Make sure you also check out the follow-up to this article: How YOU can have unlimited data: Part II
**After getting some feedback from readers, I’ll let you know upfront that what we did is not an inexpensive unlimited data solution, but it is a solution.**
There are a few things that are at a premium for nearly all modern nomads; storage, nice sunsets and mobile data! This post will discuss the evolution we went through and what we’ve settled on for our internet needs. We’ll also tell you how YOU can have unlimited data too!
Before we left on this journey, we were under the illusion that we’d be able to piggyback off WiFi networks at campgrounds. For times when we couldn’t get WiFi, we were equipped with a Verizon Jetpack that shared our pool of 12 gigabytes that we have for our cell phones. While 12 gigs is plenty for cruising the net, emailing, and the occasional YouTube video, once you begin doing any kind of multimedia streaming (especially video, such as Netflix), it evaporates quickly. To ensure that we’d always be able to pick up the WiFi signal, we invested in various antennas and a wireless router to provide the signal to our devices. This sounded like a good plan, except for one thing… CAMPGROUND WIFI SUUUUUCKS!!!
Even if we were able to find a signal, which we frequently can, it rarely provides the speed and reliability to be considered useful. Seeing as how we both heavily rely on an internet connection for our jobs, this was a big problem. So, Ryan put on his researcher hat and found a solution.
The holy grail in the RV’er mobile data universe is an Unlimited Data Plan (UDP), and more specifically one that can be used in a mobile hotspot (wireless router) and on the most robust network in the US; Verizon. So with the goal of having a Verizon Wireless UDP hotspot, the search began. With a quick Google search, you’ll find that many people are searching for the solution via acquiring a grandfathered plan and assuming responsibility, in other words, they want to purchase this plan from someone and put it on their account. This has worked for many people, but major cellular carriers have done just about everything they legally can to eliminate these plans that are still floating around. At this point, they’ve made it very difficult to assume liability for a grandfathered UDP. We’ve heard of it still being possible, but it’s not an easy or inexpensive process, and not a road we wanted to go down.
There are also companies/organizations out there that negotiate terms with major carriers to offer unlimited data, but they come and go quickly. It seems that once word gets out, they are so swamped with requests for UDP hotspots that the carrier just pulls the plug. One example would be the Huntsville City School District – random, right? They began offering UDP hotspots to their students, at a very low cost, so that all students would have access to the internet at home. This then spread to their staff and faculty, families of students, and then eventually to the general public. As soon as the RV community got wind of this, they were immediately backlogged with orders and they eventually stopped filling new orders. About two months after not taking new customers, Verizon (the unanimous carrier that HCSD partnered with) pulled the plug on the entire operation. All the existing customers suddenly had a useless electronic hockey puck. We actually tried to get on board with this particular program, but we ended up being one the many customers whose order was never fulfilled and we were refunded our money. At this current time, Unlimitedville seems to be the hot topic. They are offering unlimited data hotspots on two year contracts for businesses through the Sprint network for only $50/month. They also offer the same service on the T-Mobile network (I was told this after inquiring) for consumers for $150/month on a month-to-month basis. Month-to-month sounds great, except it doesn’t protect the consumer from having the plan taken away at any point – contracts aren’t always bad. These plans aren’t horrible, in fact, the $50 Sprint plan is pretty darn good if you can qualify for a business account. The only catch is that they’re on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks, respectively. These are known to be the two networks with the smallest data footprint in the US – not such a great feature when your location changes frequently and isn’t always in large metropolitan areas.
OK, back to the search for our holy grail Verizon UDP hostpot. It seemed that nearly all the attention was in the direction of finding a grandfathered plan or one of the small, niche UDP offerings before they shut up shop. So we looked another way; leasing a hotspot! It doesn’t take long once you’re on eBay to find plenty of folks who will lease/rent an unlimited data hotspot, for a price. It’s not necessarily cheap, but it’s quick, easy, and it works!
After doing his due diligence, Ryan decided to do business with an vendor he found online. This vendor wasn’t the cheapest, but his reviews are unbeatable and he is very established – he’s been a vendor since February 13th, 2000. I have no doubt that many of the other vendors who offer this service are reputable, but I’d rather spend a bit more and feel confident that my hotspot won’t turn into a paperweight.
How does this work? I’m glad you asked! Basically, these vendors have UDP plans attached to mobile hotspot accounts. You purchase the physical hotspot (often called a Jetpack), they send it to you with a sim card installed that is linked to the UDP account, you turn it on, link your devices to the WiFi network it puts out, and enjoy unlimited Verizon 4G LTE data. In addition to purchasing the device itself, you then pay a monthly fee to the vendor for the service.
A couple things to consider: throttling and service area. Throttling is a term used to describe when a service carrier (Verizon in our example) begins limiting the data speeds for customers who use a large amount of data. Many of the eBay vendors will advertise “No throttling”. This is what you want. Although I’ve never asked, my belief is that these hotspots are on business accounts, which still offer unlimited data, and are not subject to throttling. Service area is pretty obvious, but worth mentioning. The hotspot, no matter how you get it, will only work in areas where the carrier has service. So if you like to be WAY back in the woods, then this may not be a worthwhile investment. We chose Verizon for this reason and to give us the best chance of having service wherever we are, but there are still holes.
It’s also worth explicitly noting that while you own the physical device, you do not own the plan. You are simply paying someone an amount of money to use their plan. Your name is not on the account and there is no contract or credit check.
Our experience has been a great one, overall. We initially purchased the brand-new-at-the-time Netgear Jetpack MiFi AC791L. It was quickly shipped from the vendor’s shop in Louisville just down the road to us when we were in Campbellsville, KY. The service was great, but we had a few issues with the device itself. We found ourselves needing to disconnect and reconnect to the WiFi signal to regain a data connection often. My educated guess is that if we were patient, a software update would have come along to fix this issue on a newly introduced product. Instead, we contacted our vendor (who actually gives you his cell phone number to call or text) and told him of the issues. He said he had heard of the same problem from another customer and immediately offered to send a different model which had been on the market for awhile and proven it’s reliability. While still maintaining possession of the AC791L, and without a deposit of any sort, we were sent a Novatel MiFi 6620L. He also included a prepaid postage label to send back the original device. Very easy and it solved our problem, plus he credited us for the price difference between the two products. Ever since then, all we’ve had to do is pay the PayPal invoice each month for service.
Using the device and service on a day-to-day basis has been good. It will connect to up to 15 devices at one time. We connect our phones, computers, HP printer, Samsung TV, Garmin watches, WeMo switches, Amazon Echo, Roku Stick, Amazon Fire Stick… I’m sure I’m forgetting something. In other words, it is the glue that holds our connected devices together. Not only does it connect all those devices to the internet, but it allows them to communicate with each other. Our service has been good as long as the Verizon signal is decent and we’ve never noticed anything that we suspect as throttling. Our data speeds range, but 5-7 mb per second download is pretty standard and we’ve hit the 11-12 mbps download speeds on multiple occasions when testing. Anything over 3-4 mbps is enough to do nearly anything the average person wants to do online.
Let’s get to some details that everyone wants to know; how much will this cost me?? I set the expectation early that it’s not cheap. These arrangements typically require that you purchase the device from the vendor, even if you already have one. In our case, this is so that if there is a problem, he can warranty and replace the device (which he did seamlessly for us). The price is slightly inflated, but that’s the ticket to the dance. We purchased the original AC791L for just under $230 and then he refunded the price difference when we changed to the 6620L, which cost $150. Once the device is purchased, it belongs to you and even if you part ways with the vendor, you own it. We were given a three day trial starting the day you receive the device. If you’re unhappy with the service, you send it back within those three days and the relationship is dissolved with all your money in your pocket. If you keep it, he sends an invoice for a prorated amount for the current month – bills are due before the first of each month. The monthly fee for the unlimited data from our vendor is $198. While this seems steep, we figured that if we walked into a Verizon store and they offered us an unlimited data hotspot for $200 a month, we wouldn’t be able to get our wallets out fast enough. Some other vendors charge less for what they advertise as being the same service (and maybe it is), but as was stated above, customer service and reliability are worth something to us.
So, in conclusion, if you’re sick of non-existent WiFi and have figured out that you don’t want to mess with finding a magical unicorn (grandfathered UDP) or a fly-by-night cellular reseller, then this could be a great option. Even if he didn’t have a referral program, I would have said the same things about our vendor because good customer service and delivering on promises isn’t as common as they should be these days (man, I sound OLD!). But, our vendor DOES offer referral credits, so if you decide to go this route and use him as your vendor, contact us for his contact information! If you mention that you were referred by Ryan at Sort Of Homeless, then you’ll receive $25 off your first month’s service fee!!
Make sure you also check out the follow-up to this article: How YOU can have unlimited data: Part II
Please send along any questions that you have and I’ll do my best to answer them or direct you to the person that can! See you on the road!
Ryan, Kim and Jet