For the last couple of months we have been travelling the country by truck towing our little travel trailer and working on the road. We've always wanted to see more of the country and doing us gave us probably the best possible way to do so!
Before setting off I started to really research our options for how to have internet on the go. We both have meetings we do online, I need to often download libraries and packages and things for development and SSH into things - so reliable internet was a must.
Most people who do something similar to this always repeat the same recommendation: no matter what you choose make sure to have more than one option. So that's what I did. Anyway without further ado here is what our mobile internet setup looked like for the last couple months:
Our Internet Options
T-Mobile Home Internet
Setup Cost: $0
Monthly Cost: $30-$50
This plan from T-Mobile costs us $30 a month on promo and with it T-Mobile gives you a little internet gateway box and unlimited data over 5G network. This is a very attractive plan for mobile internet even if it has a few minor gotchas:
- It has to be available to your address. Some people are able to get around this by either just going into a store and picking it up or getting it shipped to someone who does have the service
- The box itself is rented, so you gotta be careful not to break it as you will have to return it if you ever cancel
- You can't move the SIM card to whatever you want, it's bound to the IMEI of the box so no other modems
- There are no external antenna ports
The last point, the lack of external antenna ports, is not as big of an issue as there are a bunch of guides online on how to open the box up and attach a set of 4 pigtail SMA connectors - which is exactly what I did.
This process is easily reversed should you need to return the box as long as you aren't some heavy handed monster that just rips everything open.
Starlink Space Internet
Setup Cost: $650 for Dish + $25 for ethernet adapter
Monthly Cost: $125/month base + $25/month for Roam
Our primary backup option was Starlink. This was a pretty fun setup to play with because who the hell doesn't enjoy some sci-fi space internet??
Normally Starlink is geofenced in the area where you register your service, so you can't drive around using the dish around the country. However, Starlink DOES offer a "Roam" option for an additional (25$ at time of writing) that lets you move your dish outside it's geofenced zone only with deprioritized data.
For this setup I did have to order, for an additional $25, an ethernet adapter to hook the dish/router combo into my router for proper fail-over and balancing. It appears older dishes came with ethernet built in but seems the newer one's only include WiFi via their weirdly shaped little WiFi box.
This whole setup is pretty cool but, as with anything, there are some downsides:
- The WiFi router it comes with is sort of annoying when you plan to just want to wire via ethernet into your own router. You can set it up to bypass but still would rather not have it.
- It runs only on AC power so that means you have to have some form of AC power (inverter, generator, shore power) to even use it. Someone posted how to wire it for DC POE but I didn't have time to try this before we headed off so it's on my list for when we get home.
- If you have a lot of tree cover where you are at, it's borderline useless.
Campground Provided WiFi
Most RV campgrounds provide some level of WiFi but you should absolutely never rely on this. Of the 30 or so RV campground's we've ever stayed at, I would say maybe 3 of them have provided any level of service that is good enough to work off of.
So now the interesting part, our actual internet setup.
The core of it was our main router, which was a basic Netgear Nighthawk AC7000 flashed with Fresh Tomato firmware. I didn't really configure much with this outside of setting up an additional WAN and a basic wireguard config back to our house which I honestly never even used.
From there when we would arrive at a campground, I would setup the Starlink Dishy and my external Pepwave 5G MIMI antenna on a pole that was attached to the ladder on the back of our trailer, hooked everything up (4 SMA connectors and the Dishy USB) and powered everything up.
Our router was mounted in the back in a little cubby hole:
Next to it was our T-Mobile home internet and Starlink router
And here's the fully setup antenna/dish pole:
So after nearly nine weeks of being on the road how did these setups fair?
The T-Mobile Home Internet worked great everywhere that we had T-Mobile service which, honestly, was pretty much everywhere we stayed in an actual RV park. In fact according to my very rough monitoring we automatically failed over from T-Mobile to Starlink a total of one time for about 8 hours while we were sleeping in the middle of the night.
Starlink worked good for the two times we were in a spot where we had no T-Mobile coverage. I will say that meetings/calls over Zoom and Teams were not the best during this period and honestly I would not use it as a primary if that is what you need it for. It's good but not perfect.
In the end I needed both of these to get by but ultimately lived 90% of our time just off the T-Mobile and I honestly can't recommend that enough if you need internet on the go.