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How to get campervan WiFi

Charlie and Dale are authors of The Van Conversion Bible. They travel full-time in their van Ringo.

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Contents

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 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. 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.

campervan wifi speed test using only wifi dongle and no antenna

The speed test using only the Huawei 5577 without an external antenna

campervan wifi test using campervan wifi dongle and campervan wifi antenna - no noticable difference with antenna!

The speed test using the Poynting Mimo 3 12 external antenna

We rang Poynting to check that we had connected the antenna correctly and to see what they had to say about the poor speed test performance. Unfortunately they didn’t share anything useful, and advised that the antenna in most cases wouldn’t enhance the signal compared to using a device outdoors.

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. However, as soon as we place the dongle in our skylight or by a window, it will be able to pick up signal if there is any in the area.

The science

Your campervan essentially acts like a faraday cage. A faraday cage is a metal container that blocks electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs), and WiFi, 3G, 4G and 5G signals are emitted by electromagnetic frequencies.

You may struggle to pick up signal on your phone or WiFi dongle from inside your campervan when you are in a lower signal area. This is because the metal chassis makes it harder to pick up these frequencies.

campervan acting as faraday cage blocking signal

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 does is pick up signal from outside the vehicle rather than inside, and transmit it to your router via a cable. If you visit Poynting or 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. However, we have been living in our van for over a year now and we 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!

how to become a digital nomad man and woman doing online work remote work outside a campervan in the wilderness forest

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 a reasonable cost. However, after Brexit, almost all U.K. phone companies have a data cap on their SIM cards.

If you plan to explore further afield in your campervan and work remotely, you may quickly find that you run into a problem. Although most providers will claim to still offer free data roaming, most U.K. SIM card providers will cap you at 12GB/month (not useful if you will be working remotely), and many will also block your SIM card after 2 months. For your SIM card to start working again, you will need to physically return to the U.K. (your SIM card will need to pick up signal from a U.K. phone mast).

As well as this, most providers don’t offer roaming in non-EU or non-Schengen countries, which quickly becomes a problem when you want to spend more than 3 months outside the U.K. and do the Schengen shuffle! For example, Smarty don’t offer any data roaming in the Balkans or even Switzerland or Norway!

Update – 8 June 2022: We have been living and working in our van since April 2021, and we have finally found a solution to European campervan WiFi! We have been through pretty much all of the U.K. providers who claimed to offer unlimited roaming (such as Superdrug Mobile and To The Moon Mobile) but these companies quickly introduced data caps, despite promising they wouldn’t.

After that, we had to purchase a different SIM card in every single country we visited. Since last April, we’ve visited 8 different countries. The other complication is that not all countries offer an ‘unlimited data’ SIM card, so in some countries we would need to purchase more than one SIM card. This has meant that in the space of a year, on our pursuit of campervan WiFi, we have accumulated 14 SIM cards.

11 sim cards on a table from different european countries

A selection of the many SIM cards we have accumulated over the past year!

We ended up spending hours wasting time running out of data in the middle of a work day and hunting for phone shops in busy city centres. So we kept hunting for a good solution to European campervan WiFi. That’s when we came across Tiekom.

Tiekom – the solution to campervan WiFi in Europe

Tiekom are a telecom company for expats living in Spain. However, they offer SIM cards that have roaming throughout all of Europe, as well as Turkey and some of the Balkans. Their SIM cards work in the following 39 countries:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Caribbean, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Portugal, United Kingdom, Reunion, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey.

This means that you can use them when you’re doing the Schengen shuffle and spending time in Turkey and certain Balkans countries as well as Europe. They only charge €39.90/month (£34 at the current exchange rate) for 300GB/month of data, plus €5 to send you a SIM card to any address in Europe. They are offering a 10% discount to anyone who signs up mentioning Climbingvan (see below), so the total monthly cost will only be £30.50/month.

We are heavy data users as we run our business completely remotely from our campervan. Daily tasks include uploading images, editing our website and streaming videos, so we can sometimes use 5-8GB/day. However, even on very high usage days, we don’t come close to hitting Tiekom’s 10GB/day cap. So if you need to do something that’s very data intensive, it’s still a good idea to visit a cafe with free WiFi.

We have now been using them for a month, and we have been really impressed by their customer service and the coverage we’ve experienced. When you’re in Spain they piggyback on Vodafone’s network, but anywhere else they will use whichever provider has the best signal in the spot you’re in.

How to sign up with Tiekom

Tiekom offer rolling monthly contracts so you don’t have to get tied into a 12 or 24 month contract. This is convenient if you’re travelling a lot, as it might still be cheaper to switch back to a U.K. provider when you return home.

To sign up with Tiekom, simply email [email protected] and mention Climbingvan to get 10% off the monthly cost. He will send you a form to fill in to sign up, and then post out a SIM card to your chosen address.

Hippocket WiFi rental

There are a couple of other potential solutions to the European campervan WiFi, however these are much more expensive, and either provide less data or are much more limited in terms of roaming. Hippocket offer a WiFi rental service, however this costs £120/month! If you will rent for less than 6 months, the cost increases even more, and they only offer 200GB/month of data for roaming. They also don’t cover the Balkans or Turkey.

Starlink for RVs

Starlink for RVs has recently been released, and sounds like it should be the perfect solution for digital nomads living in campervans. However, the price is an eye watering £114/month plus an upfront cost of £584! At this price you would expect a perfect solution, but in reality you can only roam for up to 2 months outside your registered country before it stops working. It is also not yet available in any Scandinavian countries or the Scottish highlands, as well as the Balkans and Turkey.

Read more about the disappointing release in our article: Starlink RV satellite dish now available.

  • Tiekom
  • Hippocket
  • Starlink RV
TiekomHippocketStarlink RV
£3050
/month
£120
/month
£114
/month
Upfront cost£13£10£584
Data cap300GB/month200GB/monthUnlimited
Available countries39 countries35 countries25 countries
RoamingYesYesUp to 2 months
Type3G, 4G & 5G3G, 4G & 5GLow-latency satellites
SpeedUp to 150MBUp to 100MBUp to 250MB
Buy NowBuy NowBuy Now

Conclusion

So what is the ultimate campervan WiFi setup? After living in our campervan full-time for over a year and running a fully remote business, we are confident have finally the best solution.

Use a small WiFi dongle such as the Huwaei E5577 which accepts SIM cards.

Sign up with Tiekom’s 300GB/month SIM card, which works in all European countries as well as Turkey and some of the Balkans, for only £30.50/month. Simply email [email protected] and mention Climbingvan to get 10% off the monthly cost

Don’t buy an external WiFi antenna such as the Motorhome WiFi or Poynting antenna. These are a waste of money and will not improve your signal!

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11 Responses

  1. Thanks we’re off to Norway and Sweden and I was looking at roof based antennae but your post made me think again and look at the other options – much appreciated as they are now around £400 …

    1. Hi Ella, no worries and glad we could help! After living in the van for almost a year now, it’s safe to say we haven’t had any issues getting signal as soon as we pop our WiFi dongle in the skylight or by a window!

  2. hey im iterested in your post ive just bought a camper and am starting a work from home job in late june working on video chat booking holidays i have to have a ping of under 50 and a download speed of above 10mbs would thiis work and do just need the dongle or anyting else? x

    1. Hi Amy, I’m afraid download speeds will vary dramatically depending on where you are and your network provider. For example, we are currently responding from the middle of the ocean somewhere between Sardinia and France and have 8.5mb download speed. Typically however we manage to have long good quality video calls with our nomadic energy team on 4G signal without any issues. Hope this helps!

  3. Hi to you both.
    I was very excited to purchase the HUAWEI router as recommended by you plus the Smarty SIM – sadly after 3 and 1/2 hours with two techie friends to try and set up the router we gave up. No signal was all we got. So going to return back to Amazon. I’m not giving up though. There must be a router out there somewhere with my name on it 😀😀

  4. Hi
    We’re moving to Spain in a campervan and I’m a Freelance Bookkeeper using Xero Accounts, Cloud based …..not being techy at all when it comes to internet, do you know how many Gb will I need a month roughly? Thank you ☺️

    1. Hi Berni, thankfully most bookkeeping activities (that we are aware of at least) tend to be fairly kind on data usage and associated files like CSV’s are very small. But it all adds up so if I was going to guess I would say ~30Gb but if you watch TV or make video calls you will need much more than this. Hope this helps!

  5. Hi, thanks for the SIM card advice, very useful!

    I have done a bit of testing myself recently as installed a Poynting Puck 2 and noticed slower speeds as you describe, which I was dissapointed with. Below is advice I was given (basically I think external antennas increase the amount of areas you get signal in but will not always necessarily provide greater speeds):

    “Network providers use a whole range of frequency bands to support different connection types in different areas, and the devices themselves sometimes support some but not all of those frequencies – and often come in different models supporting different frequency groups depending on where and who originally supplied the device.
    Also worth noting that different antennae will have different performance on different frequency ranges, so don’t assume that any improvement from an external antenna will always be consistent as you move from area to area (unless you have an antenna array tuned for a variety of frequencies). ”

    Never a simple answer is it!!

    1. Hi Chris, interesting to hear that you experienced the same issues. We tried our antenna in several different areas and never found it to improve the signal. It’s crazy that companies like this are allowed to sell these products with no definitive or transparent performance stats! Thankfully the Tiekom sim card does perform well!

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