We 'camped' at Walmarts across the country. Walmart welcomes RVs in most of its parking lots.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
T e c h n o f i l e
Verizon broadband card keeps RV connected on the road
July 22, 2007
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard
I'm writing this on my laptop in the parking lot of a small shopping
center in Rapid City, S.D. All the stores in the strip mall all closed
except the laundromat, where my wife is drying clothes while I take
care of our dogs. We've just passed the half-way point in a five-week, 8,000-mile
motor home trip around the country -- and we've been connected to the
Internet nearly all the way.
After the dry clothes are hung up in the wardrobe of our Navion motor
home -- it's got a Mercedes-Benz diesel engine and has been
putt-putting up and down the countryside at 18 mpg -- we'll head down
the street for the Walmart parking lot. It's the "campground" of
choice for us and hundreds of thousands of other RVers nationwide. The
night before, when we stayed at a Walmart in Sheridan, Wy., I counted
at least 50 other motor homes and trailers parked in the back of the
Walmart welcomes RVs in the lots at most of its stores, with only a
few parking lots off-limits because of local regulations against
overnight parking. We like this kind of overnighting -- it's called
boondocking -- for three reasons: First, you're staying in a very well
guarded area with many other RVers for company; second, you have the
world's best-stocked department store a short walk away; and third,
you can always count on an Internet connection if you're using a
broadband wireless card.
That's because broadband wireless cards connect to the Internet using
signals from cell-phone towers. Walmart stores are always within range
of cell-phone towers -- usually, within close range, which translates
to a strong signal. We have two laptops, and both connect using the
single wireless card that Verizon loaned to us for the entire journey.
I'll tell you how we get both computers to connect simultaneously
through one broadband card shortly. I need to explain how the card
itself works first.
By "card," I'm referring to an electronic device that's usually about
the size of a credit card, except much thicker, that plugs into a slot
on a laptop computer. The standard version is called a PC card. The
Verizon card I've been using is a new variety, smaller and easier to
store in a laptop carrying case. It's called an Express card.
Our Apple MacBook Pro laptop has a slot made to accept Express cards.
My wife, Nancy, uses the MacBook Pro, and I use my Apple iBook. The
iBook doesn't have a slot for either kind of card, so we set up the
MacBook Pro's built-in wi-fi networking to share its Verizon
connection wirelessly with the iBook. As long as my iBook is within
100 to 150 feet of my wife's laptop, any connection she has is
piggybacked onto my computer. (Apple builds this capability into its
Airport wireless networking, which is standard on every Apple laptop.
Seeing it work is enough to turn you into an Apple fan forever.)
The Verizon broadband card gets its high-speed connections from
special transceivers mounted on cell-phone towers. When you're close
enough to a tower, your computer should be able to connect at a
relatively fast rate -- about as fast as a cable Internet connection,
I'd estimate. If you are farther away, with only a marginal
connection, you'll usually be able to maintain the link, but at a
slower rate. That's a much better arrangement than one that loses the
signal now and then.
The Verizon card, like a cell phone, works while you are on the move.
On much of our trip, Nancy belted herself into one of the dinette
seats and worked on her laptop for a few hours while I drove. She
found dog parks (and Walmart parking lots!) and kept in touch with her
friends by e-mail. I did the same while she was driving and while we
were camped at Walmart stores. A nice touch while we traveled: We both
maintained our own blogs and I kept my Technofile Web site up-to-date.
I mentioned earlier that you "should" be able to connect at a fast
rate. I made that qualification because the Verizon card we borrowed
was pokey all the time, running at the speed of a slow dialup
connection. In an e-mail, Verizon assured me that this is not typical.
When I find out what the problem was, I'll test the card again and
write an update.