VAN LIFE

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SUPER-FAST INTERNET ACCESS ON THE MOVE

04.01.22

After power, the second most important thing for my motorhome is fast, reliable internet.


For years, camping and caravanning trips meant little to no mobile phone signal and no internet access whatsoever. Whilst caravan sites have upped their game in recent times, the Wi-Fi at most sites remains abysmal. All it takes is for everyone to head inside and fire up Facebook at the first sign of inclement weather, and any hope for stable Wi-Fi goes out the window.


For someone like me, who undertakes working holidays (and enjoys home comforts a little too much), abysmal internet connection is a big no-no.


Now, satellite internet is one option, and is something I covered in my “The Future of Internet Access” video last year. On the plus side, it offers internet coverage pretty much everywhere but it’s expensive and the latency is not great. I’ve had this in my caravan for two years – paying around £700 per year for the privilege – and have only used it three or four times when I couldn’t get a 4G connection.


As mentioned in the video, Starlink is touted as the internet of the future – reasonably priced, low latency internet available everywhere. I’ve pre-ordered my Starlink dish, which I’m eagerly awaiting delivery of, but it’s still early days and it’s unlikely to offer complete coverage until there are more satellites.


So, what do I recommend for here and now?


4G.

The four main networks offering 4G coverage in the UK are EE, Three, Vodafone and O2, plus the latter two’s respective offspring Voxi and giffgaff.


I have a SIM card for each of the networks, together with four Netgear access points. Each of those broadcast their own Wi-Fi network, which I've named after the mobile network they're on. I then have a separate router – a consumer version of what I have a home – called AmpliFi, and two 4G antennas on the roof to get the best signal possible.


All our devices then connect to the Wi-Fi network on that little router - not the 4G modems. The reason for this is because it can be a real pain to change the network for items like Sonos, security cameras and devices. Seriously, if you want to change the network on your Sonos, you’ll need to set aside at least half an hour to reset all the devices!


So, we have everything connected to that one router in the motorhome and then use an Ethernet cable to run between the router and whichever 4G access point has the best signal. Each of the 4G access points - the 4G modems and Netgear ones - have a little screen on them and you can see the amount of signal each network has.


Typically, I utilise the EE and Three ones the most as I have decent unlimited plans with both. When choosing between them, I simply press the button to light up the screen and compare the number of 4G bars on each. If EE has four bars, compared to Three’s two, then I simply take the Ethernet cable that runs to the router and plug it into the EE access point and hey presto! Everything works wonderfully.


90% of the time, all my internet needs are met by EE and Three, but I have SIM cards for Voxi and giffgaff as a back-up. They’re typically around £10 a month for 10GB of data. Travel to somewhere like Cornwall, however, and you’ll want to up that contract. O2 tends to dominate in the south region, so I’ll upgrade my giffgaff contract to unlimited for the duration of my trip (usually around £25 per month).


Between these four networks, four access points and the separate router, we have close to the perfect set-up. Everywhere we go, we can enjoy extremely fast internet. In most places, it’s even faster than it is at home! In fact, I have been known to patch into my motorhome’s network when it’s been parked on the drive and the home network has gone down.

Like our power set-up, this is a bit extreme (the modems cost around £250 each) but when you rely on the internet as much as we do then it’s totally worth it.


Travelling a bit further afield? No problem! Whilst I find the Three plan terrible for roaming (it offers around 5GB which equates to a couple of movies before your data has vanished), EE is much better and I enjoy fast internet throughout much of Europe thanks to their strong partner network.


If needs be, you can also purchase a local SIM card (or a couple!), for the region in which you are staying. Simply slot them in the other access points, and away you go! The principle remains the same.


Only once have I been so unfortunate to not have signal on any of them, and it just so happened to be when the motorhome got stuck. That was a fun experience, as I’m sure you can imagine! At least I can laugh about it now. Almost, anyway. But that’s a story for another day….