Sunday, January 9, 2011

Technology and Reflections, Air Cards and Connectivity Stuff

Copyright 2011, CABS for Reflections From the Fence

(Well, I did it again, a long, long post.  If you are not interested in air cards, you are forgiven, close Reflections right now, and come back soon.  Tomorrow I believe will be another report on THE Trip, see ya then!  For those interested in air cards and our saga, read on!)

As some of my readers may know Man and I have been having some connectivity issues.  We expect to have some, now and then, this is the Internet for cripes sakes.  Such a perfect little invention, who was that  invented it, oh never mind, lets NOT go there!  LOL

Man and I have had an air card with Sprint for over 3 years.  For the most part it has worked well.  We use a router to wifi to my Baby HP computer, and Man hard wires into the router while at the stickbuilt for the use of his desk top.  While we are on the road, we both wifi into the router/air card with our laptop computers.

(The router allows both of us access to the air card at the same time, also allows the iPod Touch online and the Wii online as well.)

The reasons for air cards are many, for us.  Now, remember, everyone has different needs, wants, protocols and limits of aggravation.  At the stick built we have 3 choices for our ISP.

1.)  Land lines, I don't think I need to say a lot about that, other than, nope, not really an option, S-L-O-W.  And, we cannot take the service with us.  Leaves us service-less when we are on the road, depending on campground, library, MickeyDees and other fast food restaurants and coffee houses for our connectivity.  MMM, this is not an option for "she has to be connected almost 24/7/365 Carol". 

2.)  Satellite, such as Hughes.  We actually had this for about 4 years, before air cards.  It was a monster of a dish, on the roof of the house (2 story house at that).  Down side, Man could not get up there to clean snow and ice off.  Snow and ice tend to put you down with no connection.  Long story, but he is NOT allowed on that roof, ever, seeing him rush down it one time and almost tumble off the house, well, that was enough.  NO MORE ROOFS for Man! 

Also, you cannot take that dish with you in an RV.  Well, some RVer's actually do.  They attach to the roof, better not have to set up/live under trees, or you have no connectivity.  But, Man and I were NOT taking that monster with us.  So, we either paid our monthly fee of almost $70.00 during the months we were gone (like 3 months or more at a time, burning up that ca$h with a service that was not assessable to us). OR, we could suspend the service for the months we were on the road.  Well, that also turned into a nightmare.  Several years ago we arrived back at the stickbuilt to discover that we no longer could connect.  Man spent 8, yes E-I-G-H-T hours on the phone to some nice lady in some foreign country (we could barely understand her English through the deep accent).  After 8 hours, we finally were able to surf.  Our days with the satellite were numbered, short numbered!

3.)  Air cards.  (Small little devices, small, small, small, did I say they are SMALL?)  There are several major players in this arena.  There are two that I am a bit familiar with, Verizon is one, Sprint is another.  (There are also providers that sell you a service, sometimes at discounted rates, sometimes not, that use V or S to connect you to the Internet.)  S is what works at our stick built.  Three years ago we based our choice of S on that fact alone.  It had to work at the stick built.  Period.  S did, we went with them.

Now, we come to our current situation, which is, we are no longer at the stickbuilt, we are in Tana, wheels rolling, westward ho and we will be (hopefully) in this state of affairs for another 4 to 6 months.  And, we are not in the strongest S territory.  We were using the campground wifi here and for the first couple of weeks, it was kick butt wifi.  Had the best Skype experience with our kids on Christmas day we have ever had.  I was happy as a pig in wifi mud, bloggin was fast, surfing was fast, wahhoooo!  Then, they changed the cable, instead of 14 channels, we get 70.  Nice. Except the wifi tanked, could not stay online.  Basically at the same time we discovered that our S card was not staying on line either.  Flipping back and forth between the air card and the campground wifi really made the Baby HP mad.  Issues, issues, way too many issues.

Cut out the days of frustration, and tweaking other things in the rig with the computers. Cut out the snarly remarks I was making!  OK, everyone knows I do not do computer/internet frustrations well.  NOPE, guilty as charged.  Man started doing research, S vs V.  Looked at coverage maps for the localities where we hope to be for the next several months, S is white, V is red.  Red is good coverage.  White is, well, not much coverage.  Looks like we need to consider using V for a while.  I mean, our S coverage is sad, and, mmm, frustrating.

So, we have opted to give a month to month service a go.  This card was not purchased through a Verizon store, but from an Internet business (as in no bricks and sticks building you can walk into.)  Millenicom is the name. The new air card has 20 gig a month limit, works in the router, and so far, here in Las Cruces is fast.   Deals and offerings change all the time, right now on one plan they offer a free air card, which you must return to them if you decide to totally cancel the service.  M is one of those services that connects you to the net using V or S.  You can choose from several plans and even pick to use V or S.  We chose to use V, but of course, since our S card was having issues.

We will test out the M/V card as we wander west in the next 2 weeks.  We depart Las Cruces the morning of the 14th, and will roll over to Quartzsite by January 20th, give or take a day or two.  How's that for a definitive plan?   We will be in the red coverage area.

For those that travel a lot, an air card is a miracle/necessity.  Almost all of my long time/full time RVing friends have one.  The wifi in campgrounds is well known to be, mmmm, flaky, at best.  Sometimes the only place it will work is in the office or laundry room.  MMMM, sorry, been there, done that, and DO NOT WISH TO DO IT AGAIN.  I have a desk in Tana for a reason, eh??  LOL

So, I own an air card, does that guarantee I will be able to access the Internet anytime, ANYPLACE?  Well, yes, and no.  They don't turn the service off at dusk, and back on at sunrise, but, there are a lot of places you will have access trouble.  Mountains are well known to have trouble, just like your cell phones.  Coves and hallars in mountainous areas are suspect as well.  If there is no population, as in the deserts, you are not going to have a cell tower nearby. If there are no cell towers, no cell phone service, there is a very good chance you will NOT have air card/internet service either.  Man tells me that the cell phone and the air card use different frequencies and can share a tower, but they don't always have both transmitters on any one tower.

One way to look at it is, if you get way off the beaten path, your service is going to be suspect.  Coverage, as I mentioned above, has holes.  Look at the coverage maps.  Will you be working/living/traveling in the west of the USA?  Maybe you will never get west of the Mississippi River.  Determine which company covers where you will be the most and the best.  I always advise that you choose a company that works at your stick built if that is where you will be between travels and if that is the only service you will have or can afford.  Then, when you are out and about, you will have to deal with "holes" in the service.  That is exactly what Man and I have been doing for over 3 years.  Up until this trip, this far west, we have only had a few instances of limited or no connectivity in those 3 years.  That said, this business changes by the day, even by the hour.  It was time for us to investigate the whole game plan again, find out what is new, and try something!  And, so we are!

We will continue to use air cards, for us they are the way to connect to the Internet that makes sense for our life style, the "roll the wheels down the road, where our hearts desire" life style.  We fully expect that sometimes the connectivity will be suspect or slow.  Air cards are not perfect, but, for the most part, they really do service well.  Can't leave home without one.

* Disclaimer: Millenicom, Hughes, Verizon and Sprint are copyrighted and protected by law, etc., etc., etc.  I have no interest in them, other than using them to make phone calls and get online.  I claim no rights.  I pay for my u$eage.  Every month I pay!

**Graphic found somewhere on the internet several years ago, source data long lost.


Barbara Poole said...

Oh Carol, that was short. Kidding aside, I came right down to comments. I don't even know what a air card is, well I do a little. All the emails and such, I pretended to know what you were talking about. Anyway, I wanted you to have a comment, esp. with all your hard work with this post.

Carol said...

Thanks Barbara, for the comment. I believe you connect to the internet via cable, which you plug directly into your computer.

My aircard, is in the physical form of a usb type thingy, and is equal to your cable. It is my mechanical/physical contraption to get me on the net.

A air card can be directly plugged into your laptop, or as in our case, into a router (so that more than one wireless device can use the air card at a time).

Just think thumb drive/jump drive/usb drive - - many names, same hardware.

OR, think of it as a miracle! I do! LOL

Anonymous said...

Isn't all this tec stuff great? Just when I think I have it all figured out "IT" shows me who is boss.

You should have no problem in Q with V.


Becky said...

Thanks for the update Carol. When I head back out on the road I'll be going with some type of aircard, I think, or possibly a Mifi connection. Will be looking into options dependent upon where I'm headed.

Sure got tired of eating at McD's all of the time ;-) just so I could use their "free" wifi. Libraries are generally a good option for free wifi also but can be "iffy" as well. And there are other places with free wifi but finding them can be a real pain. Agree with you about wifi at campgrounds. Very iffy. And generally verrrry sloooow.

Definitely need my own internet connection!!

Carol said...

Becky, remember when we met in Pensacola, I encouraged you to get an air card? Personally, I don't know how you went so long! LOL

A Mifi is good if you don't want to plug that USB card into your laptop. I believe they have a range of about 30 to 50 feet?? The Mifi I have seen is a square little box, about 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches (ABOUT). Very useful for many that want to use several computers at a time. We stayed away because we do not think it would broadcast far enough in our stick built.

Study the available stuff about every 2 to 3 months, changes so fast your head will spin! LOL

OHHH, and Becky, pay attention to possibility of using an external antenna with whatever you buy, we use one ALL the time!

Yes, Sharon, I love techy stuff, WHEN IT WORKS THE WAY I THINK IT SHOULD! LOL

Michelle Goodrum said...

Very interesting post. I have been following your "challenges" on this subject with great interest because I expect we will be getting something in the next year or so.

Love the graphic. I can really, really relate!

Becky said...

Carol, yes, I remember...I'm just frugal (or cheap!)I guess. LOL. I'll keep in mind your recommendations for an antenna. Think I read that somewhere. Anyway, thanks for the additional info.