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Ask Bob Livingston: Pushing the Wireless Limits

Ask Bob Livingston: Pushing the Wireless Limits

November 23, 2018


We’ve all grown accustomed to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and pushing buttons as we live our daily lives. What used to be relegated to 8-year-olds (think working VCRs), has now become a way of life for adults, too. And RVs are not exempt from all the remote control, key fob and smartphone/tablet integration hoopla.

As RVs become more sophisticated, wireless technology is becoming standard equipment on many models of trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes – even pickup campers. Luxury motorcoaches (bus conversions like Marathon and built-from-the-ground-up Newells) at one time had a lock on technology that included touch screens to operate just about everything that works on electricity and/or with a motor. And that technology has trickled down to other RVs in a big way.

Needless to say, many old-time RV owners were a little skeptical when introduced to control pads/screens to operate leveling jacks, awnings, slide-outs, window shades and other accessories, but acceptance of advanced technology is rapidly becoming the norm as the development of other electronic RV-centric features is making life on the road more convenient.

Advancements in Bluetooth technology make remote access a reality. Master control touch screens have been showing up in RVs for a number of years, but the advancements in Bluetooth technology are driving remote access, which is becoming much more practical. For example, products designed and marketed by companies like Lippert (OneControl Smart RV) and Precision Circuits (Precision Plex) have taken multiplexing to bring lighting and other appliances and accessories to the next level.

Just when we started to get comfortable with these new fangled control panels, technology has upped the wow factor. New devices that allow owners to monitor and control HVAC systems, lighting, awnings, generators, etc., from afar are coming on the market at a rapid rate. ASA’s inCommand Global Connect and Lippert’s ConnectAnywhare, for example, make it possible to “stay in touch with your RV” from anywhere in the world. As other suppliers introduce similar products, operating systems via smartphones and/or tablets will become a reality for the majority of owners.

Think about the possibilities for those who wander away from their rigs for sightseeing or a little shopping: The weather app on the smartphone shows that the wind is up; tap an icon and the awning is retracted. Temperature rising inside? Adjust the thermostat for more cool air – especially if your dog or cat is left alone. Want to watch what’s going on inside? Add a camera for real-time visual monitoring on the smart device. Not going to make it home before dark? Turn on the lights using the smartphone app. You get the picture.

Of course, these systems rely on a Wi-Fi connection to stay in touch and the industry is responding quickly by offering factory-installed boosters to make sure distant signals don’t “spoil the party.” Boosters help utilize RV park Wi-Fi systems that otherwise have marginal signal strength. Cell-based data devices are also becoming part of the RV-travel landscape, and with a variety unlimited plans, they are becoming more practical, albeit not inexpensive. Manufacturers are also installing data devices from the factory to streamline integration.

Access to reliable Wi-Fi service is also a paradigm changer when it comes to RV service. It’s no secret that the RV service infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the influx of new RVs sold each year and the current universe that’s approaching 10 million families. It can take weeks to get an appointment for service and warranty repairs, which can impact travel plans and create frustration.

A bright star in the otherwise difficult service situation is the enhancement of system control panels that allow manufacturer technicians and troubleshooters to identify and hopefully rectify problems wirelessly, without going to the dealer. This is a big deal, especially for those who live long distances from the selling dealer or qualified service facilities.

Although legacy thinkers might find this type of “big-brother” connectivity somewhat uncomfortable, these systems are going to drive society in a number of fronts, including RV serviceability. As RV and appliance manufacturers come on board, and it’s already happening, the result will likely be a real boon as the industry looks for innovative ways to solve problems and improve the ownership experience.

It may take a while to become fully automated as technology moves forward and costs become more palatable, and some people might even reject all the electronic gizmos as a compromise to a natural experience outdoors, but there’s something very satisfying about rolling over in bed, picking up the smartphone and turning on the heat pump on a chilly morning.

The future is exciting, but I’m not sure about that toilet I saw at a show that flushes by waving a hand.



Bob Livingston recently retired as the group publisher and senior VP for GS Media and Events, publishers of Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines and their respective websites. Bob has written technical and lifestyle articles and books for 45 years, and penned the popular technical question and answer monthly column, Tech Topics, in Highways magazine, the 1.5-million-member Good Sam Club’s official publication, for more than 20 years.

He created and appeared on the weekly television show, RVtoday, and directed the programing and production during its five-year run on cable TV. Bob was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in 2014. He keeps his hand in the RV industry as a consultant to a number of companies working on product development and marketing projects. Bob and his wife, Lynne, live full time in their fifth wheel.


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