Motorhome advice: How to get internet in your motorhome
Words by Adam Blacklin
A good internet connection is a must for many motorhomers, especially when travelling in Europe. From route planning, to searching out great places to eat, or to simply keep up on UK news, the internet is essential for many people.
A smartphone may prove sufficient for some internet use but, for others, it doesn’t provide the level of coverage or speed 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 motorhome or campervan and you may often find that weak signals can disappear, or your phone simply gives up reconnecting to conserve its battery.
Getting the right set-up can be tricky, so here we will explain the easiest and most reliable ways of staying connected while travelling in your motorhome, without the jargon.
Over the last 12 months we have seen a huge increase in people looking to watch TV via the internet, driven by the fact that many people now have smart TVs at home and want to transfer that same viewing experience to their motorhomes.
Streaming-only services such as Netflix, Now TV and Prime Video all provide a wealth of content not available via traditional means, not to mention the ability to catch up with your favourite regular TV programmes 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, as many add-on devices are available to provide this functionality for very little cost. An Amazon Fire TV Stick is the most popular option as it supports most of the main services and is very easy to use. Once purchased for around £40 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 any network like the others.
Vodafone has been the most popular network for those travelling into Europe as, for the last 18 months, it has imposed no limits on data consumed outside of the UK. It offers 30-day rolling contracts with 50GB of data for £25 per month and 12-month contracts with 100GB of data for £24 per month, which are often discounted by 50% on various in-house and third-party promotions.
On 10 July, Vodafone joined the likes of Three with an unlimited tariff from £24 to £30 per month depending on speeds – but this is unfortunately limited to 24GB in Europe.
We tend not to recommend O2 on the basis that its consumer mobile broadband tariffs can’t be used in Europe but, if you already have a relationship with the company and travel mainly in the UK, or with a phone in Europe, this may still be worth exploring.
Both Vodafone and Three allow ‘phone’ SIMs to be used in a router, a fact that isn’t well publicised as sometimes these can represent better value than dedicated mobile broadband SIMs. While all operators have some wording in their fair usage policy with regards to extended foreign use over two months, Vodafone is vague on this point and, anecdotally, many report no issues even for extended European tours.
One other benefit is that Vodafone presently issues a UK IP address (internet identity) when abroad so georestricted services such as iPlayer work as if in the UK, otherwise you may need to use a VPN (virtual private network) to hide your location.
What about 5G?
If you’ve seen EE’s adverts about 5G, the focus is on being able to achieve a fast connection even in areas that are densely populated such as festivals and sports grounds. This is essentially what 5G offers, a greater overall throughput in areas of high congestion. But 4G is often more than sufficient for everything you want to do and, in rural areas, 5G is going to be a long time coming. 5G phones and routers are just about to hit our shores, but expect to pay a premium for technology that could provide you with no immediate benefit, so think carefully if the extra expense offers anything in return.
A WiFi booster is potentially a useful gadget to carry as it can increase the range from which a WiFi connection can be obtained. It does not provide an internet connection, so 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 that serves campsites remains unchanged. Streaming TV is the main reason why campsite WiFi often no longer meets our needs. Even if you’re not streaming TV, it is likely many other people are and thus the collective speeds will reduce, resulting in a poor experience for everyone with or without a booster.
It’s still a useful tool, particularly for people who overwinter abroad or who predominately visit campsites, but investing in a good 4G data plan is a more reliable way to get connected.
With thanks to motorhomewifi.com