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Guide to WiFi, WLAN, LAN, WAN, 3G, and 4G for RVers

Communicating Confusion for Many RVers

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Connectivity

Connectivity

Dieter Spannknebel

Mobility is one of RVers’ greatest assets. It comes not just from our ability to take our homes with us, or make our homes wherever we stop. It comes, also, from the incredible electronics and communication devices available today.

We have the ability to stay connected so many different ways that it’s almost impossible to disconnect. But along with all this technology comes a lot of confusion. For many of us the changes are coming faster than we can comprehend even their purpose let alone whether they are useful to us.

WiFi

WiFi is wide-area wireless Internet connection. Most RV parks offer a WiFi connection signal for their guests. Some parks charge extra for WiFi access, and others include it in their rates.

The signal is sent from the park’s main connection through transmitters mounted high, where their signals are broadcast across the park.

Guests’ computers access WiFi via a built in wireless modem, or an external wireless modem that plugs into their computers through an external port. Newer computers have a wireless modem built in.

From your computer you open your Internet connection utility, select the park’s unique name, and then enter the password (given to you at registration.) The exact procedure may differ depending upon the Internet Service Provider’s system, but this is basically how you connect to the Internet through an RV park WiFi.

There are hundreds of places to get WiFi access. Some are publicly available from places like chambers of commerce, airports, hotels or even a few rest stops. Just park within broadcast range and hop on. These WiFi’s aren’t locked and don’t require a password.

Others are available through coffee shops, bookstores and other business sites for a small fee.

Run an Internet search on “WiFi hot spots” to get a list of public access WiFi hotspot directory links. There are thousands of places where you can get free access to the Internet.

WLAN, LAN, WAN

A WLAN is a wireless local area network. WLAN devices receive the WiFi signal from an external source such as the RV park’s signal, and then beam it to one or more computers on your personal network. You purchase a WLAN device, then connect to and configure the device through your computer with a password. Any computer within the device’s broadcast radius can connect to the Internet once that computer logs on using the password.

A WLAN might limit the number of computers that can connect. If you choose to use a WLAN, be sure to secure it with a password or everyone within range will be hopping onto your connection.

Read more about the difference between WLAN, LAN and WAN.

3G and 4G

Cellular phone standards are based on the International Telecommunication Union International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 global standard.

Based upon these standards,

  • 3G refers to the third generation of this mobile phone technology. It allows data transfer of up to 3 Mbps.
  • 4G is the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards, with peak speeds of up to 100 Mbps. 

 MiFi and Mobile Hotspots

Mobile hotspots including MiFi devices are similar to WLAN devices, except they access the Internet through a personal subscription to an ISP rather than picking up a broadcast signal from a WiFi. All of the major cell phone services offer Internet access through cell phones and mobile hotspots. Mobile hotspots are small, about the size of a credit card. Hotspots can connect up to five computers to the Internet wirelessly.

USB Hub

Internet access can also come from a small USB hub that looks much like a thumb drive. These, too, are available through major cell phone service providers. They are different from mobile hotspots in that they serve only one computer.

Well, that’s what they’re supposed to be limited to. While it’s possible to network two computers together, then do some clever sharing so that both computers access the Internet from the one USB hub connection, many service plans warn that doing so can result in termination of service. Read your contract carefully before you try this. 

The same is true for trying to use your cellular phone as a hotspot. Check your contract. 

We had a 3G hub for about two years, but one hub between two people just didn’t cut it. We finally gave up and got a 4G hotspot, even though we’re rarely near any of the 4G locations. At least if we’re near a big city or airport, we can take advantage of its 4G capabilities. But even running at 3G is far better access than most RV park WiFi access and light years ahead of the USB hub.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick lesson on fancy electronics. Sorry, I can’t take any questions. I’ve already told you more than I know. If you need to know more, either check About.com Wireless/Networking Guide Bradley Mitchell’s articles (I borrowed a lot from him-thanks Bradley,) 

OR, 

Like they say in the kids’ card game, “Go fish.” You might come home with a fat bass or trout and communicate with "each other" in real time, over dinner. Didn’t you take up RVing to get away from all this?

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