Toughest job on Discovery at the moment likely belongs to our communications officer. As mentioned, we aren’t on perpetual vacation. We still need some way to pay for this adventure plus our recent graduate’s college tuition. To make that happen, we require a reliable internet connection.
The easiest method is to to locate an RV resort with landlines to each site (for DSL), cable, or decent free WiFi, and dock for several months. But that kind of defeats the purpose.
Another plan is to stick close to the fringes of civilization where Starbucks continues to exercise its “resistance is futile” motto. That way we can avail ourselves of their free internet. This however isn’t part of the mission plan either.
Discovery already has a satellite dish, also known as our forward deflector shield. Shiny and new save the scuff mark left by an angry Groot, the previous owner installed it not long before putting it up for sale. Sadly it’s only good for television. Satellite internet options exist for RVs but this would require a new dish and a new install.
Looking to avoid any delays or extra holes in the roof, we’ve decided to focus on cell phones for our connectivity. The typical RV setup seems to include a hotspot for connecting your devices and a signal booster to improve your connection to your provider.
For a hotspot, you can either use your phone or a dedicated device such as Verizon’s Jetpack. With the return of unlimited data plans, this should be a simple process, right? Not entirely. Skirting the 4G Neutral Zone will require not only trial and error but also time spent annoying Claire.
As you can see from my chat with Claire (do you dream of electric sheep, Claire? DO YOU?), this isn’t so simple. Verizon isn’t keen on letting you connect their Jetpack to any old plan. They do offer separate data-only plans but they don’t want you adding Jetpacks to those either.
Anyway, this conversation led me down an internet rabbit hole and hours later I still didn’t have a solid answer. I do however have a better idea of the components we’ll need.
First is the hotspot. Sure, I can just use my phone. However a dedicated device does offer a better connection and the ability to effectively juggle more devices. In Discovery we’ll have two phones, two laptops, a television, and a Kindle (or two) which might be a bit much for the phone’s firmware to handle.
Verizon’s 4gLTE Jetpack with it’s sleek touchscreen and fifteen device limit is a solid choice to keep all of our various devices online. Plus it has VPN pass-through management built in, necessary for many telecommuting jobs.
Even with Verizon’s extensive coverage, we’ll likely find plenty of spots where the signal is weak. In our old stationary house, I’d drop calls in my office all the time and spent many an hour pacing around the driveway while on calls. A signal booster helps solve this problem.
The best I could find was the weBoost Drive 4G-X RV. Solid ratings, an install which looks DIY, and designed for both in motion and stationary use, this would be the one I’d go with but I’m not going to rush out and make the purchase yet. At $499, they aren’t cheap. But we might have discovered a component which will do double duty for this and the $200 Jetpack: the Winegard ConnecT 2.0 4G2 – WiFi & 4G LTE.
The Winegard ConnecT 2.0 combines an external WiFi antennae to boost local WiFi connections and an external cell antennae. The ConnecT also has a replaceable sim card so you can either use their month to month data service or swap out with AT&T or Verizon. It also acts as a router which might just replace the need for a Jetpack entirely.
Sure, I think this all applies to data only, but with the number of VoIP platforms out there, as long as we can get a solid internet connection from somewhere, we can make a phone call.
With any luck, since the ConnecT is the same brand as our current satellite, I may even be able to use the mounting hardware already attached to Discovery’s hull. For a very reasonable price of $349, I’m willing to try it first and see how many of our problems it solves.
As we learn more, we’ll likely add components. Could be we need that cell signal booster. We might even require the expanded functionality of the Jetpack, who knows? If that’s the case, I’m sure Claire will be thrilled to match wits with this human once again…