Dear FMCA Computer Geeks:
We have found the Wi-Fi at RV campsites is not so good and not secure. What's the best way to have a strong, fast and secure connection so that we could even pay bills while we are traveling for several weeks at a time?
Ted and Peggy.
Hi, Ted and Peggy.
You're so right that being able to pay bills and do other banking online is an important part of being able to travel like we do. Every RVer we know takes advantage of the Internet for banking, whether they connect using Wi-Fi, cellular, or satellite. Your question actually has three parts, so let me take each one separately.
1. Wi-Fi at RV parks is not so good?
Wi-Fi actually can be the very best way to connect on the road, but it varies from hotspot to hotspot and from computer to computer. A hotspot is only about a 300-foot radius, and is controlled by that hotspot's owner. There are no standards. One Wi-Fi hotspot could be powered by an industrial-strength T1 communication line and thousands of dollars of business-grade network equipment. Another hotspot could be using a residential DSL line and a $50 network router from Walmart. And, the hotspot is only half of the equation -- your computer and Wi-Fi adapter is the other half.
The bottom line is:
a. Make sure your equipment is clean, up-to-date, and you have an external USB Wi-Fi adapter when you're not close enough to the hotspot.
b. Just because you have a bad experience at one hotspot, don’t write off all Wi-Fi. The next park may be the best Internet connection you’ve ever had!
2. Wi-Fi at RV parks is not secure?
Let’s look at what “secure” means. Technically, it means that the data traffic within the hotspot is encrypted -- the text of the transmission is turned into undecipherable code that must be unencrypted at the other end in order to be read. As a practical matter, it means that the hotspot owner does not want the public to connect -- one must have the “key” in order to connect to a secure wireless network. Therefore, public Wi-Fi hotspots will always be “unsecure.” BUT -- this has nothing to do with the safety of your data when communicating with your bank!
The security at a secure wireless network is only in effect within the hotspot, i.e., from your computer to the hotspot’s router. That is just the first leg of the route your data will take in its journey to your bank. Tthere are many, many more hops before it reaches its destination. That is why the bank takes care of the encryption.
When you are connected to your bank’s Web site, you should notice a little padlock symbol as well as the “S” in the http:// part of the website’s address. The S stands for secure. The bank is taking care of encrypting your data -- from your computer, through the Wi-Fi hotspot, thru all the hops it traverses on the Internet, to the bank … AND back. Financial transactions on trusted, secure Web sites are the safest transactions. They’re even safer than putting a check in the mail! It doesn’t matter whether your connection comes from a Wi-Fi hotspot, a dial-up connection, a cellular data card, or a satellite connection -- it’s the bank’s Web site that is the important part.
3. Is there a better way to connect besides Wi-Fi?
There are three ways to connect to the Internet while you’re on the road: Wi-Fi, cellular, and satellite. If you absolutely, positively need the Internet wherever you go, you need to use all three.
Satellite is the most expensive. Cellular is quickly becoming the primary way that RVers connect as they travel. This means contracting for service from a carrier like Verizon, Sprint or AT&T. This generally costs $60 per month with a two-year contract. If you want to have short-term use of a cellular connection, look into connecting with a tethered cell phone.
Hope that helps.