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Being without fast access to the internet can be an annoying inconvenience because the internet has grown so pervasive in our lives.
On a motorhome or caravan vacation, lack of suitable internet connections will become a problem if you don’t plan ahead of time. It’s now become an established facet of our lives that we need the internet for many reasons, not only for keeping in touch with loved ones.
Many people perhaps dream of the type of holiday where they get away from everyday life, including leaving the internet and work behind. Unfortunately, what happens is people quickly come to regret being out of contact with the rest of the world and end up dashing around attempting to find a solution so they can get themselves back online.
And let’s not forget, of course, the digital nomad who can work online from wherever they want – as long as they have a reliable internet connection.
So if you’re looking for the best way to get a reliable internet connection while travelling in a camper, this guide will show you exactly what you need to do.
- 4 Ways to Get Internet in a Caravan
- Understanding the Tech Jargon
- How to Get Internet Anywhere
- Recommended Gear
Establish Your Internet Needs
Before we get into the central part of the article, it’s a good idea to determine your specific internet requirements:
- How important is it that you have access to the Internet in your campervan?
- What’s going to be your primary use?
- Are you contemplating working while you’re away? Will you need access to streaming channels, Zoom calls, etc.?
- Or will you only require the bare essentials such as checking your emails and keeping in touch with family and friends back home?
Knowing how much you’re willing to pay on campervan WiFi is another prerequisite. Of course, several options are available to you—some more expensive than others.
4 Ways to Get Internet in a Campervan
There are essentially four different ways to get internet access in your campervan.
- Wifi: For infrequent web use at internet-friendly locations (e.g. campsites)
- Wifi Signal Booster: Get faster internet at places offering Wifi
- Mobile Hotspot: For wider internet use, although not always available in rural areas
- Portable Router: Get fast internet almost anywhere (ideal for professionals)
We’ll cover each in a little detail below, but essentially if you want to be able to get internet anywhere, setting up a Mobile Hotspot or getting a Mobile Router are by far your best options.
Unless you prefer to get off the beaten track and head to some remote location, you’ll probably be staying at a campsite or several if you intend to move around.
WiFi is available at many holiday campsites, although the service’s quality, pricing, and availability might vary widely.
The site owners usually issue passwords and logins so guests can access the WiFi securely. To access the internet this way is typically faster and less hassle than other methods, and of course, you don’t need to monitor how much data you use.
However, a big downside to campsite WiFi is the reception quality on the grounds. The further away and the number of obstacles or vegetation between you and the router will severely diminish the signal strength. In addition, if the site is busy, that will mean a lot of people accessing the signal at the same time, so you can probably forget streaming a movie or watching your favourite TV series.
WiFi Signal Booster
If you’re close enough to the router and want to boost the signal, you can increase your WiFi signal by purchasing a signal booster. You can mount an antenna to the caravan’s outside, or you can plug a USB device into your computer or laptop.
These devices can boost your WiFi capacity or make WiFi signals easier to pick up and improve your connection. However, an overloaded WiFi network can’t benefit from a WiFi signal booster because of the number of people simultaneously using the signal.
To access the internet through Wi-Fi while on the go, you can use mobile hotspots, also known as “personal hotspots.”
It is possible to purchase an external hotspot, but these days your smartphone includes a built-in hotspot feature.
Mobile hotspots are devices that broadcast wireless signals to other devices while on the move, not to be confused with a WiFi hotspot, which you can find in public venues such as the airport, shopping malls, and coffee shops.
Typically, mobile hotspots work by converting an LTE (3G/4G/5G) signal to a Wi-Fi signal from your smartphone. You can then connect whatever device you’re using to it the same way you would to a Wi-Fi network at home or in a public place.
A portable router may sound and appear high-tech, but it really isn’t, and you can access the internet anywhere in the world for a low cost and with ease thanks to these palm-sized gadgets.
A portable WiFi router is similar to your home router, but instead of using a phone connection, they contain a SIM card and use LTE, 3G, 4G , 5G etc. Using an unlocked portable WiFi device will enable you to use any SIM card from anywhere on the planet. Being able to use a local SIM means you can get online using data that you pay for locally, which of course, will be much cheaper than roaming charges.
The key difference between a Mobile Hotspot and a Portable Router is that the router is capable of obtaining a much strong signal – meaning you get access to faster internet and in a far broader area. Even in extremely rural areas, a Portable Router will normally be capable of providing you with a strong internet connection.
Mobile Hotspot Vs. Travel Router
|Mobile hotspots create a private WiFi network out of a mobile connection
|Travel routers create a private WiFi network out of a public internet connection
|You own the phone so mobile hotspot is cheaper
|The latest version Travel Routers are expensive to buy
|Mobile hotspots utilising a smartphone cannot compete on speed
|Faster internet – more antennas -more internal hardware faster transition of data
|Mobile hotspots and tethering will enable connection to far fewer devices.
|Will allow connection of far more devices, laptops, tablets, other mobile phones, etc.
|Mobile hotspot drains battery life more quickly
|Much better battery life
|Mobile hotspot is more convenient
|Travel router far less convenient
Understanding the Tech Jargon
The following list will give you a good idea of the common terminology that you’ll need to know:
- Tethering: Internet connection via a PC (or another device) and your smartphone.
- Hotspot: Access point to the internet, whether it’s your smartphone’s hotspot or another hotspot device.
- MiFi: mobile WiFi commonly refers to a hotspot device.
- VPN: Helps to protect your online privacy and anonymity by using a public internet connection to create a virtual private network. VPNs mask your IP address, and in theory, your internet surfing should be untraceable by establishing a secure and encrypted connection.
- Throttling: Slows down internet speeds when a user crosses a specified data use threshold.
How to Get Internet Anywhere
Having a travel router is an excellent idea if you’re traveling with more than just a phone or laptop.
Benefits Of A Travel Router:
- Connect Your Devices Super Fast: With a portable router, you can quickly and easily connect numerous devices to your hotel, Airbnb, or another WiFi site. All your devices instantly connect to the WiFi signal broadcast by your travel router once you connect to the WiFi at your location. Separately connecting each device is a thing of the past; you enter the password and username for the router, and you’re good to go.
- Gets Devices Past Captive Portals: It’s not uncommon for a login page or other information to come up while using public WiFi at hotels, airports, coworking spaces, coffee shops, or other travel venues. These are referred to as “captive portals.” Few hotels, for example, allow guests to access their free WiFi without first agreeing to their terms of service, providing a room number, or providing an extra password., sometimes even your email address. When a captive gateway is activated, many devices cannot connect to the Internet. Having a travel router makes it possible to connect your devices effortlessly. Even if a device’s firmware allows it to avoid them in some regions, the results will be sporadic unless you use a travel router!
- Public and Semi-Private WiFi Will Be Secure: While restricted, WiFi in public and semi-private places is still shared with unknown people. Travel routers will make your connection more secure. There are two ways that travel routers do this:
- Travel routers create their own private WiFi network with excellent WiFi security. It will only be available to the person with the correct login details. The travel router connects to the public WiFi network. Your devices you connect to your travel router will not. For example, your devices will be safe if the public WiFi is compromised.
- Using a VPN to encrypt the internet connection is another way travel routers protect WiFi connections. While most travel routers don’t come with a built-in VPN, it’s worth having if you need to keep your internet activities private while on the road.
- WiFi Connections Can Be More Reliable: Your connection will be more dependable only if you use certain types of travel routers. It’s not uncommon for WiFi on the road to be unreliable. Unfortunately, in most cases, if the WiFi is bad, you won’t have much control over it.
However, don’t discount your viable options. In the first place, your travel router can select the best connection even if you can’t manage how much bandwidth is available and how many users are connecting.
Also, when on the go, a quality travel router with a backup connection can be something to consider. If being connected is vital, having a phone hotspot or, better yet, a dedicated LTE connection is priceless. Smart travel routers and hotspots will be able to switch between WiFi and LTE depending on whether or not the WiFi signal is strong or weak.
It’s also possible to streamline the connection so that you can focus on the most important things. You might want to stream a movie, take a crucial Zoom meeting or send off an essential email.
How Does A Travel Router Work?
There are several types of travel routers, the idea being to make it easier to connect and manage devices on public WiFi networks when traveling.
Additionally, they come in various sizes, from those smaller than a credit card to those the size of a portable phone charger.
When a router contains an Ethernet port, you can convert a wired internet connection into a wireless one. Many travel routers have a USB connection for plugging in a flash drive containing media files to establish a shared network for all of your connected devices.
Additionally, you may use them as wireless extenders to eliminate any WiFi dead zones you may encounter.
Some travel routers require an external power supply, which can restrict their use if you have no access to a power supply nearby. Many models need a WiFi connection; however, some have a built-in SIM card slot for mobile data access.
Roam needs a 12V DC power supply, either cigarette lighter which comes with it or a 12V DC plug which is the power supply of all caravans and motorhomes, just FYI.
You can use travel routers in various ways due to their multiple operation modes. However, not all models have all these features, and they can be called by other names depending on the manufacturer.
AP Mode: Using an ethernet cable to turn a non-wireless internet connection into an access point. You will need a wired connection to use this mode.
Router mode: Your devices connect to the network via the travel router; in this mode, there’s no indication you are using them on the web.
Repeater Mode: In this mode, you can use the travel router as a repeater that extends the wireless network’s range. If your travel router has this mode, you can use this function on your home network.
Bridge Mode: You can split your network into two separate networks by creating another username and password.
Client mode: This allows a non-wireless device to connect to the Internet through a cabled connection.
Cost Of Running A Travel Router
There are four major mobile networks in the United Kingdom: O2, EE, Vodafone, and Three. You might buy your SIM card via another company such as Sainsbury’s or Tescos; however, they still use one of those four networks. For example, Sainsbury’s use Vodafone and Tesco use O2. Depending on where you intend to travel, you can search Google for the best provider for that area.
Alternatively, go to Ofcom’s website because they have a handy postcode checker that instantly provides you with the best coverage for that area.
There are two distinct costs to using a travel router: the cost of the equipment (router) and the SIM data package you choose. The more data you need, the more you’ll pay for the SIM card.
You can purchase SIMs on contracts of one month up to 48 months. Of course, the one month will be more expensive, but if it’s only for a one-off holiday, it might be the best choice.
If you’re going to be streaming movies from Netflix, for example, plus Zoom calls to family or friends, etc., then you’ll likely need at least a 20GB data SIM. It’s best to choose a package that you can top up online if you run out of data in the middle of a particularly enthralling TV series.
There’s data calculators online, for example 4 hours of HD Netflix is about 8GB or something crazy. Might be worth some real world examples like that, we try to put them in in general to demystify for the oldies
The other cost is for the travel router you choose. For this, we recommend the Maxview Roam, and there are several reasons for this, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Unlimited data on a monthly contract can run from £16 to £35, depending on the provider, and that also includes 5G data where available.
What’s the Best Travel Router with a SIM Card Slot (in the UK)?
The best motorhome and caravan WiFi that’s 5G ready that we recommend is the Maxview Roam.
One of the main reason’s why we love Roam is that it’s so easy to set up and it’s extremely dependable.
The Roam is a 12v 4G travel router that utilises a powerful antenna to bring fast internet to your campervan, caravan, etc. The antenna is 5G ready, meaning when the time comes, people can buy a 5G router and it will work with the antenna to get 5G signal.
There are two ways the Roam helps you improve your internet connection.
You can use mobile data to build a WiFi hotspot that is stable and secure. The Roam’s antenna will pick up viable signals that your smartphone cannot.
In addition, the Roam will also make use of a direct WiFi source when one is accessible, thereby saving the data on your SIM – which can easily be managed from an app on your phone (see below).
I need to double check this point, it was the case but I think once the captive portals come in, the travel routers can no longer access it due to the requirement to like a page etc
The Roam’s robust 5G ready antenna is optimised for use in rural and isolated areas because it was developed exclusively for vehicles. As an essential feature, the Antenna now supports all 5G, frequency bands. The Roam is omni-directional which means the antenna is capable of picking up signals through 360 degrees without any manual input.
Thanks to the low profile and streamlined design, the Roam requires minimal roof space for a discreet installation.
Aluminium enclosure and innovative anti-vibration mounting brackets are included in the design. The system design is a plug-and-play, custom-engineered model.
If you want you can mention Maxview has specialised in connectivity products for caravans and motorhomes for 55+ years.
You’ll also find the Roam works exceptionally well across the whole of the UK and Europe. There are also variants available for worldwide use.
What Mobile Networks Offer Unlimited Data?
As mentioned, there are several unlimited data-only SIM deals you can take advantage of in the UK. Unlimited is the best way forward, although you need to ensure you purchase the contract length that suits your needs.
The following three companies offer unlimited 5G data plans on a monthly basis, with EU roaming and no cap on download speed – the holy trinity for those looking for a SIM to power their travel router:
Unlimited Data Sims for Travel: Key Considerations
There are specific considerations when buying data only SIM cards, such as:
- Contract length
- Maximum download speeds
- Coverage area (the UK only or including Europe)
- Fair use policies
- Bill capping
Contracts: If you aren’t sure how long you will be using a data-only SIM, you may wish to go for a one-month rolling contract. You’ll be able to cancel at any time with just 30 days’ notice if you do it this way. Consider a 12-month plan if, for example, you know you’ll be commuting for an extended length of time (say, for a year), and you don’t want to pay for a month-to-month option.
Maximum Download Speed: If you’re going to be streaming movies, look if there is a restriction on the maximum download speed for the SIM you’re thinking of buying.
Coverage Area: If you’re traveling to only one destination, you only need the best network coverage for that area. However, if you’re moving around, check the coverage and best network for each of your destinations.
Fair Use Policy: You must use the network services solely for private, personal, and legal consumer reasons. The network provider expects you to use their services in a manner consistent with what a reasonable person would expect to use them for. If you don’t, they can restrict your service use, or you may lose the use of the service. Some “Fair Use Policies” to be mindful of include a limit on how many months you can use data outside the UK, and even a limt on “unlimited” data packages.
Bill Capping: It’s a money-saving feature in mobile plans. It allows you to choose a monthly spending limit that works best for your needs.
Best Unlimited Data SIMs in the UK
We recommend three networks for unlimited data, including 5G; Smarty, Three, and Vodaphone.
5G and unlimited internet have made SMARTY an excellent choice and a great value network. The affordable cost of its plans, support for Wi-Fi Calling, and 30-day plan lengths are some of its main advantages. This is not the best network for pay-as-you-go and contract-free customers, but you will find this network easy, fair, and reasonable for those who want SIM-only service.
Three are solid, reliable, and competitive. If you’re looking for the cheapest network service, this isn’t it; however, neither are any of the major suppliers. You receive unlimited mobile data and useful addons like video and music streaming and free international roaming on specific plans.
Vodaphone currently offers 5G in 127 UK cities and around 99% population coverage with 4G. These figures are in line with their main competitor EE. Vodaphone provides unlimited data; however, download speeds are limited unless you opt for Unlimited Max, which is unrestricted.
Smarty – Unlimited 5G – £16 per month – 1-month contract – EU Roaming included – No speed caps – Unrestricted tethering in the UK – No credit check – No restrictions.
ID mobile – Unlimited 5G – £20 per month – 1-month contract – EU Roaming included – No speed limits – No data caps
Three – Unlimited 5G – £24 per month – 1-Month Contract – No speed limits – No data caps – SIMs get access to Three 5G network – at no extra cost.
How to Get Fast Internet in Your Campervan
Creating a local network with your campervan is as simple as three steps, including WiFi and hard-wired. Once you have everything set up, you can connect as many devices to your network as you like.
Step 1: Install A Travel Router
Your first step is to buy a travel router.
We recommend the Maxview Roam (read our Maxview Roam review) as the best travel router option. The Roam’s 3G and 4G router (which is also 5G ready) makes setting up wireless internet in a campervan or caravan exceptionally easy.
There are two ways that the Roam can help you improve your internet connection:
- The Roam uses mobile data to build a WiFi hotspot that is stable and secure. The Roam’s antenna will often pick up useful signals in places where your phone or other antennas can’t.
- If your current campsite has one enabled, you can also use the Roam to link up with an existing WiFi hotspot. This ensures you can save the data on your mobile SIM because it’s only used when necessary.
The Roam kit is a great WiFi booster for RVs and Motorhomes.
Step 2: Attach the Antenna
Once you have a travel router, you need to attach the antenna to your vehicle. This will get the signal for your connection and is significantly more powerful than the signal you’d get with a mobile hotpsot.
The low-profile and streamlined Maxview Roam antenna fits unobtrusively on the vehicle’s roof. Roam’s antenna is robust and powerful 5G ready, omnidirectional (360 degrees), and designed to work in rural and remote locations.
When using an antenna to increase signal reception, you aren’t increasing the signal’s power; instead, you’re simply picking up more of it. With an extra antenna, you can have even weak 4G and WiFi networks connected to the router in your vehicle. Because your van is a metal cage, you must mount this device outside the vehicle; else the van will block the signal – which is known as the Faraday Cage Effect.
Step 3: Choose Your Data Plan
The most challenging part and the third step is choosing the best data package for your needs. There are several competitively priced data-only SIM card plans in the UK, and we covered those and offered our recommendations for the best ones currently available. There’s also the option of using these SIMs if you travel into Europe. Brexit has changed the mobile roaming situation but there are still plans that allow roaming in Europe. We recommend Smarty, who offer an unlimited data plan, on a month-to-month contract that has no speed limits and offers data roaming around Europe for just £16 per month.