Failure To Communicate

It finally happened. That moment we all dread. The notification of that dreaded text message. The one no one wants to receive…..

This was my first time. Oh, I had been researching and planning to avoid this day, but life requires more than thinking about something. It requires more than having a plan. Life requires action.

So here’s the situation. I’m sitting at the our table/office here in the camper. Working away on my day job when up pops a text message notification. You’ve exceeded your 40 GB tethering limit. Your data will be slowed to 128 kbps. Stay tuned rant coming.

Now for those of you who may not be network savvy. 128 kbps is the speed of an early to mid 90’s ISDN line. It was the original dial up on steroids that I paid way over $100 a month per line for back in the day for my office. To put this in context. This would allow you to load those early, multi-colored web pages that were all text and flashing gifs. It would load those simple HTML pages in a couple of minutes instead of like 5 minutes.

So basically in the middle of my workday I was reduced to the 30 year old version of 5G. Look I work in tech. I understand that bandwidth on a network is limited. I understand that the more data moving on the network slows down everyone who isn’t prioritized. I know what QOS is and why you use it. I would not even have been overly upset about being slowed down, but at least pick a speed that will load a modern webpage. Think how much websites have changed in 30 years. The amount of images, code and functionality has increased exponentially in 30 years. To drop the speed back to 1995 levels is a crime. I could have worked with a slower speed even if it was to low to do video calls since I could do those unlimited from my phone.

So now I’m madly throwing stuff into my laptop bag while dialing back into my Teams call on my phone, because of course I can still use my data at full speed on my phone, and driving to someplace that might be semi quite with good Wi-Fi.

Now lets rewind a bit. I cannot place all the blame on good ole AT&T. As I mentioned I had not taken any action to prevent this from being an issue. We are not full time in our RV yet and as such I’ve been in no hurry to choose one of the overly expensive internet options that exist out there. We have been able to leverage a combination of cell phone tethering and campground Wi-Fi for our needs. We have spent as many as 5 weeks camping without an issue.

Well, our last minute decision to continue camping after leaving Fall Creek Falls left us with few options and a warning that the internet was down in certain areas of the campsite here at Harrison Bay State Park. I was encouraged when we arrived and I noticed that the Wi-Fi antenna was literally on the corner of our site. However, hopes were dashed shortly after setup when the network would not provide me an IP Address. So some of the blame needs to be directed at Harrison Bay which we will do a review of later. A neighbor told me the internet has been down here for a long time. #HarrisonBay get your internet fixed. Most of us would gladly pay a few dollars more a night for working internet access.

So with no park based internet to offset usage, my tethering limit did not take long to burn through when you have 4-6 hours of Teams meetings a day.

Before I start my rant I want to thank Mary in the business support department at AT&T. She was fabulous, friendly and helpful when others were less than so. She has followed up several times via email. She was the epitome of superior service. In total I spent around 5 hours on the phone, $120 on a router I hope I can return and two trips to AT&T stores. Several trips to stores looking for a router with a SIM card slot or an AT&T compatible hotspot. I ended up working almost 5 full days at Starbucks or Siglers.

So let’s rant for a moment. We all pay lots of money for our wireless. Way more than we did for land lines. I mean we pay the kind of money every month that a land line used to cost when your girlfriend lived in the next county over and you had to pay crazy long distance charges. As I mentioned earlier. I understand the need to protect the network and overall quality of service (QOS) for everyone using a network. Let’s face it, we get upset when we have to wait for an app or page to load or we cannot stream a movie or Tik Tok.

But this is not all about protecting the network and I will make that point shortly. It’s about squeezing the most pennies per MB out of customers. These companies provide you with multiple lines on unlimited data plans and in most cases now unthrottled data to your phones. They are now providing unlimited wireless 5G data for home and business use. But they will not offer this in a useable fashion for campers and other non-stationary use cases.

I’m not going to tell the whole story here but I tried to buy my own router for use with an AT&T business plan that will shut down if they detect you streaming entertainment. This is what happens to Nomad users by the way. Needless to say they block the IMEI of the router I bought and I had to get one of their hotspots. Yes, there are hacks and other things I could have chased down but one, I didn’t have time and two there is not a good reason it should be this hard. If I can get a hotspot that is technically a router with a wireless modem and allows 32 devices to connect to it. Why does it have to be an AT&T’s hotspot?

One more little inconvenience. AT&T doesn’t sell the hotspots, retail anymore. I couldn’t get one at the AT&T store or Best Buy so I could solve my problem quickly and ship dates from AT&T were almost two weeks out.

You may ask, why I wanted to purchase my own router? Because the hotspot doesn’t allow for attaching external antennas. This is very important when camping as you may be farther than usual from a cell tower. Anyway, why make it so hard. Why not let you add a line for routable data to your account or pay $50 extra bucks to remove the data cap on tethering.

With more remote workers, many of whom are choosing the RV lifestyle, out there. Why not seize this opportunity to make some more money without frustrating your customers. Campgrounds have limited capacity. It’s easy enough to calculate the amount of data a typical camper would consume total for both work and entertainment and ensure that area has enough bandwidth. Let’s face it, we are not talking about 100,000 people all bunched tightly in a football stadium. Network saturation is not an issue in most campgrounds. I’m not using any more data to stream the news or a movie on my phone than I am streaming it on the TV tethered to my phone. Yes there will be someone somewhere who shares their WiFi with other people if you could do this easily. Let’s face it. That’s what this is all about. And let’s not forget that AT&T owns DirectTV who’s business they are trying to protect.

It’s the same thing Netflix is doing with password sharing. But seriously, How many people can you get within range of a router in most situations and how many can you allow before it affects the usability because there is only so much bandwidth available to a connection. If I abuse it in a way that would truly impact AT&T i’m also impacting myself. 300 Mbps is 300 Mbps whether your using 1 device or 20. So is anyone really going to share a mobile connection to a bunch of people? Am i really going to rely on someone else’s mobile connection for my internet instead of getting my own? There will be a few but it is probably not going to be dependable customers these companies would get anyway and they are still only providing the same amount of data to the device no matter how many people are tethered to it.

I do want to point out that AT&T is not the culprit…uh hmmm…. Only culprit here. The cell providers all operate the same around tethering and/or hotspot data.

Since they have the control to block specific device types. The cellular service providers could easily whitelist specific routers installed in RV’s and provide an RV plan. Most RV’ers including the growing number of full timers would pay $100-150 per month for an unlimited data plan or add on line they could use in their RV. The first provider to do this and make it as easy as adding a new line, will steal huge amounts of customers from their competition. There are over 11 million RV owners of which over a million live full time in their RV and this number is growing rapidly with the growth in remote workers. Let’s see. Add $100 million in revenue plus potentially move another $200 plus million in standard accounts to your service and away from your competitors. Mmmm….. Sounds like an opportunity to me.

You might say hey, why is this such a big deal, campgrounds have WiFi right? The answer is yes but saturation is often a problem. It’s not their primary business so it is often not well architected, under supported and not secure. Oh and like in my current situation, broken. There is also the no campground situations like boondooking, Harvest Host, etc. If you depend on a solid and secure connection campground internet is at best a backup plan.

I’ll wrap up by saying the hotspot, which Mary overnighted to me, is working nicely. I went with a $65/month business unlimited plan. This plan does not provide prioritized data speeds so could potentially be affected by saturation. I do not anticipate this being an issue. Also, it’s technically 4G LTE data, although it’s a little faster on their newer 5G routers. It is limited to business use including video conferencing like Zoom, Teams etc. The terms of use state they can disconnect the service if you use it for streaming entertainment or gaming online. They can monitor this and according to what I’ve seen in my research they do pull the plug on you. Also, you have to prove you have a business to get this plan.

Ultimately, the solution may be Starlink. At the moment they have limited coverage and you have to login and change your location each time you move. But this is the most promising service since the cell providers don’t seem interested in filling the need. I’m thinking about writing an article on internet options for the RV lifestyle but there is already a lot of information available. So I may just do a helpful links update to this article or another. Maybe an article where we keep the links and information updated. Either way stay tuned and we will provide something helpful.

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