The Definitive Guide to Getting Internet in your Motorhome

February 4, 2016 • Posted by Adam @ MotorhomeWiFi in Blog  

 

header

 

When at home we take the internet for granted, but away in our motorhome getting online in the UK and Europe isn’t always as straightforward. Tablets and smartphones are setup for an ‘always on’ internet connection and when that can’t be provided often they don’t work as we’d like.

What you use your device(s) for and how often you use them will determine what sort of connection method might be the most suitable for you. Your usage may change when you venture abroad, you might become more dependent on an internet connection for travel research or simply to stay in touch with family and friends.

There are three main ways to get connected. These are WiFi, Mobile Broadband (3/4G) and Satellite Internet, each with their own set of advantages and limitations.

One thing that is worth trying to visualise is a Megabyte (MB). Each MB roughly equates to 20 seconds of video, 1 minute of audio, 1 standard web page or 1 page of MMM Digital Edition.

While we can try and manage our own usage, often our devices are set by default to update applications and store photos, so when we are limited to the amount of data we can use, turning off these features would give you extra data to use yourself.

WiFi

What is it?

WiFi is the most common and simplest way to obtain a connection and one that we are most familiar with. Most campsites have a WiFi provision but the quality, cost and availability of that connection will vary greatly. Sites in rural locations or busy sites may have a very slow connection, others might have lots of trees and obstacles meaning you can’t always get a connection on your pitch.

If you’re not on a campsite your proximity to other buildings might mean you can benefit from one of over 17,000,000 FON connections (see http://tinyurl.com/fonwifi). There may even be a connection available from civic space or library or even a café or bar you can get the password from in exchange for a drink.

What do you need?

While almost all devices have a built-in WiFi capability, one issue you will likely come across when obtaining WiFi is your distance to a source. Your device was designed to work in a home or office and not across fields or streets and so to get online you’re probably going to have to get out on foot.

A WiFi booster can help here by increasing the range from which you can receive a connection from meaning you could stay within the comfort of your van. It’s worth remembering however, that although it could give you a faster connection if the bottleneck was between you and the source of the signal, it won’t make much difference if the site WiFi is oversubscribed.

Cheaper USB based devices are designed to work only with laptops so if you have a tablet or smartphone you need a system with a wireless router included to connect to your multiple devices. An external antenna mounts on the outside of your vehicle, overcoming the shielding effect of your vehicle.

Pros: Usually once connected there are no limitations on use (subject to available speed and capacity) meaning that WiFi is still the connection of choice for data-heavy tasks such as streaming video or downloading / uploading files or photos.

Cons: A connection cannot be predicted in a given location and is dependent on factors outside of your control. Security might be a concern if you are unsure of the origin of the connection.

Product Spotlight2

The iBoost system from Motorhome WiFi both increases the range and quality from which a WiFi signal can be received. It’s powered from 12v and connects wirelessly to your devices. The Directional version is the best performing, most popular and the best value at £159.99.

 

Mobile Broadband

What is it?

Mobile Broadband is an internet connection via the mobile phone network. As mobile data coverage has increased and European roaming charges have reduced, we’ve seen more and more customers considering a mobile broadband option. This is a more reliable connection than WiFi but since you are paying for data you need to be mindful of your usage to avoid additional charges or your device suddenly stopping working.

4G coverage is increasing rapidly and the majority of devices are now 4G ready, but also work on 3G.

What do you need?

If you have a smartphone you can access the internet using this or you can connect your laptops or tablets to your phone by turning on your phone’s ‘personal hotspot’, which is called tethering. Some networks charge extra for this, limit its usage or don’t allow it abroad so best check your tariff before you go.

The best tool to have in your technology toolbox is an unlocked MiFi device. A MiFi device takes a SIM card and produces a WiFi connection for up to 10 devices meaning you don’t need to have or involve your smartphone. This means you can easily change between SIM cards and providers without disturbing the settings on your phone or changing your number.

A MiFi performs best when placed near a window or if you’re feeling brave in a tupperware box on the roof of your van (just remember to bring it in before you move off!). For the best performance, consider a MiFi device with an external antenna connector (or two if it’s a 4G device) as this gives you the option to improve the signal. The improvement won’t take you from 1 bar to 5 bar, but could turn a 2G connection into a 3G one, or make a slow connection usable.

UK Use
The best UK data coverage tends to come from either EE or Three. A Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) package ranges from 1GB valid 30 days for £10 with Three, to 10GB for £30 from EE. A contract will often give more data for less money but will tie you in for a 30 day notice period or a 12 month term so consider how much and how often you will use it before taking one out.

Foreign Use
Currently the most you can be charged per MB of data used is 19p per MB, this is set to drop to 5p per MB from 1st June 2016. This is still equivalent to over £50 per Gigabyte (GB = 1024MB) so still cost prohibitive for all but very light usage.
The most you can be charged without being stopped is £35 but be aware that using a roaming add-on or package opts you out of this protection. If you’re travelling abroad and wish to use your data, you need to turn your roaming ‘ON’ your device – MiFi devices included.


Update: September 2016. As of this Month UK network Three as detailed below now covers the whole of Europe at their standard rate. You can purchase from us a Three 12GB SIM which is valid 1 year (of which 2 months can be used abroad) for £30. See here: Three 12GB

 

If you are visiting Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Sweden or Switzerland then a UK Three SIM will let you use your UK package in those countries up to a maximum of 60 days or 12GB in a 12 month period. In a phone, tethering with Three is prohibited, but a MiFi SIM can be used to share the connection to multiple devices. If you’re going for longer, you can simply take with you multiple PAYG SIM cards to use after the first 60 day period has elapsed.

All other operators have various tariffs for foreign use for both phone and MiFi device. If you are a heavy data user or visiting countries other than those listed above, it might be worth considering buying a local SIM card in the country you are visiting. Information on SIM cards can be found on a forum called PrePaidGSM (http://tinyurl.com/eusiminfo)

In mid-2017 we should see roaming surcharges dropped altogether, however it’s not yet clear if operators will be allowed to limit the amount of foreign usage for regular travellers. For example, UK network Three reduced the length of time their ‘Feel Like Home’ tariff can be used abroad from 90 days to 60 days and a maximum of 12GB regardless of tariff on the 1st October 2015. Irrespective of this it should make getting connected via this method easier and cheaper than ever.

Pros: More predictable than the availability of a WiFi connection. Can be used when in motion.
Cons: You have to pay for the data you use. Coverage by operators varies in rural locations.

Product Spotlight

3Huawei make the best MiFi devices in terms of reliability and usability and can be controlled using an easy smartphone and tablet app called ‘Huawei HiLink’. The E5577 is the present model and has 2x external antenna connectors. Cost is around £100. In terms of antennas, Motorhome WiFi have a permanent fit roof mounted antenna priced at £149.99 or an internal suction mounted window antenna priced at £69.99.

The 4G Pack 1 and 4G Pack 2 are the best selling 4G products as they combine everything you need in one package.

 

Satellite Internet

What is it?

Internet via Satellite is a costly business and so this sort of internet connection is only really necessary for people who need a ‘mission critical’ internet connection. If your world stops spinning when you can’t get online, this is the most reliable method.

What do you need?

For a fully automatic system you are looking in the region of £3500 plus fitting depending on make or model. Ongoing costs are between £15 and £60 per month on a 12 month contract. This gives in the region of 10GB per month at varying speeds.

A couple of years ago this was essential to keep connected, but in recent years most customers are managing just fine with a combination of WiFi and 3/4G which together represent a fraction of the initial purchase cost.

Pros: The most reliable form of internet
Cons: Initial purchase cost, ongoing contract and still limited data usage.

Product Spotlight

4
The Oyster TV and Internet system is the most popular system but is the most expensive at £3500. Systems are also produced by Crystop and Teleco starting at £3000.

 

Watching TV Online – Set Your Expectations

More and more motorhomers are turning to the internet for TV whether that is because of the change to the satellite system for watching UK TV in Spain or because of the growth of on demand services like Netflix and iPlayer. The issue with watching TV via the internet is not only does it require a very stable connection, but it always uses a lot of data compared with browsing the web. You can use between 200MB and 800MB per hour depending on the quality and source of the stream, the latter could be equal to 10 people browsing the web over the same period.

This means when using WiFi campsites often do not have sufficient capacity to support everyone who wants to do this and while a WiFi booster can help with a local connection it does not steal capacity from others. If you use a Mobile Broadband connection, watching TV for anything other than an hour or two a month at the moment is not cost effective at between £2 and £10 per hour depending on tariff.

 Conclusion

If you want a connection wherever you may be and whenever you want it then you would be best considering the Mobile Broadband route. If you’re happy to use a connection ‘as and when’ one is available or you are a heavy data user then you would be better using WiFi as you main internet source. For some it might be a combination of both.

 

As printed in the January 2016 edition of MMM Magazine.

cover

 
 
Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy| © Touring Enterprises Ltd T/A Motorhome WiFi 2015. All rights reserved. Registered in England 08100893. VAT Registration GB 155 8249 85