various levels of detail about the setup and management of the MoFi Router for internet access; just search YouTube for "MOFI4500 setup".)
Also for your reference, here is a link to a PDF copy of the official router user manual: MOFI4500_4GXeLTE_SIM4 User Manual.
Rest assured that theMoFi Network technical support is excellent. That said, we strongly suggest you do your research about the care and feeding of the device prior to purchasing a MoFi 4500 router so you have a good idea what it is you're investing in. You should make an informed decision that it is something you can manage with minimal hand-holding.
A Couple of Helpful Field Tools
We use a free iPhone application named Find Tower to help us point our router. As pictured below left, the Find Tower app will display nearby cellular towers on a GPS-enabled map. You can even select a given tower and get added details, like distance and compass heading relative to your position.
Another free and helpful iPhone application is SpeedSmart, pictured above right. SpeedSmart tells us how fast we can download or upload data once we're connected to the internet via our MoFi 4500 Router.
A Couple Handy Accessories
We found that a Dashboard/Windshield Cell Phone Holder with a long arm and a suction cup allowed us to mount and adjust the MoFi Router on any smooth surface - dash, table, window, etc. Because it's not a phone, we used Velcro on the bottom of the router to help secure it in the holder.
The MoFi 4500 is powered by 12VDC and comes equipped with the appropriate AC/DC converter power supply that you plug into an AC wall outlet. But we also purchased a DC 5.5x2.1mm Car Charger 12VDC Cigarette Lighter Power Supply Adapter so we can keep the MoFi 4500 powered by our 12VDC RV batteries while driving between destinations. If you're traveling anywhere near a major highway, you are very likely to get decent internet connectivity, even on the move.
That's our real-deal WiFi recommendations for RVers in a nutshell. Should you decide to undertake unlimited internet streaming on the road using a solution based upon the MOFI 4500 or a comparable router, we don't think you'll be disappointed.