Everyone needs to be connected these days whether for work or just keeping up with our busy social lives internet is necessary. Most of us are accustomed to having the internet all the time via cell phone, but what happens when you venture beyond the reach of cell service? Today, let’s look at satellite internet for RV use, the pros and cons, and its future.
How Does Satellite Internet Work?
You may be familiar with how cable internet works or at least understand that local internet provider servers send and receive signals. The signal is then carried through cable lines from house to house. Satellite internet works similarly but, instead of local servers and cables, the internet provider sends a signal to a satellite in space. Your satellite dish then captures and sends signals to the satellite.
Your dish is connected to a modem just like a traditional internet connection in a house. For people in rural locations that don’t have access to local internet, satellite internet is frequently their best source.
Geosynchronous VS Low Earth Orbit
Mostly all you need to know about how satellite internet works is that it comes from satellites, however, there are two distinct types of satellite internet providers. Geosynchronous and low earth orbit (LEO for short)
Geosynchronous satellites are ones that orbit the earth at a distance and speed that matches the rotation of the earth. This means that the satellite does not move in the sky when looking up from a spot on the ground. This has long been the standard means of transmitting satellite internet and TV signals.
Geosynchronous is good because it allows a user on the ground to point their dish at one location in the sky and not change its direction to pick up and transmit a signal. However the location a satellite needs to be to make this work is 22,000 KM from the earth! Even at light speed from radios, this distance causes some problems with latency and speeds. Video or audio calls and online gaming can be problematic with slow latencies. Also, one satellite is responsible for serving thousands of customers and frequently has bandwidth limits.
Low earth orbit however is a newcomer in satellite internet because it’s much more complicated. Instead of being located 22,0000 kilometers away, these satellites are only 500 to 1000 Km away making their speeds and latency (the time it takes for signals to reach them) much faster.
However, because of their low orbit, they need to move very fast across the sky meaning you need sophisticated technology to track them. With something called phased array antennas and the launch of thousands of satellites, internet providers like Starlink and One Web are working on making low earth orbit solutions as ubiquitous as cell connections.
The Benefits of Satellite Internet for RVers
The primary benefit of satellite internet for RVs is that it can offer internet wherever you have a view of the sky. Luckily that’s most everywhere an RV will go. Many places you might want to take an RV will not have any other form of connection, so with a view of the sky, you could stay connected.
No Cell, No Wifi No Problem
If you venture beyond cell service and don’t have access to anyone’s local internet wifi, satellites can come to the rescue. With a good satellite Internet connection, you will create your own wifi network wherever you are. Then with wifi calling, you can even use your phone via the satellite network. We have a property where cell reception is weak but over satellite internet, we receive and make calls with ease.
High-Speed Internet Access
High-speed internet access is possible with new satellite technology called Starlink, although it’s still in the early stages right now. As Starlink continues to progress and moves out of its testing phase, users are able to work, stream, and surf at speeds cellular providers offer.
This high-speed network is only becoming available with the advent of reliable low-earth orbit systems as talked about above.
It Can Be Moved Around
One of the biggest benefits of having satellite internet for RV use is being able to move around. You can input your new location, find a new satellite to connect to, and then continue using the internet as if nothing changed.
Starlink is continuing to deploy more and more satellites that will eventually cover the entire world and you may even be able to use it while driving!
Drawbacks of Satellite Internet for RVers
Although there are advantages to satellite internet for RV use, it can also be a hassle. There are things to consider when RVing that will affect your internet access if you rely on satellite only. This limited access is a huge drawback for people who need a reliable connection for work or online classes.
Anything Can Block the Signal
One of the best-selling features of the RV lifestyle is the ability to travel anywhere. However, if you rely solely on satellite internet for your connectivity, you can never park near anything that could block the signal. No buildings, no trees, and no towers can be in the way.
This might be a deal-breaker for people who enjoy camping in the woods. Weather also affects the signal reception. The satellite must send a direct signal, and this signal will be consistently interrupted unless you’re in the middle of the desert with crystal clear skies. Heavy rain or snow will block signals.
Expensive to Set Up
Satellite internet for RV setups can cost hundreds of dollars upfront. This is because you need special equipment to receive the signal.
For example, Starlink costs over $500 initially. Then you pay the monthly fee after set up. That’s much more expensive than a mobile hotspot device or simply turning on your cell phone’s hotspot.
Limited Data Available
Most geosynchronous satellite internet plans aren’t unlimited. If you’re looking for hundreds of gigabytes (GB) of data each month, you won’t get it. You’re better off signing up for multiple data-only plans through cellular providers. The best way to get truly unlimited data is by stacking plans.
Luckily Starlink is providing unlimited access at least at the time of this article’s publication.
Only Works When Parked
Currently, to receive a signal from a satellite, you must put it in your location. This only works when parked. For digital nomads who work as passengers in a vehicle, this type of internet won’t work. We say currently because Starlink may provide this feature in the future.
If you’re looking to respond to emails while your spouse is driving your motorhome down the interstate, you’ll need a connection other than through satellite internet.
Sending signals to space takes a lot of power. If you are trying to run an RV off the grid with solar or a generator, it will require a lot of battery to run a satellite system full time. If you are hooked up to power this is not a problem, however.
Pro Tip: Stay connected while on the road with these tips on How To Get Reliable RV Internet On The Move.
What Are the Different Types of Satellite Internet?
Satellite internet comes in different plans, just like cellular plans. If you just need a few GB per month, you can sign up for the cheapest plans through Viasat or HughesNet which use geosynchronous tech. Once you reach a certain data limit, your internet speeds will throttle, no matter which plans you use through Viasat or HughesNet.
If you’re looking for truly unlimited plans you will need to invest in Starlink as its currently the only option.
Where to Get Reliable Satellite Internet for Your RV
By far Starlink is the most usable satellite internet for RVs however it’s still in its early phases. Starlink has RV-specific plans that allow the dish to be moved around as you travel.
Older more established Internet via geosynchronous is still available and If you have the DISH Tailgater package, you can check into the internet service also provided by DISH. However, it’s not really a Dish service as they use HughesNet to run their satellite internet.
If you’re more stationary, HughesNet or Viasat may be a good option if you can’t get internet through a cellular provider. Since you’ll be in one place, satellite might be reliable enough for your internet needs.
The Cost of Satellite Internet
As already mentioned, Starlink costs over $500 to set up. The monthly fee is $110 but may require other add-ons. Other satellite internet providers focus more on residential areas that can’t receive traditional cable internet.
Viasat offers three plans ranging from $69.99 to $199.99 per month. The top plan is still only 300 GB per month even though it’s an unlimited plan.
HughesNet’s four plans range from $59.99 to $149.99 per month. However, your internet speed slows down after exceeding 50GB per month.
Pro Tip: Not all RV parks will come with internet! In fact it’s one of the 7 Amenities We’re Shocked Aren’t Available at Most RV Parks.
Is It Worth It to Get Satellite Internet for Your RV?
Right now, your best bet for reliable connectivity is still through cellular providers but Starlink is providing to be a great secondary internet source. We have been testing Starlink since it has been in beta and while it is not our primary provider it has enabled us to get net in some locations where we otherwise would have nothing. Be sure to read more about how we have been getting reliable RV internet for years.
Overall deciding if satellite internet is right for you will depend heavily on how you use the net and where you will travel.
Do you use satellite internet for RV to connect? Drop a comment below!
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