A Guide to Selecting the Ideal Data Plan for RV Streaming


Streaming entertainment on the road is one of the great joys of RVing. Whether you’re catching up on your favorite shows on Netflix, cheering on your home team on ESPN, or listening to tunes on Spotify, having access to streaming services makes the miles go by faster. But with so many data plans and devices to choose from, it can be tricky to figure out the right setup for your needs and budget.

We’ll provide tips and personal anecdotes to help you identify the ideal plan based on your streaming habits and travel routes. Let’s hit the road!

Coverage Considerations

The first and most important factor in choosing a data plan is coverage. After all, it doesn’t matter how much data or speed a plan provides if you can’t get a signal!

When looking at coverage, you’ll want to evaluate two things:

  1. The overall coverage map for each of the major carriers.
  2. The coverage along your most frequent travel routes.

Evaluating Coverage Maps

Carriers provide coverage maps on their websites, which show approximately where they have service across the U.S. You can also use independent sites like The Mobile Internet Resource Center to compare coverage maps across AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and other providers.

“We spent hours poring over coverage maps before our 6-month trip last year. It really helped us identify the carrier with the strongest overall coverage for our route.”

Coverage can vary widely between providers, especially in rural areas. For example, Verizon tends to have better rural coverage, while T-Mobile excels in cities. Think about where you travel most to determine which carrier may be best aligned.

Checking Coverage on Your Routes

In addition to checking overall coverage maps, you’ll want to review coverage specifically along your most-driven routes. Coverage can be sporadic in certain areas, so you’ll want to be sure you have a strong signal where you’ll use it most.

“We meticulously mapped out our yearly trip from Florida to Alaska and researched coverage in each area. This helped us identify a few dead zones to plan around.”

Resources like the Mobile Internet Resource Center allow you to enter a route or addresses to view predicted coverage from different carriers along your path. This can help identify gaps where an external antenna or signal booster may be useful.

Ask Locals About Their Service

Don’t forget to ask fellow RVers about their experience with various carriers when camping and on the road. They can provide real-world insights beyond what coverage maps indicate.

“The campground host gave us great intel about which carrier gets the best service in that area. It was a huge help in picking our plan.”

Speed Considerations

Once you’ve identified carriers with adequate coverage for your routes, the next factor to evaluate is speed. Streaming eats up data quickly, especially for high definition video. You’ll want a fast connection to get the highest quality video and avoid buffering and lag.

When reviewing data plan speeds, consider:

  • Video quality needed (SD, HD, 4K)
  • Number of simultaneous streams
  • Other internet uses like web browsing

This will help determine minimum speeds needed. Some aspects that impact speed include:

Cellular Network Technology

Carriers offer plans based on different cellular network technologies:

  • 5G provides the fastest speeds, but has limited availability.
  • LTE offers speeds fast enough for HD streaming in most cases.
  • 3G is usable for SD streaming but can be slow.

Prioritize LTE plans or 5G where available. Avoid 3G-only plans if possible.

“We made the mistake of choosing a cheaper 3G plan when we first started RVing. Buffering made movie nights unbearable!”

Data Prioritization

Most carriers “prioritize” data for some plans over others during network congestion. This means those plans get faster speeds when the network is crowded.

Plans that may be prioritized include:

  • Premium unlimited plans
  • Recently introduced plans

De-prioritized plans like cheaper or older unlimited options may experience slower speeds during peak times.

WiFi Speeds

If using public WiFi for streaming, test the speeds to confirm they can support your usage. Speeds on open WiFi networks are often quite slow.

“That free campground WiFi can’t even handle 144p video! Always have a cellular data backup.”

Data Limits

The third key factor in choosing a data plan is the data limit. Data limits refer to the amount of data you can use during your billing period, often monthly. Once you hit the limit your speeds may be throttled or you could incur overage charges.

Streaming video can eat through data quickly:

  • SD video: ~1GB per hour
  • HD video: ~3GB per hour
  • 4K video: ~7GB per hour

So first, estimate your expected monthly data usage based on video quality, streaming hours per day, and any other internet activities.

Next, look at data plan limit options and overage policies:

  • Unlimited plans offer peace of mind but can be expensive. Some “unlimited” plans slow speeds after a certain usage level.
  • Shared/pooled plans allow combining multiple devices on one data bucket.
  • Pay-per-GB options charge for additional data used over the limit.

Aim for a limit at least 50% above your estimated usage to be safe. An unlimited plan can provide the most flexibility if you can fit it in your budget.

“We have a 100GB shared plan which handles our streaming just fine. The peace of mind of unlimited data would be nice though!”

Cost Considerations

With data plans that meet your coverage, speed, and data limit needs identified, the final factor to evaluate is cost. Cost depends on several aspects:

Number of Lines/Devices

If you need data for multiple devices (phones, laptops, tablets) it is typically cheaper to get a shared family plan when possible or a wireless router that can broadcast a WiFi signal to connect several devices.

A personal hotspot feature on your phone may incur extra fees and have slower speeds than a separate hotspot device or router.

Nationwide vs Regional Carriers

Major nationwide carriers like Verizon and AT&T provide better rural coverage but often at higher prices. Regional carriers like U.S. Cellular offer cheaper plans in certain areas of the country.

Monthly Plans vs Prepaid

Postpaid monthly plans tend to cost more but may come with perks like higher priority data or free streaming services. Prepaid plans allow paying up front for a set amount of data at a discount.

Current Promotions

Check carrier websites regularly for discounts and limited-time offers. Signing up when promos are running can provide substantial savings on devices or plans.

“We saved nearly $500 in the first year by taking advantage of a buy-one-get-one-free deal when purchasing our hotspot device and data plan.”

Network Compatibility

One final key consideration when selecting a data plan is network compatibility. You want to ensure your modem, router, or other devices can connect to the carrier network you choose.

There are a few aspects to check:

Cellular Bands

Cellular networks operate on different radio bands. For example Verizon uses band 13 while AT&T uses bands 2, 4, and 5. Your device hardware must be compatible with the bands used by your chosen carrier.

Carrier Locking

Some devices are “locked” to only allow usage on a specific carrier. This is common when purchasing a subsidized device directly through a carrier. An unlocked device lets you switch out SIM cards as needed.

Standalone vs Carrier-Specific

Some mobile hotspots and routers are designed for use exclusively with a certain carrier’s data plan while others are “standalone” and let you insert any compatible SIM. Know what you’re getting before purchasing.

Confirm these details before committing to avoid any connectivity issues down the road.

Now that we’ve covered the key factors in choosing a data plan, here are some top recommendations from The Mobile Internet Resource Center

according to your usage needs:

Light Streaming (SD Only)

  • AT&T Prepaid – $35/month for 8GB
    • Reliable coverage
    • Lower priority data
    • Auto-pay and multi-month discounts
    • Purchase data packs to add more if needed

Moderate Streaming (HD)

  • T-Mobile Simply Prepaid – $50/month for 10GB
    • T-Mobile excels in cities
    • Music and video streaming not counted toward limit
    • Video may be slower than HD
  • Verizon Prepaid – $45/month for 15GB
    • Verizon has excellent rural coverage
    • Carryover unused data to the next month

Heavy Streaming (HD/4K)

  • AT&T Unlimited Elite – $50/month per line for 4+ lines
    • Top priority unlimited data
    • HBO Max included
    • Best value unlimited plan
  • Verizon Play More Unlimited – $80/month
    • 50GB premium data then may be slower
    • Includes Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+
    • Apple Music subscription included

Closing Recommendations

Selecting the right data plan for an RV involves more factors than just picking the cheapest option with the highest limits. By carefully evaluating coverage, speeds, data needs, costs, and network compatibility, you can identify the ideal plan to enable streaming on the road within your budget.

Focus on carriers with adequate coverage for your travel routes first, then look for a data allotment that fits your estimated usage. Check for any carrier deals and promotions when signing up. And confirm your devices will be compatible before making a selection.

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