Americans’ habits have changed dramatically in recent years when it comes to the technological aspects of their lives and their views of cars and RV’s in particular, points out Grant Whipple, president of 62-year-old Burlington, Iowa-based Winegard Co.
“Connectivity really isn’t a desire any more, it’s basically a necessity,” reports Whipple, whose 62-year-old company markets HDTV, satellite and wireless antennae out of two Burlington facilities and locations in Quincy and Elgin, Ill. “It’s not a want, it’s a need, especially when 90% of today’s RVers use a connected device on the road. And 7,000-plus campgrounds/RV parks offer Wi-Fi access, and that number is growing.
“It’s just like in the automotive industry: It used to be that horsepower or a special feature was how you picked out a car,”added Whipple, a 12-year Winegard employee named chief executive in August. “Now consumers are choosing cars based on how well the car connects to the Internet — what type of connectivity features it has. This is what we’re bringing to the RV industry. Winegard’s vision is to connect all the RVs out there to the Internet.”
Among Winegard’s newest offerings is a long-range, high-performance “Winegard ConnecT RV Internet Wi-Fi Extender.” Available at Camping World stores and other dealerships, the Wi-Fi Extender is designed to help minimize “Wi-Fi dead zones” and increase Wi-Fi reach for mobile customers in the RV, marine and trucking sectors who like to utilize media players, computers and other Internet-related componentry while on the road.
Here’s what Whipple had to say about this new twist on the RV/campground front:
RVB: Realizing that Wi-Fi has got to be one of the most relevant topics right now in the RV and campground business, what in particular does “Winegard ConnecT” bring to the table in terms of innovation?
Whipple: “What we’re finding is that with more than 70% of RVers picking their campsites based on Wi-Fi availability, the antenna technology to distribute that Wi-Fi signal is limited. And so this Wi-Fi extender allows you to greatly increase the range from which you’re able to pick up Wi-Fi signals and, of course, get online and surf the web, stream a video, etc. And while this Wi-Fi extender involves line-of-sight technology, we’ve gotten signals with this antenna from Wi-Fi hotspots over a mile away.
“So, if you’re at a Walmart parking lot, a campground or you’re using the free McDonalds Wi-Fi with a laptop or cell phone, the antenna that fits in there is very small and it doesn’t’ always perform very well. Of course, it works OK when you’re close enough to a Wi-Fi hotspot. But as you get further away, it diminishes quickly. And so this allows you to go from no signal – or a very low, one-bar signal — to getting a signal and a faster connection.
“Even if you’re in an area where you can see something (line of sight) with a laptop or a tablet device in hand, this is going to amplify that signal and basically you’re going to get more speed, thanks to an extremely powerful roof-top antenna that actually rebroadcasts the signal down inside the coach.”
RVB: So, how big is this roof-top antenna?
Whipple: “What’s nice is that it’s a really small footprint, very easy to install and doesn’t take up a lot of roof space. And while this turns your signal basically into an ultra-long-range Wi-Fi extension, the next step in resolving these connectivity issues is that we’re going to see hotspot networks all over the U.S. continue to expand. The cable companies are expanding hotspots. Multiple networks are being built out, so every day it gets better and better.
“The next step — and the product that we’ll be launching in late Q1 — actually augments Wi-Fi, which is more of a local wireless technology, with 4G LTE technology. So when you’re outside of Wi-Fi range, you can switch over to the 4G LTE technology and experience 4G LTE Internet.”
RVB: OK, Grant, for the technologically impaired among us, what is 4G LTE?
Whipple: “It’s basically the next generation standard of cellular technology. So, the high speed technology that smart phones are using, etc., to connect with, that’s the same type of technology. But this gives you much higher download and upload speeds with your connected devices and the ability to extend the range greatly of that Wi-Fi signal because of the improved connectivity.
“Let’s say, for example, I don’t have Wi-Fi connectivity where I’m at, the 4G LTE version allows you to pull from cellular 4G towers to connect to the Internet, much like they’re doing with some of the new services that Chevy has with LTE hotspots in their cars. This is somewhat similar to that except the range and performance and power of the (Winegard) antenna is greater, so you’re actually getting more range, more speed. So it’s pretty exciting.
“And then from this you can surf the web, check e-mails and do anything you normally do on the Internet. But even going further, there’s a lot of talk about the ‘Internet of Things.’ This product creates the bridge to the cloud to the Internet.”
RVB: A bridge to the cloud?
Whipple: “Yeah, both of them actually represent a bridge to the future, considering all of the possibilities for connected devices in the RV that you could monitor these days. You could go back and check on your phone. You can check into a camera on your RV because we’re creating the connection to the cloud that enables a consumer to make sure everything is OK with their unit. They can check on their dog or cat that they left there and make sure they’re OK. Or they can send a warning signal regarding, for instance, a refrigerator that might have stopped working so the manufacturer can get an update automatically that something stopped and we could be proactive on maintenance and make the consumer experience that much better. So there’s endless possibilities with connectivity.”