Digital communication has never been more important than during 2020. Many people found themselves cut off from regular contact with colleagues, friends and family and leisure activities. Others found themselves with the flexible home working arrangements they had always dreamed of. In many cases, a reliable internet connection was suddenly critical to being able to continue to work and maintain contact with loved ones. We spoke to countless people whose motorhomes had become home offices and, in some cases, self-isolation capsules for key workers or those at high risk.
The rise in streaming TV
As we reach the light at the end of the tunnel I’m sure that some will vow never to return to video conferencing, but it’s clear that the importance of a reliable internet connection will increase as time goes on. Netflix added over 4.6 million UK subscribers in the first 6 months of 2020 alone.
If your motorhome TV isn’t ‘Smart’ that doesn’t mean it needs to be replaced, many add-on devices are available to provide this functionality for very little cost. An Amazon Firestick is the most popular option as it supports most of the main services and is very easy to use. Once purchased for around £30 there are no additional costs unless you subscribe to a premium service. This plugs into a spare HDMI socket and takes power either from the TV’s USB socket or a nearby USB plug.
To stream TV reliably you need two things. The first is a strong enough cellular signal so that you don’t experience drop outs or buffering. The second is a data plan that supports your intended usage. Typically, streaming TV can use 0.5-1GB per hour, the lower the resolution you watch, the less data will be consumed. More on the cost of that later.
How do I get a reliable internet connection in my motorhome?
Most campsites have WiFi but in many cases there are supply and demand issues. Campsites set in the countryside often suffer from the same poor broadband connections that blight many people living in rural communities. This means that while site WiFi was fine 10 years ago for e-mail and basic web, it is unable to keep up with the current demands created by streaming TV and video conferencing.
A WiFi booster is a useful tool for increasing the range that a signal can be obtained and giving extra capacity that might be lost by the weak signal. However, on a site where the WiFi is operating at 100% capacity then the bottleneck is often outside of your control and a WiFi booster doesn’t have the desired effect.
Smart phones offer the chance for a connection via the 3G, 4G and as time goes on via the 5G network. Most smart phones have the facility to tether, that is to share the connection from a phone via WiFi to other devices. MiFi are stand-alone hubs that do just that, freeing up your mobile phone and allowing you to use an alternative SIM or a different network. While this is a good starting point and for some entirely suitable, for others in rural areas the speed or quality of the connection might struggle.
Mobile Broadband, Built in WiFi for your Motorhome
Increasingly motorhomes, like cars, are coming with WiFi built in as standard. In 2019 Auto-Sleepers became the first manufacturer to fit a 4G roof antenna and router into every vehicle at the factory. This was upgraded to a 5G Ready antenna in 2021 and joined by Auto-Trail who nowoffer it as a factory fitted option. Most motorhome dealers also offer an aftermarket fitted mobile broadband option.
So, what is it? A roof mounted cellular antenna about 6.5” (17cm) in diameter fits neatly to the roof of the vehicle. This antenna is far more efficient at picking up weak 3G, 4G and latterly 5G signals compared to a phone. This mean that even if a mobile phone has poor or even no service, an antenna could be picking up a useable cellular signal.
The antenna is than connected to a dedicated router inside the motorhome which produces a secure wireless connection for all of your devise to connect to. Mobile phones, laptops, tablets and Smart TV’s can connect and share an internet connection just like at home. This can be used stationary or in motion, in the UK or abroad.
If your mobile phone supports it, you could also benefit from ‘Wi-Fi Calling’ where your regular mobile calls are routed via the internet if you have no signal – effectively working as a mobile signal booster. If you don’t have this feature then WhatsApp, Facetime or other messenger audio or video calls could be used instead.
You can put any SIM card from any network into the router, a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) SIM, a contract SIM perhaps if you are a heavy data user or a local SIM card purchased abroad. You could insert the SIM out of your mobile phone itself, but of course you couldn’t use the phone for calls with its SIM removed. It’s typically better to look at the data package on your phone and adjust accordingly to compensate for an extra SIM, if applicable.
What about 5G?
Up until now, 5G has existed in in 3.4-3.8GHz frequency meaning it has relatively short range from the mast. In 2021, an auction will take place for long range 5G in the 700Mhz spectrum and by 2022 operators will be allowed to re-purpose other 4G frequencies to use for 5G. It will become much more prevent in the coming years, so its worth considering if you want an antenna which is ‘5G Ready’ to take advantage.