In some ways, mobile internet is easier than ever. If you go with a cellular provider with broad coverage, like Verizon, you can just set your phone in “hotspot” mode and connect to it 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 up higher (like on the top of an RV) with a better antenna, and repeat the signal. Sadly, though, there are some places where a line-of-sight signal from a cell tower just can’t reach you. For example, the white spots in this Verizon coverage map:
Yeah, 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 far from civilization is often the point. But just because you want to be out in nature doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be completely disconnected from society. Being able to do things like go online and do remote work from beautiful locations, check your stonks, or get help in case of an emergency are all kind of nice.
We can’t count on cell services to give us service in those areas, because they’d get few new customers for that and the cost would be immense. So, that’s not happening.
When it comes to help for emergencies, ham radio is a workable option, but in deeply remote areas you probably can’t get in touch with anyone using a little walkie-talkie, so you’ll need at least the General Class FCC license ( in the US), and several hundred dollars worth of radio gear, plus you’ll need to string some long, long antennas up in the trees to tickle the ionosphere just right and get a message out. Most people aren’t willing to go to all of that trouble.
Satellite service has long been available to fill this role, but honestly it kind of sucks. I won’t name any names, but I have some friends and family who have satellite internet service and they’re not too happy with it. Latency is bad, making the internet service not so great for many uses (like gaming or video conferencing). Low data caps mean you can’t use it for streaming video or music confidently, so you’re really only going to want to use it for basic things like checking email or reading.
Starlink has been a promising alternative. With many more satellites at lower orbits, they’re closer to the user, and that means lower latencies and potential for much higher speeds. The equipment costs and service fees seem fairly comparable, too, but it hasn’t been designed so far to be portable. For one, they’re still building the constellation out, and for two, the equipment has been designed for permanent installation.
That’s why recent news that Starlink would offer an RV version of its terminals is so exciting. Being able to move the service as you move, and being able to get service when you get there, is awesome. Now, people are starting to receive their RV terminals, and YouTuber Steve Wallis was cool enough to give us all a look:
If you aren’t familiar with Steve, he likes to do a lot of different outdoor things in his videos, but one thing that caught my eye was some of his stealth camping adventures. I mean, who doesn’t want to pretend to be homeless and try to avoid getting caught sleeping places you aren’t supposed to sleep?
He already has Starlink for his rural home, and was excited to get something portable for his adventures.
Right away, he gets into some of the cons. It’s slower than stationary terminals, and it costs more to get the service if you want to be able to move regularly and still get service (because that takes more satellites that stationary people don’t really need). But, you can pause the service between camping trips and not have to pay for it when you’re not using it. Technically, you can just move a normal Starlink terminal around, but it’s larger, difficult to move, and not really designed for it.
When he arrives at a far rural location, he sets the antenna up, plugs the router in, and otherwise has a pretty easy time getting it all going. For power, he uses a Jackery solar power station (I think it’s the Explorer 500, our review here). One downside to the Starlink RV terminal is that it can’t work on 12 volt power, which means you’ll need an inverter to run it on deep cycle batteries in an RV, or you’ll need something like a Jackery to give it the 120 volt AC power it needs (this may differ in your country if outside North America).
With power, the unit started moving its antenna around, asked for a network name (for the local wifi), and then sat and worked on getting a connection and updates. After about 15 minutes, it started moving the antenna again, and then got a lock. Speeds were about 50 Mbps, and 15-20 Mbps upload. Power draw was about 30 watts, so you could get a lot of time online using a deep cycle battery and inverter or something like a Jackery.
After a bit, it asked to do an update, and then got noticeably higher speeds, between 100 and 200 Megabits, but with similar upload speeds. Once he got some sun, his little solar panel was able to keep up and maintain the battery. So, you don’t really need to get an RV to use the Starlink service. You’ll probably want to get a hard-sided case to carry it around in, though.
At one point in the video, he points out that his main use case (aside from YouTube uploading) is to get help in case his school bus-based RV were to break down again. Also, many people just want to have something to do in the event that they get a rainy day during an camping trip and stay inside the RV. So, it’s really not against the traditional spirit of going outdoors.
It looks like Starlink’s RV equipment would not only be great for camping, but can also work on a trickle of power. This makes clean camping (without a generator) a lot more doable.
Featured image: A screenshot from the Starlink website.
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