Oh, bandwidth, where art thou?By Kevin Hulit

The challenge of finding reliable Wi-Fi at campgrounds and RV parks is ongoing. Several establishments have managed the challenge well, and offer outstanding wireless internet connectivity to guests that rival their own “in home” experience.

From self-built systems to outsourced turn-key solutions, campground and RV park owners who have proactively taken on the ever increasing demand for Wi-Fi understand its value. Guests expect good Wi-Fi.

In the Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) 2015 North American Camping Report, campers stated that they valued Wi-Fi at campgrounds as much as whether or not a campground was kid-friendly or allowed them to bring pets.

The report also called out that 31 percent of campers who are online while camping are using social media like Twitter and Facebook to share their experiences at the campsite.

Wi-Fi has quickly become equivalent to a utility, and with all the resources delivered via the internet nowadays like email, social media platforms, and streaming music and movie websites, having a wireless network that can deliver is an essential piece of a good business plan.

There are several companies that offer a range of solutions that can aptly manage the challenges of outdoor WiFi such as the elements, isolation, and foliage. Products and services range from a few hundred dollars to several thousands, and can be self-managed by campground owners or fully monitored and serviced by an outside tech company.

One key aspect to remember, however, is that whatever system is in place to supply WiFi to guests is only as good as the available bandwidth it can harness.

Bandwidth is a synonym for data transfer rate, or the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another within a given time period. Network bandwidth is usually expressed in bits per second (bps). Bandwidth is a limited resource, and must be shared by all users on a network.

If 25 computers are streaming a movie from Netflix, then the bandwidth will be split into 25 parts. In other words, if there is 100 Mbps (megabytes per second) available, then each movie watcher will get 4 mbps to stream their movie.  For Netflix HD streaming, Netflix says it will take 5 mbps.

Bandwidth in campgrounds is distributed to guests by the Wi-Fi network established based on the hardware installed on the campground. Creating a “hotspot” near the office or store for guests to check in on their emails will require very little hardware. But, as guests are expecting WiFi in their tents or RVs, a large system with current, up to date hardware is needed to meet those expectations. The hardware only can go as far as what is being fed to it.

Having reliable Wi-Fi hardware is one thing, but managing a high consumption of bandwidth requires local service providers who can provide increasing volumes of internet data.  The internet connection depends on what is being piped into the campground by the provider, and is the one true piece of the equation that can really bog things down if not enough is available.

Campgrounds and RV parks are typically in more rural and secluded areas where internet speeds are slower and often more expensive. In some cases, providers simply won’t run lines to a business or destination if there aren’t enough potential customers along the path.

Creativity is often needed to overcome the bandwidth crunch, and luckily there are companies willing and able to take up the creative challenge inherent in providing outdoor Wi-Fi.

Sigmawifi, based in New Hampshire, is a specialty division of parent company, Morse Technologies Network Consulting, that designs systems to meet the specific demands and challenges of individual customer’s needs. They offer all-in-one communications solutions that master design, engineering, implementation, and support.