When you’re away in your caravan or motorhome it’s nice to have some home comforts, and that can include internet access. Here’s our rundown of the options available to you if you need to get online.
Many caravan sites now have WiFi, but the quality, cost and availability of the connection can vary greatly.
Connection is usually made by entering a pass code into your web browser. It can be a faster alternative to other methods of accessing the internet and means that most of the time you don't have to worry about data allowances. You may be able to access free WiFi zones in town centres or other public spaces, or a local café may offer their password in exchange for a drink.
Due to the low power levels and high frequencies used, WiFi reception on campsites can be very patchy. This is particularly the case where there is a lot of vegetation and when there is heavy rain, as both of these can absorb the signal.
One way of improving reception is to invest in a WiFi booster device. In simple terms, these plug into a USB port on your PC, effectively replacing the internal WiFi circuitry with something more powerful. MMM Magazine recommends the iBoost Pro D8 Directional System for £159.99, for its performance, popularity and value.
There are also external antennas which can be attached to the side of your caravan. However, although this can give you a faster connection, if the bottleneck is between you and the source of the signal, it won’t make much difference if the site WiFi is already oversubscribed.
This is an internet connection using a mobile phone network. It is often more reliable than WiFi but, since you are paying for data you need to be careful to avoid additional charges.
If you have a smartphone you can access the internet using the mobile broadband network, or you can connect your laptops or tablets to your phone by tethering – turning on your phone’s personal hotspot. Some networks charge extra for this, limit usage or don’t allow it abroad.
Be aware that if you exceed your set data limit your connection may be restricted to a very much lower speed.
Data roaming charges when abroad can be astronomical. However, in Europe, mobile data coverage has increased and data roaming charges have reduced. You can now use your usual allowance in Europe without having to pay extra. Watch out that you don't exceed your allowance though.
As a rule, each Mb equates to 20 seconds of video, a minute of audio, or a standard webpage. So, 500Mb of data will allow you to download 500 songs, or an hour of video, or handle 1000 emails with attachments. It will also allow you to browse thousands of web pages but if they contain interactive content such as videos, data will be used much faster.
Pay-as-you-go-packages range in price but for example, there are deals giving 2Gb for around £10 which is valid for 30 days. Contract plans will give you more data for your money, but will lock you into a contract.
If you're not sure about your contract when it comes to data and travelling abroad, be sure to change your settings to turn off 3G and data roaming; only connect via WiFi where available.
To improve performance, an unlocked MiFi device will take a SIM card and produce a WiFi connection for up to 10 devices. Some MiFi devices have external antenna connectors which can improve the signal, especially if roof or window mounted. Prices range from around £30 up to around £150.
Access via Satellite
Internet access via satellite is reliable but very costly, with a fully automatic system priced at around £3400 and ongoing charges between £15 and £60 per month. Satellite internet is best if internet connection is absolutely vital for you.
It’s best to agree what your particular needs are, and what your budget is. Mobile broadband is probably the best option if you want an internet connection wherever you are, but WiFi will probably satisfy your needs if you’re happy to wait until a connection is available. If the sky’s the limit, go for satellite internet!