Having teased you for almost 2 months since I originally made mention of an exciting internet upgrade, I figured it was finally time to pull back the curtain and unveil the prize. Now, for those of you who’ve been following the blog for a while you’ll know we used to use a Verizon Pantech UMV190 data modem boosted by an external antenna and amp. This set-up kept us happily connected ~95% of the time in our first 2 years of RVing. Using the Verizon network was absolutely the right choice (and still is), but going under contract was absolutely not. Towards the end we were constantly hitting the 5Gb limit on the stick, and the stupid contract was keeping us “locked in” to the deal. Grrrr!This annoyed me so much it became item #6 of 10 Thing I Wish I’d Known Before Fulltime RVing. So we waited, and waited, and patiently waited until we could get rid of the darn thing and take our own advice…which happened just about 2 months ago in Eugene, OR. We’ve been testing the new service ever since and I’m happy to say it’s been working fabulously so we’re finally ready to make the big reveal!
This is our step-by-step of what we wanted and why we chose what we did.
1/ We Did Not Want A Contract
Millenicom only do month-to-month deals with no long-term contract. Once you buy the device you can stop it at any time, plus you can even suspend service and place it “on vacation” for 3 months out of any year. After 2 years of being locked in to a contract that really didn’t suit us having that flexibility was something we definitely wanted. Who knows what our internet needs will be a year from now? Who knows what the provider map will look like? When you’re on the road and rely 100% on your internet for a living having the ability to switch and change if something better comes up is priceless.
2/ We Wanted To Be On The Verizon Network
If you’re travelling nomadically cross-country Verizon is by far the best coverage out there. AT&T may boast more 4G coverage and there may be certain spots other providers are better, but Verizon LTE is fast catching up and their overall coverage map is still the most superior on the market. Now Millenicom, being a reseller can’t officially tell you who they’re working with (it’s part of their deal with the providers), but you can tell which provider you’ll get based on the device. Right now, if you get their 20Gb 3G/4G Hotspot plan using the Novatel 4620L MiFi I guarantee you it will be on Verizon (their current 3G Advanced Plan with Novatel U760 stick is also on Verizon). Their other plans (e.g. unlimited) are on other providers so don’t be tempted into buying them. We had no doubt we wanted to stay with Verizon’s network, and unless you’re travelling in limited spots (where you know your coverage) I’d advise any fulltime RVer to do the same.
Note/ If you want to learn more about the differences in 4G technology check out Technomadia’s post HERE. You can also download their excellent app Coverage? and check out the provider coverage maps for yourself.
3/ We Wanted More Data
After 2 years of 5Gb contract we were rapidly hitting our limits and needed to expand. No matter what you might think now, if you’re fulltime RVing and using the internet for work (or even play) your data usage over time will go up. Let’s say you start streaming some music, or perhaps looking at a few videos…these are all data intensive. Also as 4G expands to more areas, data usage will increase even more. Many media websites can detect your speed and will feed you higher quality streams on faster devices, plus faster internet access encourages more browsing. As a result many folks who switch from 3G to 4G see a sudden “jump” in their usage even through they’ve not significantly changed their habits.
The Millenicom 20Gb plan quadruples our current limit and is just right for us (for now). Since we’ve switched we’ve enjoyed pretty-near unlimited internet time plus the ability to stream a few TV episodes in the boonies on Amazon Prime.
Note/ Before you say “I’ll NEVER need that much data” just think back 10 years or so in computer history. I still remember using a computer in the late 80’s with a 5Mb hard drive that was cutting edge, while these days I need a 1Tb drive just to hold all my pictures. The data monster is everywhere!
4/ We Wanted To Have Access To 4G
Most of our travel is still in “the boonies” which means most of the time we’re in regular old 3G areas, so in theory we could have stayed with a 3G plan through Millenicom. However 4G is expanding rapidly and the higher speeds are supremely attractive, plus my prediction is that it won’t be long before 3G users start to feel throttled. In many places 3G networks are over-subscribed and the providers are actively pushing to upgrade people to the bigger 4G pipelines. Late last year Verizon starting cutting speeds of their “top” 3G users with their very sneakily-named “Network Optimization” plan (AT&T annouced a similar plan) and we felt the effects of this on our old Verizon-plan 3G data stick and 3G phone. After only ~2Gb of usage our data speeds would often drop precipitously, a real problem for someone who invests for a living. So we wanted out of the bottleneck and into the new technology. If you’re starting out now and rely on the internet for a living I’d advise doing the same.
Note/ Millenicom users on 3G plans are, so far as I know, not currently throttled by the provider (the resellers are not held to the same limits as direct customers), but they’re still at the mercy of overloaded towers.
5/ We Needed To Be Able To Boost The Signal
During our 3 years of travel we’ve come to appreciate how important it is to have signal boosting capabilities for our cellular internet. Our old antenna/amp has helped us get a usable signal in many, many spots where we’d otherwise have almost nothing and our new system absolutely needed to have the same capabilities. The new Novatel 4620L was the first MiFi on the market with an antenna port and this sealed the deal. All we needed was a cheap adaptor cable and we could use all our old equipment….at least to some extent. Our existing Wilson Omni 21″ Trucker antenna is both 4G/3G compatible (700/800/1900 Mhz), but our Wilson amplifier can only handle 3G (800/1900 Mhz). What this means is that we can boost our signal anywhere we’re 3G with both antenna/amp, but can only use the antenna to boost in 4G areas.
We’ve decided, for the moment, that this is acceptable. 4G boosting is still in its early infancy. There are a few options currently out there (for example the Wilson Sleek and this 4G LTE amplifier) but lots of new amps are being developed and it won’t be long before tri-band (3G/4G) amps are out. So far this has worked out perfectly. Whenever we’ve been in 3G areas, we’ve used our old boosting system extensively but in the rare 4G areas we’ve been we’ve (so far) not found the need to boost. At some point we will buy a new amplifier, but we’ve decided to wait until the technology matures before we invest in one.
Note/ We use this particular set-up because we wanted to repurpose our old antenna/amp, but if you’re creating a new system from scratch you’ll want to look at all the antenna/amp combos on the market. I still like the Wilson Omni antenna, but would likely wait for another amp if we were starting over. Also there are really good directional antennas, wireless amps and other options to boost your system. Check out Jack Mayer’s page for details.
6/ We Wanted Battery Capability & Easy 12V Charging
Our last 2 months on the road we’ve not had any hookups and one of the things we’ve really come to love about our new MiFi is its battery capability. We can run the MiFi for ~4 hours without a charge, and when we DO need to recharge all we need is a USB cable. We recently bought an iPad Rocketfish™ Premium Charger with built-in USB port that pretty much does it all. It fits into the 12V socket in our dash and can now charge our iPad and MiFi at the same time without the need to turn on our inverter. The USB port also can be used to charge our mobile phone too. Coool! For those wanting even more battery power there’s an extended battery you can get for the MiFi which will give you even more boonie-power.
7/ We Needed Support For Several Devices
Our tech paraphernalia currently includes 2 laptops, an iPad and a smartphone. The Novatel 4620L MiFi support up to 10 devices -> more than enough for our needs, even if we expand.
8/ We Wanted It ALL For The Same Price!
Apart from being locked into a contract, one of the things that really bothered us with Verizon was their pricing system. We originally had 3 Verizon devices (USB stick, iPad and phone) on 3 separate plans and they were using ~8-10Gb of data a month combined. We looked at moving onto a “Share Everything” plan, but that would only save us ~$10 with no upside in data allowance and the potential for alot more $$ if our data usage increased over the next 2 years (a practical given!). By getting rid of our old Verizon 5Gb/mo USB data stick and switching to the 20Gb/mo Millenicom plan we got rid of a contract and quadrupled our data allowance for the same price as our old plan. Deal!! The other nice thing about Millenicom is that the price you see is the exactly price you get. There are no “hidden” telecom, state or other weird charges. So our bill is exactly $69.99 every month. Neat!
Note/ If you’re a small data-user, but make alot of phone calls the “Share Everything” plan might still make sense for you, especially since it gives you unlimited phone minutes. For us data usage faaar exceeds our phone minutes (I use Skype for all my family calls to Europe) so getting the most out of our data plan was way more important.
We’ve been testing the MiFi for the past 2 months and have been perfectly happy with the performance. We looove the battery capability, looove the small size (you can stick it in your pocket and take it into town if you want), loove the speed (3G speeds are exactly equivalent to our old device, and 4G is smoking!) and looove the ease of use. The only possible negatives I could give is that the antenna port is tiny and gives a very “loose” connection (there’s no “snap” when you plug-in the antenna and the cable will sometimes fall out on its own), plus the blinking light on the MiFi is rather too bright. This is annoying, but it’s a minor inconvenience and has not so far dampened our appreciation of the new device. We’ll probably add more upgrades down the line (new 3G/4G amp when they’re out, possibly a flag pole extender for the antenna and perhaps a WiFi Ranger), but these will come as we need them.
That’s it folks. If you want to read more about internet connectivity and other boosting options on the market I highly recommend Jack Mayer’s RV communication page HERE.
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