Wondering how to get mobile internet in your motorhome or camper van? Trying to figure out if you need a 4G antenna, a wifi dongle, a booster… or something else?
Internet on the road can be confusing. There are a LOT of options out there- and not all mobile internet options will be right for you.
Here's everything you need to know to get the best motorhome internet system for you.
Motorhome internet access- the options
There are several ways to get internet or mobile wifi in your camper as you travel. Assuming you want internet in your van, and don't want to find a cafe with wifi, these are the main options available to you:
- Use a Phone/ iPad with a SIM card and data connection (most phones have this now)
- Wifi dongle
- Specialist system/ satellite internet installed on your motorhome
Don't panic if this is starting to sound difficult. It's really not. Let's look at the options for mobile wifi in more detail.
Using a phone or iPad for mobile wifi or internet in your motorhome
If you're in your home country, your mobile phone is most likely already set up to use data. As long as there is a phone signal, you should be able to connect to the internet on your phone (as long as your handset is less than about 10 years old).
You can also use your mobile phone as a wifi hotspot- meaning that other devices which DON'T have their own SIM card, like a kindle or iPad, can connect to your phone via a personal hotspot and use that data.
Mobile wifi- how to set up a personal hotspot for your phone
On an iPhone, you can find your personal hotspot in the settings menu and follow the guidelines. Call it something easily recognisable and SET A PASSWORD- you don't want everyone else in the campsite logging onto your phone and using up all your data!
Switch to the device you want to use (ie-iPad) and find your phones name in the wifi options. Select it, input the password and you'll be connected! As long as you have a phone signal and mobile data, you're good to go.
Using Mobile data outside your home country
If you are travelling outside your home country, you need to make sure that data roaming is enabled on your phone AND that you have a plan which allows you to use data in other countries cheaply. Things are getting much better in terms of roaming charges for calls/ texts, but data is still capable of giving you a large bill at the end of your trip!
Also, be aware that the data limit you have at home will probably NOT be the same as your free allowance abroad- so be aware. It's hard to track data usage, but things like maps, streaming videos and Facebook can all use up a LOT of data.
How to get mobile internet in a camper or motorhome using a wifi dongle
The downside to using your phone for the internet is that it can use up all your mobile data pretty quickly if you're not careful, leaving you without any for later in your trip.
For this reason, we chose to get a wifi dongle like this one to use on our motorhome and it's been BRILLIANT. We use it with EE, and as long as there is a phone signal, we've been able to get pretty decent internet. I should point out, we're used to boat internet, NOT high-speed fibre broadband or whatever it's called, but most of this website has been built using our motorhome wifi dongle, and my husband manages his business using it, so it works well for us.
Buying a SIM card for a mobile wifi dongle
You need to buy a SIM card to use with a mobile wifi dongle. Prepaid ones are great, but read the small print- often once they're activated, you only have so long to use the data before you lose it. We pay for ours monthly because we use it so often. Do whatever works best for you.
Make sure you buy the correct size SIM card for the dongle. Many take nano-SIMs or micro-SIMs. If in doubt, go into a mobile shop and ask for advice once you have the dongle.
If you don't use the dongle for a long period of time (I think it's around 6 months) you might have to reactivate before you can use it again- this should be mentioned in your instructions.
Which mobile data network works best in Europe?
Between us, we have devices on several different UK networks- 3, Vodafone and the wifi on EE. When we're travelling in Europe, there is a definite difference between which networks can pick up signals where. For example, in at the Mont Blanc campsite, I couldn't get a signal on my phone at all, but Mr WB could.
In our opinion, 3 and Vodafone are currently the best for data roaming across Europe. Just be careful with the roaming charges and do your own research before signing up to any contracts- the best deals change all the time.
How many devices can you connect to a motorhome wifi dongle?
We often have 7 devices using one dongle. Yep, true story. Two laptops, two iPads and 3 phones. And that's without Jade being in the camper! Most sane people won't need that many devices, but it shows it can handle it! The Kuma system below only allows 5 devices, so think about how many you might need before buying.
Kuma 4g wifi system for motorhomes
The Kuma system is a complete wifi system designed for motorhomes, campers and boats.
There are two main types- a 4G wifi dongle which comes with an antenna to improve the signal. You can put any SIM card in this- make sure it's a data sim.
The other type is a wifi booster, with antenna and router.
Both systems allow up to 5 devices to be connected to the box at once, which isn't enough for us, but this might be the best solution for you- you can even use both systems together to make your life even easier.
How to get mobile internet in the middle of nowhere
But what if there isn't a phone signal? What if you're in the middle of nowhere- are there any options to get internet on the road?
Some of our favourite nights in the motorhome have been when we haven't had internet- like the night we spent up the Swiss Alps under the Milky Way, planning how to change our lives. Don't be scared of not having a phone/ wifi signal for the odd night- it's oddly liberating, even with teenagers.
The only way to get an internet signal if there are no other signals is by satellite. It can be done- but it is pretty expensive and VERY slow. We used to use a satellite phone for internet when we were sailing… that was painful enough for us not to bother with it on the road!
Motorhome Wifi internet booster
A motorhome wifi booster like this one is an antenna or small box which fixes to the roof of your motorhome/ camper and boosts any wifi signal it receives, allowing you to get a better connection.
It can be fixed permanently or by sucker, which might be better- as long as you remember to take it down before you drive off!!
We've used one of these on the boat for years, and they are very good. I really like that this system can be powered by either 12v or 240v- perfect for mobile wifi when wild camping or using on campsites.
4g motorhome roof antenna
A 4g roof antenna like this amplifies and improves a connection (such as 2G or 3G). It will NOT create a signal where there isn't one, but it can allow you to stream TV over a bad connection and get your internet on your road trips! If you need your own signal, get something with a SIM card.
As you can see, there are several options for getting internet on the road. If you're in a motorhome or camper van, make sure you research if the device can be permanently fitted or if it's designed to be set up when you stop.
I hope this helps with your road trip planning. Send me an email from the road and let me know!