As consumers become more accustomed to a life connected to the internet, car and truck manufacturers have been actively integrating technologies into their products for the last several years to follow the trend. Today, trailer manufacturers are met with frequent requests to include WiFi connectivity to a growing list of build specifications. While WiFi connectivity demand for trailers might have been born out of the RV industry, the need for mobile connectivity spans far beyond into cargo, horse and open trailers.
From a rodeo team looking to connect to the internet to complete school assignments between events, or a farmer looking to collect crop information from instruments miles away, to the foreman on a construction site looking to check schedules or track progress on the project, being able to connect to the world from anywhere is now needed everywhere in society.
Further, the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (IoT)— including the billions of physical products around the world connected to the internet that collect and share data—aid businesses and the average American in making faster, more informed decisions. Connected devices that are part of the IoT include lightbulbs that can be turned on with a smartphone app and components on trailers such as app-connected air conditioners, auto-starting generators and tire pressure monitoring systems. Having the ability to connect to these devices has consumers requesting trailer manufacturers and dealers install mobile WiFi devices to their trailers.
Mobile WiFi routers transform cellular connections into a private WiFi signal for different devices. These routers are often paired with existing cellular data plans or may come with company- specific data plan options. Some mobile WiFi devices are built to connect to existing WiFi sources and strengthen the internet signal from further distances. Furthermore, many companies offer extenders that increase the range of coverage up to a couple of miles as users drop their trailers and get to work or fun.
It is important to note that consumers often expect the same level of connectivity and signal strength from mobile WiFi units that they get at home or work. However, because these routers either extend existing WiFi signals or utilize cellular data, consumers should be prepared for the same challenges they face using cell phones. Signal strength depends on multiple factors and can result in intermittent connectivity and even outright signal loss. Trailer manufacturers and dealers would be wise to remind consumers of the limitations of WiFi functionality in an effort to set accurate expectations and prevent complaints from frustrated customers.
There are a number of products available in the market, including KING WiFiRanger and Winegard, to name a few. When looking to select a system, determining the range, speed and setting—indoor, outdoor, or indoor/outdoor—are all critical considerations. Further, determining whether the unit should capitalize on existing WiFi or needs to work using cellular data are also important considerations. For any device designed to utilize cellular data, looking at which cellular providers are supported by the device will be key.
Other Considerations in WiFi Product Selection:
Does the service offer a “pay as you go”, no contract option, for data? If the customer doesn’t use the trailer very often, it might make more sense to choose a “pay as you go” option versus adding to the customer’s monthly cellular bill.
Has the product been certified with cellular carrier(s)? If it hasn’t been certified, there could be issues with service or not being able to add the device to your carrier.
How many devices can be supported? Some systems limit the number of consumer devices they support.
What is the range on the hotspot, and what range does the user need covered? Inside devices versus outside devices will have differences in the speed and distance for connecting devices.
Does it work as both a WiFi Extender and 4G LTE Extender (hotspot)? Options that offer both allow customers to use free WiFi when available and the 4G LTE service when WiFi is not available.
How easy is the product to use? Does it offer a mobile app?
How many antennas are used, and what is the gain of the antennas used? (Antennas aid in better performance.)
What is the company’s warranty?
Installation varies depending on what product the customer chooses. For example, Winegard’s current offerings require a rooftop unit for enclosed trailers, power sourced from an AC power outlet or a hard-wired 12V DC power cable. In the RV industry, many companies are now pre-wiring for this connectivity. WiFiRanger offers both AC and DC power connectivity and estimates installation time to take one person anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes to install depending on the package and the trailer/unit.
While installation is fairly straightforward, the mobile WiFi space is primarily geared toward the RV industry at this time, with many products requiring an indoor and outdoor unit and pre- wired power.
While the industry is seeing the beginning demands of mobile WiFi, this is one small step toward what may become standard. With the introduction of 5G technologies, this connectivity is expected to not only expand but speed up significantly. Right now, 5G is only available in some large cities, but as consumers continue to demand improved service and increased speeds for downloads and uploads, the 5G network is set to expand. Much remains unknown about the future of 5G, but even if it does not entirely replace the current 4G LTE, 5G promises to augment that connection at the very least.
As companies continue to look for ways to maximize packages and improve connectivity between tow vehicles and trailers, mobile WiFi connectivity will be paramount. At the same time, WiFi connectivity will also be an integral to continuing to improve trailer safety. Data collection, even remotely, can alert users to unknown issues and aid in the proactive resolution of issues before they result in roadway stoppages or accidents. Further, companies are fast approaching a complete trailer monitoring system, which would link together what has been a series of individual systems like tire pressure monitoring systems and lighting and expanding into new monitoring systems such as brakes. These mobile units for WiFi connectivity are just the beginning swell of the future wave.