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Why is campground Wi-Fi so lousy — An FAQ for parks

By Pamela Wright
Focused Words

As an RV park manager, one of the toughest issues that I had to train my staff on answering were questions about the Wi-Fi service in the park.  Recently I worked with Jim Ganley, of Checkbox Systems, to create a FAQ sheet that can be posted on your website, handed out to guests or put into a guest guide. 

Here is the FAQ sheet.

Why isn’t the Wi-Fi in the park the same as the Wi-Fi at my house?

Several factors can affect the speed and responsiveness of the Wi-Fi in the park that may not be a factor, or as big of a factor as it is at home. The Wi-Fi in the park is shared among many users and devices. You may have a dozen Wi-Fi enabled devices at home, but there may be hundreds of devices online in the park.

At home you may be fortunate to have very fast cable or fiber Internet service, however in many rural and semi-rural areas slower DSL or satellite based service may be all that is available. This slower service must be shared among many users and dozens or hundreds of devices.

Why can’t I download movies and music?

Movies, music and videos consume a lot of data bandwidth. Since the Wi-Fi system in the park is shared by many users, downloading movies and videos can seriously impact other users in the park. How much bandwidth is consumed by different actives? For comparison:

  • Sending or receiving an email (no attachments) requires 1 kilobyte of bandwidth
  • Sending or receiving an email with a picture attached requires 1.5 megabytes
  • Downloading a 3 minute song requires 5 megabytes
  • Using a social networking site for 10 minutes (i.e. Facebook) requires 20 to 50 megabytes
  • Downloading a 3 minute movie trailer in HD needs 180 megabytes
  • Using Skype or VoIP for a 20 minute voice chat requires 4 to 10 megabytes
  • Using Skype or other video services for a 20 minute chat needs 40 to 60 megabytes
  • Watching a streaming 30 minute TV show requires 400 to 600 megabytes of data
  • Watching a streaming 2-hour movie can consume 1,800 to 4,000 megabytes of data

In other words, a single two-hour movie can be the equivalent amount of bandwidth of more than 4 million emails.

The RV next door to me is getting a stronger signal than I am.  Why?

Wi-Fi is based on radio signals, and just like the radio in your car, the signals can be affected and blocked by both physical obstacles and interference from other devices. Some Wi-Fi devices have better quality radios and antennas than other devices.

You may have something physically blocking your reception such as another RV, a building or vehicle. Or there may be some other electrical or electronic device in or near your RV that is causing interference.  Or your neighbor may have a Wi-Fi enabled device with a really good quality radio in it.  Or your neighbor may be closer to the Wi-Fi access point.

Often it is a combination of all of these factors.

I can’t get the park signal to show on my device.  What should I do?

If no Wi-Fi signals are showing on your device, ensure that the Wi-Fi is enabled on your device. Sometimes, there is a physical button on laptops to turn off the radio to save battery, or there may be a software setting to enable Wi-Fi, some phones and tablets feature an “airline mode” to turn off all radios (Wi-Fi and cellular).

If you can see other Wi-Fi signals, but not the park Wi-Fi on your device, check to see if other devices on your site or near you can see the park Wi-Fi. If you can’t see the Wi-Fi signal on any device on your site or near you, be sure to mention this to the park staff. You may be in an area that they have not extended Wi-Fi into, or the system may be having issues.

Why is Wi-Fi in an RV park different than at a hotel?

RV parks and resorts face all of the same issues as hotels in providing Wi-Fi to guests and have some additional unique challenges. RV parks and resorts are often in rural or semi-rural areas where Internet speeds are slower and more expensive, electrical supply to the system and access points may be less stable and links between access points is usually wireless instead of wired. Add exposure to elements such as rain, wind and lightning and the equipment is subject to more wear and needs attention more often.

Why do I keep getting dropped?

Getting dropped can mean actually losing the radio signal connection, or it can be maintaining the connection but the flow of data stops or slows to a point where it is not usable for what you want to do. The radio signal connection can be dropped for several reasons:

  • You are too far from the Wi-Fi system access point.
  • There are other electrical or electronic devices nearby causing interference.
  • There are physical obstacles such as RVs, buildings or vehicles.
  • There are too many users on the Wi-Fi system and it is overloaded.

You may be able to maintain the radio signal connection, but the flow of data stops or slows to a point where it is not usable for all of the reasons above, and additionally there may be to many users on the Internet connection shared by the park, the Internet service provider for the park may be experiencing issues (common on satellite-based systems) or the website you are accessing may be experiencing high volumes.

What can I do to improve the Wi-Fi reception at my unit?

Sometimes just moving a few feet or moving outside of your RV is all that is needed to make a big difference. If that does not work try plugging your device into AC power, as some devices reduce the power to the radio and screens when unplugged to extend battery life.

For laptops with internal Wi-Fi cards, if the range is not good, then consider investing in an external Wi-Fi adapter. These devices plug into a USB port and have external antennas that are often better than the internal antennas manufactures build into their laptops.

Avoid “signal boosters” and “range extenders.” There are device sold by different manufacturers that allegedly increase the range of Wi-Fi by picking the signal up off the air and rebroadcasting it. Generally these devices create more noise than usable signal, and will not help you get better Wi-Fi. Oddly, some Wi-Fi enabled devices will misinterpret the noise as signal, and report better signal strengths, but at the same time the speeds will decrease or stop altogether.

 


RV park owners who would like to have a copy of this FAQ sheet to post or hand out, e-mail Pamela Write at pwright@FocusedWords.com, and include “Wi-Fi FAQ sheet” in the subject line and she will send a PDF with the content. Don’t have time to do everything?  Give Pamela a call at 800.478.0516 and get back to doing the things you love about your business.   Check out her blog at www.FocusedWords.com/blog for more articles about doing business in the RV world.  To reprint it, please e-mail pwright@FocusedWords.com with a request.

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is a freelance writer and podcaster who has been writing about the RV industry since 2000. He is the former editor of RV Daily Report.

4 comments

  1. Great article! I have trouble with WiFi at numerous parks as I travel. I am curious to why you do not see boosters and extenders to be a benefit. What boosters/extenders have you tried before and what results did you get from them. I am wondering about your finding as I am in search of one. I came acoss a report wrote by Greg Gerber earlier last month on a product call WiFiRanger. His findings showed the product actually boosted his speed of upload and download.
    See article link below

    http://rvdailyreport.com/News/ctl/ArticleView/mid/427/articleId/30224/WiFiRanger-boosts-campground-wireless-signals.aspx

    I want to make an educated decision on a product and any feedback you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind Regards

  2. Interesting thoughts on the subject of why RVers often find internet service unsatisfactory at RV parks. The only missing link might be the conscious choice of park owners to limit bandwidth as a cost savings. While there are challenges to quality internet service in RV parks, many are likely attributable to the amount of bandwidth the park owner has opted to provide. In the few places the park owner has placed a priority on good internet service, it can be excellent. With respect to the reports on devices that can improve the experience in RV parks, I can only concur with what the site publisher has previously written about WiFi Ranger. For us it has been an excellent choice.

  3. While I am in agreement that remote park locations make enough bandwidth at the “head end” difficult or impossible, I am firmly in the camp that believes that campgrounds make economic decisions which is why WIFI is so “lousy” in almost all cases. ( See Tom above) The systems overload with more than just a few users.

    We use a regular computer (not laptop) that can accept an antenna. I have a telescoping mast attached to rear ladder with small rectangular patch antenna. The ability to “get” a WIFI signal is dramatically better than a typical laptop.

  4. The article is accurate and reflects the actual problems.
    Yes Parks only get a much band-width as they think they need, to support e-mail and moderate web-surfing. When “campers” try to download TV-Shows, Movies, etc. Things really bog down, or why your wifi experience can be so different at 7AM then 7PM.
    WiFi “extenders” can work, some Parks use them, but they have to be properly engineered. Just getting some “box” and turning it on is like to just increase the number of “packets” flying around and colliding. Properly setup (on differing channels) it can provide a strong signal through-out a large property. But they donot increase the over-all band-width available.