If you’ve been thinking about going full-timing, the thought of how phone and internet access will work on the road has probably crossed your mind. The number of options available for travelers has never been higher, and it’s easy to get confused with the vast amount of information available out there if you’re not a technology enthusiast. I’m not a tech expert myself either, but I’ve learned a thing or two while working at Best Buy (yes, that’s the ‘retail job’ that I’ve had since January, consider the beans spilled), and researching what I plan to do myself come September.
On Saturday my old flip phone of 3 years stopped working. I didn’t drop it, there was no exposure to water and no advanced warning. The display just went out in the middle of a text conversation and that was that. I had been hoping the old phone would last me until I was already on the road, so I could see what my needs and finances looked like before I had to make a decision about what to do, but sometimes things happen and you just need to roll with it.
I’ve been with Verizon for over five years now and have been happy with the coverage and service, so although I looked at pre-paid options I never truly considered another provider, especially since if I renewed my 2 year contract (this will be the third time since I’ve been with them) I could get a discount on the new phone.
Is Verizon the best provider for full-timer RVers? It’s a trick question. When you’re living stationary, you only need to worry about coverage in the area where you live and where you travel to frequently. When you’re full-timing though, you gotta think about coverage everywhere.
All of the companies have areas with strong coverage and areas with weak coverage, there isn’t one that does it all. The solution that gives the best coverage would be one that involves getting service from multiple companies. That being said, if you can only choose one it seems to me like Verizon and AT&T routinely get the best marks for overall coverage so I’d stick with one of those.
I know what you’re thinking, if you’re single you definitely don’t want to have two phones from two different companies, what a waste of money. Even if you’re a couple you probably don’t because you can get discounts for having two phones on the same plan. But who said both devices had to be phones?
Another part of my intended connectivity arsenal is a broadband USB card that plugs into your laptop, which acts like an antenna that allows one to access the internet using cell phone towers from one of the fore-mentioned companies in places where WiFi isn’t available. The catch being that, like with a cell phone, you need to pay a monthly fee for something like this.
Lets say I got a broadband card that uses AT&T towers for instance. If my truck breaks down out in the middle of nowhere and I am not getting a Verizon signal on my cell phone to call for help I could always power on my laptop to see if the AT&T towers are delivering, in which case I could get on the internet to find tow trucks in the area and use a program like Skype to call for help from my computer.
While you can go directly to Verizon, AT&T, etc. for a broadband card, I’ll let you in on a little not-so-secret. There is a company called Millenicom that is very popular among the full-time RVing crowd, because their prices are much cheaper for the same services. What Millenicom does is buy data in bulk from the other big-name wireless companies for a significantly cheaper price than you and I can get it for, then they turn around and re-sell it to their customers for a rate that earns them a profit, but is still less than the standard retail price.
The deal is sweetened even more because most of the time you don’t need to sign a contract with Millenicom. If you decide after 5 months that you no longer need your broadband card (or decide to take off in an airplane across the ocean for a while to somewhere where it wouldn’t be useful) you can suspend or stop your service with limited or no fees.
There are plenty more options though when it comes to connectivity. Depending on your financial situation, how important having a reliable phone signal and internet access is to you, and how much you like technology, you can really go nuts with the whole connectivity thing. Cherie and Chris over at Technomadia for instance have several good posts about their extensive network, which is vital for them since that is how they earn their living.
But don’t let that make you feel like you absolutely need all of that stuff to go RVing. Remember there are as many ways to make full-timing work as there are people out doing it. Take my friend (and frequent IO commenter) Misty at Next Stop: Everywhere for example. She’s a full-timer who has leveraged her more limited budget to good use by investing in a WiFi signal booster to access the internet on her laptop. Her first solution cost about $40 and did a good job of enhancing the WiFi at campgrounds to reliable levels, but she ran into a wall when she arrived at her current location in Northern Ohio to realize the campground didn’t have WiFi at all.
Not about to give up, she spent about $150 for an even stronger antenna, and can now do her translation work comfortably at her campsite, using WiFi borrowed from a hotel down the road. It may have been a sizable initial investment, but now she doesn’t need to worry about keeping up with monthly fees.
Personally, I’m going to have WiFi access at the campground in Kansas so I won’t be investing in a broadband card or antenna until I get there and see what it’s like. There’s no point in spending the money yet if it’s not necessary. I’m still mostly using the library here for internet since the campground WiFi is awful.
And that about wraps things up. One thing I haven’t talked about yet although those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know was that I got an iPhone to replace my old one. Expect more on my reasons why and what I think of it at a later date since this has already gotten awfully long and I still need to get everything together and go hang out in the library parking lot to post it.
I will ask a question before I go however. Which cell-phone service provider do you use, and what do you think about the coverage?
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