Lets face it. The internet is in the top 5 all-time greatest inventions created by man. When you start doing extensive travel you may quickly discover how deeply on demand internet access is apart of your life.
You find out that as you go to various places with free wifi that public shared internet access isn’t the paradise that we were all promised. Usually the free wifi will give you about 5 minutes of dialup speed access before you randomly get booted off the network.
This post is going to be about my first 3 weeks of unlimited T-mobile access. For a more comprehensive guide to getting online you will want to check out the links and resources on the Technomadia page.
Our first month of camping we spent in Sioux City. I elected to take a different than normal approach. The park had free basic cable at each site. Since we were going to be there for a month I just went and paid for 1 month internet. I didn’t tell them it was just 1 month. I just told them I wanted internet at the campground and the morning we left I brought the modem back. I paid $60 + $30 installation for 60 megs down and 20 megs up. No cell service is going to provide unlimited bandwidth at those speeds for anything close to that price!
The next 3 weeks after sioux falls we stayed at a lot of different campgrounds. A lot of the campgrounds had free wifi, but the service was so terrible that it often wasn’t even enough to download our email.
The ultimate problem for us is Netflix and RSS feeds. I had a 1gig allowance from Verizon. When my phone downloaded by RSS feeds (website subscriptions) I used about 200 megs a sync. That is a lot of data! Between my phone randomly updating, checking email and RSS feeds I was gobbling up 500megs a day. That was me being conservative!
Tracy’s iPhone was unlocked and was on service with Straight Talk. She had unlimited everything for about $45/mo. That plan worked great, but it didn’t take long for her phone to start getting throttled. Unlimited apparently is about 2.5gigs a month. At the beginning of the month she could watch videos. A week or two in and she couldn’t even get a Youtube video clip to load.
After looking at all the carriers I noticed that T-mobile was the only carrier in America that offered unthrottled unlimited internet. Sprint, Straight Talk, and all the other providers have an * next to the word unlimited. All the major services maxed out about 2.5-3.5 gigs of data. Some services cut you off, some throttled you, and some automatically billed you extra.
T-mobile stood alone in the area of do what you want, as much as you want. They give you unlimited and unthrottled data on your phone, and 5 gigs of data for tethering. Tethering is when you hook up your computer or other device to your phone. Then your phone is acting as a modem.
Your ability to try T-mobile is currently a no-commitment easy offer. They will pay up to $300 of your current plans cancellation fee. The plans they offer are also month-to-month, no contract. I still had 3 months left on my Verizon contract. T-mobile will reimburse me the $150 cancellation fee Verizon will end up billing me. The good news for me is I had a Verizon iPhone 5. Many people don’t know that the Verizon iPhone 5 is unlocked. It is a true world phone that you can port to almost any carrier.
Tracy had an iPhone 4. She accidentally had dropped it in the parking lot in Sioux Falls. We elected to just buy an iPhone 5s from T-mobile. We are paying the monthly payoff for the phone. If we cancel her plan with T-mobile her entire phone bill comes due immediately.
The unlimited everything plan for T-mobile is $80 a line. That includes unlimited minutes, texts, device data and 5 gigs of tethering.
We briefly considered the Millenicom 20gig tethering plan. It uses Verizon data. Then we could just get Straight Talk plans. The problem is $90 for phones + $90 for data is more then just 2 T-mobile plans. Plus T-mobile will supposedly let us stream all the video we can!
We needed an unlimited plan because not only do we love Netflix, Tracy is self schooling herself in Physics and needs to watch a lot of online lectures. The boy starts 8th grade in the Fall and he will also have a lot of online classes. 20gigs will not be sufficient.
Before we started RVing I measured our home usage with cable internet. We were using upwards of 300gigs of data a month. Paring down our online usage is challenging!
Our first 2 weeks of usage worked great. We pretty much stayed exclusively in Minneapolis so coverage was great. 5 bars everywhere, LTE everywhere. We quickly started mounting up gigs and gigs of data. We bought a Lightening-to-HDMI adaptor. This cable lets us stream Netflix and Youtube from our phone to our television. Watching Netflix this way allows us to use device data and not use tethering data. If we put our phones into hotspot mode and streamed to our Roku then we would quickly run out of data. The HDMI cable lets us have the same effect as the ROKU without the bandwidth of tethering.
We noticed that our data climbed slowly and we started doing so tests. We bought a Doctor Who episode on iTunes. The download was a little over a gig. The T-mobile app showed we only used 300 megs of tethering data to do the download. We noticed a lot of inconstancies in the data usage.
When I updated my RSS reader on my phone Verizon would hit me up for 200-400megs of data. T-mobile would show it as 20megs. I don’t really understand the why or the how of the problem. I checked a few sources online and have seen that all carriers have been having a lot of problems with measuring tethering data.
After about 3 weeks of usage I am showing 15 gigs of data and 1.2 gigs of tethering. Tracy is showing 17gigs of data and 1.8 gigs of tethering.
Tracy has even begun watching a lot of Hulu.com with not a lot of billed usage.
Many streaming music services are also free on T-mobile. Stream all the Spotify, unRadio, or Pandora you want. None of it counts towards your data, no matter what plan you have.
We still can’t do everything with T-mobile device data. The iPhone won’t updates firmware over the T-mobile infrastructure. Netflix and Hulu let us stream videos, but our Amazon Prime streaming will not work on the T-mobile network. We also still need public wifi to update a lot of apps. If the app is over 50megs, the T-mobile network won’t let you download the app or update.
Overall we are in love with unlimited data and we don’t want to go back to just a few gigs a month.
So why do most RVers not use T-mobile? In a word: Coverage. T-mobile has very few places with high-speed data, and very spotty coverage outside of major cities. When we drove to our first Harvest Host location we had no data. As we drove out of Minneapolis I could no longer stream music from my Amazon Prime unlimited music club because the data had dropped from 4g to Edge.
Our first campground outside of Duluth? No data. When we went to a church last sunday a few miles from downtown? No data or phone service.
T-mobile has lots of gaps, and not a lot of data coverage as compared to ATT, Sprint and Verizon.
T-mobile is flawed. I am sure if we had the money to take some of Technomadia’s cell phone booster suggestions we could have even more T-mobile enjoyment. At the moment we are on a budget, and we need a lot of internet. That means we are spending extra money and parking our RVs in urban campgrounds vs. wilderness or country side campgrounds.
For now that is O.K. We love Urban Camping. Our spot in Duluth has been awesome. We have plans to stop in New York as well. Because we are heading East it should be easy to stay in T-Mobile 4g range.
We do not have a contract with T-mobile so if at any point T-mobile will not work we can just cancel.
I still sometimes think about switching to Millenicom data, but I think the way Verizon counts data we will be out of general surfing data in a week!
T-mobile is not the ideal internet solution for many RVers, but for some RVers T-mobile is probably the perfect solution. After 3 weeks and 30gigs of data between us we still have yet to experience any throttling, and we finally got caught up on some Netflix shows we have wanted to see!