Getting Internet access when boondocking is largely done through your cellphone service.
Internet Access When Boondocking
Most boondockers buy a hotspot device (Mifi device, or router) through their existing cellphone service provider.
Which Cellphone Service Provider Works Best for Boondocking?
Verizon seems to offer the most comprehensive coverage throughout BLM and USFS lands. AT&T comes in second. T-Mobile seems to be a distant third.
Many full time boondockers will get set up on two providers, usually both Verizon and AT&T. They’ll set up both a cellphone and hotspot device with one, and then another hotspot device with the other.
Using a Cellphone Signal Booster or Antenna
Most full time boondockers use a cellphone signal booster or antenna. This turns a weak signal into something more usable…
- Signal antennas
- Signal boosters
The signal antenna casts a wider net to bring in more signal. Meanwhile, a signal booster takes the existing signal, and amplifies it. The downside with a booster is that it also amplifies noise, and actually causes your device to send/resend packets numerous times before it gets a clean packet. On the other hand, antennas don’t amplify noise, but they don’t quite offer the same high signal gain that a booster can offer.
Generally, if you’re in an area with an average to strong signal, an antenna will work better. If you’re in an area where there is a weak to average signal, a booster will work better. There are actually some boondockers that have implemented both technologies to their RVs, and will switch back and forth depending on where they move to.
Signal antennas are usually less costly than a signal booster. However, there are signal antennas that get pretty expensive. Most signal boosters run about $500.00.
Use Cellphone Coverage Maps
There are online maps that show the signal strength of various cellphone service providers for any given location in the United States…
- Open Signal is the best map, but requires that you install it as an app on your phone. It’s free. It will show you both the coverage map for Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, as well as the signal strength (low to high) anywhere in the USA.
- FreeRoam offers a map with various overlays, including cellphone coverages.
Are There Wi-Fi Networks Available?
There are no Wi-Fi networks on open lands where boondocking is allowed.
To get Wi-Fi without a password, you’d have to be within a couple blocks away from a Starbucks, and you’ll need a Wi-Fi booster (not the same as a cellphone signal booster) on your RV. Expect to pay around $500.00 for such a booster.
Satellite Internet for Boondocking
A few boondockers subscribe to HughesNet, which is a satellite-based Internet service. This involves placing a satellite dish on the ground, or the roof of your RV. It’s a dish similar in size to Direct TV or Dish Network. The advantage is that you can get Internet anywhere, even where there is no cellphone coverage. Expect to pay about $100.00 a month for service to watch videos, upload files, do Facebook, etc.
Just Go to a Coffee Shop
Many boondockers will drive their pickup trucks or toad to a coffee shop in a nearby town to do all their Internetting. They’ll return to their camp later and enjoy good old analog fun.