Satellite Internet for Vans & RVs
Part-time and full-time van and RV-living has seen a massive resurgence over the past few years. The world has also increasingly relied on internet access for ordinary needs — banking, communication, everything. But when you’re in the middle of nowhere, you might not have mobile data connectivity to rely on. If you’re a traveler in an RV or van and find yourself with spotty connectivity, you may need satellite internet.
Thanks to satellite providers like Starlink, the technology behind satellite internet is quickly improving. Faster speeds and more forgiving data plans make satellite internet an increasingly appealing option, especially for folks on the go.
Options for RV/Van Satellite Internet
At a glance
- Mounted satellite dish
- Tripod satellite dish
- Router-style receiver boxes
Service Plan Options:
- Add-on to a DISH or HughesNet residential package
- Stand-alone RVDataSat package
- Additional add-ons for DirecTV (requires 2 satellite dishes)
There are currently three distinct technology options on the market for satellite internet in your RV or van.
First, there are mounted satellite dishes, which fold down when moving and are usually controlled electronically from in-cabin. Mounted satellite dishes vary in size, but if you’re travelling in a smaller vehicle, you may be limited in terms of how large of a dish you can mount on the roof. Smaller satellite dishes cover a smaller area of the sky, which will impose limits on the internet quality you’re able to receive.
Alternatively, smaller “manual” satellite dishes are available regardless of vehicle size. These smaller dishes are usually on a tripod or other stand, and can be moved around to get a better connection, but using a repositionable tripod dish does require more work and manual calibration. If you’re traveling to areas where you may encounter inclement weather or other environmental factors, a repositionable dish could be a better option for you.
Additionally, newer receivers such as the Globalstar SatFi system, which has a much smaller physical footprint, are available and don’t require a dish, but the speeds offered are comparable to ’90s era dial-up modems and are generally not a cost effective option for modern data needs.
If you have a residential satellite plan, your home is connected to a satellite receiver dish, usually mounted on your roof or on a stand in an open area with a clear view of the southern sky if it’s a very large dish. Your satellite internet is only available in your home and is not mobile. Satellite receivers work by scanning the sky for a satellite uplink to connect to. On a residential satellite plan, this is simple since your location doesn’t change. When you’re traveling and using satellite internet for your RV, every time you deploy your satellite dish, your location coordinates need to be obtained in order for the dish to accurately and correctly scan the sky.
RV Satellite Providers
RV owners have several satellite providers to choose from.
One of the most exciting options is Starlink, the fast-growing satellite internet brand operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Though it’s relatively new, Starlink stacks up well against Viasat and other rivals. The service boasts impressive speeds and offers a plan specifically for RV owners.
DISH and HughesNet both offer mobile satellite internet add-on plans to use your RV if you’re an existing residential customer but you need to purchase your own dish, which can range from $300 for a small tripod dish to over $5,000 for a large mounted one. While the startup cost can be high, going with an add-on plan may be able to save you some money on your monthly bills.
If you’re one of many full-time RV travelers, you probably don’t have a residential service plan. RVDataSat is a third provider that offers satellite internet for RVs through Mobile Satellite Technologies. They also offer Satellite TV service for RVs through DirecTV.
DISH and DirecTV are partner services both owned by AT&T, but regardless of which provider and satellite dish solution you choose for satellite internet in your RV, you will need a second satellite dish if you also want television, and unless you’re already a DISH customer, you’ll likely need to have two service plans, possibly with different companies. Satellite internet and satellite TV are two separate services. Satellite internet providers do not offer TV. If you want both, you will have to get two services and two satellite dishes. However, like both DISH and RVDataSat, your provider may offer incentives to use a particular TV service.
The start-up costs for hardware are expensive — small tripod satellite dishes can be found for under $500, but the average up-front cost is over $6,000. Satellite internet plans for RVs can also be expensive. On the more affordable end of the spectrum, add-on services for existing residential packages can be purchased month-to-month for as low as $50. On the higher end for satellite internet connectivity in your RV, using a provider like RVDataSat can cost upwards of $400 a month.
If you travel all year in your RV and do not have a residential plan, the service is expensive but is probably your best option. If you only travel for part of the year or only want to use mobile satellite for things like camping, an add-on option is your best bet.
Before making a potentially costly leap by going with a contract plan, evaluate your usage and the locations that you’ll be traveling. While satellite internet for RVs can be accessed from absolutely anywhere, you may find that it’s overkill for your needs.
The biggest benefit of an RV mounted satellite internet dish is that you can travel anywhere, and as long as you can point your satellite dish in the right direction, you will be able to connect to the internet. But, you can only deploy your satellite dish, either mounted on your RV or on a tripod, when you’ve taken a stationary position and are no longer driving; in the case of a tripod, you also need to be able to place your dish in a stable spot, which may not always be available. If you’re traveling in a group or have other needs for connectivity while on the move, satellite internet in your RV may still work for you but it won’t be an all-in-one solution.
The three primary providers of satellite internet for RVs are HughesNet, DISH, and RVDataSat. All three offer satellite internet for RVs and additional services to complement your internet plan. HughesNet and DISH allow you to pay for what you use, either on a month-to-month option or by allowing you to pause your service — but they both have the drawback that you need to be an existing residential customer in order to take advantage of lower costs.
RVDataSat doesn’t offer as much flexibility, but if you’re a serious traveler who primarily lives in their RV and need a higher service level, they offer a mobile phone, satellite internet, and satellite TV bundle through different providers. This model can be incredibly helpful for those of a more nomadic lifestyle because you only have one bill to manage even though you’re getting as many as three different services through different providers.
All three providers offer bundles for satellite TV service in your van or RV, but this will require a second satellite dish and usually a separate contract.
Alternatives to Satellite Internet in an RV
At a glance
- Mobile hotspot from a smartphone
- Dedicated hotspot, such as Verizon JetPack
- Publicly accessible Wi-Fi
Depending on your travel habits and data usage needs, you may not need to go so far as a $4000 satellite dish bolted to the top of your RV and a $400 monthly bill — you may be able to get away with a mobile broadband option such as Verizon’s Jetpack or even just a hotspot off your smartphone. If you spend most of your time in national parks or established campgrounds, you’re likely to have Wi-Fi access through the park.
Before assuming you’ll be able to use your phone or a dedicated hotspot, check your data limits and coverage maps with your mobile wireless provider. Similarly, check on the amenities at the locations you plan to go — you may be surprised just how much access is available.
Getting Connected in Your RV or Van Isn’t Easy, But It’s Possible
Regardless of the service provider, plan, and type that you select, always be sure to read the fine print. Most of the mobile internet options, especially satellite internet plans for RVs, have contract requirements such as purchasing your own hardware and early termination fees.