The Worth of Good Wi-Fi in RV Parks
Not only do guests at RV parks expect Wi-Fi, but they expect the Wi-Fi to be good. Robert Ener and Eric Rodrigue of Absolute Communications answer questions about the importance of great Wi-Fi connections in RV parks and how they are using Cambium Networks’ solutions.
Can you share some information on the Jellystone project?
Rob: Our customer is Northgate Resorts, and they own a series of RV parks. They run up to twelve of the Jellystone brand RV parks in Texas, Missouri, New York, New Hampshire, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi. Currently, we’re working on their new North Carolina park.
Oftentimes, RV parks offer free Wi-Fi, but it can be spotty or not work at all. You get in your RV or cabin, and there’s very little signal location in the park. What we’ve created as part of this North Carolina project is a brand-new, start-up-from-the-ground RV park. The customer is willing to spend the money to correctly build out the infrastructure the first time. At today’s projection, they have about 500 RV sites/cabins and 532 tent sites. So far, about 140 sites have Wi-Fi access, and we’ll go back to set up another 30 to 40 sites with Wi-Fi access. By the end of summer 2020, there’ll be roughly 150 sites. Right now, we are offering almost one gig connecting to every access point (AP).
It’s pretty much a full Cambium Networks solution from the endpoint side. The core switching is all fiber switches, but we have fiber nodes going out to all the remote locations using cnMatrix switches connected to cnPilot e700, e510 and e410 Wi-Fi APs. There’s great Wi-Fi out there so far. We are also streaming on the fiber network, pushing TV access across the fiber network. Then, we push it back to coaxial at this bank of sites, wherever a power pole, meter, or breaker panel is located. We hit every 15 to 20 sites. In all the public areas, we’re putting in a network-controlled audio system. We’re able to stream audio; there’s background music in the bathhouses, playground, dog park and activities building. We have a built-in channel so Northgate can see the activities in all their cabins.
What made you confident in taking on this project?
Rob: I’m confident in designing networks, Wi-Fi systems and outdoor deployments. It’s something I enjoy. If I don’t know how to do something, I do extensive research to make sure I do it right or bring in the right people. I don’t depend on others to do a design for me. I learn the inside and out of a project, and then I design it myself. I would say to others to make sure that they do their research, so they truly understand what they’re working with.
Can you tell us about the deployment process? How does using cnMaestro to provision switches and APs help your process?
Rob: On the switch side, we’re using cnMaestro to monitor. It gives us great visibility into our network. I still configure everything manually on the switch side. We’ve spent a lot of time with tech support to troubleshoot and fix bugs. From a cnPilot point of view, it’s easy. We assign a serial number and add it to the group. If a storm comes in tonight and tomorrow morning an AP doesn’t work, my maintenance guy can replace the AP. Within a few hours, it can be reconfigured.
Did Northgate have another Wi-Fi solution before using Cambium Networks’ equipment?
Rob: They’ve used a variety of Wi-Fi solutions. Many times, they hired companies that had little insight into the solution they were using. Nearly 75% of the APs were independent, and they were all controller-based APs. As a result, there were reconnection issues across the board. They placed several kinds of radios in the parks, and they meshed them together. By the time five or six radios were out in the park, 50 people would be connected, but they wouldn’t get more than dial-up speed.
Northgate reached out to Absolute Communications to help with a park being built North Carolina. We came back with a design, and they were unsure if they could afford it. But if they wanted it built the right way, it’s what had to be done. It took Northgate more than $20 million and nearly two years to build the Golden Valley RV park. They decided to invest the money in getting the Wi-Fi system right, too.
We completed the project. The whole Northgate management team went to the park over the last year, and they see the results. The other thing about this challenging location is the lack of cell phone service out there. They truly depend on the Wi-Fi to stay connected. The only carrier out there is the local cell phone carrier, so if you’re not local, there’s no signal.
The area is full of dense woods. The trees are nearly 40 to 50 feet tall. A lot of people think it’s just an RV park, and you have to cover one area. The Golden Valley Jellystone Park in Bostic, North Carolina is 542 acres. From the bottom of the valley to the top of the ridge is almost 1,800 feet.
Why is it important for their guests to have Wi-Fi access?
Rob: Having good Wi-Fi access is a new standard for RV parks. In a lot of families, kids are always streaming games, videos and movies. During the day at the RV park, it’s all about the activities throughout the park. Then, in the evening, everyone is using their devices in their trailers and cabins. Having that bandwidth allows them to do that. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone has been disconnected. People want to go camping or take their RV to get away from it all. Still, they need to stay connected to keep up with their jobs.
Have you gotten any feedback from Northgate Resorts as to how important good Wi-Fi is to total customer satisfaction?
Rob: Eric uses an RV and travels with his family. He still needs Wi-Fi access so he can continue working while on the road. Wi-Fi is very important to him and influences where he stays.
Eric: There are also people who travel in RVs full time. Some of them have YouTube channels and are famous in the RV world. They’re constantly looking for good Wi-Fi so they can upload videos, and oftentimes they’re staying in remote parks. They don’t want to have to go to a coffee shop just to get Wi-Fi. Having good Wi-Fi at an RV park helps guests continue living their life.
What advice can you give to people connecting their first RV park?
Rob: Compared to cabin sites, the topology of an RV park changes every day because of new trailers coming and going. One day, there might be three twelve-foot trailers between you and the AP. An antenna might be sitting 15 feet up in the air, and most of the signal goes right over the top. Then, a large multimillion-dollar motor home could show up, and you might not have any signal.
That shows you must take into consideration where and how you position your APs. You don’t need to blast your wireless signal strictly in one straight line. They all need to broadcast from an angle. You need to be able to get a signal five or six sites over rather than just blasting one signal straight through sites.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Eric: So many parks have bad Wi-Fi. As someone who has an RV, we’re fortunate to have the Jellystone parks. Their RV parks are all over the place. For most RV parks, guests pay $25 to $35 per night. At Jellystone parks, you pay $50 to upwards of $80 per night. Cabins sometimes cost more than $100 per night.
People expect all the amenities that Jellystone brings: pools, waterparks, amusement parks. Wi-Fi is another critical amenity. Some people travel in RVs that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They expect that they’re going to get good Wi-Fi. Quality is one of Northgate’s hallmarks. If they offer Wi-Fi, they’re going to offer top-notch Wi-Fi.