Getting better internet in your motorhome
Words by: Adam Blacklin of Motorhome WiFi
In many cases, a reliable internet connection in a motorhome or campervan is now critical to be able to continue to work and maintain contact with loved ones, as well as enjoy TV streaming and video calls.
Streaming TV in your motorhome
If your motorhome TV isn’t ‘smart’ it doesn’t need to be replaced, as many add-on devices provide this functionality for little cost.
An Amazon Firestick is the most popular as it supports most of the main services and is very easy to use. Once purchased (about £30), there are no more costs unless you subscribe to a premium service. It just plugs into a HDMI socket and takes power either from the TV’s USB socket or a USB plug.
To stream TV reliably you need two things: a strong enough cellular signal so that you don’t experience dropouts or buffering and 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.
Getting reliable internet in your motorhome
Most campsites have WiFi, but there are issues in many cases. Sites in the countryside often suffer from the same poor broadband that blights many people living in rural areas. This means that, while site WiFi was fine 10 years ago for email and basic web, it is unable to keep up with the demands of streaming TV and video calls.
A WiFi booster is useful 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.
Smartphones offer the chance for a connection via the 3G, 4G and, as time goes on, the 5G network. Most smartphones have the facility to tether, that is to share the connection from a phone via WiFi to other devices.
MiFi devices are standalone hubs that freeing up your smartphone 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.
Built-in WiFi in your motothome
Increasingly motorhomes are coming with WiFi built in. Auto-Sleepers offers a factory-fit 5G roof antenna and router in every vehicle. Auto-Trail now offers it as a factory-fit option. Most dealers also offer an aftermarket mobile broadband option.
A roof-mounted cellular antenna fits to the roof of the motorhome or campervan and is far more efficient at picking up weak 3G, 4G and latterly 5G signals compared to a phone. This means, even if a smartphone has poor or no service, an antenna could be picking up a useable cellular signal.
The antenna is connected to a router inside the motorhome to provide a secure wireless connection for all of your devices. Smartphones, laptops, tablets and smart TVs 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 phone supports it, you could also benefit from ‘WiFi calling’ where your 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 if you are a heavy data user or a local SIM card purchased abroad.
A typical built-in WiFi system from Motorhome WiFi ranges from £300-£450 plus fitting. Installation can be undertaken at over 150 dealerships across the UK including fixed workshops or mobile installation.
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Networks and Data Cards
If you mainly travel in the UK, there are four networks. While the best value often comes in the form of a contract, paying a monthly fee may not be desirable.
EE tends to have superior UK coverage, especially in Scotland as it also serves the ambulance 4G network there. Consequently, the cost per GB is a bit higher than other networks.
Three, through its PAYG sister company, Smarty, offers excellent value with unlimited data from just £20. Packages last 30 days and you get 10% discount on one or more SIMs if you need one for your phone.
Vodafone uses a long-range, low-frequency transmission for much of its rural coverage, which means it can get into areas where others can’t. However, long range comes at the cost of download speed.
Vodafone’s PAYG arm is called VOXI.
O2 originally had the best GSM network for calls, but it does struggle for data. It’s the only network not to have an offering for 4G home routers and prohibits handset SIMs used in routers. Its PAYG arm is Giffgaff.
Brexit and EU Roaming
The legislation that ended European roaming charges is no longer law, but many networks have committed to maintaining its principals.
For those spending less than 60 days in Europe within a 120-day period, nothing has changed with regards to roaming limitations.
For those who intend to spend the full 90-day allowance in Europe, networks have indicated that they are more likely to seek to enforce a 60-day limit and impose charges after this.
For those seeking to use their full EU travel allowance, it might be worth checking with your operator or having an alternative for the final 30 days. While calls are relatively reasonable, data becomes expensive.
The UK has a £45 cap on charges when roaming in Europe, meaning that is the worst charge you’ll face.
What about 5G?
This year, there will be an auction for long-range 5G and, by 2022, operators will repurpose other 4G frequencies for 5G use. So, 5G will be much more prevalent and 5G-ready antennas will soon make sense.
Keen to learn more? Read our article titled 'A beginner's guide to motorhome internet and WiFi' here.