Camping in an RV is a great way to relax, vacation, and see the countryside. Let’s be honest though – most of us want to stay connected to the outside world, even while we are camping.
After all, people buy or rent RV’s because they want to enjoy some of the comforts of home while they camp. Those that aren’t interested in having creature comforts usually opt for backpacking and tent camping instead.
While many RV parks, campgrounds, and marinas offer Wi-Fi to their customers, accessing this service from your RV can sometimes be a challenge. Many times, the Wi-Fi facilities may be sub-par – perhaps the campground only uses a single wireless router and doesn’t have any outdoor access points deployed.
Maybe your campsite is just too far from the office or clubhouse. Or, perhaps the campground didn’t intend for Wi-Fi to be accessed from the campsites and their only goal was to cover the general areas around the clubhouse, pool, picnic areas, etc.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to utilize campground Wi-fi reliably from the comfort of your RV? We think so to. Interested? Read on.
Alternative means of accessing the Internet
There are, of course, other alternatives to relying on campground Wi-Fi – with the main one being mobile 3G/4G cellular data. This, however, is not always reliable, and can also be quite expensive – since you can quickly burn through your mobile data allocation.
Satellite Internet is another possibility, however it can also be slow and expensive, and usually requires an annual contract.
Fixed Wireless through a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) is a good option, except for the fact that most RV’ers are moving between campgrounds regularly and thus setting up a permanent fixed wireless solution isn’t really an option. If you tend to stay in one place most of the time in your RV, I’d definitely recommend checking out WISPs in your area.
Other alternatives such as dial-up, T1, Cable/DSL, etc are not really an option due to the permanent nature of their installation and the fact that they are not designed for mobility.
Using campground Wi-Fi is still one of the best bets for most people. Luckily, there are improvements that can be made to your RV to increase the accessibility, reliability, range, and performance of these wireless networks.
Different ways to increase nearby Wi-Fi signals
There are two parts to the process of increasing the usability of nearby wireless signals:
- Access the nearby signal using a high gain omni or directional antenna located on a high point of your RV such as attached to a window or on the roof
- Make this signal available for use inside the comfort of your RV
Utilizing products currently on the market, there are two main ways to accomplish this:
- Access the external signal directly with your laptop by use of a remote antenna
- Access the external signal and re-broadcast it inside your RV by means of a booster, repeater, or range extender
Each of these methods involve different twists on the same basic idea – position a high gain omni or directional antenna in a place to optimally receive and transmit data to the campground Wi-Fi network, and then make that signal usable inside your RV.
Differences between Remote Antennas and Boosters/Repeaters/Range Extenders
Using a remote antenna is the cheaper option, because it is less complex – one end (the antenna) goes in an elevated area, preferably with line of site to the Wi-Fi source. The other end connects directly to your laptop via USB.
The antenna can be placed on the roof or attached to a window inside of your RV.
The advantage of this solution is simplicity and price. With the remote antenna plugged in, your laptop simply has better access to the wireless signal than it would on it’s own.
The remote antenna includes it’s own wireless adapter in addition to the antenna, but it’s integrated into one device – simply plug in the USB cable into your laptop and you are ready to go. There are no additional devices to configure or power.
Installation is also simpler in some cases – many remote antennas are designed to attach to a window versus permanently drilling a hole in the roof of your RV and mounting an antenna externally.
The disadvantage is that it will not work on tablets or smartphones, it cannot be shared with multiple devices inside the RV, and it’s user will remain tethered to the antenna cable.
Side Note: In some cases you CAN share the internet connection through the laptop with other laptops, tablets, and smartphones in the RV. This depends on several factors, including the type of computer and operating system. Check here for more info.
Best Wi-Fi adapter Remote Antenna for RV
We like the Alfa Network antenna:
- 802.11 b /g and "N", 2000mW of power which is more powerful than ANY other WiFi adapter on the market
- Includes a 4 inch 5 DdBi Screw-On Swivel Rubber Antenna that can be removed and upgrade up to the include 9dBi antenna
- Very Secure with wireless data encryption with 64/128-bit WEP, WPA, WPA2, TKIP,and AES and is Compatible with IEEE 802.11n, 802.11b/g/n wireless standards
- Supports driver for Windows 2000, XP 32/64, Vista 32/64, Windows 7, Linux (2.4.x/2.6.x),and Mac (10.4.x/10.5.x)
- The Mount designed for easy clinging on Notebook, Netbook and Window.
Boosters, Repeaters, and Range Extenders do exactly what their name implies – they boost/amplify incoming and outgoing signals. An antenna on the roof of your RV is connected to a cable that is ran inside of your RV and connected to a router and an omni-directional antenna located inside. The original, boosted signal is then ready for use inside your RV where your laptop, tablet, or phone will be readily able to connect to it with a stable signal.
Think of it as plugging in your own wireless router between the campground Wi-Fi and your computer. You get a strong signal from the source connection and maintain mobility of Wi-Fi access inside the RV.
In this scenario, the signal is actually being re-broadcast – you will have your own wireless network name (SSID) and password (to keep other campers off your network). This method provides additional security, since your devices will be located behind an additional router/firewall from the rest of the campground network – but this benefit also comes with the drawback that it is more complex (your traffic will pass through one additional routed “hop” on it’s way to/from the Internet).
The other main benefit of this solution is that you can share the connection with multiple devices such as other laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Installation is also more complex, however.
If you are looking for a long-term solution, we generally recommend using a booster/repeater/range extender over a remote antenna as it will generally give better results.
Best WiFi repeater for RV
We like the Halo Wi-Fi Extender System:
- Get marina or RV Wi-Fi service from farther away than with your mobile device alone
- Wi-Fi connect multiple cell phones, tablets or computers on your boat or RV at the same time
- Marine-ready stainless steel connector for 14 TPI 1" wide mounts; includes 10M cable
- Durable marine grade materials withstand harsh conditions at sea or extended outdoor RV use
Best WiFi range extender for RV – runner up
If the Halo isn’t a good fit for you, we also like the Alfa Wi-Fi Camp Pro:
- Receive Internet signal from remote hotspot
- Ideal for RV, yacht, camping Internet access
Regardless of which option you choose – a range extender versus an antenna, you will definitely notice a large improvement compared to simply using a laptop or tablet to connect directly to campground Wi-Fi – the antenna in those types of devices is simply not designed for the range needed in this situation.
Now get out there and enjoy the great outdoors!
Andrew Namder is an experienced Network Engineer with 20+ years of experience in IT. He loves technology in general, but is truly passionate about computer networking and sharing his knowledge with others. He is a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and is working towards achieving the coveted CCIE certification. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.