In our modern connected world, having access to the internet in your motorhome is often seen as a necessity. You need it for planning the next day’s route, streaming your favourite TV shows and much more.
So, what equipment do you need to make sure you won’t be without the wisdom of Google while you’re on your travels? And does motorhome insurance cover the devices that you’ll need in order to get online? From Wi-Fi dongles and boosters to 4G antennas and satellite systems trying to figure out what you’ll need can be a bit of a minefield.
Getting on the internet while touring can soon get confusing. There are so many options on the market and not all will be perfect for you and your home on wheels. So, read on for our guide to staying connected in your motorhome.
Internet access in your motorhome – the options
There are a number of ways to get the internet in your motorhome wherever your travels take you. Assuming you want internet in your vehicle, rather than having to constantly find cafes and pubs with free Wi-Fi, these are the main options for you:
- Use campsite Wi-Fi.
- Use your phone or tablet with a SIM card and data connection.
- Use a Wi-Fi dongle or MiFi device.
- Install a specialist satellite system.
Don't worry if you’re already a little confused by these options. Let’s take a closer look at each one in turn to see which might be best for you.
A popular way to connect to the internet if you’re staying at a campsite is through the site’s own Wi-Fi connection. If you’re just quickly checking a website for information on your next destination then campsite Wi-Fi is probably okay. However, most campsites only offer a very limited Wi-Fi service and often the Wi-Fi signal is far from excellent.
There are a number of other difficulties, too. Firstly, you won’t know until you get there how good the Wi-Fi signal is going to be, especially if you’re in a remote location. So it’s hard to plan ahead and you might end up being let down when you need connection the most. Secondly, if you’re parked up a long way from the campsite reception or there are a lot of other campers using the Wi-Fi at the same time, you could receive a poor connection and a very unsatisfactory internet experience.
Thirdly, you might need to pay to connect to the campsite Wi-Fi. If they do charge, then you’ll need to find out if it’s per day, per hour or on data usage. While browsing a few websites or checking social media may not cost much, if you’re planning to stream an entire movie then it could turn into an expensive night in.
How to boost your internet signal
If you’re looking to get the very best signal from campsite Wi-Fi then buying a Wi-Fi booster or antenna to beam the signal into your van could be a good solution. These can be permanently housed on the outside of your motorhome, or just set up ad hoc when you arrive on site.
Simply point the directional antennae towards the Wi-Fi source and away you go. This is very much a plug-and-play solution and you won’t need a separate SIM card or data allowance to use it. They’re compatible with pretty much any device and you should be able to extend Wi-Fi to several devices at once.
Phone or tablet with SIM card and data connection
If you’re touring around the UK a more reliable way of getting an internet connection than using campsite Wi-Fi is through your own mobile phone or tablet (providing you have a SIM card and data as part of your mobile phone deal).
This way, as long as you can get a good, strong connection then you should be perfectly able to join the web when you want. Unfortunately, the mobile broadband network across the UK can be patchy so this will depend on your location and network providers.
O2, EE, Vodafone and Three are the so-called ‘Big Four’ network providers across the UK. Even if your mobile service provider is a company like Tesco Mobile or GiffGaff they will in fact still be using a network provided by one of the Big Four.
To find out the best network provider for any particular location you can go to each of their websites and use the online service checkers. A simpler and quicker alternative is to use the one-stop shop provided by Ofcom.
The UK’s communications regulator has created a really useful mobile and broadband coverage checker on its website. Simply enter a location postcode and it will allow you to check 3G and 4G services, broadband availability and speeds in your area. It also has plenty of tips on how to improve your internet connection. So, well worth consulting if you’re having problems.
But not only will you need a clear signal and a decent device, you’ll also need a good data package. After all, streaming a standard definition film from Netflix will use about 1GB of data per hour. This rises to 3GB per hour for high definition and up to 7GB per hour for 4K Ultra HD video!
In terms of devices, if you don’t mind the titchy screen size you can watch on your mobile phone. However, a much better way (particularly if you’re streaming movies) is to use your phone to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. This means other devices which don’t have their own SIM card can connect to your phone via a personal hotspot and use your data allowance.
By tethering other devices to your phone’s hotspot, you can access the internet and watch movies or play games on a much larger screen, such as a laptop, iPad, computer or smart TV. Be aware that while most providers allow you to do this, some don’t.
How to set up a personal hotspot on your phone
First you need to set up your personal hotspot. Do this by going to the Settings menu and navigating to Mobile Data or Mobile Network. Then choose Personal Hotspot and follow the prompts to allow other devices to join your mobile network.
Make sure to call it something easily recognisable and set a strong password. After all, you don't want other campers piggy-backing off your expensive data connection from next door!
Now switch to the device you want to use and find your hotspot’s name in the Wi-Fi options. Select it, enter the password and you'll be connected. As long as you have a phone signal and mobile data, you're good to go.
You can also join your personal hotspot using a Bluetooth connection or using a USB cable. How many devices can join at one time will depend on your network plan and your model of phone.
Be aware that acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot will drain with your phone’s battery life pretty quickly. Add a Smart battery case or a powerbank to your pre-trip shopping list if you’re going to be using the hotspot feature a lot while you’re away.
Wi-Fi dongle or MiFi device
If your current phone or contract doesn’t allow tethering or provide a big enough data allowance, then there are other alternatives you can use to tether your devices. The two most popular devices to use are a Wi-Fi dongle or a MiFi device with their own SIM-card and data allowance. There are plenty of dongles and devices available with various different data plans, so it can take some time to work out which one is right for you.
A Wi-Fi dongle essentially plugs into the USB port of your laptop or other device. It’ll give you internet wherever you go, but it will only provide access to the device it’s plugged into (unless you turn it into a hotspot). A MiFi device on the other hand acts more like a router and allows multiple devices to be connected to the internet.
Just like buying any piece of tech there are various technical features you’ll want to consider such as battery life, and the number of devices you can connect at any one time. You’ll also need to consider the contract length and the data allowance.
Dongles and MiFi devices are very useful but they’re not your main phone, and you probably won’t be using your motorhome all year round. So, entering into a 2-year contract is probably not going to work out. Instead, a Pay-As-You-Go or one-month rolling contract is probably your best option.
How to get the best signal for your device
Whatever device you use, when you’re inside your motorhome you’re essentially sitting inside a large metal box. As you would imagine, this can play havoc with signal strength so where your device is positioned can certainly affect the quality of service you receive.
If you’re having difficulties connecting then try to move your phone or MiFi device next to the window of your motorhome. Preferably in the direction the source of the internet is coming from.
To find this out use an app like Opensignal. It’s a great app that loads a signal map and shows you which tower you’re connected to and its direction. Using this app is the easiest way to work out the best place to put your phone or MiFi device. Brilliant!
There was a time when expensive satellite systems were all the rage in top-of-the-range motorhomes. However, unless you are journeying to truly out-of-the-way places where there’s no other signal then such a system is unlikely to be worth the expense or hassle for connecting to the internet.
What about 5G?
Over the next couple of years, the 5G network will be rolled out over the length and breadth of the UK. With claims of much faster internet speeds and better network coverage, it could well be the answer to your internet dreams while you’re away from home. Look for devices that are 5G compatible when buying new tech.
Touring abroad – what to do about internet
If you’re travelling outside the UK, you’ll not only need to make sure your motorhome insurance is up to date but also what the data limits are if you use the internet while away. If you go roaming around Europe without sorting out your mobile data first you could be hit with a large bill at the end of your trip. For example, EE is planning to reintroduce roaming charges in Europe from January 2022, for all those who join or upgrade from 7th July 2021.
Never assume that the data limit you have in the UK will be the same as your data allowance when abroad – it probably won’t be. And remember, it's often difficult to track data usage, useful things like Google maps, streaming videos and social media updates can all use up a lot of data very quickly. Oops!
Is my gadgetry covered by my motorhome insurance?
If you’re installing or using expensive gadgetry in your motorhome, it’s wise to consider whether you need to upgrade your motorhome insurance. For example, installing a satellite dish could be considered a modification that you need to tell your insurer about. Likewise, an expensive laptop or Smart TV may also mean your personal belongings cover is no longer enough. Give your insurance provider a call to make sure your personal effects are covered.
Motorhome insurance from Motorhome Protect
A motorhome will give you many happy years of day time adventures and night time relaxation. So making sure your home on wheels is well protected with the right motorhome insurance policy is the least you can do.
The team at Motorhome Protect are specialists in arranging cover from a range of trusted providers. Whatever your budget and requirements, you can rest assured we’ll find a policy that’s right for you and your vehicle.
We can arrange unlimited cover across all the countries of the EU, with policies available for unlimited mileage. We will consider covering drivers with previous convictions and claims.
Call our experienced team today for a quick motorhome insurance quote, and start planning your next touring adventure.
Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.