The 2019 Definitive Guide to Getting Internet in Your Motorhome, written by Your Connectivity Experts at Motorhome WiFi
A smart phone for many may prove sufficient for internet use when away in your motorhome, for others it doesn’t quite provide the level of coverage or speed that may be required. Invariably, many of the places you want to visit are away from densely populated areas and as such, the strength and speeds of cellular connections can be variable. Couple that with the ‘faraday cage’ effect of your van means that often weak signals can totally disappear or your phone simply gives up reconnecting to conserve its battery.
Getting the right setup can be a little tricky to navigate, so in this article we try to explain the easiest and most reliable ways of staying connected whilst traveling in your motorhome without the added jargon.
Streaming TV via the Internet
Over the last 12 months we have seen a huge increase in those looking to watch TV via the internet, driven by the fact that many people now have Smart TV’s at home and want to transfer that same viewing experience into their motorhomes.
Streaming only services such as Netflix, NowTV and PrimeVideo all provide a wealth of content not available via traditional means, not to mention the ability to catch up with your favourite regular TV programme at a time convenient to you via BBC iPlayer, ITV Player or similar.
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 £35 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.
Satellite systems or a terrestrial aerial will only give access to live TV, which means you need an internet connection. 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.
Mobile Broadband and Built in WiFi
Mobile Broadband is essentially an internet connection that comes from the cellular network. Instead of inserting the SIM card into a phone, its placed inside a dedicated router or MiFi device. These can be a handy way of getting connected if you don’t have a smart phone or if you want to separate your data use from what you get on your mobile phone. In reality, the portable devices offer little by the way of an improvement over what a mobile phone can offer, but one feature they often carry is extremely valuable; an external antenna connection. These have long been missing from mobile phones, but by adding the right sort of external antenna, you can greatly improve the coverage and performance these devices can achieve.
A permanent roof mounted antenna will always give the best performance and many motorhome dealers now offer a built in WiFi solution on their options lists as well as some manufacturers fitting this as standard equipment. Once installed, the result is that you have a permanent and reliable internet connection for use in your van when stationary or in motion, with far greater performance and coverage than a mobile phone.
The most popular roof mounted antenna is low profile at just 2.4 inches high (62mm) and is available to fit on both coachbuilt motorhomes and panel van conversions. If you have a VW type conversion with a pop top roof, a Shark Fin antenna may prove to be more suited to a low profile vehicle.
In practice, some areas marked as ‘no service’ or ‘limited coverage’ may in fact be locations in which you could obtain a very usable internet connection with an external antenna, with similar 4G technology being used in front line ambulance services, mountain rescue vehicles and similar applications in rural locations.
If a permanent antenna is not possible, then cheaper window mount antennas are available which simply suction to the windows of your van. These are generally not as effective, but can provide an incremental increase over what the device can do with its own internal antennas.
You can of course simply share the connection from your mobile phone, so next time try the ‘personal hotspot’ feature available on the most recent smart phones to share the connection to your tablets and even smart TV devices. But be warned, your data won’t last anywhere near as long when you share it around!
Product Spotlight – 4G Smart Compact
Best Value & Performance: We recommend the 4G Smart Compact (formally 4G Pack 2) to most customers as it represents the best combination of versatility, value and performance.
If you’re looking to stream TV via the internet, the 4G Smart Compact is the ideal solution to ensure you have the reliability and performance necessary to connect a Fire Stick or other streaming device.
The compact router is mounted discreetly on the wall-mounted docking station. Located inside a cupboard or locker, this provides WiFi throughout your vehicle for us stationary or in motion.
Data SIM Cards
If you’re mainly travelling in the UK, you have the pick of the UK networks depending on the deals or your experience of the coverage. As a rule of thumb, EE tends to have superior coverage in Scotland as their masts also serve the frontline ambulance 4G network there. Consequently, their cost per GB can be a bit higher than other networks but their data SIM card tariffs are often discounted.
Vodafone, EE and Three allow ‘phone’ SIM’s to be used in a router, a fact that isn’t well publicised as sometimes these can represent better value than dedicated mobile broadband SIM’s.
What about WiFi Boosters?
A WiFi booster is potentially a useful gadget to carry in your inventory. Simply put, it is a tool to increase the range from which a WiFi connection can be obtained. It is not in itself providing you with an internet connection, therefore you can never be sure of the outcome in a given location until you try it.
Our expectation of what a reasonable connection is has increased while the infrastructure which serves campsites remains unchanged. Streaming TV is the main reason why campsite WiFi in many cases no longer meets our needs. Even if that’s not your intended usage it likely is a good proportion of everyone else’s and thus the collective speeds reduce to a snails pace resulting in a poor experience for everyone with or without a booster.
Still a useful tool and particularly popular with people who overwinter abroad or who predominately visit campsites, but investing in a suitable 4G data plan may be a more reliable way to get connected.
Are You Ready To Get Connected?
With over 150+ motorhome dealers and approved accessory installers across the UK, Motorhome WiFi can help you get connected with minimal fuss. Contact us on 0113 815 1120 and we will arrange a no obligation quote, or fill in the contact form below.