Getting Lucky with Mobile Internet

mobile-internet2

Last updated 2/17.

For the first three years of living in Cas I relied solely on public WiFi and mooching off of friends for getting online, a pretty impressive achievement considering how much I use the internet – for updating this blog, responding to comments and e-mails, keeping up with Facebook Twitter, and other bloggers, and doing travel research.

It was at times a slow and frustrating process depending on how good the WiFi was near where I was camping, but I never regretted the decision because of the amount of money I saved. Verizon has been my cell carrier since I hit the road as they did (and still do) have the largest network, but I only used cell data for GPS on my phone and checking the weather, it wasn’t my main source of internet.

Alas, it was well advertised that free WiFi wasn’t available inside Yellowstone where I was going to be work-camping the summer of 2015. I’d heard that Verizon had a strong 4G signal at Old Faithful (it’s true, other carriers were marginal at best there), and I was already going through them for my smartphone plan. So I figured when I got out there I’d up the data on my plan and use my phone as a hotspot to get online with my computer. I couldn’t escape it any longer, I’d need to pay for my internet.

What use to follow here was a convoluted story about how I ended up paying less for 3 GB of data through a new Verizon plan than I had up until that point for 1-2 GB. That’s all water under the bridge now because neither plan exists anymore and the story became irrelevant. Suffice to say that at the time this post went live in 2015 it was a big deal and I was tickled pink to be paying $20 less a month than I did when I wrote The Cheapest Internet OptionΒ in 2014 and yet getting enough data to meet all of my online needs without having to rely on crappy free WiFi.

And yes, from May of 2015 to July of 2016 I did manage to make 3 GB of data work for full-timing. Here was my usage as of 6/28/15 with 3 days to go until the end of the monthly cycle:

mobile-internet1

In July of 2016 I upgraded from the iPhone 4S that I’d had since hitting the road to the iPhone SE, which was also an upgrade from 3G to LTE. Having faster internet meant that pages, videos, and advertisements loaded faster and it used more data. I upgraded from a 3 GB to 5 GB plan at that time to compensate, which is still working well for me today.

Note 1: I’m not a technology guru, I try to get by with as little data as possible and keep things simple. If you’re looking for comprehensive information on mobile internet options and cellular providers, then you’ll want to check out this handy page specifically for RVers.

Note 2: I don’t stream video, play videogames, or download big files, which is how I can make 5 GB of data a month work for me. It certainly won’t work for everyone, but if you’re just web surfing, using Facebook, writing e-mails, and updating a blog, apparently 5 GB will do.

Note 3: Plans and prices change all the time, so you’ll want to check to see what’s available when you hit the road. In July of 2016 I switched to ‘The Verizon Plan’ which is already outdated again as of 2017, but I’m getting my 3 GB of data (plus 2 free gigs for being a long-time member) for about $70 a month.

First image courtesy of Alan Levine

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31 Responses to Getting Lucky with Mobile Internet

  1. Hans Kohls June 29, 2015 at 3:21 pm #

    Wow you are a good data user! And yes you saved a bundle. We need at least 30gb a month on Verizon using our phone as a hot spot. We were lucky and got the double your data 40gb deal. We almost used up all our 40gb of data while in Colorado last month, but we usually average a little over 30. We might stream a movie via Amazon if we have enough data left at the end of the billing period. Will you be in Yellowstone around 9/9 to 9/13. We are staying at Fishing Bridge Campground for a few days. May be able to meet up. Enjoy your summer!
    Hans Kohls recently posted..Trail or Creek? Sunday Gulch AdventureMy Profile

    • Becky June 30, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

      Yes Hans I’ll still be at Old Faithful then, would be nice to meet up. πŸ™‚

      I can hardly imagine how one could use 40GB of a data in a month if you aren’t streaming video, but then I remember that most RVers are couples so it makes more sense with two people.

      I will have a good summer, you too!

  2. Jodee Gravel June 29, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    Always nice when your timing is good for a deal! We have a Mifi and two phones on our ATT account with 30 GB of rollover data per month. This is our first month in the rig fulltime and with the use of park WiFi intermittently, we’re not using the 30. So we’re happy πŸ™‚
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..From a Hot Spot to the Coolest Place We’ve BeenMy Profile

    • Becky June 30, 2015 at 5:09 pm #

      Yep I have a similar motto: go with what works. πŸ˜‰

  3. Dwayne June 30, 2015 at 3:31 am #

    Let’s just hope that you will not have the same problem with Verizon that I had. I just wanted wi-fi for just checking email, etc.. No streaming, etc. But everytime I logged on it was charging me for 1/4 of a G. I went back and complained to the place that sold it. While there I was at 4 G, logged on went to 4.25, logged on again and went to 4.50. They said they would check into it. This was on day 29 of my 30 day trial period. Went to the post office and sent it back certified mail. Never heard a thing from the sale place, they were just waiting for it to go over the 30 days.

    • Becky June 30, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

      Sorry you had a bad experience Dwayne. I’ve been with Verizon for about five years now and have been happy with the service I’ve received.

      • Scott June 14, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

        I have had cell phones since 1985. My first phone I had installed in my video production truck cost me $3000. I bought a portable the next year, the iconic Motorola 8000, for $4000. I have had every brand and every major carrier in the US except T-Mobile. It has always been a hobby of mine. In 2002 I switched to Verizon and never looked back. Since New Orleans was 1 of the first 2 cities to offer aircards for mobile data, I bought it the first day it became available. Because of my line of work, I would give them reports of where service needed tweaking. That was at the end of 2003 or beginning of 2004. I stayed in NOLA for Katrina. Verizon was the only network that you could talk on. I was filling out insurance forms, FEMA, and other stuff online. Relatives and some people that were staying by us also did all their filings as well. They could not believe it! I had to call into work everyday and workers on other carriers were very upset they could not use their cell phones even in other parts of the country. After Katrina, Verizon spent over $500 million beefing up and having triple redundancy from Texas to Florida along the Gulf Coast. And when all these other carriers were creating these so called “4g networks” Verizon started putting up the standard that everyone else is trying to build out now, 4GLTE. The only 100% 4GLTE network and has been since mid 2013 and covers 97% of the US. Go ask the other carriers wat happened to WiMax and all those other so called 4G networks. In 2014 Verizon started deploying XLTE (5G). So everyone will be playing catch up again. Besides, they rank highest in CS, network quality, etc. for the last decade.

        • Becky June 14, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

          Interesting Scott, thanks for sharing.

          I have been a couple places where AT&T was better than Verizon: like a lot of the native american reservations in the plains states – they have exclusive contracts with AT&T – but overall I think Verizon has the edge in coverage.

  4. Oystein June 30, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    I used to have AT&T for my phone service and connection was very spotty when on the road or out in the country. Service was cheaper then I have now. I switched to Verizon and even though I pay a little more, coverage is the best out of all the carriers. I pay $73 dollars a month with unlimited talk, text and 2GB data. I do use hot spots when it is available. You can get $40 dollars a month service with a cheap carrier, pay as you go, no contracts, but Verizon does have the best coverage without question.

    • Becky June 30, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

      That seems to be the consensus from what I’ve heard from other RVers Oystein.

  5. Andy June 30, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

    Well, you drew me in with that “getting lucky” part. πŸ™‚ I wondered what mobile internet had to do with THAT!

    I just moved from Verizon to Total wireless prepaid. Still Verizon service, but lower cost. Unlimited talk/text 2.5 GB data $35 a month. http://www.totalwireless.com

    Just started this week so time will tell.

    • Becky June 30, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

      Let us know how it goes Andy.

      • Andy July 22, 2015 at 6:53 am #

        Becky,

        Well an update on Total Wireless. So far, (about 1 month) the “digital” service is fine. I have seen no difference in call quality or data usage from my standard Verizon Plan. However the “human” service has been far less than stellar, in fact down right frustrating at times.

        The problem is with their “reserve”. You are supposed to be able to add service contracts into a reserve for future use. I wanted to do that to be paid ahead a few months when I begin my journey this fall. So far for me, Each time I add a plan to my reserve, it resets my current plan & does not add to the reserve. I’ve had several frustrating customer service calls, & finally emailed corporate. I did get a call from corporate yesterday & they acknowledge an error and that they owe me 2 full months of service. I’m supposed to hear back again in 24-48 hours. Time will tell.
        So, if you go this route, just pay at the end of your month and it will probably work just fine. The reserve option will be nice, if and when they get it to work.

        • Becky July 22, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

          I suppose it’s inevitable that new services will have a couple kinks in them. Thank you for the update Andy!

  6. Tom B. June 30, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    Becky: Good article. Mobile plans change almost daily, so it’s worth checking from time-to-time to see if your’e still getting the best plan/rate. Also I just found out that AT&T (and I’ve heard Verizon does, too) offers a discount for active and retired military, and also veterans. it’s not much, but $10 is $10, and that’s enough for a lunch or two. Keep writing; I enjoy your posts.

    • Becky June 30, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

      Glad you’re enjoying IO Tom, thanks for reading!

  7. randy June 30, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    To save on data use the opera mini browser. It will cut your data use by about 80 percent.

    • Becky June 30, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Randy, this could be helpful for those who have a harder time managing data.

  8. Yamila Abraham July 1, 2015 at 2:31 am #

    I *think* that all I do is surf the Internet, blog, and Facebook, but my 20 gigs with Verizon barely covers me, and last month I went over the limit. x_x I don’t know how you get by with 3gigs.
    Yamila Abraham recently posted..Pacific DunesMy Profile

    • Becky July 4, 2015 at 10:00 am #

      Well, there are some days I don’t get online at all, and those I do I’m very careful about how long I spend on. I don’t waste time, that’s for sure. πŸ™‚

  9. Joe February 12, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    Am I missing something here? What about Straight Talk ? 5 gigs for $45. Thanks )HoboJoe

    • Becky February 12, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

      This post was written in June of last year HoboJoe, plans and prices change all the time. If you can find something better, then great! You’ll want to make sure Straight Talk uses towers with good coverage (Verizon or AT&T are the top two), and doesn’t have any additional fees such as line fees, start up charges, and think of the taxes too. My 3 GB is $40 I believe and the line fee is $15 and the taxes come to about $5.

  10. Roy May 26, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    I use Cellcom(Wisconsin) company that has nationwide access and pay $55 per month for 2 GB data but they just upped me to 3GB data after 3 months. I use my Iphone and like it because it’s month to month so I can pay it with their app with my paypal account or credit card….etc

    • Becky May 26, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

      Sounds good Roy. My plan with Verizon is $60 for 3 GB, not a huge difference. I did get a special deal though as you know from the article.

  11. John July 10, 2016 at 4:58 am #

    It is good that you got lucky. For me none of the USA wireless seems lucky. In traveling around SE Asia for a year I usually found I could buy a service for a month with 10Gb for $10 (only once was there any issue with using the service as a hotspot for my laptop). It was wonderful.

    I am not traveling yet so I don’t hardly use wireless so I have a very cheap plan. Looking at how much wireless will cost when I go nomad in the USA it is annoying but most everything else about it appeals to me so I look forward to getting on the road.
    John recently posted..Kuang Si Waterfalls, LaosMy Profile

    • Becky July 10, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

      Yeah John it’s all about perspective. I was use to paying a lot more for a lot less data so for me, getting 3 gb for $60 was an amazing deal. πŸ˜‰

      I wish you all the best on your new adventure here in the US, I’ve had a blast and hope you do too!

  12. Ron Eggleston December 27, 2016 at 5:34 pm #

    I’m using my Verizon phone on Straight Talk and it’s been great so far 5G/$45.
    When you get ready to upgrade your solar be careful with the commercial guys…
    I followed the advice of HandyBob who has a blog and gets into great detail about how it wasn’t being done properly by the experts and he’s been Boondocking for 15 years without a generator.

    At any rate here is his site.
    handybobsolar.wordpress.com

    And if we were ever to meet up I would gladly do the work for you free, I’m handy with tools and will be putting my Solar together in the next couple weeks for Quartzsite.

    I will be at Quartzsite the last 2 weeks of February (jello) for the Escapees Solos Rally and probably on through the month of February at least.
    Ron

    • Becky December 28, 2016 at 8:24 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Ron.

      I’m not quite ready to upgrade my solar yet (my 100 watt portable kit is still working) but it’s nice to know that help is out there!

  13. Mr Wheat June 24, 2017 at 10:04 am #

    We use T-mobile that has the “Binge On” feature for our home rural internet but it might also be an option for RVers. Binge On allows for watching videos on many services (amazon, youtube, netflix, etc) without counting against your data allotment.

  14. James Messick September 6, 2017 at 8:42 am #

    Has your internet situation/setup changed any? Personally I use Cricket which is now owned by AT&T so runs on the AT&T network which is generally considered the #2 network but is #1 in some areas. My issue is that I could use my old phone as a hotspot and share the data, but when I moved my SIM card to my new phone I could no longer use it as a hotspot without subscribing to the hotspot service, basically paying $10 to use the data that was already included in my plan as a hotspot. As I am not a full-timer I can get buy without it now, but hope to make some month’s long trips in the future when occasional laptop use would be nice. I currently pay $30/month with a 4 Gb plan which I’m thrilled about (3 phones on account to get this price) so I guess the $10 isn’t the worst thing, but I hate to be charged for something I formerly had for free.

    • Becky September 6, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

      I’m still on Verizon James but I changed my plan to have enough data to upload videos for the new YouTube channel. I should probably write a new post about it soon. Hotspotting has always been ‘free’ with Verizon plans but I use the ” because I pay more for my plan in general. $40 a month for 4 Gb with multiple lines and hotspotting is a fine deal.

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