How to Watch TV in Your RV Without Cable

There are lots of ways you can watch TV in your RV even if you don't have a cable connection. With things like MiFi and tethering, you'll be up and running in no time.

Not everyone has the luxury of cable and not everyone wants to pay for it either. In the midst of the cord-cutting revolution, why can’t RVers do the same? The reality is, they can and they even have a bit more leeway than standard cable cutters at home.

With today’s 4G and 5G speeds, MiFi is more than capable of filling the void of at-home routers, not to mention free, over-the-air antennas, portable satellites, and omnidirectional antennas, which are really just over-the-air antennas with a bit of mobility.

Cutting cable isn’t a bad thing by any means. It’s expensive and with technologies like MiFi (wireless hotspots) that you can either use with your smartphone or with a MiFi device through your cell phone carrier, you can get more than you ever did with cable and on your terms. 

Throw in antennas and satellites (well, maybe satellites aren’t the best comparison because you need a subscription with them too) you can catch your locals for free and still have your premiums at your fingertips, interchangeable and ready to go when you want.

MiFi

a black mifi box lying on a table
Image credits: Wikimedia

Almost everyone has a cell carrier nowadays but carriers happen to offer a lot more than just smartphones, whether you’re an Apple aficionado or an Android fan, you have the option of purchasing a MiFi device from your carrier. T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T all offer them, along with the smaller carriers such as Boost Mobile. 

A MiFi device is a router in portable form. It does exactly what your router does at home except that it goes with you everywhere you go. There are a lot of advantages to having one as well, especially if it takes advantage of 4G and 5G speeds:

  • Today’s MiFi devices can handle around ten connections 
  • It doesn’t require a continuous, AC power source
  • Portability
  • Comes with a high level of security encryption

Of course, everything has a caveat, and wouldn’t life be grand if it didn’t? MiFi devices, as nice and convenient as they are, don’t come without a cost, and, depending on what plan you’re on, it may be more expensive than having cable.

These are some of the caveats of using MiFi:

  • Cost of the device and the data plan
  • Needs to charge like a smartphone
  • Requires a SIM card associated with your carrier

When it comes to RV living, it’s not likely that you’re going to exceed 10 connections for your MiFi device, unless you are literally a traveling smart home, and that kind of takes the whole idea of camping out of the picture. 

But, if you need that many devices, you will certainly get it with most of the newer devices. Older MiFi devices may drop that number down to five or so, but it’s not the end of the world or anything. 

Like a smartphone, your MiFi device has to be charged, however, the mobility of these devices is exceptional. The battery on most MiFis lasts for a good amount of time and if your kids are streaming Netflix in the RV, they can continue streaming Netflix, uninterrupted when you leave.

While traveling in the RV, however, you will need a power inverter if you want to keep your MiFi device plugged in. 

Unfortunately, adding a MiFi device to your RV “must-haves” also means that you will basically be adding another line to your carrier account, whether that’s through Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, or another carrier altogether. 

It will come with a SIM card and everything, just like your smartphone.

Tethering

a white wifi hotspot
Image credits: Stephen Phillips

If you don’t want to carry around a new MiFi device or pay the cost for one, you may have another option, depending on the capabilities of your smartphone. Most smartphones have their own, built-in WiFi capabilities just like a MiFi device. 

Instead of booking up a MiFi, simply turn the WiFi tethering option on in your smartphone’s settings and anyone around you can now connect with your smartphone’s data. This includes smart TVs, other smartphones, tablets, laptops, and PCs. 

With tethering, you will generally have to pay extra through your carrier, however, there are multiple plans to take advantage of.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile offers one of the best plans out there in their Magenta package, specifically, Magenta Max. It’s $85.00/mo, which sounds absolutely insane until you consider the fact that it also covers your smartphone on your line. 

It’s still a steep price but it may be worth considering if you want a ton of data available for tethering.

Verizon

You can get 150GB of hotspot (tethering) data on your existing smartphone plan for just a shade cheaper than the T-Mobile, Magenta Plan. That includes 5G, however, whether or not you have access to 5G depends on where you’re parking your RV for the night. 

AT&T

AT&T offers one of the best hotspot plans at 100GB for $55/mo. That might be a little low, depending on the kind of devices you are going to be using to access this data and how often you are in the RV.

Free over-the-air TV

an antenna with a blue background
Image credits: Vyacheslav Shatskiy

In case you didn’t realize, local channels are free and local affiliates have large towers set up that are constantly broadcasting, which means that you can pick it up for free. Of course, you have to buy your antenna but who doesn’t want free channels, especially when it comes to sports?

Even though the NFL, NBA, NHL, and even some college sports have gone the way of creating their own networks that charge subscription fees, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and many more local channels still play a ton of live sports content and you can watch it all for free. 

You have an option between indoor and outdoor antennas but outdoor is certainly going to give you a far better level of quality reception. You also have the choice of a directional antenna or an omnidirectional antenna.

Directional antennas are powerful, long-range antennas but they have a narrow focus, so you’ll have to move them around after you park the RV so that you can get the best reception. 

Omnidirectional will pick up signals all around, however, the range may not be as good as the kind you will get with a directional. The best alternative is to purchase an omnidirectional antenna with an amplifier.

Regardless of which antenna you decide to go with, including whether or not it is indoor or outdoor, there are a few things that you can do to ensure that you get the best reception.

  • Plot out where your next campground is going to be
  • Manually adjust if you own a directional antenna
  • Scan your channels on your TV
  • Purchase a digital signal finder to help orient your directional antenna
  • If you have an amplifier, make sure that it is on every time you stop for the night
  • Turn off appliances you aren’t using to minimize interference

When you’re dealing with antennas, the signal is everything and when you plot out your next campground destination, do what you can to make sure that it is not in a valley or so heavily wooded that it will cause a great degree of interference. 

Digital signal finders and amplifiers are great tools to have if you’re all-in on antennas. Amplifiers boost your reception significantly while digital signal finders make life so much easier when you need to orient your directional antenna.

Satellite TV

satellite seen from above
Image credits: SpaceX

We saved this one for last because it’s still as costly as cable and simply not as dependable. However, a lot of RVers swear by their satellite TV so it’s worth a mention, despite the fact that it is far inferior to the customization and freedom of choice options you get with MiFi and tethering. 

As every satellite owner will tell you, if it rains, you may as well turn the TV off for a little while. Fortunately, rain is about the only thing that will make reception problematic. Otherwise, satellite dishes operate pretty well. 

You generally have a choice between Dish Network and DirectTV and there’s not much that separates the two in terms of functionality or durability.

One of the biggest perks of satellite TV is you can save a ton of money by choosing to go with non-HD programming. It may not sound ideal but if all you’re trying to do is catch the news in the evening, HD isn’t going to matter all that much, and it’s roughly $30/mo.

The largest problem with satellite coverage is that you are essentially ditching cable for a replacement that is essentially cable. Considering the constant battles going on between Dish Network or DirecTV and the various networks, there are always channels that you can’t have that you would have under normal circumstances.

Final thoughts

You have a lot of options if you don’t want or have cable in your RV. Better yet, you can combine options as well. For instance, owning a MiFi hotspot with Tubi (free), Crackle (free), Peacock (free), and Xumo (free) combined with an HD, omnidirectional, amplified antenna will have you rolling in free content and all of it in glorious HD.

Thanks to tethering, MiFi, various antennas, and satellite technology, you never have to worry about cutting cable and changing your entertainment lifestyle on the go.

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Thomas Godwin

Thomas Godwin is a writer and Marine Corps veteran with a degree in Creative Writing from the Full Sail University. He has been writing content for HeadlessNomad since 2021. Being a veteran, Thomas knows pretty much everything there is to know about the use of paracord, how boots should fit, and nature in general.