As cell phones, iPods and laptops creep steadily into every corner of modern life, America’s national parks have stayed largely off the digital grid, among the last remaining outposts of ringtone-free human solitude.
For better or worse, that may soon change, Reuters reported.
Under pressure from telecommunications companies and a growing number of park visitors who feel adrift without mobile-phone reception, the airwaves in such grand getaway destinations as Yellowstone National Park may soon be abuzz with new wireless signals.
That prospect has given pause to a more traditional cohort of park visitors who cherish the unplugged tranquility of the great outdoors, fearing an intrusion of mobile phones – and the sound of idle chatter – will diminish their experience.
Some have mixed emotions. Stephanie Smith, a 50-something Montana native who visits Yellowstone as many as six times a year, said she prefers the cry of an eagle to ring tones.
But she also worries that future generations may lose their appreciation for the value of nature and the need to preserve America’s outdoor heritage if a lack of technology discourages them from visiting.
“You have to get there to appreciate it,” Smith said. “It’s a new world – and technology is a part of it.”
Balancing the two aesthetics has emerged as the latest challenge facing the National Park Service as managers in at least two premier parks, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, consider recent requests to install new telecommunications towers or upgrade existing ones.
There is no system-wide rule governing cellular facilities in the 300 national parks, national monuments and other units the agency administers nationwide. Wireless infrastructure decisions are left up to the managers of individual park units.
The agency’s mission statement requires it to protect park resources and the visitor experience, but each individual experience is unique, said Lee Dickinson, a special-uses program manager for the Park Service.
“I’ve had two visitors calling me literally within hours of each other who wanted exactly the opposite experience: One saying he didn’t vacation anywhere without electronic access and the other complaining he was disturbed by another park visitor ordering pizza on his cell phone,” Dickinson said.
Editor’s Note: The following story from The Boston Globe clearly shows how technology has invaded and transformed the campground.
Chris Szymczuk and his son Tommy were grilling bread for BLTs outside their camper at the Bay View Campground in Bourne, Mass., and with Tommy’s XBox 360 and cellphone nowhere in sight, the Bridgewater father pronounced himself happy.
“It’s a little bit of heaven,” Szymczuk said.
That is how he sees technology-free vacation time together. Tommy, 13, enjoys undiluted family time, too, but only up to a point. “Half the time we’re doing nothing,” he said, recalling evenings spent around a campfire. “That’s when I text or play some Xbox.”
Father and son smiled at each other under the bright July sun. “I learn to deal with it,” said Szymczuk, who works for a wine and liquor distributor. “It is what it is,” Tommy replied.
Technology, having transformed the rest of life, is going after the family vacation. Parents and kids are equally guilty of clinging to their mobile devices, though for anyone who has learned about the night sky from an app — or answered a work e-mail from the beach — technology can enhance a vacation, or make it possible for some adults to get away at all. But the benefits of vacationing as a family may be lessened if each person spends the holiday physically present but mentally elsewhere.
How much of an impact is technology having? Even the age-old refrain from the back seat — “Are we there yet?” — is under fire.
“Sometimes, the kids are almost reluctant to get out of the car,” said Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College’s Center for Work & Family. You reach your destination, but instead of hopping out, the children stay buckled in. “Just one more level,” they beg, thumbs working their game players, or, “Let me finish this episode.”
“There are times in the journey where you’d like them to unplug and interact,” Harrington joked, “even if it’s to fight.”
Statistics do not exist on the percentage of teenagers who go an entire week on Cape Cod texting so furiously they do not even realize they are away, or the number of hours toddlers spend pleading with parents to stop checking e-mail and help with the sand castle.
But mobile devices have become so much a part of the family vacation that campground owners say offering Wi-Fi service is almost a must — and some guests prefer a spot with a strong signal to one with a view of the trees. Front-desk clerks report that families arrive with so many devices that hotels have had to add power strips to rooms. And some vacationers admit they are more interested in photographing the moment for Facebook than being in the moment.
To read the entire article click here.
For the Wohlfords of Noblesville, Ind., the Old Mill Run Park in nearby Thorntown is a home away from home. The couple recently graduated from being weekend campers to full timers, staying there all summer long.
But with that upgrade came another — the need to have wireless Internet, the Lafayette Journal & Courier reported.
“We would be OK for a weekend,” said Mary Ann, 64. “But when you are full-time, for us, it wouldn’t work. There are just so many things that are (done) through the computer, through the Internet.”
Her husband, Steve Wohlford, agreed. “We need to stay in touch and pay our bills,” said Steve, 66.
It used to be that campers would take their RVs or tents and head into the woods to be rid of the electrical devices that distract and occupy our daily lives. However, as technology has become more mobile, it has become increasingly difficult to disconnect, even in the woods. Today, more campers request that campsites offer Wi-Fi so they can stay connected and campground owners have accommodated this request.
About 72% of privately owned and operated campgrounds, RV parks and RV resorts offer wireless Internet service, according to a 2010 campground operations survey by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
Eric Stumberg, founder and CEO of TengoInternet, an Austin, Texas-based company that specializes in providing wireless Internet service to private campgrounds, said the trend started to take off about five years ago. Similar to hotels, campgrounds needed to offer Wi-Fi as an amenity.
For his company, the number of unique connections has increased 50 percent to 75 percent each year, he said. This has been driven by more people connecting and families using multiple devices to do so.
To read the entire article click here.
TengoInternet, the oldest and largest wireless Internet provider for the outdoor hospitality industry, announced that Inc. Magazine ranked TengoInternet on its fourth annual Inc. 5000 list, an exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.
TengoInternet ranked 2,767 on the Inc. 5000 list based on revenue growth from 2007 through 2010, according to a news release.
“Now, more than ever, we depend on Inc. 500/5000 companies to spur innovation, provide job, and drive the economy forward. Growth companies, not large corporations, are where the action is,” says Inc. editor Jane Berentson.
“We are honored to be recognized for the third time among the nation’s elite private companies -in same span twice winning our industry Supplier of the Year award,” said Eric Stumberg, CEO and co-founder of TengoInternet. “TengoInternet’s growth is directly attributable to the talent and commitment of our team, the loyalty of our awesome customers and the important role we play in our customer’s success. We look forward to continuing to help our customers achieve business success.”
The companies on this year’s list report having created 350,000 jobs in the past three years.
The following is a story appearing in the July issue of Woodall’s Campground Management authored by Jeff Crider examining how campgrounds are dealing with the public’s demand for up-to-date Wi-Fi services.
A decade ago, it was a big deal when somebody showed up at a campground or RV park with a laptop, and parks that offered them wireless Internet or Wi-Fi service were seen as cutting edge, even revolutionary.
It’s a different story today.
Laptops are nearly as common as cellphones and Wi-Fi service is no longer considered a luxury, but rather a necessity.
Indeed, while RVers in the early days needed Wi-Fi service to monitor their e-mail or check their stock performance or keep in touch with their bosses or employees, today’s RVers are using Wi-Fi for an even greater variety of applications.
Every day, in fact, 40% to 50% of Internet users are visiting websites like Google Earth and Facebook. Social media behemoths like Facebook didn’t even exist a decade ago.
Now add to that the increasing use of the Internet for entertainment purposes, whether it’s watching streaming video on Netflix or YouTube or participating in interactive, Internet-based video games, such as World or Warcraft, and one gets a sense of how the Internet and the need for Wi-Fi access increasingly dominates our lives.
Meanwhile, the number of devices that campers use to connect to the Internet – for work or for pleasure – is greatly expanding. “Guests are coming in with smart phones, gaming devices and tablet computers as well as the traditional laptop,” said Jim Ganley, managing partner of CheckBox Systems LLC in Portland, Maine.
Not surprisingly, the dramatically increased demand for Wi-Fi service is pushing the limits of many parks’ Wi-Fi capabilities. A large percentage have older Wi-Fi systems that need to be replaced or upgraded to keep up with demand. Other parks have good equipment, but need more bandwidth to accommodate their guests’ Internet consumption needs.
“We’ve had a lot of parks that are running into a bandwidth crunch,” Ganley said.
“The smart phones and iPads are becoming a major issue,” adds Jim Ames, co-founder, president and CEO of Napa, Calif.-based Airwave Adventurers Inc. “One of the biggest things I’m seeing is that there is more and more of a demand for an increase in bandwidth and the technology is not there to support it.”
As a result, he said, park operators are increasingly looking at ways to upgrade Wi-Fi systems that can no longer handle the Internet consumption demands of today’s RVers.
“Wi-Fi service has utility-like service expectations so being connected is an important and emotional issue for guests,” says Eric Stumberg, president and CEO of Austin, Texas-based TengoInternet, who notes that RVers often will not stay at parks that cannot deliver reliable Wi-Fi service.
“I’m still getting customers coming in that are replacing the original equipment put in by the local network guy,” Ames said. “They realize they need to spend money to get commercial equipment.”
But park operators do not only need vendors who can install reliable Wi-Fi hardware, they also need local Wi-Fi service providers who can provide increasing volumes of Internet data. “Everything depends on what the Internet connection is,” Ames said. “The hardware isn’t the only issue. It’s the pipeline coming into the park.”
Many parks also need companies to manage these systems, not only to ensure the proper functioning of these systems, but to make sure that guests are not engaging in illegal activities using the park’s Wi-Fi network. “We’ve had several parks that are getting notices from the music and movie industries that say, ‘You have somebody at your location that is illegally downloading information from the Internet.’”
The park operator is liable for illegal data downloads, unless the park owner can provide the address of the computer that illegally downloaded the data.
Wi-Fi service providers range from companies offering self-installed hardware, to those offering total solutions, including network system management and guest services.
TengoInternet, for example, provides everything from network design and installation, to staff and guest support, to network monitoring and management. “We design solutions based on the unique needs of each facility,” Stumberg said. “Most park operators want Tengo to manage their network and guests so they don’t have to.”
The Austin based company, back-to-back winner of the ARVC Supplier of The Year Award, provides a turn-key solution. “Park operators have been willing to pay for a reliable network, the right guest experience and a knowledgeable company to deal with changing network, Internet and guest expectations,” Stumberg said, adding their most popular service provides parks with 24/7 system and guest support.
“Park operators will need to accommodate the ways people connect to and use the Internet- it’s not getting any easier,” Stumberg said.
CheckBox Systems, for its part, sells Wi-Fi hardware that parks can operate on their own or with company support, depending on their needs. “At the bottom end,” Ganley said, “we have systems for $299 for a club house or small park. But the more typical system is about $1,500 and includes the hardware, an HC2 controller unit and typically about three access points that would cover say a 15-acre park with 100 sites.” CheckBox offers a one-year warranty and product support with its systems, while ongoing park and customer support is available for a fee after the first year.
Airwave Adventurers does system designs and sells Wi-Fi equipment. Park operators can choose from multiple options, whether they want to install and run it themselves, to having it fully installed, and/or having a managed 24/7system with an extended warranty. The average system costs $2,000 to $3,000, while installation ranges from $600 to $1,000. Woodall’s Campground Management subscribers are also eligible for a 20% discount, Ames said.
Regardless of which system park operators select, the Wi-Fi needs of today’s RVers are likely to further increase, Stumberg said. “AT&T had a 5,000% increase in mobile data traffic between 2007 and 2009, and video is expected to drive 69% of traffic by 2014,” Stumberg said. Cisco, he added, expects the volume of data sent over Wi-Fi to exceed data sent over wired networks by 2015.
Wakefield Research and the Wi-Fi Alliance also produced a study that found that 65% of those surveyed said they would seek Wi-Fi capability in every tech item they bought this year. “People are going to continue to connect to the Internet in different ways,” Stumberg said.
Camping has always been a part of Jane Fowler’s life. As far back as she can remember, the mother and grandmother has spent holidays and summers communing with nature, according to a report in the Greenville (S.C.) News.
Now Fowler, her husband, her kids and their families still go camping at least four times a year. But it’s not tents they pitch these days; they’re rolling in RVs.
“We’ve just been camping forever, but it’s so nice now to have the running water, the warm water, the refrigerator, the bathroom,” she said.
Camping is not what it used to be. Thanks in part to the growing popularity of recreational vehicles, which now come with washer and dryers, flat-screen TVs, and central heating and air – and in part to a more connected culture – people are redefining what it means to go camping.
Starting last year, Kampgrounds of America (KOA) began adding “luxury park model kabins” to their sites nationwide. The KOA campground in Spartanburg. S.C.. added two of the new housing options this past winter. Each costs $119 per night for two adults and two kids, versus the $29 a night it costs to camp, but they’ve been booked consistently since, says Vicki Canto, a work camper with KOA who is currently stationed in Spartanburg.
The cabins offer television, multiple beds and rooms, bathroom, and a full kitchen and den area complete with all utensils and linens.
“If you are coming from the idea of camping in a tent, it’s definitely changing because a lot of people have these travel trailers, fifth-wheels, motorhomes, and they are really nice inside,” Canto says.
“You have all the amenities and comforts of home, and the lodges are like that … except they don’t have a dishwasher or washing machine. But still you’re not giving up a whole lot to go ‘camping.’”
Having more non-tent options has also opened up camping to more people. Fowler admits that if it weren’t for the travel trailer, she doubts she’d go camping very often. Being over 50 and sleeping in a tent is just not as appealing.
Plus, the RV is helpful with the young kids, who don’t last too long in the summer heat. The family does an annual Fourth of July trip to Crooked Creek RV Park on Lake Keowee each year, a tradition that would surely get nixed if it weren’t for the air conditioning.
“I don’t know that I would,” Fowler says. “If I did camp it would have to be when it was not too hot or too cold. There is no way I would go up there the Fourth of July in a tent.”
What is being referred to as a “glamping,” or glamour camping, trend has even spilled into more primitive state parks in South Carolina. Devils Fork State Park in Salem offers two- and three-bedroom villas in addition to campsites, and Lake Hartwell State Park in Fair Play added camper cabins in 2007. The one-room buildings are not fancy, says Kevin Evans, park manager at Devils Fork State Park, who was the Lake Hartwell park manager at the time, but they do offer an alternative to tents.
But the biggest trend Evans has seen is Wi-Fi. Even traditional campgrounds are getting on board: Table Rock State Park offers service in the park’s store and the visitor’s center. Click here to read the entire story.
Editor’s Note: The following story comes from the current issue of the CalARVC News, a publication of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
A recent survey conducted at www.Camp-California.com took a look at the impact of Wi-Fi on a camper’s decision-making process.
Participants responded to the question, “With other factors equal, do you choose a campground based on whether they have Wi-Fi?” There were 354 campers who participated from Nov. 2 to Dec. 28, 2010.
- 156: Yes, only if it is free.
- 85: Yes – Always.
- 35: Sometimes – when I have to do business.
- 34: Rarely.
- 32: No – I don’t travel with my computer.
- 12: No – I don’t ever use Wi-Fi.
A significant majority (241 respondents or 68.1%) said they did choose a campground based on whether Wi-Fi was available. An additional 19.5% said they sometimes or rarely used Wi-Fi – indicating it was not a significant part of their decision making process.
Only 12.4% said “No.” They indicated they either didn’t ever use Wi-Fi or didn’t travel with their computer.
Campers seeking information about Wi-Fi (either for free or with a fee) will find it easy to find at Camp-California.com. They simply click on the “Add Amenities and Lifestlyle Options” link and select Wi-Fi from the Amenity List. This returns a list of parks that offer Wi-Fi.
If appropriate, each park’s listing includes information about Wi-Fi. If it is offered at no charge, that information is stated in the park’s description.
TengoInternet, the oldest and largest wireless Internet provider for the outdoor hospitality industry, has announced 29 new customers in 11 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
As the industry’s largest provider of Wi-Fi, TengoInternet offers comprehensive network and guest services that properties need to increase occupancy and guest satisfaction, according to a news release. With these new locations TengoInternet manages more than 900 wireless networks across 49 states, Canada and Mexico.
TengoInternet’s new customers include:
- Arrowhead Point Resort and Cabins, Colorado.
- Asheville West KOA and Lake Waldo’s Beach Campground, both in North Carolina.
- Aurora Acres, Beginning Point RV Park, Belle Parc, Oak Harbor Lodging and RV Park, Peppertree RV Resort and Pleasant Lake RV Resort, all in Florida.
- Denali Grizzly Bear Park and Rivers Edge RV Park, both in Alaska.
- Dream Catcher RV Park, New Mexico.
- Fawn Meadows RV, Alberta.
- Green River Lake State Park, Kentucky.
- KOA Lake Isabella, Novato RV Park and Vineyard RV Park, all in California.
- Big Oak River Camp, Lakeview MHC, Las Raices Ranch, Magnolia Lake RV Park, Ol’ 90 RV Park, Rambling Vines RV Park, TLC RV Community and Shady Oaks, all in Texas.
- Osage Beach RV Park, Missouri.
- Page Springs Resort, Arizona.
- Sunshine Valley, British Columbia.
- Teton Valley Campground, Idaho.
“Our customers face increasing wireless connectivity expectations of guests and new operating requirements in a challenging outdoor network environment” said Eric Stumberg, CEO and co-founder, TengoInternet. “Our flexible solutions, expertise in provisioning and supporting private wireless networks and focus on our customers continue to be recognized and rewarded in the industry.”
TengoInternet is the largest high-speed wireless internet managed service provider to the outdoor hospitality industry. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, TengoInternet delivers turnkey WiFi solutions for hospitality operators and the guests they serve through its award winning network design, installation, management and guest support services. TengoInternet currently manages high speed wired and wireless networks for more than 900 RV resorts, campgrounds, hotels and marinas in 49 states, Canada and Mexico. For additional information, visit www.tengointernet.com or call (512) 469-7660.
WiFiRanger.com is now making available its new consumer router, the WiFiRanger which allows traditional connections to the Internet via WAN, as well as 3/4G USB modems, but with the added ability to connect to public or private Wi-Fi as well for the Internet backhaul connection.
The device has practical applications for RVers.
“As WiFi becomes more pervasive in apartments, communities, resorts and destination recreation venues, people still need traditional router functionality while using it such as LAN ports, a WPA encrypted wireless network for their own use, and backup capability such as 3/4G. The WiFiRanger puts all that functionality into a simple-to-use consumer product, and isolates the owner from being directly connected to the public Wi-Fi system,” stated Kelly Hogan, CEO and founder of WiFiRanger.com.
The WiFiRanger automatically scans for public WiFi, profiles open connections for signal quality, Internet speed and even determines if a signal is “filtered,” implying that a login screen is presented to the user. This information is then presented to the WiFiRanger owner within their browser, and allows them to select the preferred connection. Once done, all devices on their private WPA network, or LAN ports then passes through the WiFiRanger and its connection to the public WiFi, as if they were on a DSL/Cable connection at home.
“We’ve taken the complexity and security issues out of using public Wi-Fi for real, day-to-day use. After six years supporting the largest public Wi-Fi network in North America, we understand what is needed to insure effective and secure use of the public WiFi systems. Our WiFiRanger delivers the needed features at an affordable price,” Hogan continued.
The WiFiRanger sells for $147.50 and is available now at www.wifiranger.com.
WiFiRanger.com is a subsidiary of LinOra Corp., a privately held company offering wireless equipment and services to WISPS, Telco and national wireless provisioners. All operations are handled out of Caldwell, Idaho.
TengoInternet today (April 21) announced that it distributed $270,000 in guest Wi-Fi revenue to its participating RV resort owners in 2009.
This payout is part of TengoInternet’s revenue-sharing program with resorts that choose to offer Wi-Fi or wireless Internet for a fee to their guests. Resorts that participate in TengoInternet’s revenue-sharing program receive a monthly check for a percentage of the total Wi-Fi access fees sold at their location. As the industry’s largest provider, TengoInternet pays more revenue share dollars back to RV resorts than any other provider, according to a news release.
“Wi-Fi service continues to be a selection and satisfaction criteria for RV travelers and the #1 technology amenity sought by campground guests,” said Eric Stumberg, CEO and co-founder, TengoInternet. “The fact is that there are many guest pricing models available-the revenue share model addresses one segment of our customers. Our customers may choose to have us collect revenue online and share it back with them, collect and keep 100% of revenue at point of sale, offer the service for free, or some blend of all of these. TengoInternet’s flexible WiFi services and contracts allow our customers to meet the specific needs of their guests and business.”