Travel Technology Options
One of the questions that comes up most frequently is what type of internet connectivity should I have for our trip? So, here is a quick review of the basic ways to access the internet in a mobile connection -- not at a fixed land base (ie DSL or cable internet)
- Dial-up - slow, but can access from any telephone line - just plug in and dial. Some carriers provide lots of local dial up numbers (AT&T has over 400!) and most also provide some 800 service for a fee. This is good to have as a back-up service when you can't access anything else. AT&T provides such a service for $5.95 a month + $.99 an hour when you need to use it. I'm sure others have similar services.
- Cellular Modem - slow, but using an adaptor kit of some type (called a modem kit) you can access pretty much any place you have cell coverage. Unless a particular company has put restrictions on it, you can access the internet from ANY cell company's service, regardless of who your carrier is. You have a physical connection from your cell phone to your PC.
- Cellular Data Service - this has no connection to your cellular phone or cellular phone carrier. You may have the same carrier for both, but it is not necessary. Faster than the above options, you have a card in your PC that accesses the internet directly. You don't even have to HAVE cellular telephone service to have this. Totally separate. This service costs about $40-60 a month. Unlimited service. No minutes to worry about. The coverage area for the carrier who provides the card/service to you generally has no bearing on where you can connect. You can usually connect anyplace you can get a cell signal -- regardless of carrier who is providing the signal. Some of the carriers don't have full interoperability between their services, so this is something to be aware of and check out. Now, you may get varying speeds depending upon the carrier, but cellular signal + data internet service card (also called an "air card") = connection. Cellular data service can be used driving along (please, don't try to drive and use! -- I've seen that, believe it or not!)
- Wi-fi Service The newest and the best value. Good speed, easy to use and becoming very easy to find. Must have a wi-fi card in your PC - virtually all new PC's have them, and many older ones can be retrofitted. Costs for service range from "free" (the location is paying for it - like Starbucks, libraries, etc.) to $30-40 a month, depending upon the situation. You can buy service for a few dollars for a day (like in an airport) to subscription services through a carrier -- but that is usually restricted to that company's Hot spots.
- Satellite - Expensive to buy initially with monthly service starting at around $50-$60. Fast, but must be able to get your satellite link-up (problem in trees, etc.) but really great service. Direc-Way is the only satellite company that allows mobile connection and there are many dealers who offer their service in a variety of packages -- some can include satellite TV, VoIP phones, FAX service and more. The two main types of set-ups are permanent mount on your rig, which can be operated from inside your RV or portable mount on a tripod. You can only use it when satellite is up - so can't be used driving down the highway.
The choices are many and the best one for you depends upon how much you use the internet and for what purposes. Games, photos, video and some applications require lots of bandwidth and therefore speed; but if you just need it for plain email occasionally, then some of the slower set-ups may work just fine.
Carol White is the co-author of the award-winning book, "Live Your Road Trip Dream" (www.roadtripdream.com) - the ultimate road trip planning guide for extended road trips. Carol and her husband Phil have traveled over 50,000 road miles in the past several years, visiting all forty-eight of the contiguous states and having visited all of the National Parks in those states. They now spend their days helping others to live their dreams.