Internet & Wifi in Your Motorhome
Wifi and internet access in life has become essential. Living in a motorhome is no different – researching, blogging, social media, keeping in touch and even smart motorhome connectivity means wifi and internet is critical. If you’re wondering how to get internet in a motorhome, this easy and definitive guide to getting internet and wifi in your motorhome is for you.
Motorhome Internet Options
How you get mobile broadband is a major consideration if you want to stay connected and like using social media or surfing, want to stream tv and films or work from a laptop. We are by no means connectivity experts but have lived and worked as digital nomads in our home from home for over two years, so have a lot of practical, real-world advice and tips to share about how to get wifi in the middle of nowhere!
We recommend Huawei motorhome wifi products because we have found they provide good quality and reliability at the right price.
Motorhome Internet & Wifi Set Up
As you cannot have a fixed phone line coming into your motorhome, you can only access the internet in two ways.
- Mobile broadband, correctly known as wireless internet access, through a smartphone, tablet or other mobile device.
- Satellite internet through a tv satellite dish with a subscription plan. It’s worth checking the cost of this as an extra if you’re buying a new motorhome. Some used motorhomes may also have this fitted. If you own a used motorhome check, you might just get lucky! Find more information about motorhome internet satellite systems here.
What you then do with your incoming signal depends on how you travel and what you use the internet for. There are many different motorhome internet solutions, read on to find out more.
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Using Your Smarthphone to Tether and Hotspot
In the Apple world, it’s a personal hotspot, for everyone else its tethering. But what is it? Basically, it’s using your smart phone or tablet as a motorhome wifi router, taking the incoming 4g signal (and you can only tether or hotspot with 4g) and sharing it with other devices to create a motorhome wifi system. If you have a good signal this works well for browsing, with the typical limit being up to five devices per smartphone. Obviously, if everyone’s trying to watch a video at the same time, it will affect the signal quality and strength.
Some contract services limit the amount of data you can use when tethering or hotspotting, so it’s worth checking before you take out a new contract if you anticipate setting your motorhome wifi up in this way. This is the simplest way to get internet for campers, with no additional equipment required, but does have limitations, especially if the signal is weak and you need a more reliable internet connection.
Internet for Motorhomes with a Mifi Device
A mifi can be mounted in your motorhome (some can also be removed to be carried with you) and can also have a roof mounted antenna wifi kit fitted to boost the quality of the 4g signal or any free wifi signal, such as you might get on a campsite. The motorhome mifi device then pushes out this signal like a router, making your motorhome a wifi hotspot where a number of devices can access the internet. You can also use the mifi to generate a hotspot when you’re out and about.
The benefits of this system are that you only need one data only SIM card to provide wifi for a number of devices. The Huawei E5577 mobile wifi hotspot can have up to ten connections, and speeds up to 150mbs. If your mifi is unlocked then you can purchase a data only SIM in any country. Although this is one of the best motorhome wifi options for getting internet in the middle of nowhere, you might still want a mobile phone for calls, unless you rely solely on services such as WhatsApp and FaceTime.
Using a Dongle for Internet Access
An internet dongle signal booster is a less versatile alternative to a mifi but perfect if you just want to access wifi or 4g from your laptop. Data is generally limited in the same way as other devices but not all dongle contracts will include EU roaming so check this before you start your motorhome travels. The Huawei E3372 is the best dongle to buy for reliability and has given us literally thousands of trouble free hours of internet.
Should I Use a Mifi, Dongle or Wingle?
A mifi (sometimes called a wifi hotspot) is a pocket-sized wireless modem which provides internet access to multiple devices by emitting a wifi signal. This is the best mobile wifi for motorhomes if you need a reliable signal to share with several devices.
A dongle is a very small modem which plugs into a USB port in your PC or laptop and connects it to 4G. The best choice if you want to maintain a contract on your existing phone but need extra data for work. Some dongles are described as a dongle signal booster but they don’t all actually boost signal, despite the name!
A wingle is the bigger brother of the dongle. It’s a dongle but with the ability to share internet with up to five other users. This is the best choice for mobile wifi in Europe if you’re planning to stay long-term at campsites with free wifi.
We use various combinations of smartphones, a mifi with rooftop antenna and a dongle. We can spread our choice of SIM cards and providers and manage our data use in the most efficient way by not tying ourselves to one device.
When choosing your devices, unless you are purchasing them as part of a contract, always choose unlocked devices so that you have choice as the market changes. If you have a locked device you want to take away with you, make sure it is unlocked before you head off on your travels.
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How to Get Mobile Wifi with a Wifi Booster
A motorhome wifi booster can pick up a wifi signal via a directional external antenna from over 1.5km away. This means you can get motorhome internet access for free from your camp site or BT hotspots in UK. Free wifi sounds good to us!
We would recommend this motorhome Kuma WiFi Kit Internet Hotspot Booster for the best quality and extra long cable, enabling you to get a close as possible to the signal source. A SIM card is not required to use these plug and play motorhome wifi kits, which are compatible with any smartphone, tablet or laptop and will extend the wifi to up to five devices, including your smart tv. Be aware that cheaper models will need a laptop to download a driver and access the free internet.
Mobile Data Usage & SIM cards
How much mobile data do you need per month?
Unless you are going to be using free campsite wifi or a mobile hotspot service like BT Fon in the UK, then you need data to power your devices and motorhome internet set-up.
If you’re holidaying for less then a few months then you should be able to utilise your UK minutes and 4g data for your motorhome wifi and internet set-up whilst on a quick motorhome tour of Europe.
All providers have caps when EU roaming – some use a data limit and others look at how long you are roaming for, comparing usage over a number of months to see if you are a ‘permanent traveller’. Others also limit how much time and data you can use for teathering or creating a personal hotspot. If you are intending to use your smartphone in this way, it is absolutely worth checking the small print before committing to any form of contract.
If you are going to use your cell phone to stream tv then check with each service how much data an hour of tv uses. There is a surprising difference between providers, and then another jump if you want to stream in HD. You can usually change how you stream in the app settings.
We have needed to double our data since we started travelling due to website work and social media posting. Between us we use over 120gb of data a month to run the blog, use various motorhome apps for research, use navigation apps when driving, stream a bit of tv and manage social media. This is a really good guide to what various amounts of data will get you when using wifi and internet in your motorhome.
Be smart and connect to free wifi whenever you can. Many European supermarkets and almost all cafes and bars offer this, we can usually download an episode or two of whichever Netflix or Amazon Prime boxset we re watching whilst doing the shopping or stopping for a coffee.
SIM Cards Explained
Whether you use a contract plan, pay monthly or PAYG option (regardless of which country you are in and buy the SIM in), there are three types of SIM card.
- A ‘normal’ SIM in a phone allows you to use data for an internet connection, make calls and send text messages. You can turn off both roaming and data elements in your phones settings.
- A data only SIM gives internet access only and is predominantly for use in a mifi or wingle type device or a tablet that is not 4g enabled, although they can be used in a phone. They are ideal if you make your calls using VoIP (VoiceOver internet protocol) using WhatsApp, Skype, Messenger and so on.
- An eSIM is a virtual SIM found in newer phones. The benefit of an eSIM is that you can use it alongside a traditional SIM and flip between the two. Use an app like Truphone to buy data on the go for your eSIM, which works especially well if you’re transiting through different countries and don’t want to search for a retailer to buy a traditional SIM.
Some phones, called dual phones, now accept two SIM cards. You might have one SIM card for calls and texts, while the other has a great data plan. This could work well if you frequently move between the UK and Europe for example.
Will you use a UK contract or PAYG SIM?
All 4g providers now set data limits on EU roaming. Vodafone says from 18th January 2021 that it will consider it unfair usage if you use your phone in the EU for 61 days or more in a 120 day period and your usage is the EU is more than your usage in the UK.
Three limits you to 12gb a month in Europe on PAYG and 19gb on contract, regardless of what you have on your SIM or have paid for.
If you are planning a long term trip, then take a UK card for back-up and to maintain your number (if this is important) and buy a mifi and local SIM card in whichever country you are visiting.
What are the best SIM cards for motorhome internet and wifi?
We recommend these two data only PAYG SIM cards which can be used in any unlocked phone, tablet, wifi or wingle device. Both give excellent EU coverage but offer slightly different deals so make sure you check the offer in detail before buying.
For our money, Three offers a slightly better deal on their EU roaming SIM card, which is capped at 19gb in the EU every month. Their internet with legs SIM’s are valid for 24 months but need activating in the UK.
Voxi looks good on the surface and may well be if you don’t need much roaming data. Deep in the Voxi small print is a term that says if you use more than 50% of the SIM allowance in the EU over a rolling two month period then you will receive a text and speed will be throttled. In reality, on a 45gb data SIM this means an average of 12.5gb a month for EU roaming unless you use the card on a short term basis.
They key with both of these deals is to buy more than one and rotate them. Three does not limit how many SIM’s you can buy but Voxi does.
Will you use a local PAYG SIM?
If this is your plan, then you will need to ensure your mobile phone, tablet or mifi is unlocked so it is able to accept a European SIM card. You will also need to accept that your number will change, maybe on a regular basis, depending on your travel plans, unless you have a dual sim phone, or use a mifi device for your second local SIM. If you mainly keep in touch via WhatsApp, Messenger or FaceTime, or are buying a data only SIM, then this is less of an issue.
All European counties have their own popular providers; you will also see familiar brands such as Vodafone and Orange and EU brands such as MoviStar and Telefonica. A little internet research will provide you with all the information around price, coverage and likely phone signal strength that you need to make a choice of European prepaid SIM card provider.
Most EU providers offer similar deals to the UK in terms of 5G, cost and data usage outside of their country. This means is you are travelling to maybe two or three EU countries in a two or three month period, you may be able to roam with a SIM from one EU country, depending on your data usage.
In some counties, you will need to produce a passport or have an address before you can buy a SIM.
Will you go off grid?
If you’re intending to motorhome wild camp or hike you need a power bank or power to ensure you can stay connected. There’s nothing worse than running out of power at the top of a mountain when you need to access ViewRanger to work out how to get down, or struggling with solar on a cloudy day! We use this Anker Power Core 20100 , which gives up to seven full charges on an iphone 8.