Fast Internet. Faster is better. Every time I refer to the speeds that we achieve in our coach, I get a flurry of emails asking me questions about my setup. Within those emails are usually comments about the poor quality of park WiFi.
I do feel for the owners of RV parks and resorts. In many cases they spend a substantial amount of money to deploy a WiFi service for their guests only to receive a constant stream of complaints.
This past winter I helped assess the WiFi service at a Class A Motorcoach Resort in Florida.
On paper, the infrastructure was high quality. And yet there were so many complaints about the service. I, on the other hand, was having no difficulty achieving high-speed on the resort’s WiFi. I could easily obtain 50 Mbps and faster depending on the time of day and the number of guests in the park.
In Canada, the exact same issue. Complaints about the park WiFi. Where we stay, the park WiFi is throttled. The maximum throughput is managed to 7 Mbps per connected device.
When I connect to the park WiFi this is what I consistently achieve using some basic networking equipment:
Close enough to the managed bandwidth limit. Things change dramatically when I am on my private network accessing the Internet via my high-speed, unthrottled and unlimited cellular plan:
What I use for achieving a high-speed Internet is not for everyone. It is expensive and it is somewhat complex.
Let’s deal with why so many people have issues with their park WiFi. It usually comes down to a few basics. If those basics are not resolved, it really won’t matter if the park has decent WiFi. The Internet will still be bad. Often really bad.
Get an antenna and a router
First and foremost? Signal strength. We can think of the WiFi signal as being similar to a radio signal. If the station you are attempting to tune on your radio is too weak, all you hear is static.
The vast majority of people that connect to a park WiFi do so without using an external antenna. They try to connect directly with their smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops.
If the antenna in the device that they are using to connect to the park WiFi has a low signal strength then the result will be the equivalent of tuning to a weak radio station: static. The speed of the Internet will be slow to unusable.
Signal strength is measured using the dBm scale and it only takes a small amount of change to the signal strength to have a dramatic and negative impact on the speed of the Internet.
A mere 3 dB of loss halves the signal strength. A park WiFi may try to achieve a standard of -65 dBm to every site which should allow for reliable and timely delivery of data packets. But if that signal strength drops below -70 dBm then so much for reliable packet delivery. And so much for decent Internet performance.
A basic minimum for getting the best performance out of any WiFi service? A good signal. And within any RV park setting, the best way to get a good signal? An external antenna. And a network router to distribute the signal. Check out this video for a decent, low-cost option:
More people, less available bandwidth, slower Internet. But what if there are traffic management protocols in place? Poor Internet may have more to do with channel congestion than available Internet capacity. The second major issue is that too many people connect to the WiFi using the same channel.
Here is a current scan of the networks that I can reach from my coach:
Keep in mind that the park has very few guests given the COVID-19 situation. On the 2.4GHz WiFi, what is the most commonly used channel? Channel 6. And what happens when dozens of people connect to the Internet using the same channel? Congestion.
Most park WiFi services run on both the 2.4 and 5GHz spectrum. Go for 5. Far less congestion and so many more channels. But to get a decent signal on the 5GHz spectrum? Yes, an external antenna. Makes a big difference.
Deal with complexity
Mobile Internet is not easy for the vast majority of RVers. The marketplace has yet to offer a simple, straightforward solution without some form of compromise. There are resources available to the RV community and I highly recommend the Mobile Internet Resource Center.
Likely the best online resource for Mobile Internet. There is a cost to become a member and, more importantly, there is a learning curve.
If you are looking for a simple and cheap way to get high-speed Internet in your coach, well, be prepared to be disappointed. Whenever I describe what I have going on in my coach the reaction is twofold: too expensive and too complex.
That said, there are many people, including myself, that are determined to have reliable and fast mobile Internet either because they are still working and they need to be online and productive, or because much of their time is spent using online resources in their hobbies, volunteer efforts or Internet-based activities.
One day soon we may have satellite Internet as a viable option for the RV community. It looks like we are getting close to a product launch. Possibly even this year.