Staying Connected

Video Streaming Data

In years past, our video entertainment options were limited to regularly scheduled programming on the TV, using an over-the-air (OTA) antenna or through a cable service. We also had the option of making a trip to the closest video store to browse their library of DVDs. Today, we connect to the internet, log onto our favourite streaming service.

This works well in a sticks and bricks house with a hardwired internet connection but issues arise when we disconnect and hit the road in an RV. The complexity of accessing video streaming services comes as a surprise to many. Untethered from the internet in an RV does not sound very dramatic as we connect to the internet constantly using our cell phones and tablets and most RV parks have wi-fi, don’t they?

Yes, cellular internet works for many online resources but few consume the huge amounts of data required for streaming high-quality video. It is also true that most RV parks and campgrounds do have wi-fi, but most are designed to provide basic connectivity for email and possibly web-browsing. At 6:00 in the evening, when 20, 30 or more RVs all log in to their video streaming services, the demand rockets bast the campground wi-fi system capability and the system implodes.

Cellular connectivity is the predominant means of internet access used by RVers. In fact, it accounts for more than 90% of RV connectivity. It does have issues and limitations both in terms of data usage and access to a cell tower.

Data Usage

Let’s look at data usage first using two popular video sources; Netflix and YouTube.

Video streaming requires a great deal of data. The following statistics apply to each device connected to the service provider and streaming video. According to Netflix the amount of data, measured in gigabytes (GB) is as follows:

  • Low Definition video (240p or 320p): 0.3 GB of data per hour

  • Standard Definition video (480p): 1 GB of data per hour

  • High Definition video (720p): 3 GB of data per hour

  • Ultra High Definition video (4K): 7 GB of data per hour

The majority of movies run between 80–120 minutes each. If we average that out to 100 minutes per movie, the data usage works out to:

  • Standard Definition: 1.67 GB per movie

  • High Definition (720p): 5 GB per movie

  • Ultra High Definition (4K): 11.67 GB per movie

According to Netflix, the average household streams content for 3.2 hours per day or 97.3 hours per month. This equates to:

  • Standard Definition (480p): 97.3 GB of data per month

  • High Definition (720p): 292 GB of data per month

  • Ultra High Definition (4K): 681 GB of data per month

That works out to a huge amount of data. More than half of the viewing audience streams high-definition with the remainder split between standard and ultra-high definition. But, even at standard definition, many viewers would greatly exceed their cellular data package. If you have a truly unlimited data plan, this may work as a solution but truly unlimited data plans are very rare and becoming less so each passing month. Most “unlimited” plans drop down to a 3G cellular connection beyond a certain cap and you won’t be happy with system performance then, even when streaming standard definition.

The source of your video stream can make a difference but your video choices may be less as well. Here are some data numbers for those streaming YouTube videos:

  • Standard Definition (480p): 0.26 GB of data per hour

  • High Definition (720p): 0.85 GB of data per hour

  • Full High Definition (1080p): 1.65 GB of data per hour

Cellular Connection

In order to use a cellular connection, you must be within range to access the tower and connect. This ability will vary by cellular carrier and your location. Many RVers who rely upon having a serviceable cellular connection will have multiple cell packages for different networks. If cellular provider A does not have service at a given location, possibly provider B will. Of course, none provide complete coverage everywhere and devices, antennas and boosters can all impact this.

Of course, each cellular package comes with a monthly cost. This approach, as its cost, may be acceptable for those requiring a connection for work but it is harder to justify watching a movie while you snack on popcorn.

Other Solutions

New tech may soon come to the aid of media starved RVers in the form of a mobile version of StarLink, a low orbit satellite system promised to work anywhere on earth where you have a clear view of the sky. A fixed position StarLink system is available and looking very promising. A mobile version for RV and boats is expected in late 2022 or the first half of ’23.

Pricing for the satellite receiver and data usage is not yet available.