Last update: April 23, 2019
When we first hit the road in 2006 to travel full-time in a super tiny travel trailer, we were in our early 30s and took our existing careers with us – working remotely as software developers and technology consultants.
While we were self employed, at the time we had clients that expected us to be online and available during regular business hours.
So of course – connectivity was critically important to us!
Being able to work remotely utilizing mobile internet was absolutely essential in pursuing our nomadic dreams.
While it was easier than our predecessors who had to rely on public Wi-Fi or satellite internet – it wasn’t as easy as it is today.
Back then, we often had to surf uphill both ways using nothing but 1xRTT on our trusty unlimited Sprint data card. Yes, as unbelievable as it sounds – Sprint was a top option back then!
5G wasn’t even on the radar, LTE was a distant dream, 3G was just barely starting to emerge, and we considered it the “technomad trifecta” if we could find those rare sweet remote boondocking locations that were free, scenic, and had ample bandwidth.
If we really needed to, we’d commute to a nearby town to spend a workday at a cafe or brewery sipping some free Wi-Fi. And we’d soak in wireless waves to conduct system updates, perform back-ups and download large files while visiting friends & family.
Thankfully, over the years, keeping connected has gotten a LOT easier!
In the past decade the cellular carriers have significantly expanded their networks and upgraded their technology, and we now regularly surf at speeds that were beyond comprehension for even a wired connection back then.
And we can get connected in more places than ever.
We now often stream video in 4K to our heart’s content, we host a YouTube channel with live HD broadcasts, conduct interactive two-way webinars and use cloud services as a normal part of our lives.
All over mobile internet!
Though things have gotten easier – there are still challenges, and there’s no one-size fits all universal connectivity solution. And the “best” options are changing all of the time too, and they vary by location!
To stay on top of the best mobile internet options, you almost need to make keeping connected a full-time job.
So that’s exactly what we did.
We had learned so much about keeping connected that we actually ended up writing a book on the topic in 2013.
There was so much interest in going deeper that we transitioned our own careers to tracking mobile internet options by founding the Mobile Internet Resource Center in 2014.
The resource center is dedicated to sharing unbiased information about mobile internet options for RVers, cruisers and nomads.
It’s hard to believe we’ve now hosted that site for nearly 5 years!
In fact, we just launched a brand new website redesign (go take a look!) to pave the way for the next five years.
After nearly 13 years living as technomads, we now we split our time between our sweet 1961 vintage bus conversion and a motor yacht – and hopefully soon, a Class-B van conversion too!
So you might be wondering, after years of super focusing on mobile internet options for RVers and cruisers – what options do we utilize in our personal setup?
Good question, and it’s far past time that we had an updated post on this.
It’s actually kind of hard to isolate what is our personal setup, versus the gear we are constantly testing. But we’ll do our best to dive into the options we’d likely settle on.
First, here’s an illustrated guide to how most of our gear comes together on most days (don’t get too attached, we change this often!):
Here’s a video overview of this post with a tour of the plans and gear we use:
And.. now follow along for the juicy details.. including links to further guides we provide on our resource center if you care to dive in:
Cellular Devices & Data Plans (Mobile Hotspots)
Cellular data is the primary way we get online in our travels, and we often utilize mobile hotspots as our dedicated data devices.
Mobile hotspots are cellular modems that use your data plan and create their own private Wi-Fi network that you can use to connect laptops, tablets and video streaming devices. You may also know them by their brand names of Jetpack, MiFi or Air Card.
They’re sort of like smartphones, except without the voice calling features. Or a camera. Or the apps.
Some folks prefer to use the personal hotspot feature on their smartphones instead, but for those who depend on mobile internet you may find this is less than ideal.
We personally consider our smartphone hotspot feature to be our back-up plan or for use when exploring ‘away from home’.
For more on the hotspotting options:
MiFi/Jetpack, USB Modem or Smartphone Hotspotting?
Our Data Plans & Hotspots
Verizon has the best coverage nationwide for travelers, and is frequently referenced as the top choice for mobile folks. If you’re traveling across the country, having Verizon in your arsenal is highly recommended.
We currently have two plans with them:
- Legacy Unlimited Plan – Back in 2014, we assumed liability of a grandfathered in unlimited Verizon account (a plan that retired in 2011, it’s truly unlimited – no throttling, no network management) and use it often with Verizon’s Inseego 8800L ($199.99 – released in Oct 2018, provided by Inseego) or an embedded cellular router. We also pay a little extra turn off Verizon’s video throttling so we can get full 4K. The total cost is $55/month.
- Sorry. This sweet plan is pretty much difficult/impossible to obtain these days, although there are 3rd party rental vendors left (we have them listed in our Unlimited Guide.)
- Note: Adding a Jetpack to Verizon’s current postpaid unlimited plans actually has a 15GB high speed hotspot cap.
Prepaid Verizon Unlimited Jetpack Plan: As of November 2018 Verizon launched a new PREPAID unlimited plan for Jetpacks for $65/month.
There are some trade-offs (like 720p video throttling and always network managed), so be sure to read the full article – but this is legit and direct from the carrier. This one is worth considering if you need unlimited Verizon data. We do keep this plan in active testing too.
- Visible: This is Verizon’s prepaid brand, where they offer a $40/month unlimited smartphone plan. All data is capped at 5 Mbps, and mobile hotspot is included. Video is throttled to 480p. We keep a SIM card on this plan active for use in our dual-SIM iPhones as a back-up when away from the RV or boat. For more on this plan: Visible by Verizon
For coverage, we rank AT&T slightly behind Verizon, and consider AT&T a great complement to Verizon in a mobile internet arsenal.
We currently have two plans:
- Unlimited Plus / Business – We keep our smartphones on this plan that provides 15GB of high speed hotspot (along with several family members – this keeps our costs down). But our main AT&T internet source is a couple hotspot lines that are just $40 extra a month (they used to be $20, but in early 2019 they changed this plan around for business accounts). At ‘home’ we typically use the Netgear Nighthawk MR1100 ($199.99 – purchased) with one of the lines, and we keep one line active in whatever vessel we’re currently storing for remote access & video surveillance.
- Unlimited Plus was retired on 2/28/2018 – The retired plan allowed hotspot devices to be added that were not subject to the high speed mobile hotspot cap of smartphones (10GB), just subject to network management after 22GB of usage. It was sweet sweet SWEET. We got plenty of notice out to our members last year to get this plan. Their new “unlimited” plans do not allow hotspot devices at all, never mind with unlimited data.
- Connected Car – We snagged a Mobley device ($99.99 – purchased) on the Connected Car plan while it was still available for just $20/month for unlimited data as a stand alone device. The Mobley can be setup to work anywhere, even not plugged into a vehicle.
- This deal retired in Sept 2017, was back briefly in early 2019 – but is now out of stock. AT&T also has connected RV unlimited plans for Airstream owners and for activate on a Togo Roadlink C2.
Current best AT&T Options: As both our above plans are no longer available, see our Top Data Plans guide for more the current best options on AT&T.
Other Carriers & Coverage
We also keep T-Mobile and Sprint options on board, mostly for testing – but we don’t consider these carriers as ideal for most mobile travelers who travel outside urban areas.
However, T-Mobile is rapidly expanding their network as they deploy new band 71 spectrum. And there is a potential merger with Sprint that could happen early this year. That will certainly shake things up in the years ahead if it’s approved.
For planning our travels around cellular connectivity, in 2010 we actually wrote an app for that!
Coverage? is available for iOS and Android, and allows you to create you own personal coverage map based on your carriers and preferred signal type.
All maps are stored on device and updated throughout the year – so you can look up coverage even when you don’t have any.
Data Plans as a ‘Home Internet Replacement”
A struggle with cellular internet however is finding affordable data plans that can serve as a home/office internet replacement on the road. This just isn’t something the carriers are keen to do across the nation in a still LTE-dominant world.
All carriers now offer unlimited plans, but we’ve taken to calling them “unlimited” plans – because they usually have restrictions that make them less appealing for high bandwidth consumers.
We spend a lot of time tracking plans as they come and go and advising travelers on how to best utilize them.
The options for cellular data are constantly shifting, here’s our CURRENT Top Pick Data Plans for each carrier:
And what about 5G?
The end of 2018 saw the launch of the first 5G technology in select locations. What can mobile users do to plan ahead?
Does it make sense to put off technology purchases?
If you need mobile options now, then probably not.
LTE will remain the primary way nomads rely on for mobile internet connectivity for years to come. See that comparison map above of LTE? Don’t anticipate that 5G will be fully deployed nationwide for many years.
Even though the first 5G devices started to debut at the end of 2018, the initial deployments will be limited and the first generation products will likely be relatively clunky compared with what follows.
If you are investing in technology – thinking about 5G should probably not be a deciding factor until late 2019 or even until 2020. And by then, anything that was purchased as part of the first wave of 5G products will likely be due for an upgrade as well.
- Guide to Unlimited Data Plans
- The Four Major US Carriers – Which is Best for RVers?
- Considerations for Selecting Cellular Data Plans
- Selecting a LTE Mobile Hotspot or Modem (MiFi / Jetpack)
- Cellular Evolution: 2G Thru 5G, And Beyond!
Signal Enhancing: Cellular Boosters & Antennas
Since cellular data is the primary way we get online, optimizing our signal for the best performance is super important.
Boosters and antennas can take a weak signal and make it much more stable – resulting in a more solid connection and faster data speeds.
They can be like magic, allowing us to stay in an idyllic campsite or anchorage much longer than we could otherwise.
They can also be disappointing in some situations, and take some trial and error.
There are a lot of options on the market, and cellular signal enhancing for best data performance is a complex topic that requires some basic understanding.
Option 1: Boosters
A booster uses an external antenna that feeds signal collected from a cellular tower into an amplifier that boosts the signal. It then re-transmits the signal through an interior antenna. They can help with better phone calls and better data performance in some situations.
While a popular option made even more popular by aggressive social media marketing – they’re not always the right choice in all situations.
And they’re pricey!
Quite honestly, a booster is perhaps the best signal enhancing option at a particular location maybe 20-30% of the time. And when used in moderate signal areas, they can actually DECREASE your download speeds (but increase your upload speeds).
But for those who depend on cellular data, they can be a very worthwhile to have onboard as an option to try – especially for devices without antenna ports, like smartphones.
Personal current choice: After lots of testing of almost every mobile booster and antenna combo on the market, we consider the weBoost Drive 4G-X OTR ($499.99 – purchase on: weBoost | Amazon, ours provided by weBoost) to be our personal favorite mobile booster.
More on Boosters (including other options on the market we test):
Mobile Cellular Boosters for RVs & Boats Overview
Option 2: Antenna Only Solutions (MIMO)
MIMO is an important LTE technology that utilizes multiple antennas to get a better signal, which current boosters circumvent.
Of course, antennas only work with devices that have antenna ports (another reason we prefer mobile hotspots & routers).
We default to MIMO antennas in our own personal signal enhancing strategy and find that 70-80% of the time they give us the best results in any particular location.
And even better? They’re cheaper than boosters!
For the RV roof, our personal choice has been the MobileMark LMT401 ($256 – provided by 5GStore)- it’s a low profile MIMO antenna that we wire directly into a cellular embedded modem, ours also has a Wi-Fi antenna built in.
But the most affordable, highly effective and portable antenna we’ve found is a simple window mounted directional suction cup MIMO antenna by Netgear (for around $30, when in stock – Amazon | MacMall) designed to plug directly into the antenna ports of a mobile hotspot.
We and our staff try to test as many mobile cellular boosters and antennas as we can fit on our roof, and are constantly running extensive field testing.
Check out our Field Testing Lab to see what we’re currently testing.
Related guides to cellular signal enhancing:
- Understanding & Optimizing Your Cellular Data Performance
- Cellular Boosters for RVs
- Selecting a Cellular Antenna
- Understanding MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output)
- Selecting Antenna Cables, Connectors, and Adapters
Mobile Routers & WiFi Extending Gear
While mobile hotspots and smartphones can create their own Wi-Fi network, and you can connect your laptop to the campground’s Wi-Fi if you’re close enough – those with more extensive networking needs might consider a mobile router.
A router acts as the central conductor between your mobile internet options and your devices.
This allows all your devices to always connect to the same network, and you just switch out what is the current best internet source at your location (Verizon, AT&T, campground/marina Wi-Fi, etc.).
Routers also usually have ethernet ports, which can be important if you want a wired local network or have a cellular modem that supports ethernet out. And routers usually can create a stronger and wider local Wi-Fi network too.
What sets mobile routers apart from household routers are these features:
- WiFi as WAN – the ability to use a Wi-Fi hotspot as your own network’s internet upstream. Wi-Fi extending antennas/radios are more powerful long-range WiFi options that can pick up hotspots vastly further away than laptops alone can.
- Cellular tethering or embedded cellular modem – allows you to use cellular data as your internet source. There are Wi-Fi extending only solutions out there, but since we optimize for cellular – we don’t spend any time with them beyond testing.
- 12V Power – most mobile routers can be powered off 12v or 110, allowing you to use them without needing shore power or an inverter when boondocking.
Routers come in a variety of price points, complexity, usability and some have roof mounted options for better signals.
Personal Choice: It’s tough to make a personal choice after testing so much gear – and there are pros and cons to different setups and options. We are regularly cycling through our top picks.
For choosing your approach, it really starts with do you want a cellular embedded router, or do you want to tether a cellular hotspot into your router? (Or do you want to keep it simple and skip a router all together?)
- Tethering: With this approach, you tether a mobile hotspot or smartphone to a cellular aware mobile router usually via USB or ethernet – and then allow the router to spread the connectivity to your connected devices. The advantage of this approach is that mobile hotspot options are frequently released with the latest modem chipsets, and for $200 you can affordably update your mobile internet setup without changing your router out.
- If we optimized for this approach, we’d choose the WiFiRanger GoAC ($349.99 – provided by WiFiranger) as our interior router. It can also easily pair with their optional external Wi-Fi extending antennas & radios. We generally only utilize Wi-Fi hotspots when driveway surfing with friends, and so we’d likely select the WiFiRanger SkyPro ($289.99 – provided by WiFiRanger) as our roof component of choice.
- Cellular Embedded Routers: These are going to be higher end routers, usually more pro or industrial grade (with price tags to match). The cellular modem is built into the router itself, and sometimes even have dual SIM slots (or even dual modems!) for easier switching between carriers. The downside is, the cellular modems in these tend to be a bit behind those offered in mobile hotspots. Since these are a bigger investment upfront, it makes it pricier to keep up with the latest and greatest.
- The two models we spend a lot of time with are the Pepwave MAX-BR1 ($699.99 – provided by Peplink) or Cradlepoint IBR900 ($999.99 – purchased) with direct wired roof antennas. If forced to chose one or the other, Chris would probably melt down in analysis paralysis. He’d ideally combine the best features of both into one!
- Getting Better Wi-Fi – Selecting Long Range Wi-Fi Extending Gear (Antennas, Routers, CPEs)
- Selecting a Mobile Router – Bringing Mobile Internet Options Together and Creating a Local RV Network
Devices & iGadgets
We’re pretty much an all Apple household. We each have a MacBook for portability, and Cherie also has a 21.5″ iMac desktop computer that she does most of her work on. We also have a collection of the latest iPhones and iPads. (All purchased on our own.)
Those on cellular data plans we can also use the personal hotspot to get our computers online when away from home (or more common, Cherie uses to get work done while Chris is testing gear and has our network unstable.)
We use an HDMI Ligthning Digital AV Adapter cable from our iPhones to a larger TV screen to use our carrier’s unlimited data plans for video streaming without counting against our mobile hotspot data cap. (See this guide for more: TV & Video Streaming On the Go)
Both of our phones are the current iPhone XS with DSDS (Dual SIM Dual Stand-by) – meaning we can actually carry TWO cellular data plans for each phone.
- Chris currently keeps an AT&T Unlimited Plus plan as his eSIM line (with 15GB of high speed mobile hotspot data), and has a T-Mobile data only SIM with a grandfathered Simple Choice 6GB plan for $35/month as a back-up option (we move this SIM around as needed to other devices).
- Cherie currently has her iPhone’s eSIM on AT&T Unlimited plus as well, and is using a Visible plan for $40/month that includes unlimited Verizon hotspot usage at 5 mbps.
Other Solutions of Note:
Flagpole Mast & Directional Antennas & Suction Cup Mounts
When set up for a while and we need to reach a further away tower or access point, we deploy a flagpole on a rear hitch mount (purchased) for our higher gain directional equipment.
- We carry an Ubiquity NanoStation M2 (purchased) for WiFi repeating.
- We also have a directional wideband cellular antenna (purchased) we can mount.
We also carry a Suction Cup Mount ($44.99, provided by TechnoRV) for quicker temporary deploys of exterior antennas.
Since we don’t stop in one place too often, and rarely utilize Wi-Fi hotspots – we honestly don’t utilize these setups all that often.
But, when we need it, it’s definitely worth the storage space and setup efforts to deploy.
Up until November 2013, we did travel with a tripod satellite setup from HughesNet.
However between the prevalence of cellular & WiFi, the setup & equipment hassles, high latency and no longer needing to be as connected as we once were due to shifts in our business – we ditched the setup.
Since then, new mobile suitable satellite options have come online, including HughesNet Gen 5. Reports from customers are astounding – advertised speeds are up to 15 mbps but we have reports much higher! Getting official mobile provisioning can be tricky, and there are serious considerations to make before deciding if satellite is right for you. But for those really going off in the boonies – it’s great to have the option available.
Currently, we do travel with a Garmin InReach Explorer+ ($449 – purchased) – which gives us some basic satellite communication when we’re out of reach of cell towers or Wi-Fi.
With the inReach, we can at least get a TXT message out to loved ones, and our staff can reach us if there’s something big going on. We can also pull up weather reports, get an SOS emergency out and allow people to track us if we so desire.
When going out for hikes or dinghy explorations, we also bring it along for basic navigation and emergency communication.
Here’s our guide: Mobile Satellite Internet Options
LTTE – Libation: Technology Tribulation Elimination – Surviving via mobile internet can sometimes be frustrating, especially if you are used to the consistency of a plugged in connection like cable or DSL. For dealing with the inevitable frustrations, we suggest keeping a box or two of LTTE (reviews within) on hand as part of your tech arsenal essentials – it helps take the edge off when the bits just refuse to flow.
We love Bota Box Old Vine Zin and RedVolultion (Cost – $14-19/box depending on local taxes – you can add to our supply using the ‘Leave a Tip’ button at the bottom of this page)
Installation & Cabling
So just how do we route all these cables around?
This allows us to more easily switch out cabling as needed, as we’re constantly changing out gear as we test and evolve our system.
When we replaced our refrigerator years ago, we took the opportunity to route conduit from the roof of the bus, through the fridge vent and then into our cabinetry to our tech cabinet.
For those who desire keeping their technology updated, we highly recommend taking the time & effort to route conduit from the roof to the tech cabinet – it makes a world of difference when it comes time to install new antennas or gear.
During our 2015 bus renovations, we also had the fridge vent converted to be an antenna hatch.
As we’ve done boat projects over the years, we also take the opportunity to run a wired network with ethernet.
And when doing our marine electronics installation in late 2017, we used the opportunity to run low loss coax cable for antennas from our radar arch to our tech cabinet for antennas.
Mostly however, since we’re in solid signal areas while cruising – we don’t need external antennas that often.
And times we have, we’ve just brought them out and did a temporary installation on our flybridge – which provided plenty of height.
There’s lots of considerations however in your best installation options.
- Installing Cellular & WiFi Antennas
- The Tech Cabinet Approach: Centralizing your Mobile Internet Arsenal
Do You Really Need This Much ??
What will be ideal for you, will likely vary.
We don’t recommend just copying another blogger’s setup without really assessing if their needs are close enough to yours.
And besides, this stuff changes so often that you really need to look at what the current options are. Even stuff 6 months old can be outdated now.
What will work best for you will be highly dependent upon your needs, your travel style, your RV or boat type, your budget, your technology comfort level and what existing setup you have.
Our Use Case
We prefer to be places where Wi-Fi isn’t abundantly available (we mostly skip it even if it is).
We work full time with lots of web surfing, managing social media, research, email and most everything a business needs to do online. We do a LOT of video work (live casts, webinars, conferences and YouTube) and we love streaming TV & videos.
We easily use 200-300 GB of data a month.
Ok, maybe 400-500GB if we’re in a really good signal area and Kiki has access to 4K cat videos (always blame the cat).
Having a strong cellular dependency works really well for us, especially if we plan our travels around connectivity. We’re often abundant in bandwidth with super fast speeds (10 – 50 mbps down, even 100 mbps down sometimes!)
We like the redundancy of multiple cellular networks and the combined coverage footprint we get with Verizon & AT&T – there are places where one excels over the other.
We typically have usable connectivity 98% of the time these days.
We actually sometimes miss the days of forced offline time due to dead zones.
Here’s some additional use case guides you might find insightful:
- Working Remotely with Mobile Internet Sources
- Video Streaming Over Cellular & Wi-Fi: TV, Movies & Entertainment on the Go
- Using Mobile Internet Options in a Stationary Setup
- Online Gaming Over Mobile Internet
- Homeschooling, Families & Kids Considerations with Mobile Internet
- Example Mobile Internet Setups: Link List of RVer & Cruisers Posts
More on Assessing your own mobile internet needs:
Before You Can Assemble a Mobile Internet Setup – You Must First Understand YOUR Unique Needs
How is our Boating Setup Different?
With our style of boating – which is mostly coastal cruising along the ICW and inland waterways – we just move our equipment & plans between the bus and boat.
In terms of connectivity, our boating style really is ‘RVing on water’ – and our setup has been nearly identical.
The biggest changes we have:
- We do stay in marinas more often than we ever stayed in commercial RV parks. And the provided Wi-Fi has been surprisingly useful more often than not. So we do sometimes default to Wi-Fi for non-critical tasks.
- We have installed marine grade omni directional cellular antennas on our radar arch. It seems every booster manufacturer is using the same antenna, just rebranded. Because we’ve been coastal cruising in Florida since we got our boat in 2017 – we’ve rarely been in weak signal conditions to conduct proper testing of the antennas.
Helping you Understand your Mobile Internet Options
We are not sponsored or paid advertising dollars by any company or service mentioned in this post. Some equipment we test is provided for review (clearly indicated), and others we purchase in thanks to member funding. Some links in this post may be affiliate links however – the little extra ka-ching makes our hearts sing.
We track mobile internet for a living, and we do hope that you’ll further your research by clicking over to our content provided there (much of it free) and share it with other RVers and cruisers.
Links to guides on the resource center above contain free content or some may also contain member exclusives.
After years of sharing about our own mobile internet connectivity, and answering lots of questions on it – we started a dedicated resource center at MobileInternetInfo.com in 2014 after writing the first edition of The Mobile Internet Handbook.
It is all funded by our premium members – the very folks who depend on our content. We have no 3rd party advertising, no sponsors and we don’t sell gear & plans. We like it that way.
Mobile Internet Aficionados is a community of fellow nomads utilizing mobile internet for their lifestyle. For their support they get insider tips, alerts, reviews, in-depth guides, webinars, interactive guidance, vendor discounts and a classroom.
It’s because of their funding that we’re able to offer a lot of resources for free.
- Internet for RVers & Cruisers Facebook Group (FREE)– Got questions? Want to stay in the know? We host this free public Facebook group where we share news stories, articles and answer basic questions (our members get access to our private Facebook Group, Q&A forums and exclusive interactive webinars for more personalized guidance.)
- Mobile Internet News Feed (FREE)– We track the industry news daily, and report things that might impact nomads. Check out the News Center, Subscribe via RSS, our Facebook Page or subscribe to our free monthly summary newsletter.
- YouTube Channel (FREE) – Our dedicated Mobile Internet Resource Center video channel (different than our personal Technomadia channel – which is all for fun). Subscribe and catch our free videos – from tips & tricks, mini guides and news stories.
- The Mobile Internet Handbook (PDF – NOW FREE!) – The 5th Edition released in early 2018 – focused on helping you assess your personal mobile internet needs, understanding the challenges and overviewing the options of cellular, Wi-Fi and satellite. Our more in-depth content is now online so we can better keep it updated.
Become a Mobile Internet Aficionados (aka MIA)
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The MIA is the premium membership of the Mobile Internet Resource Center – designed to help those who consider mobile internet an important part of their lifestyle. We provide exclusive in-depth guides, a classroom, product overviews, interactive guidance, insider info, discounts and an alert newsletter.
If this topic is important to you – we’d love to have you join us!
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