Internet on the road, or “where are the blog updates?”

Last week I connected to one of the 5 wifi networks at our 5-star RV “resort” and input the password they gave me at the office. My laptop connected to the rvpark1 network with no issues, and I had five bars of signal strength!  Yay!

I fired up my web browser and……exactly nothing happened.  After about a minute, I got an error that said I wasn’t connected to the internet.  I tried the other networks – rvpark2 – rvpark3 – rvpark4 – rvpark5.  I tried turning off wifi and turning it back on. I tried restarting my computer.  I tried cursing. Lots of cursing.  Because, maybe a little cursing wasn’t enough but a lot of cursing would do the trick. At least I hoped it would help because at this point it was the only tool I had left in the toolbox.

Only cursing did not help.  Not even a little. I kind of felt better though.

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I’m connected, so where is my internet?

This scenario has been – by far – the most common experience we have had with RV park internet access.  With the exception of White Rock RV park, which is just a parking lot with minimal hookups and Beal’s Point state park in California,  every RV park we’ve stayed at has proudly advertised “free wifi” as part of their amenities.

Unfortunately, with only two exceptions, every single park has been somewhere between painfully slow and flat-out unusable.

The Oasis RV Resort in Las Vegas had great wifi. The Oasis RV Resort was the only park that would sustain a streaming movie. The Cal Expo RV park in Sacramento had usable WiFi.    Cal Expo was fine for normal surfing and YouTube videos. That’s it.  The rest of the parks have been terrible.  Imagine having to depend on free airport wifi or Starbucks for all of your access and you can imagine what this is like.

Of all the surprises/annoyances since we hit the road, this is one of the biggest.  I did not expect the wifi at the RV parks to be so universally bad.

Compounding matters, the WordPress software I use for the blog has to be the biggest bandwidth hog I’ve ever seen.  It ends up taking 500MB to finalize a single blog post with a lot of photos.  That’s insane! I really need a better photo workflow.  But since I’m taking most pictures on my iPhone, they end up syncing to the cloud and to multiple devices via internet.

With Heather keeping a blog for her niece, and me keeping a blog for those of you who are enjoying this world-class site, we can chew through 1GB a day just with WordPress.

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Image upload failure

Worse, unless the network connection is speedy and low latency, two things we rarely have, uploading photos to WordPress often fails at the conclusion of the upload.   Meaning it uses the full bandwidth to upload the image file and then doesn’t work.  Can’t it fail at the beginning BEFORE I have used all that precious bandwidth?  And why did it fail if the image actually uploaded? Aaaaarrgh!

I groaned as I dragged out our Verizon hotspot again and fired it up.

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Verizon 4G LTE hotspot and router

I wasn’t groaning because Verizon is bad. Verizon has been mostly very good (occasionally great) for mobile bandwidth, often coming close to or even exceeding the speed of typical home DSL.

I was groaning because we are only allowed 20GB a month with our current data plan. 20GB a month allows us to use about 600MB a day.  That sounds like a decent amount, but realize that two iPads, two laptops, and occasionally our two iPhones all slurp up that data like its going out of style.

App updates alone are a big data hog.  Next time you look at your iOS or Android device, or Windows 10, look at how many app and OS updates they download.

Every. Single. Day.

If we just left our devices plugged in and never used them, my guess is that they would chew up most of our 20GB simply with app and OS updates.

Example: Microsoft Office released an update a month ago that was 4GB on the PC and Mac, and 2.5GB per iOS device (we have 4 iOS devices). That’s 18GB just updating MS office!!  Yikes!  Not something most home-based internet users worry about since bandwidth is effectively unlimited at home. But a big problem for us using mobile, limited data plans.

Also maybe its time to dump MS Office?

Not only is our mobile data limited, it is expensive.  It costs $130 a month for our 20GB monthly allotment. If you are keeping score, that’s $6.50 per GB of data.

Streaming an HD movie rental from Amazon or iTunes is about 3-4gb.  That’s $19.50 – $26.00 just to stream the movie, plus the $5.00-$6.00 rental charge.  At $25.00-$32.00 total, we could actually buy almost any movie on Blu-Ray for what it costs us to stream it via mobile hotspot. And that single movie could chew up 5 or 6 days ration of data.

(The fact that we CAN stream via mobile hotspot is pretty cool though) Thanks Lewis C.K. for keeping it in perspective

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Surprisingly, Verizon is very competitive on data pricing, actually charging less in some cases than competitors. More importantly for us, Verizon’s network provides the most/best coverage  in rural areas, like the kind we have been visiting in the MoHo.  In White Rock, AT&T is basically unusable and when it does work, its very slow.

We would pay for more than 20GB GB if it was more affordable.  Verizon has plans that go all the way up to 100GB.  However, the price per GB rises significantly after 20GB and the next jump is 30GB.  You can see in the table below that data costs jump between 20GB and 30GB.

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Verizon data costs as of March 2016

We also get 15GB per month of data from AT&T on our iPhones.   That’s 20GB on the Verizon hotspot and 15GB on AT&T so 35GB total.  50GB would be better 🙂  Combined, we spend about $275/month on wireless data.

If you are thinking about living MoHo full time, be prepared to spend around $300/month for wireless services and you’ll still have to limit your use quite a bit.

Two of the past 4 months we have used more than 15GB on the phones. The first time was before we got the Verizon hotspot and were using our iPhones as mobile hotspots.  The second time is this month because we were at two RV parks with unusable wifi (including American RV park which is otherwise top-notch) and 10 days at White Rock with no wifi.  So we’re relying almost exclusively on our mobile internet.

Yesterday I did use the DSL at my Dad’s house.  The good news is that it is unlimited – so drink up!  The bad news is that its very slow, so I was able to upload some photos to the blog but many others failed.  Its like having an all you can eat buffet but you have to use a toothpick for a fork.

So why post this now?  Well first, you’ll notice this post is light on big images and big on bloviating text which helps me use less Verizon data.

Second, this is to head off the complaints that “you’re behind on the blog.”  This insightful and fact-filled post is what you get in place of the fascinating blog posts about Santa Fe, Taos, and Tsankawi that will have to wait until I have access to free wifi that actually works.

I don’t want to disappoint my fan base (all 5 of you) so I gotta post something!  🙂

I will leave you with one gratuitous shot from Tsankawi to whet your appetite!

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Exploring cavates at Tsankawi

 

 

6 thoughts on “Internet on the road, or “where are the blog updates?””

  1. Many jobs ago, I used to have to do reports over a 2g network from a laptop. It wasn’t fun. I would take a look at a few things to help you out.
    * https://www.staticgen.com/ – Consider switching to a static site generator. Ultimately you will have less transferring back and forth.
    * Any good build system should handle image sizes properly as well, which will cut down on items. You can always host images off of Google Drive as well. It appears there are picture sizes that are going unused as well, no matter the window size.
    * The caching on your website is doing you no favors. It’s causing you to transfer the same files too often. Take a look at Chrome’s Audits tab in the Developer Tools. You have 11 files with a short TTL
    * Enable gzip on your server. It’ll help keep things small for your transfers from the admin interface.
    * Your CSS has a lot of unused rules. Coupled with the TTL, you end up transferring too much, too often.
    * Remove potentially unneeded scripts: http://crunchify.com/try-to-deregister-remove-comment-reply-min-js-jquery-migrate-min-js-and-responsive-menu-js-from-wordpress-if-not-required/
    * https://www.keycdn.com/blog/speed-up-wordpress/

    Customizations corrupted me :). Also, if you have a local machine, trying a local caching server to help. If you end up exploring any of this and have questions, feel free to reach out.

  2. Sorry you’re having wifi woes, but I appreciate the detailed report. After all, for years one of my fantasies is to be able to travel around with camera and upload my photos and work from wherever I am. Sounds like for now I’d have to plan a Starbucks-to-Starbucks route.

  3. We continue to enjoy your blog and share your frustration with managing bandwidth. Though our challenges are mostly based on weekend experiences, we have setup a repeater/bridge that acts as a hotspot for all of our devices and then we are able to focus the repeater on blowing out one data plan at a time. On occasion we are able to find Wi-Fi at the campground that is usable during the day and then shift to a higher throughput connection for the evening. This works for weekenders like us, but must be a real challenge to full-time.
    I am way behind on posting to our travel blog as well. We do enjoy your postings.

  4. Thanks for the tip! We also concentrate our Verizon through one mobile device (the router). We decided to keep our phones on AT&T and our data on Verizon rather than consolidating. First, it was a bit cheaper ($15/mo). Second, we get 3GB more data this way (35GB) vs getting 32gb if we just went with Verizon. Third, its nice to be able to pick whichever carrier has the best signal. In White Rock NM Verizon was the only game in town. In Camp Verde AZ, it was AT&T with Verizon being basically unusable. I just assumed our 35GB would be a supplement to what we got in campgrounds vs. our primary source of data.

  5. Terri, first DO IT!! None of us are getting any younger!

    Second, its hit or miss on the campgrounds. You might have more luck than we have had so far. Also, figure out just how much bandwidth you need daily and then design the solution from there. If you can get by on 1GB a day, you’ll have no trouble getting that much data from a cellular hotspot for a reasonable price. If you need 4-5GB a day, that’s a different story altogether.

  6. Awesome tips! I’ll try them out.

    Part of my problem is that I’m using an iCloud and OneDrive workflow that is making the problem worse. My iPhone loads phots over WiFi up to iCloud (1), then my iPad (2) and Windows 10m (3) laptop both download the file Windows then backs up the photo to OneDrive (4). Then I upload it to WordPress (5), and then download it multiple times via the browser as I edit the blog (5-6-7). The short TTL isn’t helping me for 5-6-7. But that’s how a 5mb file becomes 35mb-40mb. Put 15 or 20 of those into a post and bam….ugly data use.

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