RV Satellite Internet, How
It Works & How To Choose
the Right System

RV satellite internet is now faster and more reliable than it was in the past. If you must have internet anywhere, even at the most remote backcountry campsite, RV satellite internet is the answer. All you need is a clear view of the southern sky.

There are mobile broadband services (like Verizon's, AT&T's, & Sprint's) that are getting better coverage everyday...however, there will never be complete coverage with these services - some places are just too remote to justify the cost. The only surefire way to have internet everywhere you go, is with RV satellite internet.

RV Satellite Internet with Very Large Array

Topics I'll cover in this article include:

  • Satellite Internet Good & Bad
  • RV Satellite Internet Systems
  • Choosing RV Satellite Internet
  • Signal Latency
  • Rain Fade
  • Fair Access Policy

The Good & Bad

The Good

  • You have internet anywhere in the contiguous US, and with some systems, in most of North America. Now you can go RV boondocking anywhere you like, and still email Aunt Bertha!
  • It's high speed internet access.

The Bad

  • Expensive compared to DSL or Cable internet.
  • Typically not as fast as DSL or Cable, though with some of the pricier systems it can come very close.
  • There's usually a limit on the amount of data you can download.
  • Storms can affect the satellite signal for brief periods.
  • Online games, VoIP, VPNs, and videoconferencing can be difficult or impossible due to signal latency.
  • You cannot be online while traveling down the road. The dish will only work when parked. (unless you've got $100K for an in-motion system...yikes!)

RV Satellite Internet Systems

RV Satellite Internet - MotoSAT

A system consists of:

  • Dish Antenna
  • Mount that allows the dish to be aimed at the satellite
  • Satellite Modem
  • Satellite Controller (for automatic units)
  • Wireless Router (optional, though recommended as you can move your computer around or outside your RV without wires and still be online - it also allows for multiple users)

Most systems come complete with all of the above components. Installation is performed by the dealer.

Automatic Systems

With the press of a button, the satellite dish deploys and motors tilt and rotate the dish to lock onto the satellite. The process takes about 3-12 minutes - then you can be surfing the net. When you're ready to hit the road again, press a button and the dish folds back down for travel.

The system is mounted on your RV roof and is fully automatic. No manual labor is required. All that the dish needs is a clear view of the southern sky.

Manufacturers of automatic mounts:

  • MotoSAT - US manufacturer with the most popular systems. Has better parts availability, and better product service with many dealers nationwide. Many choices for service providers.
  • Ground Control - Popular with companies and public services. Hardware is proprietary and only supported by Ground Control.
  • C-Com iNetVu - Made in Canada. Does business worldwide, mostly in the public service field.
  • AVL Technologies - The best of the best in terms of reliability and durability. Very popular with federal and state emergency management agencies.
     

MotoSAT DataStorm G74

RV Satellite Internet - MotoSAT DataStorm G74

Since the MotoSAT DataStorm is the most popular system with RVers (thousands are in use) I will go over the features of this package. The other manufacturers have similar systems, however the MotoSAT DataStorm has been around the longest.

The DataStorm G74 is among the least expensive and most popular systems. It features:

  • Geared motors and GPS to find and lock onto the satellite
  • Typically takes 4-7 minutes to find the satellite and be online
  • Dimensions when stowed: 53" L x 39" W x 10.5" H
  • Reflector size: .74 meters
  • Weight: 80 lbs
  • You can have multiple users on a wireless network
  • Will receive satellite TV with optional accessory
  • Can withstand 60 mph winds while deployed (however, not operable under winds this high)

A possible downside with the G74 is that it will only work with the HughesNet satellite internet network. You won't get to pick and choose plans from other service providers.

Speed: With the included HughesNet HN7000S modem you can expect download speeds of 600-1000 kbps (roughly 20 times faster than dial-up at it's fastest) and upload speeds of 40-200 kbps.

Cost & Download Limit: The cost of the system can be from $5000-$5500. The Internet Access 100 service plan for this dish is $69.99 per month and it will allow you to download a maximum of 374 MB every 24 hours. This allowance is more than enough for most users. If you are only browsing the web and checking email you'd have a very tough time reaching this limit. There is no limit on uploads.

Power Consumption: The complete G74 system including dish, controller, and modem draws roughly the same current as a desktop computer.

Satellite TV: You can purchase an optional accessory for the DataStorm G74 which will allow you to receive Satellite TV (DirecTV programming) simultaneously while surfing the net. The satellite TV receiver and programming must be purchased separately.

DataStorm G75 and Faster Options

If you want faster RV satellite internet, the next step up is the DataStorm G75. With this dish, you can choose from other service providers, besides HughesNet. The cost is around $1400 more than the G74 and service plans start at $79.99 per month.

If you want even faster RV internet, I hope you won the lottery - the next step up is a MotoSAT Datastorm XF-2 or XF-3 - it will cost you over $10K installed.

Still too slow for you? It's time for a 1.2 meter dish, the largest size practical for RVs. Try the 1278 VSAT by AVL Technologies and bring the largest piggy bank you can find. Prices can run over $30K.

Manual Systems

Manual systems for RV satellite internet are more economical. However, you will spend more time setting them up and taking them down each time you move.

You will need to aim the dish at the satellite each time you set it up. If not aimed properly, there is a possibility of causing interference which may get your service shut down. Some users of these manual systems believe the chance of this happening is very miniscule.

Do you travel every few days? An automatic system will be more convenient in this case. If you're one who tends to stay put for a couple of weeks, a manual system may work for you.

There are two types of manual systems popular with RVers. A tripod setup, and a roof mounted system.

Tripod

These portable systems use a large surveyor type tripod to support the satellite internet dish. There are various methods for aligning the dish. Each vendor has a different system.

Setting up a tripod system can be time consuming at first. With practice, it's possible to get the unit set up and aligned in 20 minutes.

Costs are around $1500 to $2000 for a complete system, including modem. Service plans are similar to that of automatic units.

The Good
  • Less costly than automatic units.
  • You have more flexibility when parking your RV - If parked where there is an obstruction, the tripod can be moved to a location with a clear view of the southern sky. You may even be able to "shoot between the trees" when RVing in the forest.
The Bad
  • The system has to be assembled and taken down each time you move.
  • It can take some time to align the dish manually.
  • The system takes up a fair amount of space when stored.
  • Strong winds may blow the dish over.
  • Each time you leave your campsite you will have to decide if it's safe to leave the dish out. If you have to stow it each time you go somewhere, is it worth all the work?

Manual Roof Mounted

These systems are mounted on your RV roof, like the automatic systems. They can cost from $1300 to $1500 with modem.

The Good
  • Less costly than automatic units.
  • A roof mounted dish can save you time as there is less setup than with a tripod system.
  • You don't have to find a place to store the equipment, as you do with a tripod system.
  • You don't have to worry about wind blowing a tripod mounted dish over.
The Bad
  • It can take some time to align the dish manually.
  • Requires that you climb up on your roof to deploy and align the dish.

Choosing RV Satellite Internet

RV satellite internet isn't cheap. It's best to give it some thought before committing to a particular system. Here are the steps for choosing the best system for your needs.

1. Determine Bandwidth Usage & Speed

When choosing RV satellite internet, the first thing you must ask yourself is "what are my needs?"

  • Do you want to watch streaming video? DirecTV or Dish Network is a better choice than RV satellite internet.
  • Do you need to access information and servers on corporate networks using a secure VPN?
  • When working from your RV, do you routinely upload or download large files?

Estimate the amount of data you typically download and decide on how fast of a connection you will need for your applications.

2. Choose a Dish Antenna Size

Once you've determined what you'll be using RV satellite internet for, you'll know how much bandwidth and speed you require. This will help in choosing the right sized dish antenna.

Other considerations are:

  • How much space is available on your RV roof for the unit?
  • Where do you intend to travel? You may need a larger dish if traveling to Alaska, for instance, as some of the smaller dishes are limited to a smaller geographic area.

3. Narrow Down Your Options

Now you can start to narrow down your options by manufacturer and model. Here are some key points to consider depending on your needs:

  • Durability of the hardware
  • Reliability of the system
  • Speed of operation
  • Stability in wind once deployed
  • Intended usage

4. Pick a Service Provider & Plan

When deciding on a satellite internet service provider and service plan you will have to ask yourself where you plan to travel with your RV. Ask to see a coverage map for each satellite available with a chosen service plan. Some plans will only have coverage within the contiguous US. Others will have service throughout most of North America.

You will also want to know the download speed, upload speed, download limit (if any), and the subscription term length.

Mobile satellite internet service providers include:

  • HughesNet
  • Spacenet
  • Starband
  • Mobil Satellite Technologies

HughesNet does not support mobile internet directly, you must go through an authorized HughesNet VAR, or reseller. There are several satellite internet dealers that offer their own service plans as well.

Signal Latency

Because of the vast distances the satellite signal must travel, there is about a half-second delay in communications. This is called signal latency. When checking email and browsing the web, this delay is usually not noticeable. Typically, it's only a concern with certain business applications and online gaming.

Here's how RV satellite internet works:

With the click of a mouse, your dish antenna sends a signal up to the satellite, the satellite beams a signal back down to a ground station, and the ground station connects to the website you requested. This entire process must be repeated in reverse in order for you to view a webpage.

Even though the signal travels at the speed of light, this can add up to a half-second delay in communications. This delay can cause problems for applications that require real-time user input.

Applications affected by signal latency include:

  • VPNs
  • Online Games
  • VoIP
  • Videoconferencing
  • Skype (to a lesser extent)

When using applications like the ones above, problems can occur, or they may not work at all. Having a faster satellite internet system and service plan will help alleviate some of these problems.

RV Satellite Internet - Dish

Rain Fade

The satellite signal can be affected by storm systems that are in the signal path - either between the user and the satellite, or between the ground station and the satellite. This is called rain fade. Typically, only severe weather will cause a complete loss of signal. Larger dishes are less affected by rain fade.

Fair Access Policy

With RV satellite internet, you will be sharing a connection with other users. In order to prevent heavy users from hogging all of the bandwidth, and in turn making service slower for everyone, HughesNet implemented the Fair Access Policy (FAP). This policy limits the amount of data a user can download within a 24 hour period. The limit varies depending on the service plan you subscribe to.

With HughesNet, you will have a few hours in the early morning when downloads are not counted against your account. This is a good time to schedule automatic downloads.

Other service providers have similar policies. Some only limit dedicated types of traffic like webcams and videoconferencing.

Conclusion

Camping without the internet is possible....or is it?! In today's world we've come to rely on the internet for everything from paying bills to finding the perfect recipe for meatloaf. And for those that use the internet for work, it's doubly important to have service.

So, when you're serious about your RV internet, it's time for RV satellite internet. There really are no substitutions.  

More Info

RV satellite internet can be a complicated subject. Here are some resources which explain this relatively new technology in more detail.

References

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