I’ve been a Verizon customer for 11.6 years, and my mobile phone plan is grandfathered into an unlimited data plan. What’s even sweeter is that 4G Smartphone Hotspot service also uses the unlimited plan. This is huge, generally speaking and especially for full-time travel. Woo-hoo!
What is a hotspot anyway? Hot spots are places within the mantle where rocks melt to generate magma. Oh wait, that’s a hot spot, not a hotspot. Here is a great snippet directly from Wikipedia:
"A hotspot is a physical location that offers Internet access over a wireless local area network (WLAN) through the use of a router connected to a link to an Internet service provider. Hotspots typically use Wi-Fi technology."
So when you hop on the Wi-Fi connection in your local coffee shop, you are using a hotspot. The 4G Smartphone Hotspot service that I use is even better; you can take it with you wherever you go and never have to rely on others for a Wi-Fi connection. Brilliant!
In my daily work life away from my soon-to-be decommissioned home office, I typically use my hotspot when I’m working remotely in coffee shops or other venues that use passwords for entry. Asking for their “clever” and ever-changing passwords each time can be a hassle. Not only that, but with bandwidth throttling and time limits, I’d had enough and added the hotspot service to my phone. I bring my office with me and the hotspot on my phone is a key part of that.
The hotspot allows me to use my Verizon mobile phone to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal that I can pickup from my notebook. It’s been a great asset to my business and allows me to control my connection and have a faster and more stable connection. For my normal pre-travel use, I’ve only really used around 2GB and had yet to test the limits.
During our months of planning leading up to our first practice run with the camper, we knew that internet connection could and would be a challenge. Obviously, this is a concern for many modern travelers and campers these days as most of us have some sort of device that requires Wi-Fi. But as a web developer, data is my life and my job, so a strong internet connection is vital to my work flow.
On our first trip in the camper to Manistee, we had a few issues with Wi-Fi. Our policy was to use the campground Wi-Fi for all our devices to test it out and see what happened.
There were two Wi-Fi zones available and we toggled between them thinking one might be better than the other, but all our tests ended up with the same results: slow-to-no connection. It was okay at times, but not up-to-speed oftentimes, according to Luna. She became frustrated with the spinning icon, while waiting for her Minecraft videos to render on YouTube. Even Liza was booted offline a few times while writing for the blog due to lack of signal strength. I tried it as well and it confirmed my original thought: it was just fine for email and uploading software updates for code that I had written locally, but I could not rely on it while I was writing online or conducting audio or video calls.
Speed tests confirmed that we were receiving 2Mbps or less. Sometimes it registered .1Mbps. As a comparison, cable access speeds these days are typically around 40Mbps, giving you an idea that this situation was miserable and wasn’t going to cut it. At some point we would need an antenna, maybe a signal booster or even tap into satellite resources. I was hoping for a simple solution. We already may have had the solution in the hotspot, but just needed to make sure.
The hotspot on my phone might have been the answer, but my fear was receiving a $400 phone bill if we didn’t have the right setup. We had to verify that the service would run off of my unlimited data plan before I would open it up to all our devices for use before our next trip, so we did just that.
Anyway, now that we had a new plan, it was time to try it out.
Our policy on this trip was to try the campground Wi-Fi as our primary service with a fallback of using the hotspot. The KOA Bayshore in Sandusky, the location of our second travel trailer test run, has 13 available zones. I was surprised to see that the campground offers so many Wi-Fi connections and thought we would be all set using their setup, because it appeared that they had it all together. The connection was better than it was in Manistee, but we experienced some hiccups within a few hours. I quickly adjusted to use the hotspot as the primary Wi-Fi connection with a fallback to the campground signal when I was out with my phone. We needed to test it out anyway. What a difference!
The speed test I ran this morning shows download speeds reaching 15Mbps and over 9Mbps upload speed. It’s not as fast as what we were used to at home (40+Mbps), but on the road, this is extremely acceptable, and, so far, frustration free. We’re currently at 30GB this billing cycle and there are still 13 days left. Huge data use without extra charges. Confirmed!
This is a big relief, because now we have reliable internet throughout most of the country by being a Verizon customer.
The next step will be to setup a wireless signal in the camper connecting all of our devices. That way, when we roll into the next town, we are guaranteed to be online. As a fallback, I’ll connect the router to the campground signal for times when I’m away from the camper with my phone so that the camper will stay connected. I don’t have the complete technical plan for that yet, but I will be documenting it after that project is completed.
Until then, we hope that this hotspot post will give you an idea of what is available to you if you find yourself struggling with consistent Wi-Fi connection wherever you go. If you already use a hotspot, you can feel more confident that your hotspot is a great investment for your online workflow or social connectivity. Stay tuned!