TV in a RV…A “How To”

I recently retired an planned on spending a minimum of three months traveling in my 20′ Forest River 19RR Toy Hauler. I’m a bit of a news hound and wanted access to various news channels while on the road. I rarely stay at established RV parks with Cable TV hook-up. I tend to boondock at motorcycle or shooting events and overnight in rest stops.

Using DISH or DirecTV satellite systems were not an option in these areas. Set up and takedown were just not convenient.

Within the last two years, streaming video over the internet has exploded. Using your cell phone or a ‘Hot Spot” can be a great way to watch TV. With services like DircTV NOW, Hulu, Sling, HBO NOW, and thousands upon thousands of other APP based streaming services, both free and subscription, Streaming my video needs was the way to go.

But there is a huge issue…..Streaming video uses a HUGE amount of data. Unlike doing email, reading a digital book or searching the web which all use very little data (in many cases not more than 3-4 gig a month), streaming a movie or watching TV via the internet used upwards of hundreds of Gigs a month! Medium quality 720P video will use about 2 gigs per hour. This will really put a dent in your cellular plan if you only have 3 gigs a month…

Some examples of Data Use:

YouTube at 480p resolution = 1/2 Gig an hour

Medium quality video at 720P = 1.86Gb an hour

1080pHD will use 3.04Gb an hour

4K will use a whopping 16Gb an hour!

So, you really need an unlimited service plan of some type. It would be impossible to discuss the plans available as this is a quickly moving target. The offerings from the various suppliers change weekly if not daily! I really suggest you use the services of Technomadia . These folks stay up to date on what is available and more importantly, what is coming in the way of mobile technology. Well worth subscribing.

What I am going to offer is how I watch TV while boondocking on the road.

First, the services I have. I use all three major carriers. T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon….Currently not one of them has 100% quality coverage everywhere in the USA. In some areas, one provider will work when the other two wont. This will change as all these providers are updating their coverage with micro towers, 5G networks, 600MHz bands and low orbit satellites….Stay Tuned!


T-Mobile… Roughly two years ago T-Mobile blew the video streaming world apart by offering 6Gb data and unlimited streaming for nearly all popular video streaming services….$35 a month

Here is what they offer directly from my monthly invoice:

Simple Choice North America 6GB MI
This plan includes:High-speed data in the U.S. – plus Canada and Mexico at no extra charge.Up to 6 GB of monthly high-speed mobile internet access. Speeds slowed after 6 GB.No annual service contract. No overages.Unlimited international web while roaming in 100+ countries.Including Binge On – optimized video streaming AND unlimited video on popular services like Netflix, HBO NOW, Hulu and more without using your high-speed data.Includes Data Stash which rolls your unused on-network 4G LTE data into your Data Stash bucket up to 20GB that must be used within 12mos.Unlimited music streaming on services like Pandora, iHeartRadio and more that doesn’t count against your 4G LTE data on our network.

There is a caveat ….. The free, no data “hit” streaming only applies to personal devices…Ipads, Phones, Tablets, Etc…..It does not apply to Fire Stick, RoKu and other streaming devices …..Much more about this later.

AT&T… About the best deal for streaming is offered by AT&T. AT&T now owns DirecTV. They needed content to stream over their network. And they wanted to offer a mobile option for folks to use in their cars to keep the little kids in the back seat watching videos. Enter the infamous MOBLEY. 

Mobley was introduced as a small black box that plugs directly into the OBD port under the dash board of your car/truck. And now you have a mobile Hot Spot that your devices can connect to and stream content, check emails, buy stuff on Amazon….Full internet access.

Mobley was offered with a “Full Unlimited Data” Plan for $20 a month. I kid you not! Unlimited data, high speed, for $20 a month! They do say that after 22Gb of usage they “may” slow speeds. I’m here to tell you that I’ve used upwards of 900Gb (NINE HUNDRED!!) in a month and never saw a slow down. AND….If you have a subscription to DirecTV NOW (Which AT&T owns) the data usage does not count against that 22Gb cap.

Seems as soon as this Mobley thing came out, it was discontinued. Folks were scrambling to get a mobly and have this service. But recently Technomadia reported that the Mobley service is back! It is best to head on over to their web site to see the why and how. They can get you going with this service better than I can.

VERIZON… I’m on my daughter and Son-In-Laws grandfathered family plan for $55 a month. This is also my cell phone plan. I get 15Gb when using my phone as a hotspot or unlimited high speed when streaming directly to the phone. If you know someone that has a grandfathered unlimited service and would let you join as a family member, this is the way to go for quality Verizon service. (Very recently Verizon started to offer a $65 a month unlimited plan(2019)…Once again, Technomadia is your friend…..This is beginning to sound like an add for these folks….but all the great services I’m using I would have never known about if it wasn’t for their research)

OK, so now for $110 a month I have access to three internet services and a cell phone…..

So we need content! When I started all this streaming stuff I was subscribed to dozens of streaming services. Hulu, Curiosity Stream, DirecTV NOW, Amazon Prime Video, and many more…..After a few months I reviewed my usage and found I basically used three services…DirecTV NOW, Amazon Prime Video and IMDb . So I discontinued all the others.

DirecTV NOW…I signed on as a beta user for DirecTV NOW the first month it was offered. It was $30 a month for 100 channels and I got a free AppleTV unit! Recently the cost has gone up to $40 a month for 105 channels and 20 hours of cloud DVR recording. Still a great deal in my book.

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO…I’m already an Amazon Prime member. So I get a huge amount of video content for free. There is so much stuff you could spend a thousand lifetimes and never watch it all. $12.99 a month or $119 a year.

IMDb…This is a service my wife and I just discovered. Free movies but there are extremely quick commercials. Not 5-8 minutes of commercials. In many cases 30 seconds! Just enough time to run to the frig! We have been using this serve a lot recently.

Monthly content fees are $52.99 + Internet access of $110 = $162.99….This is WAY below what I pay for my cable service in my house from Comcast. I’ll be cancelling my cable service this month and living on streaming from now on.

OK, so we got internet access and content…..Now how do you watch it?

I use a number of methods….Both the T-Mobile and the Mobley SIM cards now reside in Netgear Unite Explore Hot Spots.

The Explore is a quality hot spot with extremely long battery life. Good for boondocking and it is moisture and dust proof. Good if you need to place it outside of your aluminum trailer for better reception. It also offeres the ability to connect external antennas. More about this later.

Being a hot spot, your streaming devices simply WiFi into it and are now connected to the internet.

Well now…This is going well…We have content and a way to access the internet via a hotspot. How do we get the content on the TV or our devices.

Many times my wife and I will want to watch different programs. Or we want to watch a program outside under the awning or sitting under a nice shade tree near the RV. In this case we simply log into the hotspot we are using to access the internet and watch whatever streaming channel we have on our Ipads…Very simple!

If we want to watch the content on our large TVs in the RV, we use a couple different methods.

Streaming devices, sometimes referred to as “sticks” are small units that plug directly into the back or side of your TV’s HDMI ports. Using the supplied remote control, you add program/content “APPS” to the stick. Like DirecTV NOW or Amazon Prime. Then using the remote you tell the stick to connect you your Hotspots WiFi…And Boom! You are streaming content to your TV. If you have a real fancy motorhome with “SMART” TVs you might not need a stick as this device is built into your TV.

We were using Amazon Firesticks that simply plug right into the HDMI ports on your TV.

But recently we switched over to the Roku Sticks as their remote control offeres volume control for the TV that the Amazon doesn’t. Otherwise they both work the same.

These sticks run under $50 as of this writing.

Turn on the TV, select the input the “stick” is connected to. Allow the stick to access your hotspots WiFi and select a program to watch. No big deal…….BUT, in the case of T-Mobile with only 6Gb of unlimited streaming on a hotspot, you’ll use it up in a couple hours. If you remember I said T-Mobile offers UNLIMITED DATA for most streaming services “ON A DEVICE”…This means a tablet or a phone. So what we do if we are using T-Mobile is we receive the program on our tablet or our phone and then “CAST” it to the TV either through an AppleTV unit or Chromecast. Certain programs you might want to stream will not let you “CAST”. There is a work around using a special cord to hardwire your device to the TV. Works great and now we are not using the 6Gb T-Mobile data allotment. (Once again, Technomadia has a great article available on various ways to do this)

With AT&T and unlimited data, this isn’t an issue. Although they say they will “Slow Down” your service after 22Gb it has never happened to me in nearly two years of using it. And I’ve gone over 900Gb in a month! AND…Streaming DirecTV NOW to a tablet or phone does not count against your 22Gb allotment if that is a concern.

With Verizon we receive the program on my phone and cast it to the TV. Using the phone as a Hotspot and connected to a “stick” only affords 15Gb per month…..Poof! It’s gone with one long HD movie!

So now we are watching TV in the RV…..No antenna to deploy, no satellite dish to aim. Literally millions of programs, movies and Tv shows to watch…. With our 32″ Best Buy Insignia TVs that operate on a 12V “Wall Wart” power supply, we are not using an inverter or a generator while boondocking. Our two Group 31 AGM batteries and our 420w of solar are doing their job……NICE! We have gone for weeks in the Southwest deserts in this mode. We only use a generator for the AC unit and my wife’s hair dryer…..There are articles I’ve written about our solar system here

Oh oh!…. We are now boondocking in the middle of nowhere and our Netgear Explore hotspots are having a difficult time accessing a cell site. Now what!

In the next installment we will discuss how to “Reach Out And Touch Someone” with antennas, painters poles, boosters and prayer candles!

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