There have been repeated calls on this forum to present a more basic, yet comprehensive explanation of the current technology available to provide useable internet services to user devices inside an RV. This is a complicated subject which is very hard to cover with simple terms. It is made more complicated by so many choices, technology moving fast and vendors who try to sell devices that do little at best or make things worse. Following on the Technology for Dummies theme I will try to do my best with this subject.
This entire discussion starts with a premise that you are not satisfied with your current ability to use internet based voice and data services in your coach. If you are happy with whatever you have now, stop reading this thread
and please donít clutter the dialog in this thread with posts that you are happy with what you have. I accept that reality even if you have a lousy internet connection it works for you.
Second, if you primarily use your RV in mid town Manhattan stop reading this post now
. Nothing discussed below will improve your internet services in dense urban settings. All your client devices should run just fine without any additional help in New York City.
Lastly, if you really value being connected to the internet and your RV regularly visits places like Capital Reef National Park in Utah. This thread is for you.
You will need all the help modern technology can offer to get acceptable internet in remote areas. There are still some areas of this country with absolutely no cellular internet possible, like a few hundred miles running north/south in Nevada on US93. In those areas satellite internet is the only current solution.
Thoughout this discussion I will provide links to technical terms. There is no way around using these terms without making this post into a full length novel. If at any point a technical term is used that you donít understand click on the link I provide and learn what that term means before reading on.
Letís start with some definitions. What is ďacceptable internetĒ? This is a subjective term. Everyoneís definition will be different. In an RV I consider ďacceptable internetĒ to be an internet connection with ďDSL likeĒ speeds, roughly 5 Mbps
Down and .5 Mbps
UP along with latency
less than 100 ms (if you donít understand latency click the link). An internet connection running with these parameters will be useable for email, messaging, routine web page browsing and looking at Google maps. A connection like this will most likely not support streaming HD video. Other terms you should understand for this discussion are LTE
, Carrier Aggregation
, Cellular data channels
A short history of wireless cellular communication is needed for some context to understand where we are and why some old technologies just donít apply any more. Cell phones
rolled out in the mid 1980ís and these were reasonably primitive analog voice communication devices that operated between 800 to 900 mHz just above the old TV UHF band. This was before Al Gore
invented the internet so there was no data movement involved, just voice. In the mid 1990ís Al invented the internet and at the same time cell phones moved to digital voice communications while Sprint
opened up the very high cellular radio bands
around 2,000 mHz. These high bands allowed much more band width but were very limited by short range. Anyone using the new digital phones on those high frequency bands in the mid 1990ís remembers how bad the experience was making the conversion.
Beginning in the late 1990ís cell phones began to introduce internet based data services for things like messaging and email. In the early 2000ís as cellular radio evolved more internet services became practical as the system evolved through the 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE phases of growth. As we rolled into 2019 cellular radio technology has now evolved into a very mature LTE system with MIMO and carrier aggregation technology. Cellular based internet speeds with the most current equipment and a ďgoodĒ signal now equal or exceed speeds seen in most wired residential settings. The other significant change along the way is the merging of voice and data. Most cell phones now handle a voice call as an internet protocol data stream just like any other data based application on a smart phone. This is a very important change. If you value a good voice connection then you need to make sure your cellular internet connection workable.
So that is the very long prolog to the information that follows. If you are still reading this it is because you value high quality voice and data communications in your coach everywhere you go, not just in urban settings.
For the purposes of this discussion forgot about 5G
. This technology is a long way off and will be of value only to those folks in dense urban settings. It will be a long time before you see 5G services at Capital Reef in Utah.
What follows are my recommendations for a coach internet system that will provide for the best internet data services available in a coach today (May 2019). It will cost just around $1,000 with the only labor needed involving getting at least 4, RB59 cables to a roof mounted antenna from the location where the equipment will be housed. You can spend less than $600 and get a similar system with slower speeds and significantly reduced fringe coverage if you want. And yes if you plan on operating in fringe or deep fringe area you absolutely need a roof mounted antenna to pull in those 600 mHz and 700 mHz cellular bands.
So what has changed in 2019 to make quality internet so much easier in an RV operating in rural settings. Three major technology advancements have been rolled out for cellular internet that has changed the game for rural mobile internet coverage:
- 1. Increasing use of lower frequency cellular radio bands is one major factor. Both Verizon and ATT anchor their cellular LTE coverage around the 700 mHz frequency bands/channels. T-Mobile is just now implementing LTE coverage in the new cellular band around 600 mHz. These low bands offer exceptional range for cellular data coverage playing right into the sweet spot for the typical geographical use of an RV. You need far fewer cell towers when your signal will go 3 times further than it does on the ďoldĒ PCS high frequency bands rolled out in the 1990ís.
- 2. The evolving growth of MIMO antenna technology has changed the game for remote coverage. Now the cellular data signal can be sent to you simultaneously via different paths making the likelihood of quality internet services much higher in fringe settings.
- 3. Carrier Aggregation is the newest technology just now rolling out. Carrier Aggregation (also called LTE-A). Carrier aggregation allows a cellular modem to combine data streams from different cellular bands or more than one cellular tower to improve speed and quality of signal. This technology is really helpful providing data services rolling down the road in an RV as it will allow your modem to be locked on to more than one cell tower as you move along making it much easier to hold the connection.
Before I move on to my recommendations for equipment a few comments about using cellular boosters. SAVE YOUR MONEY
. Cellular boosting technology was a solution to poor cellular coverage born out of the 2G/3G evolution of cellular radios. During the 2G/3G era (roughly 2000 to 2012) 2G/3G towers were far apart often operating on the high band PCS frequencies. Cellular boosting evolved as a way to get cellular voice to work better in big buildings that blocked these high frequency bands. It was never designed to deal with the world of purely digital data using the new technologies of MIMO and carrier aggregation.
You may have late model iPhones or iPadís fully provisioned with MIMO and carrier aggregation technology. If you use a cell booster system locally it will likely strip away the advantages of MIMO and carrier aggregation leaving you with worst performance on those devices than you would see without a local booster.
Cellular boosting is DEAD with the newer technologies. SAVE YOUR MONEY.
Ok, here are my recommendations for a good 2019 state of the art cellular data internet system for a coach. To be current with 2019 technology any solution used in an RV needs the following attributes.
- 1. A cellular modem router capable of supporting CAT 6 modem specifications: specifically 2X2 MIMO antennas and Carrier Aggregation.
- 2. A cellular modem router with two WiFi radios: 2.4 gHz and 5.0 gHz
- 3. A cellular modem router with built in WiFi as WAN capability
- 4. A cellular/WiFi combo antenna capable of supporting cellular 2X2 MIMO and WiFi 2X2 MIMO.
Here are my recommendations for a quality integrated cellular modem router system current with 2019 cellular data capability:
PepWave Max BR1 MK2 Router with Cat 6 LTE Advanced Modem
Cradlepoint IBR900 LTE Advance Mode
Panorama 5 in 1 Low Profile
(if height is a problem) $315
In each case the antenna should be mounted as close as possible to the modem/router and any excess antenna leads should be cut and replaced with appropriate SMA connectors
which will require an SMA crimping tool
. You donít have to cut the antenna cables to length but doing so will provide a better signal for both cellular and WiFi to the modem router.
So there it is. All you need to know to have quality internet in your coach. The first person with a late model coach who complains about cost really needs to reflect on the situation. Folks are currently paying $1,400 of a fireplace option or $3,300 for a stainless steel trim kit option on a new Newmar coach. The current price for the WiFi Ranger SkyPro LTE Cellular Router is $1,400 and it is no where as good as the systems recommended above. Do your homework.
I hope this helps.
Disclaimer: I have no relationships with any of the manufactures of these products or stores selling these products. All my knowledge comes from experience with this technology since the cell phone was invented. I am self taught. Take it or leave it.