Hitting the Road: How to Boost GPS and Cell Signals in your RV

As John Steinbeck said, “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” But while you can’t control every twist and turn you’ll encounter out there on the highways, a little planning and preparation goes a long way. And one thing every road-ready RVer needs to think about is how to get a strong GPS and cell signal.

Why You Need a Signal Boost

Now you may be thinking, “I’m trying to get away from it all. Do I really need GPS and cell service if I’m boondocking in the wilderness?” Well, you’ve got a point there! There’s certainly something to be said for going “off the grid” and enjoying some peace and quiet away from the modern world. However, most RVers find that maintaining at least some level of connectivity is pretty essential for safety, navigation, and simply keeping their mobile lives running smoothly.

Here are just a few reasons having a GPS and cellular signal comes in handy when RVing:

  • Navigation: Modern GPS mapping apps like Google Maps make navigating unfamiliar areas a breeze. Without them, just getting turned around can mean hours of driving in the wrong direction! And nothing spoils a scenic country drive faster than getting lost on some dusty backroad.
  • Emergencies: Cell service provides a lifeline in case of accidents, breakdowns, or medical issues on the road. Even just a simple flat tire is much less stressful when you can call roadside assistance. And out in the boonies where 911 service is spotty, a GPS SOS function can literally be a lifesaver.
  • Communication: Staying in touch with family, friends, and work contacts helps you feel less isolated out on the road. And doing business like banking or booking campsites is infinitely easier with mobile data access.
  • Entertainment: Streaming shows, music and audiobooks helps pass the time on long drives. And Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other apps help you find cool attractions and reviews on the go. Going off the grid means missing out on a lot of options for amusement and exploration!

So while an occasional digital detox can be refreshing, most RVers find maintaining connectivity to be a smart idea. And that often means employing some tricks and technology to amplify those GPS and cellular signals. Let’s look at some options…

Ways to Boost Your RV’s GPS

A clear GPS signal is clutch for navigation apps. But the signal can easily get blocked by your RV’s metal body. Trees, buildings, and even weather conditions can also interfere. Here are some good solutions to improve reception:

Use a GPS Antenna

Installing an external antenna on your RV’s roof helps pull in GPS signals much better than your onboard navigation system alone. Models like the Garmin GA-38 use an active amplifier to strengthen reception. And the magnetic base makes for easy mounting. Priced at around $40, it’s an affordable upgrade that makes a huge difference in signal clarity.

Opt for a Roof-Mounted Satellite

For the best results, install a small satellite TV antenna like the Winegard Carryout G2+. The dome housing contains a highly sensitive GPS receiver that aligns itself with satellites in orbit above. This provides the strongest, most reliable signal – even in dense foliage or bad weather when other receivers fail. At $350 it’s a pricier option but worth it for tech-loving road warriors.

Use a GPS Extender

A budget-friendly compromise is a portable extender like the Garmin GA 25MCX. You simply place the magnetic antenna on your RV’s roof to capture GPS and GLONASS satellites. A 16′ cable connects to your onboard Garmin navigator or smartphone to retransmit the boosted signal. Customers call it a “gamechanger” for under $60!

Boosting Cell Reception in your RV

Maintaining a strong LTE cellular connection is just as important as GPS. But RVs can act like giant Faraday cages, blocking signals from penetrating inside. And coverage gets spotty outside urban areas. Try these tricks to stay connected:

Use Your Phone as a Mobile Hotspot

Did you know you can turn your smartphone into a mini cellular tower? Enabling the mobile hotspot shares its cellular data connection with other devices via WiFi. This allows you to bring a strong 4G LTE signal inside your RV. Just make sure your carrier’s plan supports hotspot use. Verizon and AT&T offer the best coverage for RVers.

Install a Cell Booster

Cell boosters (also called repeaters) grab distant, weak cellular signals and rebroadcast them into your RV at full strength. They use an exterior antenna to capture the signal, an amplifier to strengthen it, and an interior antenna to transmit it. The weBoost Drive 4G-X RV kit provides reliable LTE coverage up to 32x stronger for under $500. It’s the gold standard for RVers wanting robust connectivity.

Use a WiFi Extender as a Workaround

If no cell towers are available, you can leverage WiFi signals as a workaround. WiFi extenders like the TP-Link RE650 pull in weak WiFi and rebroadcast it over a larger area. Situate it near a campground hotspot to share the connection with your RV. At under $100, it’s an easy hack for expandig limited WiFi access to stay connected.

Change Locations to Find Better Reception

Sometimes just a small change in physical location makes a difference. Parking your RV on a hill rather than in a valley can provide better line-of-sight to a distant cell tower. Even just turning to face different directions can help. Be willing to experiment to find a “sweet spot” with the strongest signal, especially if boondocking in rural areas. Patience and persistence pay off.

Limit Bandwidth-Hungry Apps

If connectivity is really spotty, reduce bandwidth strain by disabling apps syncing big data in the background. Disable auto-play videos and music too. Close bandwidth hogs you’re not actively using, put smart devices into airplane mode, and disable WiFi and Bluetooth when not needed. Every little bit preserves precious bandwidth to keep basic functions like maps and messaging working.

Key Selection Criteria for RV Signal Boosters

With so many antenna and signal booster options out there, it can be hard to know what to choose. Keep these factors in mind when shopping to get the right gear for your needs:

  • Frequency support – Boosters should handle all the cellular and GPS frequencies used by major carriers like 700 Mhz, 800 MHz and 1900 Mhz. LTE-capable boosters ensure you get fast 4G speeds.
  • RV installation – Choose antennas and mounting hardware designed specifically for RVs, with easy non-penetrating attachment methods. You don’t want to risk leaks or damage to your RV roof.
  • Coverage area – More powerful boosters provide broader signal amplification, while mini models are good for smaller RVs like campers and trailers. Know how much space you need to cover.
  • Number of users – Boosters with higher user capacity maintain strong signals for multiple devices accessing it simultaneously. Important if you travel with family or for business.
  • Reliability – Select reputable brands like weBoost and Winegard known for quality gear that works as advertised. Check product reviews rather than just going by cost. It pays to buy right the first time.
  • Budget – Signal boosting gear ranges from about $50 for basic antennas to $500+ for heavy-duty cellular boosters. Set realistic expectations based on what you can spend.

Creative Ways to Reduce RV Signal Interference

Sometimes you can improve reception just by identifying and reducing sources of signal interference in and around your RV:

  • Install low-E glass windows which block less signal than traditional windows
  • Face the RV’s front or back end toward cell towers when parked since this has less metallic interference.
  • Close the slide-outs when not needed to reduce open spaces that weaken interior signal propagation.
  • Cover reflective surfaces on walls or cabinets that can deflect and dissipate interior signal strength.
  • Position WiFi routers or cell signal boosters near windows where receptivity is best rather than central, enclosed areas.
  • Turn off other high-frequency electronic devices like microwaves that can potentially interfere with cell and WiFi signals when not in use.
  • Use external shade covers when parked since satellite signals can penetrate fabric better than solid overhead objects like trees or overpasses.
  • Elevate antennas on masts or poles above roofline obstructions for clearer line-of-sight signal capture.

Little tweaks like these provide passive but helpful ways to eke out a few more precious bars of WiFi or cellular service when you need it most. And every bit counts when you depend on connectivity!

Choosing RV Campsites with Better Reception

Your RV parked location makes a big difference, since cell and GPS reception varies widely in different terrain. Scope out the signal strength at different spots when arriving at a new site.

Ideally choose sites:

  • On elevated ground or hills that offer a clear line of sight to towers
  • Away from dense trees or tall structures that cause interference
  • Close to the park office or other structures housing WiFi hotspots or gear
  • With few large RVs, trucks, or metal barriers between you and the nearest tower
  • At outer edges of the campground nearer access roads for clearer shots
  • Free from natural signal blockers like heavy foliage, hills, tunnels, or valleys

Check reception on your phone at the site first before committing. And always have a backup plan like cellular boosters or extenders in case the site still has poor coverage. A little advance planning prevents headaches later!

I once picked a seemingly nice spot under some huge trees at a state park campground in Utah. After parking, I realized the thick pines completely blocked GPS and cellular signals! Thank goodness I had my weBoost cell booster as a safety net. I was still able to get enough bars to stream a movie that night. And backup batteries ensured the GPS still worked for navigating to the park trails the next day. Pick your site carefully, but always be prepared!

Key Takeaways for Boosting RV Signals

Reliable connectivity is critical for navigating the open road safely and comfortably. Follow these tips for success:

  • Evaluate your needs to pick gear that provides necessary signal strength.
  • Look for antennas, repeaters and extenders designed for easy RV installation.
  • Carefully research brands for highest quality, reliability and performance.
  • Strategically place networking gear for optimal interior signal propagation.
  • Tweak sites by moving, elevating, or shielding antennas to reduce interference.
  • Balance connection needs with occasional digital detox when you need some offline peace and quiet.

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