Regardless if you are fully retired or still actively working full-time, the challenge to remain connected while camping is deemed essential these days. Often our work / home life blurs, so there are times when answering the telephone is more important then ever. Even if you are now retired, staying connected to friends and family is an important part of your lifestyle.
With the current Gig Economy (contract workers) getting that next engagement may not tolerate unanswered calls, missed messages, or non-replied emails. Working age Canadians have an element of risk and vulnerability in the Gig Economy. So, missing an important call can compound this risk and be costly. The benefit to the Gig Economy is that you live a life that offers more freedom to enjoy the outdoors and go camping. You are not locked into a repetitive 9 to 5 work life.
In 2015, one in five Canadians aged 65 and older, or nearly 1.1 million seniors, reported working during the year. This is the highest proportion recorded since the 1981 Census. The percentage of seniors who reported working nearly doubled between 1995 and 2015, with most of the increase coming from part‑year or part‑time work. Increases in work activity were observed at all ages, for men and women alike.
Beyond your work life, there is the family aspect too. Would grandparents really what to miss a call from a grandchild who wants to share their day’s play activities? What about a parent who left an older teenager at home who urgently needed help to figure out a crisis? Maintaining family relationships is hard work and demands sometimes just being there.
But, when we go camping in Canada, it is often very difficult to keep connected, and some friends tell me that is downright impossible. However, I will share with you what I do to keep my communications active even in the most remote parts of Canada. It can be done, and affordably.
Of course, the other side of this argument is that we are all suffocating in a sea of digital noise, and after all, we retreat to the countryside to seek a ‘digital cleansing’ of sorts and to detoxify from the onslaught of radio waves. Getting away is a good thing, right?
Well, the answer is both, yes and no. It all depends upon the circumstances.
My motorhome is loaded with communications equipment, which is not much of a surprise since I spent my career in the telecommunications world designing systems to allow communications in some very odd locations. I have designed systems for the remotest high arctic and in the middle of densest urban settings. So, I use satellite, cellular, and Wi-Fi connections.
On my motorhome, I carry four satellite antennas. Two fully automated systems on the rooftop and two portable tripod mounted systems in the belly boxes to use when trees obstruct my line of sight to the desired satellite by the rooftop antennas. One pair of antennas is for television and the other pair provides internet. All antennas are oversized to allow connections in fringe parts of the country.
On rainy days or in the evenings, I watch television and relax with the Blue Jays or a good movie. The same satellite TV service that feeds my home also connects my motorhome. So, the only added costs were for the extra satellite receiver and the antenna. Before the automated system was added, I used an older $90.00 one metre antenna that I secured with woodworker’s clamps to the picnic table. Not pretty, but effective.
As a dedicated adult lifelong learner, I attend a wide variety of online courses with the internet connection. I get 1.5 Mbps download and 500 kbps upload, which is more than I need for camping trips. I use this system for both work and personal email, chat and texting, and have even done live streaming with Facetime. I can stream videos and do videoconferencing. I even have done Skype calls to Europe over the satellite internet system. Not ideal, but still workable in a pinch.
Everywhere I go, other campers see my antennas and shyly approach me and ask for help to set up their satellite TV systems for their kids or grandchildren to watch television. It has happened so many times I have lost count. But I now carry a box of 1,000 feet of RG-6 quad shield coaxial cable and several bags of connectors with all the requisite crimp tools and test devices on the motorhome to make cables for others. I do it for free to be a good neighbour, but it does cut into my R&R at times.
I use Bell Satellite, but Shaw Satellite is equally workable. For my internet, I have used several providers from Canada and the USA including Galaxy Broadband. They allow you to put your service to sleep during the winter months and pay a small standby fee. So, I just pay for 6 months of the year.
Next year and beyond, several next generation satellite internet services will go live. They have already started launching their constellations of CubeSats. These systems will cut the cost even further and offer higher data rates, as much as 300 Mbps. So, the future looks bright for affordable high-speed internet in remote parts of Canada.
Mobile networks cover only 25% of Canada’s geographic land mass, but reach 99% of Canadians in 2017, while penetration rate reached 85.7%. Advanced wireless networks such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and LTE-Advanced (LTE-A), which deliver even higher speeds than previous-generation networks, were available to approximately 99% and 92% of Canadians, respectively. At the end of 2017, LTE networks covered 86% of Canada’s major roads and highways, leaving almost 16,000 kilometres without LTE coverage. Of course, our campsites are only ever located in the underserved and unserved parts of Canada!
Getting cellular coverage at your trailer can be frustrating. I often see fellow campers drive into town or hunt for a Tim Hortons to get connected.
For my needs, I purchased a weBoost 4G cellular booster that I attach to the flagpole connected to the ladder. I point the exterior antenna towards the local towers which are 5, 10, or even 15 kilometres away, and it boosts the signal at the campsite by 60 dB, a gigantic amount for instant cellular rebroadcasting. Others can jump onboard my booster too. So, it makes a hotspot for 4 to 6 campsites. I have woken up from a nap with fellow campers talking on their cellphones beside my motorhome. I was once offered loads of cash to turn it back on by a stressed business owner. Money was not needed, I did it anyway to help the guy out.
I carry a separate Wi-Fi booster too. Sometimes I stop into KOA sites and they provide free Wi-Fi to guests. If I select a campsite too far away from the office where the access point is located, I am starved for signal. So, I pop up the Wi-Fi booster and rebroadcast around my motorhome just like I do with the cellular booster. I have seen a failing 1 Mbps signal jump to 85 Mbps and become rock solid. I password protect the Wi-Fi booster. One time I forgot to lock it, so when I realized, I turned on the encryption. Shortly afterwards I had a knock on the door and met a woman begging me to let her reconnect as she was using my connection to do the payroll for a school board. Again, I happily obliged her. Teachers must get paid!
My Wi-Fi booster is connected to another access point installed in the motorhome that rebroadcasts the signals. I wired in a simple A/B switch to jump between the rooftop satellite internet antenna and the ground mounted antennas. I installed connectors in the battery belly box for easy and fast connections. All the Wi-Fi equipment is installed in the closet at the rear of the coach. So, it is clean and out of sight. I have it all on a power bar that I turn on / off as required to save the batteries.
While my brand of Wi-Fi booster is no longer sold, there are now over a dozen quality solutions readily available to buy. At a winter RV show, I even saw one motorhome company including a booster as a part of the base package.
Why have a separate Wi-Fi booster and a Cellular booster? Because I greatly prefer to use directional antennas to point at the source signals. Wi-Fi and Cellular are rarely in the same direction. An omnidirectional antenna is a significant compromise for performance and range.
When I travel in the motorhome, I carry my iPad and use it a lot. I added a third-party keyboard, so I can easily type at the table or from the Lazy Boy chair. My cellular smartphone, also from Apple, is always with me too. It does duel duty as a camera too. I sometimes bring along my laptop, but not always, just on longer trips or when I am doing distance education classes. In the motorhome and connected on the Wi-Fi network, I have a smart, low cost, colour inkjet printer with a built-in scanner. It is always useful to have a printer to share instructions or scan steak marinating recipes. It works wirelessly from my phone, tablet, and laptop.
I carry a variety of chargers, cables, connectors, and power bars. So, I am always able to do whatever I need to do, or to help a neighbour who might be struggling to connect. I even have a few older charger cables that get lots of use. You would be amazed how many times folks go camping and forget their charging cables. I have rescued a lot of dead batteries.
Now, you may think, is this guy crazy? Maybe. You may say, I go camping to get away from it all. And, so do I too. But life never stops just because you are at a provincial or federal park. Grandmother still wants her call from little Susan. Or dad wants to learn the sports scores. On a rainy day, when the kids are bored and need connectivity to survive, you will be knocking on my motorhome door looking desperately for help. Do not worry, I will be there.
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies.
He is a Senior Executive with IBM Canada’s Office of the CTO, Global Services. Over the past 14 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He serves as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now Ontario Tech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.