Internet – WiFi – TV and Cellular 101

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Lets start with WiFi, that is a local WIRELESS network that can connect your laptop, tv, printer, and other WiFi-capable devices together. WiFi is NOT the same as the Internet. WiFi has to be connected to the internet to be useful in streaming TV, browsing the internet, and reading emails.

You can connect WiFi to the internet using cable internet (Phone line or coax) like the way you do at home or connect to the campground provided WiFi or use a hotspot.

If you want to use the WiFi at a campground you have to be lucky to have a good signal. A WiFi booster can help but that only extends the reach while cutting the speed in half (A 150 Mb/s becomes 75 Mb/s when using a booster). And the campground needs to have enough capacity to serve all the guests. This also means that streaming rarely can be done.

A better option is to use a hotspot. A hotspot can be a cellphone or a dedicated hotspot like a MiFi or Jetpack (Naming depends on provider) A hotspot does two things, create a WiFi network and uses cell phone data to connect to the internet. It also keeps your connection more private as you do not have to connect to the campground WiFi.

So while on the road you can use your own hotspot, the cellular data signal will roam between cell towers while the WiFi will keep your connection to your laptop, tablet, and other WiFi devices. for example. It will only disconnect when there is no cell signal.

This article will explain the whole idea using your home as an example while expanding it to how you can use it with cellular data, you will learn the verbiage and get a basic understanding how it works;

A lot of people use terms and descriptions that do not match what is really going on. Do you know the difference between the Internet, WiFi, Modem, Router, Cellular, Hotspot etcetera? A lot of people have it wrong and this creates a huge misunderstanding among each other when asking questions or discussing problems in Facebook groups and forums.  In this post, I will try to explain what all of this means and get a basic understanding of how to use it.

NOTE: If you are looking for the best cellular data plans take a look here:

INTERNET HOME SETUP

Let’s start out with what all this means using our sticks and bricks home as an example. Later on, I will explain how this works for RVs. Ok, the basics;

THE INTERNET
The internet is a network of computers connected to each other. Using the internet allows you to communicate using websites like Facebook and Instagram. It also has search capabilities like Google and you can shop on Amazon, Whole Foods, The local Taco place, and millions of shops and email of course!

 

 

CABLE MODEM

A (cable or DSL) modem (Mod=Modulator Dem=Demodulator) is connected to the cable that comes into your home. It is to translate the signals into a protocol that your computer understands or gives you Cable TV. A modem can be combined into a box that also functions as a Router. A modem is a device that connects your home, usually through a coax cable connection, to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The modem takes signals from your ISP and translates them into signals your local devices can use, and vice versa.

 

 

ROUTER

A router can distribute The Modem signals to your devices that are hooked up with a network cable. It works like a road system that connects towns.

 

 

 

WIRELESS ROUTER

A Wireless router can distribute the Modem signals to your devices using WiFi (Wireless connection). Most routers also have the possibility to use a cable.

 

 

 

WiFi

WiFi is a wireless connection protocol (using a radio signal) that is used to connect local devices together like printers, laptops, and phones. It does NOT give you the ability to connect to the Internet despite what some website definitions are saying.  Only when you connect the cable modem to the WiFi network using a router, you are able to connect to the internet! Most routers connect to the modem using a network cable and a designated port. Some cable modems have a built-in router.

 

 

NETWORK DEVICES (wireless = WiFi)
Laptop
Printer
TV
Thermostat
Cell Phone
Tablet

 

How it works together;
Your cable company connects the cable to your home into a cable modem. The cable modem is connected to a router to distribute the Internet into all connected devices using a network cable or wireless via WiFi. Most people now use wireless (WiFi) routers.
The chain looks like this:

INTERNET – CABLE – MODEM – ROUTER – WIFI  –  NETWORK DEVICES

 

TV at HOME

Your TV is connected via a splitter on the same incoming cable as the internet, it’s that easy! It does not use any of the above items for regular TV. But there is more, we get into later. (Not in the drawing) Your Smart TV is connected to the cable and can also connect to WiFi to provide streaming media via the built-in applications.

 

 


Now if you understand the explanation above you can easily see that for example, WiFi alone does NOT provide internet without a Modem or Router on a cable because WiFi is local ONLY!  In other words: When you buy a wireless router you have WiFi but NO internet, we still need a cable and a modem!

WiFi alone can provide you a network where you connect your laptop to a wireless printer on the same network.


INTERNET RV SETUP

Let’s talk about the Internet for your RV now.

At most campgrounds, there is no cable to provide internet but they offer WiFi to connect to. As explained above WiFi is not the same as the Internet but it is the campground’s local connection to access their Internet. The campground WiFi is established by a wireless router. This router is connected to a modem that gets the internet from a cable. It’s the same as your home setup but the campground owns and controls the router and the WiFi.

Campground internet capacity

You might think that the WiFi network of the campground is a good way to connect to the internet. Keep in mind that the campground has to have the cable, modem, and router to do that and for so many guests that are streaming it is a huge challenge to have enough capacity. Most campgrounds do not have adequate equipment or capacity to sustain that. Also as discussed earlier,  WiFi is a local network using high-frequency radio signals. These signals can travel about 1000 feet in unobstructed areas and 300 feet in a closed area that has obstructions. Out of this range, there is no signal. Yes, you can retransmit this signal using boosters but that will slow down the speed also. Most campgrounds are set up like described as the home setup above. And when there is no WiFi signal there is also nothing that you can boost, it’s like trying to boost water pressure when there is no water!

 

When you determined that the Campground WiFi is not adequate for your internet desire, let’s take control of our own equipment;

First, we need to introduce a new device,  a (cellular) hotspot;

Cellular tower

CELLULAR hotspot

A cellular signal is a wireless connection to a cell tower provided by cell phone companies (carriers) like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. They all have different frequencies so you have to buy their devices to be able to use them on their network (Unless it is an unlocked device.) and have a data plan.  THIS IS NOT WiFi

A Cellular hotspot can be one of the following; Cell phone,  MiFi, Jetpack, and other devices that are built to connect to a cell tower most smartphones also have a hotspot option. Other devices are on the roof antennas like the TOGO antenna that has a cellular module in them.  All hotspots also create a WiFi network so you can connect local devices to it. (Most people just call it a hotspot without the word cellular)

We can now change the chain from home to this:

INTERNET WITH A HOTSPOT

INTERNET – CELL TOWER – HOTSPOT  –  WIFI – NETWORK DEVICES

We replaced the CABLE, CABLE MODEM, and ROUTER with a CELLULAR hotspot  (a cellular-connected device capable of creating a WiFi network).  The hotspot will connect to the cell tower of your (cellular) phone company AND creates a WiFi network just like a MODEM with a build-in Wireless ROUTER and now you can connect your laptop or other devices to the hotspots WiFi and have an Internet connection. Some cell phone companies restrict that in one way or another by just allowing one device or nothing at all.  So before you buy a phone to connect to the Internet AND use it as a hotspot (see below) make sure it is able to do that.

If you can follow this far you are on your way to understanding all the mumbo jumbo!

HOTSPOT

When coffee shops started to offer WiFi they often called it a hotspot. This was the same principle as having the internet at home but geared towards more users. Now we also call it a hotspot when a device is capable to connect to the internet and creates a WiFi network. Several phone companies have different naming of a hotspot, Verizon calls it a Jetpack or a MiFi,  AT&T calls it a “Nighthawk hotspot”, T-Mobile calls it a “Mobile Hotspot”, Sprint calls it also a “MiFi” or “Netstick USB modem” we just call it a hotspot for ease of understanding.

 

 

HOTSPOT on your phone

You have to check your phone options to find out if you can use your phone as a hotspot. Some providers allow you only one device while others offer more. Your phone connects to the cell tower and uses wifi to connect to your device like a smart tv or a streaming stick.

Streaming to a  TV or Firestick/Roku using your cell phone as a hotspot

Some limitations when you use a phone as a hotspot is when the owner leaves with the hotspot that ends your connection. There is also a limitation on battery life and you are using your phone data. Some providers limit the use of a cell phone hotspot to only one or two devices while a dedicated hot spot can support 10, 20 or more devices.  Some cell phone providers let you stream only in low resolution or not at all.

DEDICATED HOTSPOT

The advantage is a dedicated data plan with more than 10 devices to connect and a stronger WiFi signal. Longer battery life than your cell phone and the below mentioned hotspots can use a MiMo antenna. (see below)

 

Verizon MiFi 8800L Jetpack

Top of the line can connect 15 devices

 

 

 

 

AT&T Nighthawk MR1100

Top of the line can connect 20 devices

 

 


Both of the above devices have a MiMo antenna connection. A MiMo antenna (Multi in/Multi out) can be a cheap investment replacing a cell phone booster.
https://www.amazon.com/Netgear-6000450-MIMO-Antenna-Connectors/dp/B00DN3J03O

$40 on Amazon (2020)

This antenna is a great addition and can even work better than a cell phone booster (costing $400 or more) It’s worth a try!


Streaming to a  TV or Firestick/Roku using your hotspot (Instead of the firestick/roku you can use a smart TV)

The advantage of using a dedicated hotspot is that it does not use your phone or phone data plan. A dedicated hotspot has its own plan and can connect multiple devices. So now you can connect your wireless devices like; laptop, printer, temperature sensor, cell phone, and smart TV all at once to the internet. (regardless of the hotspot brand or carrier any WiFi capable device can connect.  This means that for example, a Verizon phone can connect to an AT&T hotspot and vice versa!
For a family, a dedicated hotspot is more desirable than the phone hotspot. When the owner leaves the connected devices cannot get on the internet anymore. Also, battery capacity it less than the hotspot, it can also interfere with phone calls and other usages.


Typical hotspot use

 


To find a good deal for a data plan watch your Facebook groups where people offer advice on where to buy it. Ask them about the data cap and throttling. that brings up a complaint I have;

UNLIMITED DATA……. really?

Carriers often advertise unlimited data. Please read the fine print as many say it will slow down after a certain amount of data is used (For example 22GB) Technically there is still unlimited date but the slow down makes it harder to use. Streaming data for a TV, for example, can be very slow with buffering because of the so-called network management (throttling) Depending on your plan you might be slowed down when a tower is congested. A hotspot comes in third place of priority. First is emergency (Police, EMS) Second is postpay customers and third place is hotspots.
Some carriers have plans like  “Above and Beyond unlimited data” however it is still throttled and is just a fancy name to entice you to buy it.

STREAMING MEDIA

Using streaming media to watch TV (Uses WiFi)

Streaming media is video or audio content sent in compressed form over the Internet and played immediately, rather than being saved to the hard drive.. With streaming media, a user does not have to wait to download a file to play it. Because the media is sent in a continuous stream of data it can play as it arrives. (Subscription fees may apply)

WARNING:
Streaming media uses a lot of internet data. Try to use a lower resolution setting (720p instead of 1080p) sometimes available in the app or your online account. (For example Netflix)

 

Samsung smart TV
Netgear Nighthawk AT&T router/hotspot (Any other hotspot will work)
OPTIONAL: Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote, a streaming media player

 

OR the Roku streaming stick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this scenario, the Firestick media player is plugged into the TV and has a WiFi connection to the hotspot. Another scenario is to connect the Smart TV to the hotspot in case you do not have a media player.

While our TV is a so-called “smart” TV with built-in apps like Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, we chose to use a media player with more apps then our TV has. The media player has a built-in WiFi receiver that connects to the internet using your phone as a hotspot or, like in our case, a dedicated hotspot. To add a media player like the Firestick or Roku you need to have an HDMI port on your TV.

We chose the Amazon Firestick as that comes with more apps then the TV itself and an Alexa enabled remote. Another option would be the ROKU

The minimal option looks like this: You switch on the hot spot function and connect the Smart TV using WiFi to the phone.

Smart phone
Smart TV

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this option your TV connects to your phone and your phone is configured as a hotspot.

Be aware that streaming uses a lot of data. The best options are unlimited and unthrottled plans. Read here how to limit data usage on NETFLIX:



OTA Over The Air TV

This is the most basic TV setup. Connect your TV to an over the air antenna with coax cable;

Using your crank up antenna for OTA (Over The Air) channels;

There is a misunderstanding that you need a digital TV antenna.  There is no such thing as an analog or digital TV antenna so your classic crank up TV antenna from 2000 as shown here will work.

This is the equipment we use for our OTA (Over the Air) TV

Winegard Sensar antenna also called “Batwing”
Winegard SensarPro
Winegard wingman

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Winegard Sensar antenna came with our RV, it is a crank up antenna that you can turn when fully up. Some of them have a signal booster. We do not have a booster on the antenna but added the Sensar pro that can boost the signal. To enhance the antenna reach we added a Winegard wingman.

To know where to point your antenna download an app like Digital TV Antennas in the google app store, not really needed when you have the sensar pro as it will show the signal level.

Watch TV using Satellite TV

Satellite TV

We use DISH as our (satellite) TV provider and the following equipment;

 

Satellite antenna
This is the Winegard Pathway X2 for Dish.
Wally receiver for Dish
Coax cable between
receiver and antenna
HDMI cable between TV and receiver
There are other cable options but this works the best.
You also need a subscription with Dish and a program package.

We chose the Pathway antenna because of its bigger surface, its a mobile antenna, this means you can place it to the open southern sky, away from trees. It can also receive via satellites in the Western and Eastern arc and has a dual connection to hook up two receivers and TVs.
To record TV (Only Dish programs) you can add a portable hard-disk to the Wally receiver (There is a one time fee to activate) You are not able to record OTA (Over The Air) TV with it.

In case you have a hookup and subscription at home, just take your Wally receiver in your RV and use that. However, you are not able to suspend your subscription, that is only available for Dish Outdoor subscribers. To be able to receive local channels with your Dish subscription you have to contact Dish to change your service address. Keep in mind that you will only receive the local channels that are available in the area you are in, not your “home” local channels. This can screw up your recording schedule at home because that also changes local channels, We never changed the service address as we use our crank up antenna for that.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE:
Be aware not to use splitters or booster between your receiver and a portable antenna. The receiver uses 12 volts to power the antenna, a splitter can lower the voltage and result in a non-working antenna. A straight cable is the way to go. (You can use a splitter for a dedicated roof mount antenna at home but not on a portable RV antenna)

How to watch TV
With a satellite receiver, switch the  HDMI connection (where the receiver is connected to)
With OTA – Set the TV source to antenna or cable, Crank up your antenna and scan the channels on your TV set.
With Campground cable TV, switch to antenna or cable, switch off an antenna booster and scan the channels.
With a Fire-stick or Roku switch the TV source to the used HDMI connection.

 

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