My Van Year
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My Van Year

Day 39: Using T-Mobile Hotspot Devices for Van Life

When I started traveling around Florida in my van, I was tethering the internet to my computer and TV with hotspot data from my iPhone 12 that uses T-Mobile as a service provider. Before this I was using an iPhone X that did not support 5G. I thought that I would need 5G on the road so I bought the iPhone 12 that’s 5G-friendly. I did this with the intention of using it as my one and only internet hotspot on the road.

This solution worked well when I was stationed around suburbs and working from my computer outside, but only sometimes when I was working inside or trying to stream movies to my TV. In addition to the van’s walls blocking signal strength, the window covers can take two or three bars down to one or zero bars when up.

When I was staying at a state park in Florida, not far from the suburbs, this iPhone-only hotspot solution hardly worked. I received zero to one bar when outside the van and not much of any bars when inside the van. It was frustrating.

Verizon Vs T-Mobile Hotspot Device

In addition to getting the weBoost OTR to bring signal strength from outside the van to inside the van, I thought of getting a hotspot-only device and plan through Verizon. This would ensure I had redundancy wherever I went (T-Mobile plus Verizon). However, it would be more expensive since I would have to start a Verizon plan.

I tried the Verizon route, but every time I went into a store there was poor customer service. No one said hello or was interested in helping me. Many of the so-called Verizon stores also seemed like outsourced partnership stores and they didn’t have the hotspot equipment I would need. This is when I opened up to the idea of sticking with T-Mobile and opening a new hotspot-only line on my existing plan.

Days ago, this is what I did and I’m happy with the results so far. I opened a 100GB+ hotspot line with their 5G hotspot device for only $57/month. The whole process took ten minutes and the employees were friendly.

The device is called the Inseego 5G M2000 Wifi Mifi Device. I am on rural land inside a state preserve and it’s working fine. I streamed a movie last night, had a video call this morning, and am writing this to you now via its connection. The iPhone would not have been able to handle all that out here.

An added benefit of having a dedicated hotspot device is that your TV, computer, and other connected devices actually stay connected to the internet. When using my iPhone as a hotspot, I was always having to reestablish a connection. This could take anywhere from one to five minutes many times throughout the day. It was quite inefficient.

T-Mobile Network Coverage

So far I’ve found that the T-Mobile coverage map is accurate. Also, I’m not going to worry about being in non-5G zones moving forward because last night and this morning I was only receiving 1–3 bars via 4G LTE and everything was working fine.

I’m sure things will run even more smoothly when I install the weBoost. Right now it’s resting in the back of the van because I don’t have the right tools to install it. I also need to order the right battery connector. Right now I only have the cigarette connector and the engine must be running for the weBoost to work. This is not ideal so I ordered a 110V wall outlet connector. It should be delivered to my friend’s place in Tampa this week.

In the meantime, I’m working with positioning the hotspot device for better service. Last night I had it on the roof of the van when streaming a movie and this morning it was pressed against the windshield because it was raining. Everything is coming together, piece by piece.

The T-mobile hotspot device was on the roof of the van last night for an extra bar. Today it’s on the dash because it’s raining.

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Robert Gibb

Robert Gibb

Screenwriting and appreciating life through movie scenes @ scenelift.com