Wi-Fi: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Provided by By Dan Wright, GM of The Springs at Borrego RV Resort

One of the most important amenities to our guests is Wi-Fi. They want it, they want it to be fast, and they want it free. RV park operators, including The Springs at Borrego, have struggled at times to provide it, and as a result our customers have sometimes been frustrated.
 
A number of issues cause these problems. First is the exponential growth of demand for bandwidth. (In this case, bandwidth refers to the speed of data flow, usually measured in megabits per second or MBPS).  Just three or four years ago, our typical Wi-Fi user was satisfied to check her email and do a little internet reading or shopping. Today a typical user is accustomed to downloading or streaming video with applications such as YouTube, Apple TV or Netflix, or video calling services such as Skype or FaceTime. Video content uses data flow at very much higher rates than simple web browsing or emailing.
 
Because the internal wireless adapters (think antennae) built into computers and smartphones vary in strength, your neighbor in the RV park might be able to establish a stronger connection to the Wi-Fi than you, and if he is downloading video content, he might capture the majority of the data flow, leaving other users out of luck.
 
Another major issue that has emerged is the ever-increasing number of devices that are attempting to connect to a Wi-Fi system at any given moment. Just a couple of years ago there would be roughly one laptop per RV in a park, and users typically would log on once or twice a day to do their email, etc. Due to the amazing expansion of the numbers of smartphones and tablet computers, the average number of connecting devices today is probably three or four per RV. And to make matters even worse, many if not most of the smart phones and tablets are set to automatically and continuously connect to any available Wi-Fi, in order to minimize data charges. Many smartphone users are not aware that their phone is continuously attempting to connect to Wi-Fi, in some cases even when the phone is in standby or sleep mode!
 
Now here's where the story gets even more complicated. Smartphones, like any wireless device, communicate with the Wi-Fi system by sending a stream of "data packets" to and fro. If the phone sends a data packet and does not receive a response within a certain length of time, it re-sends the packet. And sends it again. And again, and again. At that point just a few smartphones can overwhelm the system, slowing it down for all users.
 
Another issue with Wi-Fi is the proliferation of individual wireless systems, (think "personal hotspot"). Many RVers now carry their own hotspot, whether created by a wireless "air card", router, smartphone or tablet. These hotspots can interfere with one another and the park-operated Wi-Fi as well. As a result you may be in a park enjoying a good connection, then find yourself with a new RV neighbor who has a personal hotspot on board, and you are effectively blocked.
 
One more problem with Wi-Fi is security.  Wi-Fi is a shared connection, with multiple users possibly being able to see your online activities. Doing online banking or any other confidential matter via Wi-Fi is risky, and not recommended.
 
So, what are the solutions to the problems? Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. RV parks in urbanized areas may have access to much faster connections such as 50 or even 100 MBPS. In remote locations such as Borrego Springs the fastest connections available at this time are 8 MBPS. We recently doubled the bandwidth of our park Wi-Fi by adding a second internet connection and combining it to the first. Our users reported improvement, but especially in our highest season, the system can still be overwhelmed and unresponsive at certain times of day.
 
If having a dependable, secure and speedy connection is important to you when you are away from home, consider these alternatives to Wi-Fi.
 
1) If you carry a smartphone, check with your service provider to see if your phone has a personal hotspot function. When my wife Nancy and I travel in our RV we connect through my iPhone for a cost of only $20 per month.

2) Most cell phone providers offer what are called "air cards" that provide a fast and secure hotspot that will allow up to five devices to connect at once. They work anywhere that the cell phones will work, and their cost is usually about $60 per month. Many air card users have found that their effective cost is zero, because they were able to eliminate a hard-wired connection at their home.
 
3) If you will be staying at The Springs for a month or more, you can get a connection from the local cable provider for as little as $49 per month. A hard-wired connection such as this is the fastest and most secure connection you can have.