If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I am frugal. Some people would say “cheap”. I would argue I am very financially conscious. There is a reason we were able to retire by 60 and have the lifestyle we enjoy. But I digress…
WiFi: T Mobile
So when I retired from corporate life and they took my company paid smartphone away, I needed to start paying for my own cell phone. After a bit of research, we landed on Walmart’s Family Plan. Denise and I both purchased fairly inexpensive Android smartphones and a very inexpensive family plan that worked off of the T-Mobile network. It turned out the T-Mobile network was less than great where we lived. You sometimes lost a call walking from the living room to the lanai. But we could get by. We. of course, had high-speed internet at home, so we weren’t relying on our smartphones for much other than making “convenience” phone calls.
But as we considered purchasing an RV, and realizing our first long excursion in 2015 would cover over 5000 miles we knew we needed to make a change. Yes, T-Mobile might work great in Philadelphia (which it seems to do) but it wouldn’t have the coverage we wanted in South Dakota and Wyoming. I mean there is a difference between frugal and stupid. It really doesn’t make sense to pay for roadside assistance if you can’t call roadside assistance when you are stuck in Thermopolis, Wyoming.
We chose Verizon because it appeared to have the best nationwide coverage. We purchased iPhones because, well they are iPhones. We told ourselves they worked best with our iPad, iPods and my MacBook Air. But frankly they seemed sexy and all our friends had them.
Now that we have been traveling for about a year, we think Verizon was a good choice. Of course, there are spots in Yellowstone where you can’t get a signal. But if you get near any of the hotels or Welcome Centers you find a reliable signal. But what about WiFi?
For the first 12 months, we utilized our iPhone’s as HotSpots. To do this, simply go to Settings and select Personal Hotspot. Turn on this feature, and you are provided a password to enter into your iPad or computer. It need not be an Apple device. And, of course, the same functionality exist in the Android work. Check out: this post. Now your computer is using the cellular network provided by your phone. We found that this option provided reliable speed in most locations.
WiFi: Hotspot vs. JetPack
However, we were cautioned that this might affect the battery life of our iPhones. Now I don’t know if this is true, or just something every salesperson at the Verizon store is told to say. But I succumbed to the sales pitch at Christmas, perhaps because I needed one more stocking stuffer for Denise, and purchased Verizon’s MiFi/JetPack device. The pricing of these devices has fluctuated regularly. So if you are interested it is best to check their website or at the store for “today’s deal”.
Keep in mind, there are several fees to consider.
1. The Device: At Christmas, I paid $100 for the device and then received a $50 Visa rebate card. [And miracle of miracles I got the rebate card within 4 weeks!] Again this fee is only to purchase the device. At times I have seen “lease” them programs. And one friend swears she got hers for free for signing up. In our case, net expense (assuming we remember to use the Visa card) $50.
2. Access Fee: Then expect that they will charge you a monthly access fee. In our case this is $10. Essentially the device has its own cell number…so think of this as adding another line to your plan. But you can put the device on vacation. So if you know you won’t be using it for a month or more, you can put it on vacation and not pay the fee. Of course, you need to remember to put it on vacation.
3. Data Fees: At the current time, Verizon is offering a menu of Data Plan options. If all you want to do is access to email, check today’s stock market and some Facebook posts, their small plan at $30/month will be enough. Since we have started this blog and have watched some Netflix or Amazon Prime movies on the road, we have the largest plan they currently offer which adds $100 to our monthly bill.
Do I wish this cost less? Absolutely! Were we spoiled in Europe and Thailand where nearly every city had free high-speed WiFi. Absolutely! Do I think private enterprise has slowed US internet progress and increased our fees! Yep! There I go digressing again…
But what we like about the MiFi is the flexibility it offers. I can go onto their site at any time and change our data requirements. We pay for a lot of data when we are on the road, but cut it back to the bare minimum when we are home for a month or more. You can set up alerts, so you can see when you are approaching your monthly limit. Rather than being surprised by exorbitant overage charges, you can curtail your internet activities or choose to boost your monthly data allowance for that month.
Does AT&T or Sprint offer similar products? I suspect they do. Will other options become available in the future? I hope and expect so. But at this time, this is the best option for us. Since we are wifi dependent.