RV Satellite Internet


The ranger looked at us funny and said, “If you die out there, you might not be found for weeks. That’s remote country. Nobody goes there.” The ominous warning got our attention, but it wasn’t enough to keep us from exploring one of America’s newest national monuments, Basin and Range.

This desolate, unpopulated area near Hiko, Nevada, is our kind of place. Stocked with ample fuel, food and water, we left the pavement and headed deep into the ancient 750,000-acre desert hinterlands. For seven peaceful days we didn’t encounter another soul, or even see a single cellular tower. But each day our rooftop-mounted mobile RV satellite Internet system kept us connected to the outer world, enabling us to work online and earn the income that pays for our crazy adventures like this one.

If you must have Internet access to earn a living, but still want to go way off the grid, mobile RV satellite Internet is the only sure way to do it. Otherwise, your travels are limited to areas with wireless broadband network coverage. Of course, there’s a trade-off for the convenience of anywhere broadband, and that is the hardware and data cost, as well as the technology know-how required to own a system like the RVDataSat 840 that sits on our roof. But, if you’re like us and you need this kind of connectivity, here’s what you need to know about it.

“But it’s so expensive!”
This is often one of the first comments we hear from people who ask about our dish, and there’s no denying it’s a significant investment. “Price is our biggest challenge,” says Bud Burton, founder of the MobilSat company that created the system. The hardware costs less than half the cost of comparable commercial systems, but it’s a hard number to swallow for the general public that’s used to paying $80 for a mobile hotspot and a $100 monthly service plan. These folks can’t seem to get past the sticker price, but Burton’s fine with that.

“We accept it because we’re not for everybody,” Burton says. This system is overkill for the average Internet user. People who only connect to send e-mail and video chat are not the right fit for owning this system. However, for RVers whose financial survival depends on guaranteed Internet access, the value of MobilSat’s system exceeds the cost.

In 2007, we purchased our first HughesNet system from MotoSat, the Utah-based company, which closed its doors for good in early 2013. Then, in 2015, we upgraded to the new RVDataSat 840 launched by Mobil Satellite Technologies (MobilSat) at that time. As owners of the first RVDataSat 840 to roll off the assembly line, it’s more than lived up to our expectations as User #1.

The RVDataSat is the only fully automatic, rooftop-mounted satellite Internet antenna designed for consumers. Major components are made and supported in the United States, from its manufacturing plant in Utah to the Virginia-based tech support representatives.

 RVDataSat 840 at a Glance:
• .85-meter antenna for
optimal performance
• One-touch automatic satellite controller
• Uses the iDirect Evolution X5
satellite modem
• Includes wireless router, control cable
and RF cabling
• Separate VOIP Plan enables
unlimited local and domestic
USA long-distance calling space
Burton is a working-age RVer.

This long-time satellite Internet industry expert designed his consumer-oriented system, together with MotoSat veteran, Ed Travis, who founded RF Mogul, in Salt Lake City, where the RVDataSat is manufactured. Filling a void left when MotoSat went out of business, Burton created the RVDataSat for a small niche of mobile Internet RVers who have connectivity requirements like his own.

“I travel and I have a motorhome. As a business owner, I need to be connected 100 percent of the time,” he said from his Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, office. Since launching the RVDataSat 840 in 2015, it remains the only push-button mobile satellite Internet system that doesn’t require users to deploy a tripod-mounted dish and manually move it to acquire a satellite signal lock.

How Does It Work?
The RVDataSat does not rely on terrestrial cellular broadband networks. The system connects you to the Internet via one of various communications satellites in geostationary orbit thousands of miles above the earth. If you have a clear view of the southern sky, you can have an online connection within minutes, no matter where you are. Once the RVDataSat 840 is installed and configured, the user simply presses the “Search” button on the front of the controller, or from the web browser on any device. The mount will raise the dish and search for your assigned satellite. “Locking on” normally takes less than a few minutes. If your RV is not level, this time may be longer, but the system has a “Search Cache” feature that will move the dish to immediately point at your satellite the next time you search, if you have not moved to a different location. When it is time to move on, hit the “Stow” button and go.

People always ask us if we can access television through our dish. If we wanted to, we could. MobilSat has RV Entertainment service plans for RVers who regularly use Netflix. These plans allow users to watch Netflix programming without any buffering or additional data charges caused by streaming, which can quickly run up the monthly cellular bill. With the RV Entertainment option, Netflix programs are downloaded during a night-time “free zone” and can be watched later without interruption.

Telephone service is another additional feature offered to users. There’s an optional satellite voice over IP (VoIP) service that uses your Internet connection to complete your calls. Use any analog telephone or compatible VoIP app on your smart phone, and you can have phone service anywhere without spotty coverage or dead zones. We’ve used this service and found there’s nothing like being able to camp in the most remote locations while having conference calls with clients.

Mobile Satellite Internet Speeds
Despite what you may have heard in the past, mobile satellite Internet speeds are excellent, with little latency. The speeds still aren’t as fast as a terrestrial connection, but depending on which type of monthly iDirect data plan you purchase under a one-year contract, the RVDataSat 840 delivers maximum speeds of up to 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.

Check out the speed test comparison we did one night, in a crowded RV park, when our system was performing better than our redundant connectivity method, a Verizon MiFi wireless hotspot. (See image top right.)

Even when we’re within cellular broadband range, we sometimes deploy the dish for faster speeds. For instance, when we land in crowded places with overwhelmed cell towers, as often happens in popular RV spots, like Quartzsite. Ironically, we’ve even used the dish in crowded urban areas with coverage gaps or overloaded cellular networks. It also held its own one summer when monsoon rains wiped out cellular Internet service all around us. We could stay online doing business as usual while our neighbors were completely cut off from the world for almost one week.

In the past, MobilSat tried to compete with cellular, but not anymore. “We’re not out here preaching ‘Don’t get a cellular or don’t use your phone as a hotspot,'” Burton explains. Instead, MobilSat embraces cellular by introducing satellite customers to complimentary networking accessories that simplify the connectivity process. For example, Burton says his coach has router systems in place that automatically prioritize data sources as he rolls on down the highway. When cellular is fast and available, he uses it. If it fades and degrades when he stops moving, the dish comes up and the router automatically switches over. He never has to think about which device is in use, which eliminates one of the biggest hassles of mobile connectivity.

Mobile RV Satellite Internet Drawbacks
Beyond the initial cost, potential buyers should take into consideration the technical factors associated with ownership. For example, you’re not going to find many technicians familiar with the system if repairs are required. And, if you use it for its intended purpose in extremely remote areas, there will likely be no help nearby anyway. The system includes various networking components, cables and moving parts. Unlike with a simple phone or hotspot, you can’t walk into the nearest Verizon store for assistance. If you’re not somewhat technically inclined with sufficient troubleshooting skills, you may become frustrated should connectivity issues occur. The hardware, however, is surprisingly simple, and MobilSat offers telephone support every day of the week.

Our investment in satellite Internet service was steep, but through the years it’s paid for itself. Today, we love this equipment more than anything else we’ve acquired for our full-timing lifestyle over the past 10 years on the road. The RVDataSat 840 has repeatedly justified its cost as we camp in the most stunning, remote settings. It has allowed us to work and play in places where cell coverage is nonexistent for a hundred miles in every direction.

If you would like more information, visit www.rvdatasat.com.

?Jim Nelson, Rene Agredano and their dog, Wyatt, are enjoying their 11th year as full-time RVers and location-independent entrepreneurs. Their adventures are chronicled at LiveWorkDream.com.

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