I moved yesterday and checked into a different RV park. I was told that wi-fi is available throughout the park for an additional fee. A second option is to carry your laptop to the park's country store and use a different, but short-range, wi-fi network free of charge. Walking to the store and sitting on the front porch, exposed to the weather, isn't always the most convenient access possible.
After getting the motor home set up, I took a walk to the store and checked the wi-fi coverage with my iPhone. The person who gave me the information at check-in was correct: I couldn't access the free wi-fi network once I walked 50 feet away from the store's front porch. However...
I walked back to the motor home, which was parked about 300 feet away from the store. The iPhone showed a strong signal from the park's paid wi-fi network but no indication of the free network. When looking at the list of networks on the iPhone, the free network at the store wasn't even listed.
I then fired up the TP-Link long-range router installed on the motor home as described in the earlier articles on this blog, starting at http://rv.dickeastman.com/2012/01/how-to-build-a-long-range-wi-fi-system-part-1.html. I also rotated the mast so that the TP-Link router was aimed in the direction of the store.
Voila! The free network was visible and very strong. I connected to it and ran a speed test at www.Speakeasy.net. It reported a 5-megabit download speed and 4.6-megabits upload. Not bad for a free service!
I find that wi-fi networks in RV campgrounds vary widely not only in coverage, but also in speed. Most of the campground employees don't know much about the wi-fi networks as the equipment typically was installed by "someone else." However, I have managed to look at the hardware used in several campgrounds. Those campgrounds that use heavy-duty commercial-grade wi-fi equipment seemed to have reliable wi-fi networks. However, those using a single Netgear or Linksys router or some other consumer-grade router that was probably purchased at BestBuy, generally have problems. The consumer-grade products seem to have difficulties when trying to receive weak signals or when overloaded with a dozen simultaneous users or more. A low-cost router may work well in your home but the same unit may not handle the load when things get busy in a multi-user environment. Too many times, I have been able to connect but speeds were glacial.
I have learned that the most speed-dependent application I use is the magicJack Pro telephone. magicJack provides unlimited telephone calls at no extra charge, once you purchase the equipment and pay $19.95 a year for a subscription. I prefer to use the Pro version which does not require a connection to your computer.
The biggest drawback is that magicJack Pro apparently wants a high-quality Internet connection. Speed doesn't seem so important as does a steady stream of data. magicJack Pro seems to work well on relatively slow connections but the data must stream without interruptions. Any pauses or "hiccups" causes the phone connection to "break up." Nobody wants to talk to you when the connection is flakey.
Most of the public campground wi-fi networks I have used will pause often, sometimes for a half second or even for several seconds at a time. That is acceptable when viewing web pages or email, but is unacceptable with telephone conversations.
After connecting to the campground's free wi-fi network with my long-range system, I used the magicJack Pro system to place free telephone calls to several of my friends and relatives and to one insurance agent. I probably talked a total of two hours or more. The connections sounded great to me, no break-up. None of the people I talked with mentioned any problems.
I then switched to the iPhone and had a two-way video call with my daughter, son-in-law, and one-year-old granddaughter. While my granddaughter has been walking for a while, I now got to see her running. Not bad for someone 1,500 miles away!
Two-way video is a great "stress test" of both speed and data streaming. Simultaneously sending and receiving video is very demanding of network reliability. Network "hiccups" are unacceptable in video applications.
In short, my long-range wi-fi system continues to work and serve me well. However, when connecting to a network, the equipment I installed in the motor home is but one link in a very long chain. If there is any weakness anywhere in that chain, results will be less than optimum. Even worse, it is often difficult for the end user to determine where the weakness is. You have to take whatever they give you.
Nothing is ever guaranteed, but the best course of action seems to be to obtain as good a system as possible for your end of the connection. You don't want to be the "weak link in the chain."