Tuesday, October 27, 2015

RV smoke signals

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We were recently at a commercial RV park in Arizona with terrible Wi-Fi reception. We specifically chose this park because it advertised Wi-Fi. We paid for a week before we realized the Wi-Fi was only available if you sat on the bench outside the office.

My husband spent a hundred dollars on some crazy device that was supposed to reach out and grab the signal. It worked to some degree, but I would rather have the hundred bucks than mediocre Wi-Fi.

The park had many permanent residents with a separate internet service. Near the end of our stay a guy came over to talk to my husband. He was trying to figure out if we were getting on their internet and if we had their password. My husband was trying to help him with the password that was given to us by the park office and told him about the receiver thingy he had bought. As the conversation continued my husband finally figured out the guy knew more than he did about this techie stuff. He was actually one of the residents on the separate service and thought we were stealing their Wi-Fi.

I thought it a bit rude for him to come over and pretend he needed help. We can hardly spell Wi-Fi let alone hack into someone else’s signal. I’m sure I had smoke coming out my ears when I realized what was going on, but I held my tongue.

When we left we felt like people had probably been watching us suspiciously for days and treating us like criminals, when we were actually the ones who paid for a service we never received.

I don’t really have a question, I just wanted to let off steam.
--Smoke Signals in Sedona

 Dear Smokey:
Many parks have discovered that Wi-Fi is very important to customers. Putting in an adequate system to cover a park and supply the data is not cheap, but many parks are investing in better coverage. There is no such thing as a “free lunch.” You will often pay more for this service, cable or any other amenity.

Like your husband and many other readers I have tried several signal boosting, long-range adapters such as those produced by Alfa Networks. They work to some degree, but often the park is putting out a weak signal and it is only meant for guests to use at the clubhouse or near the office.

It can be frustrating for those who share a connection with others. If someone is streaming video it can throttle everyone else. Your guy should be looking at members of his own group. I assume they have their network password protected, so someone in his group must be giving it out.

You might want to call ahead or ask more specific questions when you reach a park, before you reach for your wallet. Some parks will use language like, “Wi-Fi Available.” Sometimes that means you can buy short-term service from a nearby provider. Sometimes that means you have to be parked next to the office pointing SE, up on one wheel and hold your computer over your head next to the slideout window.

A Long-Range USB Adapter will only let you see a signal and sometimes tell you its strength. It will not let you access data if it is protected, as most are.

Those little "receiver thingy’s” are great in certain situations, but you can’t count on them all the time.

I met a guy who hooked one up to a Pringles can. It wasn’t working so I told him to try two soup cans and tie them together with a long string. He just gave me the stink eye.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink


Anonymous said...

Great point-You get what you pay for! If having internet service is a "must-have" ammenity I would invest in a WIFi hot spot this way you have your own network (password protected) that you can use at will.

Anonymous said...

I consider a "good free wifi signal" as one that I can use to download email w/attachments, browse Facebook and post pictures, and play a couple of games. We might trip across one of those once a year. During our latest trip from Alaska we didn't find any like that, and only one that allowed email sans attachments. We haven't paid for extra internet because we can hook up to our cell service. If the extra internet $ allowed streaming movies I might, but I doubt it. I think the internet industry is taking advantage of a golden cow. I don't fault campgrounds because there is little profit thus no incentive to provide a decent wi-fi. So we will continue using friends and family wi-fi when visiting and paying Verizon our life savings when we are not.

jean said...

It is beyond me why someone would go out into our lovely wilderness and then do what they can do much better at home. Go take a walk? Yup

jean said...

Further comment from my earlier grouse about taking a walk. I realize that contact is important - and at times, necessary too. We live without a TV or fancy cell phone - but do enjoy the out of doors. Don't let that rotten apple guy spoil your pie - just make applesauce of his underhanded way of dealihg with people. The steam only makes YOU hot.

Gary M said...

Whether you think Wi-Fi is important or not is irrelevant. If a park advertises Wi-Fi service, they should provide good reliable service. If you think about it, it’s unfair to the few parks that actually do provide what they advertise for the cheaters to run the same ads. There are couple of things everyone should do to help improve this situation. Basically, hold their feet to the fire. First, when Wi-Fi doesn’t work, complain to management. When they tell me it’s overloaded and to try at a different time, or provide other excuses, I tell them the ad said nothing about that. Second, when you review the park online, take a couple of stars off. Not so much for the lack of Wi-Fi, but for the false advertising. We DO take the time to help the community by writing park reviews, don’t we? Lastly, learn how to use your cell phone for an internet connection. And, before you tell me that I’m on vacation and I have to learn to ‘get away’ from it all, when it comes down to either stay in touch with your business or don’t leave, I choose to stay in touch and sneak away.

Anonymous said...

Internet costs the park a bundle. Our park offers free wifi but puts a limit on how much you can use. It is enough for email, banking, and limited browsing. Each site has it own password. It is automatically monitored. If you go over, it shuts you off. This way no one can HOG the bandwidth. More people can now get on wifi and get the necessities done.

rvgrandma said...

We live in a park FT. The park advertises free Wi-Fi and also tell people everyone can get it. When we moved here in 8/13 it was great. In 11/13 we had a big windstorm and have not been able to pick it up since. I have to pay for my own service through the park cable provider. When I complain they blame it on: the bubble foil in our front window (Mh), too many people having their own wi-fi system including me, my computer or kindle or cell phone, - every excuse except it being their fault. Even overnighters who have unobstructed line to the signal can rarely get on. The signal is there - but you can't sign on or if you do, you can't go anywhere. They raised our rent this year and said it would go towards improving it. Nothing has happened. What irks me is they advertise it and Good Sam gives them a good mark for it, but it is a sham.

Wolfe said...

Shrink: The Pringles "Cantenna" actually DOES work for weak signals, if you know how to use it.. it makes the omnidirectional dongle into a DIRECTIONAL antenna much like a satellite dish lets you pull in a weak signal from space even while the town radio station is fuzzy. The trick is knowing where the WiFi router is and/or monitoring signal strength while pointing around until you get a good signal.

Yes, I'm still talking about improving WiFi which you're supposed to have access to, not hacking passworded neighbors.

The bigger issue is that campgrounds don't always understand how to provide enough connections or enough bandwidth. By default, most routers only allow a few wifi addresses (connections) because most residential users wouldn't want more anyway. Here, you'll see an available connection that you just can't get to actually connect.

Even if you enabled 250 connections, the bandwidth is still divided by the users, and can get so slow and intermittent/sparse that the connected computers assume the router hung up on them and go into renegotiation hell. Too many connections makes none work because they fight over "who gets to talk next" on the radio channel and get very little functional "talking" done.

Then there are issues with channel conflicts... if the private WiFi users in the area are on "your" channel, you're sharing radio time with them even when you're NOT authorized on their network. Data collisions hurt both of your speeds...

Even if the WiFi segment were perfect, you're dividing the available upstream bandwidth -- so if the campsite buys 2MB/sec upstream service, split between 200 users that's still unusably poor dial-up-like speed.

The CORRECT way to serve large numbers of people is to have multiple routers on multiple channels and multiple network segments, preferably geographically separated so every client isn't hitting the same router in the camp office. Most campsites don't even bother to put $7 plug-in repeaters throughout the campground, so I'd wager almost NO campsites bother with hiring a serious network engineer when setting up their WiFi... they buy residential-level service and plug in a residential-class router thinking that's enough for hundreds of users -- when it's not... remotely...

Terry Milazzo said...

Wolfe is right on the money!

Anonymous said...

Oh, gosh. Don't we know by now that when it comes to wifi we never get what we pay for? Ever been on a cruise and paid a super-premium for the wifi that you can never get on?
You must have your own cellular data and use it wisely. Too many people use youtube or try to watch movies, etc. even when they know they should not on a wifi provided by a park. They are the ones who are spoiling your use. I'm with the go for a walk crowd. Much less frustrating. Use your cellular data and NEVER pay for wifi in an RV park. You'll be happier.