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How to get wi-fi in your campervan

If you think getting away from it all in a campervan means you can't have access to the internet, prepare to think again...

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Campervans are all about getting away from it all – switching off, unplugging from the world, and disconnecting. But the internet is still a vital resource, even when you are isolated from the world of work. You might still want to use the internet to research local eateries, find traffic reports, or even to stream a bit of television if the weather outside is inclement.

All of which means it’s important to have a decent online connection in your motorhome or campervan. And of course, the whole ‘mobile’ aspect of being in such a vehicle means you can’t have a fixed broadband cable running through the side of your camper.

However, there are a few ways in which you can keep yourself online while out and about, and here we'll tell you about each of them.

Laptop in campervan

Hot spot

First up, you can use your mobile phone as a data source – in effect, turning your smartphone into a router for all of your other devices. 

If it’s an Apple iPhone, simply switch on the ‘personal hotspot’ function, and if it’s an Android device, turn on the ‘tethering’ function. This also applies if you have a tablet computer that has mobile functionality, such as a SIM-enabled Apple iPad.

However, if you plan to do this, you’ll need to make sure that your mobile contract has enough inclusive data to accommodate everyone’s online needs. Bear in mind that some mobile contracts limit the data you can use when tethering, so it’s worth making sure your contract doesn’t do this.

Obviously, there is another downside of doing this; if you end up somewhere your mobile phone network doesn’t reach, you truly will be off grid because you’ll have no signal for anything.

WiFi sign

Dongle

The next step up is to use a dongle, which is a small modem that plugs into your laptop’s USB socket. It’ll have a SIM card and a 4G contract, and is ideal if you just want quick and easy access to the internet using a laptop. It doesn’t broadcast a wi-fi signal to other devices, however, and you'll need to keep an eye on the cost of any data you use. 

If you do want to broadcast a wi-fi signal elsewhere, you might want to consider a wingle, which is, in essence, a dongle that broadcasts wi-fi to other users and devices.

MiFi

This is another device that uses a SIM card to get a data signal from mobile phone networks. It’s battery-powered, which means you can easily charge it while you’re driving along and then use it for a few hours once you’re all set up for the evening. However, if its internal battery starts to run low, you can always recharge it using your vehicle’s leisure battery.

It has no ability to make or receive calls, and is purely a distributor of an internet signal, but the fact it’s powered by battery also means you can take it with you when you're out and about.

Many MiFi devices also offer the ability to connect to an optional roof-mounted aerial, which further boosts the data signal the unit receives – useful if you want to stream content from your favourite provider.

Cloud SIM device

A step up from the MiFi is a smart cloud device. In essence, this is a battery-powered gizmo that is pre-loaded with a data allowance, and  when it acquires a strong enough mobile signal it allows that allowance to be used. It is then able to share that data allowance in a private wi-fi network between up to 10 devices.

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Travel router

A travel router is like a MiFi device that's been turned up to 11, so it uses a SIM card to access a data network, but it is more powerful. Travel routers can usually distribute a wi-fi signal to more devices, and can also accommodate a VPN (virtual private network) if you want to remain private while you browse.

However, while some are powered by battery, others need to be plugged in at all times, so it's worth doing your research to find a good one.

Satellite dish

This is the bells-and-whistles option, and is the go-to choice for those who want to be online all the time, even while at a remote campsite.

It makes sense to add satellite internet if you’re already buying a new motorhome and intend to fit a satellite dish for television viewing; adding internet connectivity to such a dish set-up will incur a minimal cost increase.

If you already have a motorhome or campervan and want to add satellite connectivity, you can purchase a portable dish system from a company such as EZ-Net, and this will give you a strong and stable connection every time you stop.

However, you’ll need to take the dish down and set it up again every time you move to a new campsite, and this is a faff at best. Such systems can also prove quite power-hungry, so you’ll need to make sure your campervan’s electrics and leisure battery are up to the job. You’ll also likely be required to sign up to a monthly subscription plan, so make sure you’re going to use the service enough to make the expense worthwhile.

What Car? Says

How much you’re willing to invest in a mobile internet system for your campervan depends on how much you absolutely have to be online at all times. So yes, you can spend several hundreds of pounds on a system that will let you do just about anything on the internet from the middle of nowhere, but there are also options that will let you do some of that for much less. 

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