Wondering how to get mobile internet in your motorhome, campervan or RV? Trying to figure out if you need a 4G antenna, a motorhome 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 options will be right for you. Here's everything you need to know to get the best motorhome internet system for you.
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Motorhome wifi & getting internet on the road
Hands up if you use the internet?
I took a gamble considering you're reading this website 😉
The majority of people in the western world access the internet at least once a day. If, like us, you work from a laptop or spend time on social media, it could be much more frequently than that.
For my husband and I, when I quit my job and we started touring Europe in a motorhome, getting reliable internet in our camper was one of our primary concerns.
Motorhome internet access- the options
If you're touring in a motorhome, campervan or caravan, there are several options for you to get both wifi and internet access (yep, the two are slightly different.) We'll review and discuss the pros and cons of each option below, so you can decide which is best for you.
- Connect to wifi at a campsite using any device able to connect to wifi
- Create your own internet station using a dongle or device with a sim card and data connection (most phones have this now)
- Install a specialist system/ satellite internet on your motorhome
- Go elsewhere and use their internet, like a cafe or Mcdonald's.
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.
Confused by Internet, WiFi, 4G & Broadband?
Before we go any further, let's clarify these terms so we're all on the same page (in very very simplified terms!)
The internet is the thing that you're ‘on' when you go online. This website, Google, Facebook etc are all ‘on the internet'.
WiFi is a wireless network, which you connect to in order to get access to the internet without a physical connection or using your data allowance.
4G (or 3G/5G) are types of signals floating all around us. Your internet/ wifi compatible device can detect these signals and connect to access the internet.
Mobile internet/ mobile broadband other terms for using the internet away from home/ without a fixed connection. Usually on 4G.
Broadband is what you might have at home or anywhere with a physical cable which goes to a router. This router then creates the wifi signals you connect to.
What is the best way to get wifi in a motorhome?
The BEST way to get internet in a motorhome, campervan or caravan will depend on three things:
- the device you want to use
- where you are
- what you want to do on the internet
Basically, your choices are either to connect to an existing internet system (wifi), or to use the data connection directly (where you have a 3G/4G/5G signal on your device and can use the data that way.
The important thing to remember is that, if your device DOES NOT HAVE A SIM CARD, it cannot connect directly to the internet (ie- it won't get a signal for data.) Some Kindles, iPads and most laptops don't have their own sim card, so you will need to have some sort of wifi connection in order to use the internet on these devices.
Let me give you a practical example of how my husband and I work from the road. We have, between us, two laptops, two iPads and 3 mobile phones. Both our laptops and one of the iPads need a wifi connection in order to be able to access the internet.
The other iPad and phones don't- as long as they have a phone signal or decent quality, they can access the internet directly without needing to connect to anything else.
From this, we can do one of several things:
- use one of the phones to provide a ‘hotspot' for the devices which need wifi
- connect to wifi at a campsite or cafe
- use our motorhome wifi dongle, which is installed in our van.
To be honest, we use options 1 & 3 the most.
Roaming charges outside of the UK
Most of the major UK networks now have a data cap and have re-introduced roaming charges since we left the EU. This will NOT be the same as your monthly allowance within the UK. It's likely to be less than half what you're used to.
Mobile wifi- how to set up a personal hotspot for your phone
It's quite easy to use a device which has its own SIM card to provide a wifi connection for a different device. I do this almost every day between my laptop and my iPhone.
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 on the campsite logging onto your phone and using up all your data!
Switch to the device you want to use (ie-laptop) and select the wifi button (often top right). Find your phone's name in the possible wifi options. Select it, input the password and you'll be connected! As long as you have a decent signal on your phone and have mobile data enabled, you're good to go.
Be careful- this will use the data on your phone twice as fast, so keep a careful eye on how much you're using.
NOTE: Using a phone as a hotspot is not going to give you fibre broadband speeds. Luckily, we've lived on boats for years and are used to the speeds, but it might be a shock if you're used to fibre.
What is the best way to get motorhome internet while travelling?
If you're in your home country (such as the UK), your mobile phone is most likely already set up to receive & 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).
However, if you're travelling overseas, you'll find that the about of data you're allowed to use within your monthly subscription is likely capped, which makes things a lot harder when you're used to using the internet constantly and need it to plan your motorhome trip and find campsites etc.
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.
Since BREXIT, many of the main UK phone networks are charging data roaming fees again and it's entirely possible to end up with a large bill at the end of your trip!
This IS a mandatory data cap of £45 per billing period, but will mean once you've hit this threshold you either agree to pay more or you can no longer access the internet.
Also, be aware that the data limit you have at home will probably NOT be the same as your free allowance abroad- often it's reduced by 50% or even more. It's hard to track data usage, but things like maps, streaming videos and Facebook can all use up a LOT of data.
Planning to take your motorhome to Europe?
How to get mobile internet in a camper or motorhome using a wifi dongle
The downside to using your phone/ device 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, if you think you'll use the internet a lot, you will probably want to get a wifi dongle. This applies whether you're motorhoming in the UK or whether you're heading into Europe.
When we first started, we had a wifi dongle like this Huawei one, which was very good. We used it with EE, and as long as there was a strong phone signal, we were able to get pretty decent internet- most of this website and our Youtube videos have been uploaded using this motorhome wifi dongle.
Buying a SIM card for a mobile wifi dongle
When you buy a wifi dongle, you'll need to buy a SIM card to use with it. This needs to be a DATA sim, not a phone sim.
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 our data sim 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 either 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 the sim card before you can use it again- this should be mentioned in your instructions.
Best Motorhome wifi SIM cards
Although there are various sims and packages available, there are some things to check when you choose your wifi data sim card:
- contract or PAYG (pay-as-you-go)
- how much data you think you'll use
- if travelling out of the UK, will it work (and how much data are you allowed?)
- what physical size is it? (ie- will it fit your wifi dongle)
Depending on your usage requirements, these are 3 motorhome wifi sim cards we recommend:
Wifi on Board- our new motorhome wifi system
We now have a fantastic unit on our van by a company called Wifi on Board. One of the reasons we love this so much over the dongle is it comes with an antenna, which allows us to boost weaker signals and get internet where previously we were unable to.
We wrote an in-depth review on our motorhome wifi unit here (and you can see the video of how we fitted it into our van.) We've travelled all over Europe with this in our van and it's fantastic. If there's even a hint of a signal, this router and antennae will find it for you.
5g Motorhome Wifi
Wifi on Board also offers a 5G version of their unit. We haven't used this in anger yet, although have played with it at the Caravan show and it looks great. Just beware it works best in areas with strong 5G signals, so if you travel to the mountains regularly like us, it might not be the best choice for you; you might prefer to stick to the 4G model.
Motorhome wifi in Europe- Which mobile data network works best?
Between my husband and I, we have devices on several different UK networks: 3, Vodafone and the wifi is on EE. When we're travelling in Europe, there is a definite difference between which networks can pick up signals where. For example, when we were motorhoming in France, I couldn't get a signal on my phone in Chamonix 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 for any contracts- the best deals change all the time.
How many devices can you connect to a motorhome wifi router?
We often have 7 devices using our motorhome wifi, and that was the same with the dongle. 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. If you think you'll have a similar amount, pay attention when you buy your wifi dongle- some are limited on how many devices can be connected at once.
Kuma 4g wifi system for motorhomes
The Kuma system is a complete wifi system designed for motorhomes, campers, caravans and boats.
It includes a router (dongle) and an antenna. It's unlocked, so you can put your own data sim into this system to give you wifi in your van.
As long as there is a decent signal, it's stable enough for you to stream video on a laptop or even a motorhome tv and you can upload videos and documents using it too.
It can connect up to 10 devices at once.
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 data or wifi in your motorhome?
Some of our favourite nights in our camper 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 access when we were sailing offshore… that was painful enough for us not to bother with it on the road!
Best Motorhome Wifi booster- how to improve your signal
If you only have a weak data connection or wifi signal, you can use a motorhome wifi booster like this one.
A booster is an antenna or small box which fixes to the roof of your motorhome/ campervan and boosts any wifi signal it receives, allowing you to get a better connection (such as 3G or 4G).
They will NOT create a signal where there isn't one, but can allow you to stream TV over a bad connection and get your internet on your road trips!
Some antennas are designed to be permanently fitted, like this or the one we reviewed from Wifi on Board, which can increase the height of your motorhome or campervan, so please do take that into account when purchasing- if you're touring in Europe and go above 3.01m, it could cost you more on the toll roads.
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.
How much internet data do we use?
A question we get asked frequently is how much data do we use while touring in our motorhome?
There's no easy answer to this. It depends on several factors, such as if we're travelling alone or with our daughter Jade, if I need to upload Youtube videos or if something like the Tour de France is on (which I watch every day.)
However, to give you a rough idea, we recently spent 2 weeks touring Germany, Switzerland and France and we used less than 25GB of data- I know because we didn't need to swap sim cards.
New roaming rules for internet roaming in Europ
Beware the new roaming rules which have come into place since Brexit. Most networks now have a 25GB data cap, so even if you have unlimited data in the UK, you probably won't in Europe.
That's why two sim cards for the dongle can be useful- just be sure they get used regularly or you might find they shut down after a few months.
If you're data capped, there are a couple of things you can do to increase your internet options:
- Have a couple of sim cards (if you're touring long-term, you can buy a local sim from a supermarket- just make sure it's data compatible and not phone only.)
- Have a couple of dongles and sim cards if there are a few of you or you need to work (expensive, but effective)
- Use campsite wifi (although it's often not great, especially for uploading things like YT videos)
- Use wifi in cafes and restaurants- Mcdonald's is always a sure bet in Europe!
The other thing we do which helps a lot is to try to download as much as possible before we travel. Jade uses Spotify and Youtube for music, but we ask her to download a playlist before we go (while in the UK) so it's not using data as we travel.
We also download several movies and TV show episodes onto our iPads so we don't need to do it while abroad. After that, it's only really live sporting events which we will stream/watch.
I reckon, with 3 of us in the van, bearing in mind that both Mr WB and I work from the van and are on our phones/ laptops constantly, and Jade is never off her phone, we use around 50GB of data a month when touring overseas. (In the UK, we have unlimited data so it's probably more as we're much less careful with it.)
When we don't have Jade with us, it's probably closer to 40GB.
As you can see, there are several options for getting motorhome & campervan wifi or internet on the road. If there's a question you have which isn't covered here, please do ask below and we'll do our best to help you.
Want more tips for motorhome life?
Here are some more ideas you might find useful:
- Essential Motorhome accessories every van should have
- Best Sat-nav for motorhomes or campervans
- Motorhome Security– tips for at home and on the road
- How to get Internet & wifi in a motorhome
- Europe- essential gear for travelling to Europe
- Best gift ideas for motorhome and campervan owners
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