Whether you want to work remotely in your campervan as a digital nomad, or just chill out and watch Netflix whilst you’re away, lots of people want a campervan WiFi setup in their van.
This post will explain exactly how to get WiFi in your campervan, both in the UK and abroad. It will explain what a WiFi router is, whether you need an external antenna, and all of the data plans available to keep you connected on the road.
Can you get WiFi in a campervan?
In short, yes, you can get WiFi in a campervan. All you need is a WiFi dongle for your campervan, and a SIM card with data on it.
In fact, the most simple way of getting WiFi in a campervan doesn’t even require this – you could simply hotspot from your mobile phone. However, this isn’t a great solution as you can easily eat through all of your data, so if you’re going to be using it regularly, it makes sense to get a better solution for your campervan WiFi.
Campervan WiFi routers
A campervan WiFi dongle, sometimes known as a router, ‘MiFi booster’ or ‘mobile WiFi hotspot’ acts like your internet router at home. Except instead of getting internet from a fibre optic cable in the ground, it has a built-in antenna that looks for 3G, 4G or 5G signal. Once it has found this signal, it amplifies this as a WiFi hotspot that you can connect multiple devices to, including your phone and your laptop.
There are a number of WiFi routers available for your campervan, such as the Huawei E5577 and the Netgear Nighthawk. They all have a slot in the back for a SIM card, and an internal battery so that you can use them wireless as well as plugged in. We’d recommend the Huawei E5577 campervan WiFi router as it’s only £65 and we’ve never had any issues picking up signal with it, even in remote spots across the UK and Europe.
Campervan WiFi antennas
One of the big questions people always have is whether or not you need to invest in a campervan WiFi antenna. Although the WiFi routers have built-in antennas, it’s possible to buy an external antenna which connects to the router which supposedly boosts the signal, allowing you to get a quicker internet connection in spots with lower signal.
As we work remotely from our campervan, it’s important that we have fast internet in as many places as possible. We spent a while reading online and purchased the Poynting Mimo 3 12, as it claims to “exceed the performance of most competitors due to the attention to the design of this high-performance antenna.” It’s also much cheaper than the Motorhome WiFi antennas.
Campervan antenna speed test
As installing a campervan WiFi antenna would mean that we would need to drill a hole in the roof of our van, we were keen to test the performance of the antenna before committing to installing it! We ran a speed test from inside the van, first using just our Huawei 5577 MiFi booster, and then using the Poynting Mimo 3 12 antenna connected to the booster.
We were incredibly surprised to see that the antenna made absolutely no difference. We ran several speed test in several different locations, and
Without an external antenna plugged in, the Huawei WiFi booster had a download speed of 3.81Mbps, and an upload speed of 20Mbps. With the Poynting Mimo 3 12 external antenna connected, the download speed went up to 4Mbps, a meagrely increase of 5%, and the upload speed actually went down to 18.1Mbps.
The speed test using only the Huawei 5577 without an external antenna
The speed test using the Poynting Mimo 3 12 external antenna
We spoke to Poynting on the phone to check that we had connected the antenna correctly and to see what they had to say about the poor speed test performance, but they didn’t share anything useful.
Our conclusion is that an externally mounted antenna is unneccesary, as we saw no performance gain with one connected to our campervan WiFi dongle.
In areas of low signal, we have occasionally struggled to pick up signal with our WiFi dongle inside the van, but if we put it in the skylight or by a window, it will be able to pick up signal if there is any in the area.
Your campervan essentially acts like a faraday cage. A faraday cage is a metal container that blocks electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). As WiFi, 3G, 4G and 5G signals are emitted by electromagnetic frequencies, if you are in a lower signal area, you may struggle to pick up a signal on your phone or your WiFi dongle from inside your campervan, as the metal chassis makes it harder to pick up these frequencies.
However, if you place your dongle in your skylight, or by a window, this should be sufficient to help it pick up a signal. So all an external antenna is doing is picking up signal from outside the vehicle rather than inside, and transmitting it to your router via a cable. If you have a read on Poynting and Motorhome WiFi’s websites, they don’t actually make any claims that their antennas improve internet signal.
Obviously there is a benefit to an antenna if you don’t want to have to put your WiFi router on your roof in areas of lower signal, but we’re don’t think it’s worth the premium of installing one. The Poynting Mimo costs around £140, and the Motorhome WiFi antenna is a whopping £235 for their cheapest model!
Campervan internet deals
Once you’ve decided on your campervan WiFi dongle and whether you’re installing an external antenna or not, you will need to choose which SIM card to purchase. These days, lots of phone providers offer unlimited data packages at quite a reasonable cost. At the time of writing, the following deals are available:
However, if you plan on travelling to Europe, you will encounter some issues. Most phone providers, although they claim to offer free data roaming, actually have a fair usage cap for Europe. VOXI, who used to offer endless data roaming abroad, have now capped their data usage in Europe to 20GB/month. Similarly, Smarty cap theirs at 12GB and don’t have any roaming available in Schengen countries (such as Switzerland and Norway).
Update: We are gutted to share that as of 22 November 2021, To The Moon Mobile who used to be one of the only providers to previously offer unlimited data roaming, have introduced a 20GB/month cap. We have actually been pretty unimpressed with the service we have received from them and their app which is incredibly buggy, but the unlimited data roaming they offered was a massive benefit to us.
However, they recently contacted us and provided zero notice that they were introducing a data cap in Europe, which we were extremely disappointed about.
So what should you do if you want to travel in Europe but you need uncapped internet so you can work?
Unfortunately, the current option looks like you will need to purchase a SIM in the country you’re travelling in. This is unideal if you’re travelling between multiple countries, because many SIMs don’t offer roaming between different countries (e.g. a French SIM may not work in Spain).
We will update this post soon with the best SIMs in each European country. Equally, if anyone knows of any UK SIMs which still offer unlimited European roaming, please let us know in the comments!
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions feel free to drop us a message on here or via Instagram!
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