RV WiFi Considerations (Geolocation)

posted in: Google, RV Tech | 0

I began outfitting our RV with some new tech last year, and recently discovered an issue I hadn’t considered.

We were sitting-around outside when I fired-up Google Maps, looking for directions to a restaurant we were wanting to check-out.

I just happened to notice that Google was showing my current location as being several miles away, exactly where we’d been camping weeks earlier. I thought that was strange, having always assumed that our phones used GPS, but sure enough, when I walked up the street, my location (as displayed in Google Maps) suddenly jumped back to where I really was. When I walked back to our place, it jumped back to the incorrect location of our previous campsite, as soon as the device re-connected to our WiFi.

Why WiFi Can Be a Challenge In An RV

After doing a little research, I came to learn that Google (and other companies, including Microsoft & Mozilla) automatically determine the physical location of WiFi signals, and store that information to help make location services more “accurate.”

To be honest, that puzzled me. GPS positioning is usually pretty darn accurate (usually down to a few feet in my experience), whereas WiFi signals can cover around 50 meters (160 feet). That made me wonder about the accuracy of WiFi positioning.

More importantly, I just wanted to solve the problem. It seemed that in Google’s case, at least, they prioritize the WiFi location over the GPS location even when both are available.

How Did Google Even Get My WiFi Location?

When you (or anyone else) is driving (or walking) around with a smartphone (or tablet), even on a cellular connection, that device is also scanning for WiFi signals. When it spots a new one, Google logs that signal’s location (based on its current GPS coordinates). Because each WiFi router is unique, thanks to its MAC address (sort-of like a unique identifier, or fingerprint for electronic devices), Google will memorize that signal’s physical location.

Putting-aside the ethical and privacy conversations, this poses some unique problems for RV owners. Unlike a house, apartment, or business, our WiFi routers are likely to move between physical locations all the time.

Your Old WiFi Location Will Stay With You a Long Time

I did some more research, and read time and again, that Google will eventually figure out that the router has moved, as more and more smartphones detect its new location. So, I gave it three weeks. My wife and I both use the WiFi with our phones and tablets constantly, but Google never did put two-and-two together. After week four, I gave up, and took matters into my own hands.

Fixing WiFi Location Errors In Your RV

The fix is actually simple, but at the same time, kind of a hassle, to be honest, if you implement it after-the-fact (as I did). It’ll be much easier if you can do this before you install WiFi in your RV.

All you need to do is append the _nomap to your router’s SSID (its WiFi “name”).

For example, if your WiFi is named

mywifi

You would rename it

mywifi_nomap

The _nomap suffix lets Google (and Mozilla, and others) know not to log your WiFi’s location.

While that only took seconds to change, the real pain, depending on how many devices you have, is in changing the WiFi on each and every one of them. In our case, it was two smartphones, two tablets, a laptop, a Chrombook, a smart TV, two Chromecasts, a Chromebook Audio, a wireless printer/scanner, some outdoor smart switches, and a digital weather display!

Needless to say, changing all of those was the time-consuming part.

Everything else being equal, I would have just let it slide. I mean, who cares if Google Maps can’t figure-out where I am when I’m sitting outside?

For us, the hassle was with the Smart Unlock feature on our devices. Smart Unlock is a feature that lets you set a password for your device, but doesn’t require you to enter it if you’re in a known, safe location, such as your home.

The crazy thing is when you set that, you’re able to drag a little map to define a “safe” area, where the device will unlock itself. But that map is powered by GPS. However, when your device actually goes to check where you are, WiFi takes priority over GPS, and in our case, indicated we were at our previous campsite, which Smart Unlock no longer recognized as a safe location.

It’s oneOne more thing to consider when you set-up your smart RV.