More and more, RVers and even tent campers want to stay "connected" 24/7/365. Personally, I used to feel that when on vacation, especially in the great outdoors, one ought to detach from technology for that brief respite. But now, if I get set up in my site and find that the advertized Wifi is not sufficient, I get steamed.
Yet, as an RV Park operator I have come to learn that internet connections in my home are going to differ from those at the local Starbucks, which will differ from a hotel and further will be greatly different from an outdoor venue like an RV Park. At Hidden Valley we've tried several methods to get the best reception and found limited success in most options. Some of the reasons for less than optimal service are easy to figure out...too many users, too little bandwidth, but really why is our reception when traveling...only okay, at best? And, are there any solutions?
Pamela Wright along with Jim Ganley, RV Park and Wifi experts, recently decided to explore that question and their research prompted a FAQ sheet full of answers. They have shared this FAQ list with any interested in understanding the reasons for RV park challenges in providing Wifi service to their guests. Here is a link to the original list that I have reprinted below.
Why isn’t the Wi-Fi in the park the same as the Wi-Fi at my house?
Several factors can affect the speed and responsiveness of the Wi-Fi in the park that may not be a factor, or as big of a factor as it is at home. The Wi-Fi in the park is shared among many users and devices. You may have a dozen Wi-Fi enabled devices at home, but there may be hundreds of devices online in the park.
At home you may be fortunate to have very fast cable or fiber Internet service, however in many rural and semi-rural areas slower DSL or satellite based service may be all that is available. This slower service must be shared among many users and dozens or hundreds of devices.
Why can’t I download movies and music?
Movies, music and videos consume a lot of data bandwidth. Since the Wi-Fi system in the park is shared by many users, downloading movies and videos can seriously impact other users in the park. How much bandwidth is consumed by different actives? For comparison:
In other words, a single two-hour movie can be the equivalent amount of bandwidth of more than 4 million emails.
- Sending or receiving an email (no attachments) requires 1 kilobyte of bandwidth
- Sending or receiving an email with a picture attached requires 1.5 megabytes
- Downloading a 3 minute song requires 5 megabytes
- Using a social networking site for 10 minutes (i.e. Facebook) requires 20 to 50 megabytes
- Downloading a 3 minute movie trailer in HD needs 180 megabytes
- Using Skype or VoIP for a 20 minute voice chat requires 4 to 10 megabytes
- Using Skype or other video services for a 20 minute chat needs 40 to 60 megabytes
- Watching a streaming 30 minute TV show requires 400 to 600 megabytes of data
- Watching a streaming 2-hour movie can consume 1,800 to 4,000 megabytes of data
The RV next door to me is getting a stronger signal than I am. Why?
Wi-Fi is based on radio signals, and just like the radio in your car, the signals can be affected and blocked by both physical obstacles and interference from other devices. Some Wi-Fi devices have better quality radios and antennas than other devices.
You may have something physically blocking your reception such as another RV, a building or vehicle. Or there may be some other electrical or electronic device in or near your RV that is causing interference. Or your neighbor may have a Wi-Fi enabled device with a really good quality radio in it. Or your neighbor may be closer to the Wi-Fi access point.
Often it is a combination of all of these factors.
I can’t get the park signal to show on my device. What should I do?
If no Wi-Fi signals are showing on your device, ensure that the Wi-Fi is enabled on your device. Sometimes, there is a physical button on laptops to turn off the radio to save battery, or there may be a software setting to enable Wi-Fi, some phones and tablets feature an "airline mode" to turn off all radios (Wi-Fi and cellular).
If you can see other Wi-Fi signals, but not the park Wi-Fi on your device, check to see if other devices on your site or near you can see the park Wi-Fi. If you can’t see the Wi-Fi signal on any device on your site or near you, be sure to mention this to the park staff. You may be in an area that they have not extended Wi-Fi into, or the system may be having issues.
Why is Wi-Fi in an RV park different than at a hotel?
RV parks and resorts face all of the same issues as hotels in providing Wi-Fi to guests and have some additional unique challenges. RV parks and resorts are often in rural or semi-rural areas where Internet speeds are slower and more expensive, electrical supply to the system and access points may be less stable and links between access points is usually wireless instead of wired. Add exposure to elements such as rain, wind and lightning and the equipment is subject to more wear and needs attention more often.
[Personal comment: This is a situation we have at Hidden Valley. Due to our rural location, only limited bandwidth and speeds are available. We could purchase the highest speed internet but it will still only download and upload at the available speed to your location. Satellite internet connectivity is an option to rural areas but although it's faster than dial up, it still is not what you get at home and because of it's high price it is hard to offer for free.]
Why do I keep getting dropped?Regarding this last point about boosters and extenders...even thought they are not suggested as a good solution here, I have heard some mention that they have gotten better service with them. I do know that sometimes other boosters and even mifi systems (MiFi is used as a name for wireless routers that act as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots) tend to interfere with park operating systems. I don't have personal experience with a mifi system so I can't recommend or discourage them currently.
Getting dropped can mean actually losing the radio signal connection, or it can be maintaining the connection but the flow of data stops or slows to a point where it is not usable for what you want to do. The radio signal connection can be dropped for several reasons:
You may be able to maintain the radio signal connection, but the flow of data stops or slows to a point where it is not usable for all of the reasons above, and additionally there may be to many users on the Internet connection shared by the park, the Internet service provider for the park may be experiencing issues (common on satellite-based systems) or the website you are accessing may be experiencing high volumes.
- You are too far from the Wi-Fi system access point.
- There are other electrical or electronic devices nearby causing interference.
- There are physical obstacles such as RVs, buildings or vehicles.
- There are too many users on the Wi-Fi system and it is overloaded.
What can I do to improve the Wi-Fi reception at my unit?
Sometimes just moving a few feet or moving outside of your RV is all that is needed to make a big difference. If that does not work try plugging your device into AC power, as some devices reduce the power to the radio and screens when unplugged to extend battery life.
For laptops with internal Wi-Fi cards, if the range is not good, then consider investing in an external Wi-Fi adapter. These devices plug into a USB port and have external antennas that are often better than the internal antennas manufactures build into their laptops.
Avoid "signal boosters” and “range extenders.” There are devices sold by different manufacturers that allegedly increase the range of Wi-Fi by picking the signal up off the air and rebroadcasting it. Generally these devices create more noise than usable signal, and will not help you get better Wi-Fi. Oddly, some Wi-Fi enabled devices will misinterpret the noise as signal, and report better signal strengths, but at the same time the speeds will decrease or stop altogether.
All this being said, we have just obtained a new system from Check Box Systems for our new Top of the Valley RV area. We have had good experience with them in the recent past and their systems have reportedly been improved to serve our guests even better.
Would definitely like to hear any comments below regarding positive or negative feedback on any methods you use personally to stay connected.
Note: All credit and copyrights for this list remain exclusively with the authors, Pamela Wright and Jim Ganley and I am curating it with their permission. You may contact Ms Wright at pwright@FocusedWords.com for a pdf of the FAQ sheet or permission to reprint or publish it.