Is Satellite Internet Right for You?

Today's guest blog post comes from Betty Barnes, RV blogger and the author of great reviews here on

I have been asked to share with you our experiences utilizing a satellite Internet system. Although we have been full-timers for a few months, I am pleased with our choice. Everyone's situation is different. This method of getting online may not be what you want or need as part of your technology on the road. For us, though, it seems to be just the ticket.

"Why?" you ask. Here's a scenario we have already encountered. Recently we spent two very enjoyable weeks nestled in a valley amidst the Smoky Mountains. It was a lovely park undergoing some renovations and upgrading, and WiFi service was not yet available. Our AT&T cell phones had no signal. Other campers who asked about our tripod setup had the phone service starting with a "V," barely enough of a signal to make/receive calls and no way/no how could they access the Internet. With our HughesNet dish on a tripod, we were up and surfin'!

HughesNet dish on a Tripod

Making the decision about how to access the Internet on the road was almost more difficult and taxing on the gray cells than the decision to go full-time. "Will it actually work?!?!" "Can I do it myself?" kept rattling around in my head like a song you hear on the radio on the way to work that just will not leave your memory all day. We've all been there, eh? Having a television service was less critical than that of reliable Internet and, in fact, the only television reception we get is via cable provided at RV parks or through our indoor antenna/rabbit ears. Being able to access the Internet, however, was a must-have.

The hours I spent online researching air cards, satellite, different cell phone carriers, coverage areas, routers, amplifiers . . . well, I am glad I did not keep track of those hours! Satellite Internet of the type that uses a rooftop- mounted dish was simply too expensive for us. Thanks to a veteran full-timer of 25+ years and a member of a full-timing forum I frequent, I learned of the mobile tripod-mounted system you see above. We also got an external cable outlet which is mounted on the exterior of one of our slides.

External cables that run back to the tripod

What you see above are the external cables that run back to the tripod. No way was I going to "just leave a

window open" with cables running through it! Do you know how big mosquitoes can grow??

The entire system turned out to be significantly less cost up front than the rooftop system. What about the

monthly cost? We opted for the HughesNet ProPlus plan, which gives us what we believe should be an adequate daily download allowance for the two of us. (We each have a laptop.) Many folks pay monthly subscriptions for both Internet via air cards and a television service, so we may not be far off that.

We already had a wireless router purchased quite a while back, still brand new and in the box, so we have our own wireless network here in our RV. Again, this is a simple process. Once the satellite signal is acquired and my laptop (the host) is successfully on the Internet, I shut everything down, hook up the router, turn everything back on and there we are! Our personal wireless network! Feel free to surf inside the RV or even outside if it's a nice day.

Now, I know what you are thinking. "Gee, that just looks like too much work and hassle, setting up that contraption and breaking it down." You know what? It really isn't bad at all. The pointing hardware and software provided with our system makes finding the satellite a breeze. Although quite stable and sturdy, the entire tripod when completely assembled is not extremely heavy, for those of you concerned about cargo weight or awkwardness of handling the tripod and its components.

All that being said, do I set it up if we are stopped for a night or two? No. If we are in a park that provides free WiFi, we will use that. If we are not, well, we just do without. It is sort of nice to "drop off the grid" for a brief spell now and then.

Some points, and this is just a starting point, you might want to consider when thinking about what will work for you. Again, this is based on our personal preferences and experiences.

•What is your primary use of the Internet? Personal or business? Combination of both? We are both online off and on throughout the day and night. I do some work online, so a consistently reliable connection is vital. I simply did not want us to be reliant on cell phone coverage, or lack thereof.

•Tripod versus rooftop mounted system? With a tripod you can park under trees and put the tripod in a clear area. With a rooftop system there is less setup.

•Upload/download speed: Having had no choice in our ISP prior to full-timing and it being the worst I have ever experienced regarding speed and reliability, our system is more than satisfactory.

•VoIP services such as Skype (which we use to call family in Scotland) do not work very well with satellite, although it can be done. Latency is a problem. Think of an Earth-to-space conversation.

•Online games and downloading large files, videos and the like really are problematic. You may find you are swiftly eating up your download allowance. OUCH! We have a "free zone" during the wee hours of the morning when downloads are not counted against your allowance. This works out great for us, as we are currently working night shift. HughesNet provides a free Download Manager program with which you can schedule and manage "free zone" downloads in case you aren't a night owl. Another handy free download from the HughesNet site is a status meter. I have one on each of our laptops as a Taskbar icon so we can check our allowance status with a quick click of the mouse.

I hope my contribution here has given some insight of what life is like with a satellite Internet system if you are contemplating this method versus an air card for accessing cyberspace. Again, these are simply our experiences and viewpoints on what works for us. Everyone has to make a decision based on their wants and needs and what they feel is the most "comfortable" option for them. Whatever you decide, I hope it works well for you and that you enjoy your time in cyberspace. Thank you for reading, and safe travels to you all!

Betty Barnes is a nine-year cancer survivor, Reiki Master/Teacher, cyclist and drum circle facilitator. She and her husband Dave, originally from Scotland, began full-timing in their fifth wheel in June 2010, workamping as they travel the Lower 48. Betty's first RV experience was literally as a babe in arms over 50 years ago. She has camped under canvas, in a pop-up and travel trailers now a fifth wheel. Betty has seen much of Scotland, so now she and Dave are taking the opportunity to experience together the wonder and beauty of her native country. Betty maintains an active blog describing their adventures on the road at Phoenix Once Again. You are also invited to visit her Reiki Web presence here.