In some ways, mobile internet is easier than ever. If you go with a cellular provider with wide coverage, such as Verizon, you can just set your phone in Hotspot mode and connect with most any device and get a decent internet connection. If you have a weak signal, you can even get a booster in some cases, locate it higher (like on top of an RV) with a better antenna, and repeat the signal. Unfortunately, there are some places where a line-of-sight signal from a cell tower cannot reach you. For example, the white spots in this Verizon coverage map:
Yes, hardly anyone lives in those areas, and few travel to them, but if you’re an avid camper or RVer, going to those places and getting away from civilization is often the point. But just because you want to be outside of nature doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to be completely disconnected from society. Being able to do things like get online and do remote work from pretty locations, check stones, or get help in an emergency are all nice.
We can’t rely on cellular services to provide us with service in those areas, because they’re going to get a few new customers for that and the cost will be huge. So, this does not happen.
When it comes to emergency assistance, a ham radio is a viable option, but in very remote areas you probably can’t call anyone using a small walkie-talkie, so you’ll need at least a General Class FCC license (in the US), and several worth of radios. Hundreds of dollars, plus you’ll need to hook some tall, tall antennas into trees to tickle the ionosphere and get the message across. Most people are not willing to go into all these troubles.
Satellite service has always been available to fill this role, but frankly it’s kinda bad. I won’t name any, but I have some friends and family who have satellite internet and they are not happy with it. Latency is bad, which makes internet service not great for many uses (such as gaming or video conferencing). Low data caps mean you can’t use it to confidently stream video or music, so you’ll really want to use it for basic things like checking email or reading.
Starlink was a promising alternative. With many satellites in lower orbits, they are closer to the user, and this means lower latency and the potential for much higher speeds. Equipment costs and service fees also seem comparable, but they are not yet designed to be portable. First, they still build the constellation, and for two, the equipment is designed for permanent installation.
This is why the recent news that Starlink will introduce an RV version of its terminals is so exciting. Being able to pass on service while you’re on the go, and being able to get service when you get there, is great. Now, people are starting to receive their RV stations, and YouTuber Steve Wallis was cool enough to give us a look:
If you’re not familiar with Steve, he loves to do a lot of different outdoor things in his videos, but one thing that caught my eye was some hidden camping adventures. I mean, who doesn’t want to pretend to be homeless and try to avoid getting caught in sleeping places that aren’t supposed to sleep?
He already has a Starlink for his cottage, and was excited to get something portable for his adventures.
Immediately, it gets into some negatives. It’s slower than fixed stations, and costs more to get service if you want to be able to move around regularly and still get service (because that requires more satellites that fixed people don’t really need). But, you can pause the service between camping trips and not have to pay for it when you are not using it. Technically, you can just move a regular Starlink station around, but it’s bigger, harder to move, and not really designed for.
When he got to a remote country place, he set up the antenna, plugged in the router, and otherwise had a very easy time getting everything up and running. For power, he uses the Jackery solar power plant (think Explorer 500, our review here). One downside to the Starlink RV Station is that it doesn’t run on 12V power, which means you’ll need an inverter to run it on your RV’s deep cycle batteries, or you’ll need something like Jackery to give it the 120V AC power you need (this may vary in your country if you are outside North America).
With power on, the unit started moving its antenna, asking for a network name (for local wifi), then I sat down and worked on getting a connection and updates. After about 15 minutes, he started moving the antenna again, and then he got a lock. Speeds were around 50Mbps, and 15-20Mbps for upload. The power draw was about 30W, so you can get a lot of time online with a deep cycle battery and an inverter or something like Jackery.
After a while, I asked for an update, then got significantly faster speeds, between 100 and 200 Mbit, but with similar upload speeds. Once he got some sun, his little solar panel was able to keep up with the battery and maintain it. So, you don’t really need to get an RV to use the Starlink service. You’ll likely want to have a sturdy side bag to carry around with you.
At one point in the video, he mentioned that his main use case (aside from uploading to YouTube) is to get help if his school bus RV breaks down again. Also, many people just want to do something in case they get a rainy day during a camping trip and stay inside their RV. So, it really doesn’t go against the traditional spirit of being outdoors.
It looks like Starlink RV gear would not only be great for camping, but could also run on a trickle of power. This makes clean camping (without a generator) more doable.
Featured image: Screenshot from the Starlink website.
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