A decade ago, it was a big deal when somebody showed up at a campground or RV park with a laptop, and parks that offered them wireless Internet or Wi-Fi service were seen as cutting edge, even revolutionary.
It’s a different story today.
Laptops are nearly as common as cellphones and Wi-Fi service is no longer considered a luxury, but rather a necessity.
Now add to that the increasing use of the Internet for entertainment purposes, whether it’s watching streaming video on Netflix or YouTube or participating in interactive, Internet-based video games, such as World or Warcraft, and one gets a sense of how the Internet and the need for Wi-Fi access increasingly dominates our lives.
Meanwhile, the number of devices that campers use to connect to the Internet – for work or for pleasure – is greatly expanding. “Guests are coming in with smart phones, gaming devices and tablet computers as well as the traditional laptop,” said Jim Ganley, managing partner of CheckBox Systems LLC in Portland, Maine.
Not surprisingly, the dramatically increased demand for Wi-Fi service is pushing the limits of many parks’ Wi-Fi capabilities. A large percentage have older Wi-Fi systems that need to be replaced or upgraded to keep up with demand. Other parks have good equipment, but need more bandwidth to accommodate their guests’ Internet consumption needs.
“We’ve had a lot of parks that are running into a bandwidth crunch,” Ganley said.
“The smart phones and iPads are becoming a major issue,” adds Jim Ames, co-founder, president and CEO of Napa, Calif.-based Airwave Adventurers Inc. “One of the biggest things I’m seeing is that there is more and more of a demand for an increase in bandwidth and the technology is not there to support it.”
As a result, he said, park operators are increasingly looking at ways to upgrade Wi-Fi systems that can no longer handle the Internet consumption demands of today’s RVers.
“Wi-Fi service has utility-like service expectations so being connected is an important and emotional issue for guests,” says Eric Stumberg, president and CEO of Austin, Texas-based TengoInternet, who notes that RVers often will not stay at parks that cannot deliver reliable Wi-Fi service.
But park operators do not only need reliable Wi-Fi hardware, they also need local Wi-Fi service providers who can provide increasing volumes of Internet data. “Everything depends on what the Internet connection is,” Ames said. “The hardware isn’t the only issue. It’s the pipeline coming into the park.”