What’s the Difference, and Which Cell Signal Antenna Is Better for You?
RV internet went from being a luxury only a select few had to something we all expect while RVing. Cell boosters and MIMO antennas are two popular options for RV internet.
For most of us, the days of going off the grid for any amount of time are long gone. And while taking some time to remove yourself from cell phones and the internet for a few days can be a great way to recharge, most of us depend on the internet for one reason or another.
Whether to keep your kids entertained, video call with family, or work, having reliable internet while RVing is, without a dought, a great convenience. Many campgrounds offer WiFi, but the service is just okay at best. Many people using an overloaded internet source results in bad internet for everyone.
So for all the full-time RVers, work-from-the-road RVers, and any other RVers who want fast, reliable internet, what are your options? As mentioned, campground WiFi or public WiFi is an option but is generally the last resort. Satellite internet is becoming more popular and more widely available and is an entire article.
Let’s look at two popular RV internet options and see if one is better than the other and which one makes more sense for you.
Cell Boosters for RV Internet
Cell boosters have been around for a long time and are used by people worldwide. As the name implies, they boost cellular signals.
Cell signals travel from your connected device to cell towers and back to complete your connection. Depending on your location, you may be very far from the closest cell signal location. Cell boosters bridge this gap giving you more range by increasing the signal.
Cell boosters utilize an exterior antenna, in this case, mounted to your RV, directed toward the closet cell signal tower to provide this boost. The signal received from the external antenna is then sent to the booster inside your RV.
There are two types of external antennas, omnidirectional and directional. Omnidirectional antennas are the set-it-and-forget-it kind that will pick up a signal from all directions. A directional antenna must be pointed in the direction that the signal is coming.
- If you use your cell phone to hot spot off, then a cell booster can improve your cell phone signal, improving the signal on your laptop or other connected devices. Keep in mind cell boosters do not create signals, so if there is no signal to boost, they will have zero effect.
- When you’re really out there and have no WiFi options, cell boosters are great. Although you may not obtain a lightning-fast internet connection, slow internet is better than no internet. Cell boosters can save the day if you travel outside urban areas often.
- If you are going to be stationary for some time in a location with minimal signal, a solid cell booster signal with the antenna dialed in can offer problem-free internet until it’s time to move.
- Cell boosters are single-channel tools meaning there is one signal that goes out and one signal that comes in. This is one of the drawbacks as it isn’t as fast as multiple channel options. Since it is a single channel in and out, interference between the incoming and outgoing channels can also be an issue. Think of it like a walkie-talkie. It can transmit your voice to the other radios or receive a signal from someone else. But you can’t both talk and receive at the same time.
- Many cell boosters are directional, meaning they must be pointed at the signal. Finding the best position of the exterior mounted antenna can take some time and speed testing of your internet. Once the antenna position is locked in, you’re good to go… until you move, of course. For people on the road and bouncing from location to location, this can be an annoying task to perform repeatedly.
- Cell boosters, although old technology, aren’t cheap. The starting price for a good quality booster that is good enough for RV internet will be about $300 and go up from there. Cheaper boosters are available but will likely disappoint.
Popular Cell Boosters
Best Over All
weBoost Drive X RV
- Boost signals from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and others.
- It is 5G compatible.
- Easy-to-follow DIY installation.
- Works while parked or in motion.
SureCall Fusion2Go Max
- Works with all North American carriers.
- 5G Compatible
- Designed for use in cars, trucks, SUVs, or RVs.
- Compact design
Phonetone Cell Phone Signal Booster for Cars and SUVs
- Compatible with 5G
- Automatic Gain Control, Standby Mode and Eliminate Oscillation.
- Tool-Free Installation
MIMO Antennas for RV Internet
Very popular with RVers who require good internet, especially for work purposes, MIMO, or multi-in multi-out antennas, use multiple channels to relay internet signal.
Like boosters, MIMO antennas are generally mounted to your RV’s roof or on a pole. Many are relatively lightweight and low-profile units. These multiple-channel antennas allow for faster speeds due to being able to send and receive signals at the same time.
Rather than coming as a kit by default, MIMO antennas can be purchased to replace the antenna on an existing hotspot as long as that hotspot has connections for an external antenna. In other words, rather than boosting a cell signal, a MIMO antenna is simply adding a bigger antenna.
If you already have a hotspot, you can check with the service or manufacturer to see if it’s possible to plug in an external antenna.
MIMO Allows A Modular Internet Setup
It’s possible to purchase a $54 MIMO antenna for an existing hotspot and easily improve your mobile internet speeds. However, buying a more advanced hotspot router and a fancier MIMO antenna can allow the use of multiple SIM cards with data packages from different cellular providers to ensure you can switch to the best provider. In addition, WiFi-as-WAN is an option for MIMO users with a WiFi-capable hotspot. This is the ability to connect to any open WiFi network within range.
These antennas will have a range of cables running to your RV, allowing for cell and WiFi connections and GPS connections on some models.
- The most significant advantage of a MIMO antenna is the increase in data speeds over a booster.
- A modular setup allows you to build a mobile internet setup that suits your RV lifestyle.
- The option to use cell or WiFi signals with some MIMO antennas is a bonus.
- Extra options like GPS makes MIMO antennas an all-in-one answer to RV internet.
- Since there are multi-in and multi-out channels, there are fewer interference issues as you have multiple options for signal. Not limiting devices’ abilities to send and receive makes MIMO faster in most situations.
- Many models can be combined with multi-SIM card routers, allowing you multiple service providers. This can be a benefit if you change areas often, as different providers have better signals in different areas.
- They require you already have a WiFi hotspot or purchase one with a kit. Mobile Must Have sells several full mobile internet kits complete with data plans for RVers that you can install yourself.
- MIMO antennas are used for better cell signals. However, they don’t boost the signal as cell boosters do. If you frequently boondock in areas with only one bar of signal, your internet may not be as reliable using a MIMO setup as it would be with a booster.
- Although the antennas themselves can be pretty cheap, all the add-ons for MIMO setups can add up. For example, add a cat 20 router and GPS option, and your cheap antenna becomes pricey. That being said, can you really even put a price on good internet?
Popular MIMO Antennas
Best For Weaker Signal Areas
MIMO 4×4 Log Periodic External Antenna Kit
- The directional MIMO antenna provides a focused signal.
- It comes with adaptors to fit a variety of mobile hotspots.
- 4 X 4 antennas provide better speeds. (Must have a hotspot modem with four antenna inputs.)
Best “Everything But The Kitchen Sink” Option
Parsec Husky PRO 7 in 1
- The Husky PRO Series 7-in-1 Antenna has been used in police, ambulance, and first responder vehicles.
- 5G Capable (600 MHz – 6 GHz) antennas
- Four cellular antennas
- 2 WiFi antennas
- 1 GPS antenna
- Supports T-Mobile receiving band 71 as well as AT&T’s FirstNET Band 14
- Low profile (2.25 inches off the roof)
- One of the highest gain ratings in the market.
Of course, to use all antennas, one must have a hotspot router with all the ports.
Best All-In-One Kit
Speed Demon 5G Mobile Internet Bundle From Mobile Must Have
- Powerful Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro 5G / CAT-20 Mobile Router, WIFI 6
- 2 SIM card slots for multiple carriers
- Parsec Husky Pro 7, 7-in-1 5G Antenna
- Optional high-data hot spot plans available
- Optional Router Remote Setup and Training Class – Instructor Led
- Excellent all-in-one mobile internet option that you can set up yourself.
Best Budget Option
Proxicast Ultra Low Profile MIMO 4G / 5G Omni-Directional Antenna
- Magnetic or adhesive mount
- Picks up 5G signals
- Compatible with any hotspot that has two antenna ports
- It can be used as a portable option or magnetically mounted outside
Which Option Is Best For RV Internet?
Choosing the right RV internet option will depend on your travel plans. In most cases, MIMO antennas are the go-to for RVers. The flexibility they offer for internet sources and the convenience of having an all-in-one WiFi booster/cell antenna make them a great option. If high-speed internet while on the road is a priority, then MIMO is the way to go.
Decent cellular and WiFi signals are now found in so many locations that most people wouldn’t have to boost a cell signal very often. However, cell boosters are the ideal choice for the most stable connection for those that find themselves in areas far from the nearest cell tower (one bar of service).
Your provider and data plan are important factors in considering your RV internet. Whether you’re using a cell booster or MIMO antenna, if your provider doesn’t have service or your data plan lacks your needs, your internet experience won’t be a good one. Even a booster needs at least one bar of service to work with. In those cases, a satellite option like Starlink would be your best bet.