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Internet for nomads

The internet is a lifeline for 'dwellers but it not always available in the ways it is for sedentary folk. There are several challenges:

  1. intermittency - the nomad will sometimes be completely out of range of internet access. i.e. no wifi or mobile data available.
  2. limited bandwidth - there is internet access but it is dodgy or very congested, as in an RV park or when shooting long distances to an open wifi access. Or getting 1 bar on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere.
  3. security - know what is safe and what is not
  4. expense - mobile data is $$$ compared to residential broadband


Wifi is to internet access as shore power is to electricity; cheap and plentiful. When wifi is available one should be prepared to take advantage of it.

don't be a jerk

Use the resource appropriately and fairly; heavy socket use like streaming netflix or uploading YT vids can seriously impact the shared network. If it's a business, spend your money there. Follow the guidelines in the End User Agreement on the splash page.

Go inside wherever you can find wifi service. make sure you at least buy a drink or something so they know you are a customer. Be quiet, respectful, stay out of the way, leave if all the tables are full and there isn't room for other paying customers, etc. You can often stay for quite a long time - just be considerate of others and you'll likely never be asked to leave. – DollBabyLG1)

extending your reach

In order from simplest/cheapest to most complex/$$$

positioning existing equipment

relocate the device or park the vehicle so the laptop has a clear[er] view of the target. Line-of-sight through glass is better than having metal in between.

adding external adapters

External adapters are a single-device solution; they get wifi into that device.

  • use a usb wifi dongle that plugs in rather than the device's built-in wifi. Preferably with movable or even detachable antennas
  • completely seperate usb wifi like an Alfa. These things are famous for a reason. The Alfa AWUSO36-series is famous for range and technical abilities. Having a separate USB on a cord may allow you to put the wifi receiver in a window/dash and keep the laptop inside.

removable antennas

Dongles (and routers – see below) with removable antennas are nice because you can upgrade to an antenna better suited to your uses. Commmon upgrades include:

  • merely using the same antenna on an extension so it can be place more advantageously
  • higher-gain (better performing) antennas
  • directional antennas that are aimed at the donor wifi
  • in more extreme cases the antenna is mounted physically outside the vehile

routers and extenders

Wifi extenders/repeaters/routers work by hopping a wifi signal from some further access point. They are multiple-device solutions; all your devices will leverage the repeated wifi.

  • extending2) takes the signal (Taco Bell Wifi, for example) and makes it available as Taco Bell Wifi in your van. The Taco Bell Wifi signal is extended beyond its original design.
  • repeating3) takes the Taco Bell Wifi and repeats it as MyVanWiFi or whatever in your van

images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com_images_i_31lsbv9brzl._sy90_.jpgLow-end and hobbyist units are inexpensive and can work well, depending on your usage.

  • the GL-300M is a small ~$25 box that can be mounted anywhere it can see out a window or windshield.
  • units with external antennas like the GL-AR300M can use better antennas, or extension wires to place antennas where they have a better view.
  • SOHO (small office home office) routers like the Linksys are widely available in thrift stores for <$5 and usually have removable/replaceable antennas; look for units that run off 12v or 5v (usb) for easiest use.

Many also remember SSIDs (access point names) and will reconnect to them as you travel. You might pull into a McDonald's parking lot and hear your phone ding: the router has already connected to the wifi and your phone 4) is asking you to click to agree to the wifi conditions.

commercial repeaters

High-end repeaters/extenders like Ubiquiti typically mount outside the vehicle. This makes for maximum range but can reduce stealth. Antenna wire losses are eliminated because the antenna is inside the receiver, and the signal brought into the vehicle over ethernet5).

DIY repeaters

Raspberry Pi and similar hardware can be made into DIY extenders

mobile data

Mobile (or “cell” data) is the internet access provided by mobile telecomm networks:

  • Verizon dominates the RV/vandweller market because it has the most coverage, including out-of-the-way places. This makes it the most popular carrier among nomads and boondockers. Verizon is infamous for being expensive and for doing jerky things like limiting built-in features on their phones. It can be a bit of a love-hate relationship.
  • AT&T and T-Mobile are about equal – full coverage near cities and spottier coverage in the boonies. One advantage to these carriers is that their SIM cards can be put in any unlocked GSM phone.
  • Sprint is rarely used due to minimal coverage

Perhaps counterintuitively, having a non-Verizon carrier can actually be desirable at RV meetups, since everyone else is likely to be hammering the Verizon towers.


Often you can buy data at cheaper rates. Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) are resellers who buy excess capacity from major networks and sell it to customers at reduced prices. Examples: Boost (Sprint network), U.S. Mobile (Verizon network) and many others.

The tradeoff is that your data may be deprioritized when a particular tower gets congested. Your data will still work, it'll just be slower when all those folks paying full retail start streaming Netflix at 7pm or whatever. Can't put up with that? Pay full price and take your chances with congestion anyhow.

If you want to find an MVNO for your preferred network, search for “verizon mvno”, “T-mobile mvno”, etc.

sometimes called “repeating”
sometimes called routing
connected to the router's internal wifi
which also powers the unit by PoE
communication/internet.txt · Last modified: 2021/07/28 11:47 by frater_secessus