Open Signal – Maximize Your Cellular Internet

Mar 22, 2022

It’s hard to believe that Spring is around the corner and for many of you, you’re thinking about getting back in your RVs to head back home for the summer or, looking for your next adventure. There are volumes of information out there about the right planning tools, what’s the best route to take, what is the best GPS system to use, what are the best parks or if you’re like us, will we fit in any of those RV parks?

Working Full-Time From The Road

Open Signal AppBecause we work full-time from the road, we had to develop some expertise in tools to make sure we could predict what type of Internet we might have at our next destination. Some of the camping websites can give you a “guess”, but we’ve found nothing is better than a tool called Open Signal. Open Signal is free app for your smart device that utilizes real testing data from people like you who used the App to speed test what type of performance they’ll get. For us nerds, signal strength & all the other metrics are interesting but, the real important information is “will there be enough bandwidth for us to work?” or in some of cases, playing online games or stream. If there’s not enough bandwidth, it might be best for you to either look at a different carrier or, a different campground.

A Real World Example

Let me give you a real-world example we just experienced. After the Tampa RV show we headed to South Florida and stayed in a campground near Labelle, Florida. LaBelle is a lovely little town with the Caloosahatchee River running right through it. At first glance, it looks like the Verizon coverage would be the best. I did see that AT&T and T-Mobile had some, but not ubiquitous coverage. Once we got on site, I did my usual “test before getting out of the truck“ and was surprised to find that the performance on the Verizon was pretty dreadful. I had 2 to 3 Mb down and I had 0.6 to 1.2 Mb upstream.

That was mid-day on a Sunday so I began to get a little concerned. I switched Sims to my AT&T and was pleasantly surprised to see 36 to 27 Mb down and 4.6 to 7 Mb up. I know that we can do all that we need to do with that kind of bandwidth. I did the same test from my phone (which happens to be on AT&T service) and I only got 8 Mb down and about 1.3 up. Doing a comparison of a cell phone and a router, the cell phone will generally outperform the router. There’s lots of reasons why and that may be the subject of another newsletter. What I can tell you, is that the antenna on our RV made all the difference. Our Parsec husky antenna has saved the day several times in the last year and a half.

Open Signal App

Open Signal AppDownload the open signal app from the Apple iTunes store or the Google play store. Please ensure that you get the actual Open Signal app which looks like this. Once it’s downloaded and you start it, it will start with the speed test and video test display. I would venture a guess that more than 70% of everybody just uses the speed test. I’m not complaining, that’s why their data is so accurate. It is crowd sourced and reflects the actual performance tests that people like you & us have done.

open signal appAs you look across the bottom of the app, you’ll see five tabs. From left to right they are Speed & Video Test, Data Usage, Search Location, Find Signal and Settings. I’d suggest you start with the speed test to give you an idea of what speeds you might expect at your current location. Speed tests aren’t the only measure but, if you do them at different times of the day, it will give you a benchmark of what speeds to expect during those times of day.

open signal locationopen signal locationOnce you’ve tried the speed and video tests, go to the Search Location. By default, it will find where you are although you might have to give permission on your phone for it to use your current location. You will likely see a series of green dots along with some red dots. Those are the actual locations where people using the Speed Test that you saw on the first screenshot.

Green = represents a test at average or above average speed.
Red = below average speed test results.

The Easy Button

choose operatorAt the bottom of the location map, hit the compare performance button which is just above where the five tabs are. This is a great indicator of what the average speeds that people are getting in your area. It will list the major cellular providers in your area and give you a readout illustrated on the screen (left). If there isn’t enough test data, it will tell you. I try to zoom in as much as the app will allow you to. I call this the easy button because it gives you a quick snapshot of what other folks are seeing. As I mentioned before, the speeds you get are very likely to vary and likely reduce in the evening as more of your neighbors begin to stream.

open signal resultsIf you want a little more granular view, you can choose each cell carrier individually and see the test results. I’ll defer from going into the technical minutia but the tools that Open Signal provide have been invaluable to our planning.

In this screenshot, you can see the test results people using T-Mobile have experienced. It’s important to note that the Green or Red dots indicate there is coverage but doesn’t assure you of a specific speed test.

If you’ll invest a little time playing with this App, I think you’ll find it’s very powerful and can be a great planning tool!

How Much Speed Is Enough?

As a “how much speed is enough” guide, the short answer is “It Depends”. Probably not the answer you were looking for. In reality, if Cindy & I can get 6-8Mb down and 2-3Mb up, we can survive but perhaps not thrive. When we get better speeds, we can stream movies (after work) on 2 different devices and do most anything. Faster speeds allow us to back up devices to the Cloud and download huge files (videos, etc) without issue.

We would love your feedback on articles like this because we write these articles for you, our RVMC family. Let us know what you would like for us to research and discuss.

Thanks for your support and as always,
Happy Camping!
Bryan & Cindy

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