Over the past 4+ years on more than a dozen RV forums, I’ve helped thousands of RVers get the most out of their 3G mobile broadband data service from cellular carriers like Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.
This post will summarize my opinion of the usefulness of gear that amplifies cellular signal for data devices like aircards and usb modems. While the info is specific to data service, much of the advice also applies to cellular voice service.
First let me point out that while all three major carriers continue to expand their 3G data service, not all of them are expanding into rural areas that many RVers frequent. I monitor press releases from the carriers that have to do with coverage, and I watch for RVers who report success/failure as they travel the nation. Based on my research, my opinion is that Verizon is still the most aggressive at expanding into rural areas, Sprint is a distant second, and ATT can hardly keep their city customers happy and put nearly zero effort into rural expansion. I make a point of all this because its important to understand that who you have as a carrier combined with where it is you like to travel, are probably the two most important factors to consider in deciding whether or not you will need to outfit your recreational vehicle with a high gain cellular antenna, a signal amplifier, or both.
Most RVers with Verizon’s mobile broadband 3G/EVDO data service will find that as much as 90% of the time, they won’t need any additional cellular antenna or amp to manage a connection — but the further into rural territory they venture, the more often they will be connected to verizon’s slower national access (1xRTT) service instead of the faster 3G/EVDO broadband access service.
With at least a high gain cellular antenna attached (to those data devices that have an rf/antenna jack), many RVers can still connect to Verizon’s faster service and avoid the slower 1xRTT service. Is the faster service worth it? Some RVers consider it a hassle to mount an antenna outside their RV and drill a hole to run a cable to where they have their computer. Others don’t really need the fastest possible service because rather than trying to upload/download large photos and videos (3G service preferred), all they use the internet for is email, instant messaging, blogging and forum watching (slower 1xRTT service is acceptable).
Earlier I stated that 90% of the time, Verizon customers won’t need anything to manage at least a slow-network connection. What about the other 10%? having at least a high gain cellular antenna can help to establish at least a slow-network connection for another 5-7% of the nation, but for that last 3-5% — areas far far away from a cell tower — a signal amplifier will be needed in addition to the high gain antenna, in order to attain the highest speed connection available. If I were an RVer who demanded the fastest possible speeds in as many areas as I may travel, I would outfit my RV with a high gain cellular antenna and a highly-rated dual-band signal amplifier.
As I’m writing this post I realize how important it is that I make this point: no matter what equipment you buy, there is NO WAY to guarantee you can connect to a cellular network, 100% of the time. There are places in this nation that are simply outside of all carrier networks, and no hardware will turn a complete lack of signal into a useful signal.
The information/opinion I gave was very Verizon-centric — What about Sprint and AT& T customers? Those who chose any carrier besides Verizon need to understand that their carriers have fewer cell towers in rural areas, and that fact alone means they need to consider high gain cellular antennas and signal amplifiers MORE OFTEN than a Verizon customer would. Without antennas and amps, Sprint customers will be lucky to find themselves able to connect to Sprint’s slow-network 80% of the time, and AT&T customers… as little as 60% of the time. Mind you, I’m talking rural environments, not city or highway.
In a future post, I’ll summarize my opinion on the different kinds of high gain antennas and signal amplifiers I’ve had the opportunity to do hands-on testing with… if you are an RVer with an urgent question, look for me on the Escapees RV tech forum as ‘alexsian‘.
Want to talk to a professional who can sell you high-gain antennas and/or signal amplifiers for any application? I suggest you talk to WPSantennas.at