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Why is campground WIFI so slow

September 16, 2015
Campground WIFI

There are a number of factors:
1) campgrounds generally are in rural or even isolated areas and internet infrastructure spending is being spent more often in cities where there is more return on investment (more customers=more revenue). For this reason DSL is almost unheard of, cable is nowhere near as fast as in the cities, business class fiber based solutions come with huge (6-7 digit) build costs and very large monthly costs and Satellite is slow and very costly making it unsuitable for a lot of applications.
2) if you figure a campground has 100 sites and every trailer has 4 devices (2 phones, a laptop and an iPad) that is 400 devices and assuming a 25mbps cable connection in the park that is 62.5kbps per device (dialup speed)
3) most campground wifi networks are designed using wifi repeaters. The basic premise is there is a router in the office at the front of the park with a wireless access point. This access point will only reach a few rows into the park. In order to get to the back of the park they will “repeat” the signal off a bunch of additional wireless access points every few rows back in the park. The problem is that repeating has a big cost, it means that 50% of the capacity of the access point is used to relay to the next access point in the chain. Imagine for a minute that they have 802.11G in the park and have 5 access points relayed together. The first access point runs at 54mbps, the 2nd because half the capacity is used to relay to the first, it only has 27mbps of usable capacity, now imagine the 3rd one, it can only get up to 27mbps but has to use half to relay to the slower 27mbps access point that leaves 13.5, now go to the fourth it only has 6.75mbps, and the fifth only has 3.375. This makes the back of the campground very very slow
4) If everyone in the campground is trying to watch the new season of House of Cards in HD, they are using about 2mbps each. With only 25mbps capacity in the park that leaves less than 13 trailers (of 100) can watch it in HD. Add all the grandmothers trying to Skype to their grandkids and all the kids watching Minecraft videos on YouTube and it is like trying to fit a watermelon thru a garden hose.

I have been noticing recently a change for the good.  Some campgrounds, KOA in particular are starting to use enterprise Wireless Access Points with long range directional antennas pointing back to the main building, thus eliminating the need for repeating thru multiple access points to make it back to the main building.  I have also been seeing campgrounds use a variety of methods to “control” usage.  There is even a vast difference between individual KOA campgrounds.  Some are limiting to one single use WIFI key, with additional ones costing more money.  Some will give you additional keys if you ask.  Others claim to be throttling high bandwidth users.  I am however more skeptical of this claim as this requires more advanced firewall equipment to do effectively and can actually be detrimental to the overall network performance as it takes a lot of horsepower to sort and manage all the traffic.  If some campgrounds are doing this I suspect it is very limited in effectiveness and in other cases it may simply be scare tactic.

As these problems are not limited to just campgrounds, hotels suffer the same issues, I suspect in the long run there will be a change where completely free unlimited WIFI will be a thing of the past.  I think since in many cases, particularly in rural locations internet service cannot keep up with streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, campgrounds will start to move to a paid or capped model.  Solutions may include basic slow WIFI is free, but premium will cost money, or you may be limited to a certain portion of the pipe say 256kbps per device thus making streaming impractical.  They may also implement other models like you get x bps per night and if you use it up in the first 15 minutes watching YouTube, then you have to pay for more bandwidth.

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