As a digital nomad or location-independent entrepreneur, you sometimes don’t need much more than a laptop and internet, but a stable and fast internet connection is unfortunately not so obvious when you’re on the road. Nevertheless, good internet is essential for many people. Not only for entrepreneurs and employees who can work remotely, but also if you just want to stream a series or look something up online. Nothing is more frustrating than emails that don’t load, files that you can’t upload or video meetings that get stuck due to slow internet. In this blog we therefore share our best tips for internet on the road.
We ourselves have been location-independent since 2012 and previously worked from Australia, Curaçao, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Thailand. That all sounds great (and it is), but the internet often remains a challenge when traveling. Funnily enough, for example, in Australia we found better internet at a café in the outback than in Sydney, and in New Zealand we often worked in the coffee corner of a gas station because there was no fast internet anywhere else. Quite a challenge, so that internet on the go. But since we live, work and travel part-time in our camper, we have been looking for a permanent solution for internet on the road and Niels’ years of experience as an IT network engineer naturally comes in handy! In this blog we therefore discuss 4 options. In order of reliability and increasing price, you then roughly have the following options for internet in the motorhome:
- Public Wi-Fi hotspots, for example at a campsite, library or gas station
- Hotspot with your phone (also known as tethering)
- Mi-Fi or LTE 4G/5G router, possibly in combination with an external antenna
- Via satellite internet, for example via Starlink
Roaming internet in the EU
Before we further explain the options for internet in the motorhome, we would first like to explain more about roaming and the costs of internet within and outside the EU. Within the EU, mobile roaming costs have been abolished, so you can continue to use the data bundle of your mobile phone without additional costs. However, there are conditions attached to the use of your subscription and data bundle abroad. You can read more about this under the option ‘create a hotspot with your phone’. Roaming costs are still charged outside the EU and this can be very expensive, especially for mobile internet.
Wireless connection and poor coverage in the motorhome
All options we discuss for internet in the motorhome are based on wireless internet. The disadvantage of a wireless connection, however, is that the signal cannot withstand the metal that many (bus) campers are made of. The signal then suffers from attenuation and reflection, so that you can have much worse internet inside the camper than outside. This can be solved by placing your mobile phone or Mi-Fi router near a window or outside or by placing an external antenna (separate or fixed option possible) outside, which you connect with a cable to the LTE router inside. Internet via satellite works standard with an external antenna or dish.
Best options for internet in the motorhome
As discussed earlier, there are roughly 4 different options for internet in the motorhome, each differing in reliability, quality and price. Below we discuss the 4 options in order and all the pros and cons. Then you can then decide for yourself which option for internet in the motorhome works best for you.
Wi-Fi amplifier at the campsite
Do you regularly visit campsites and is the internet not very important for your work? Then you can make good use of the campsite Wi-Fi. The reception is often not equally good everywhere and there is generally no question of fast internet, but it is often offered for free and is therefore fine if you do not have too many requirements. However, do you need the internet for work or do you want to stream your favorite series? Then the Wi-Fi at a campsite is not the ideal option. For better reception, you can still use an external Wi-Fi amplifier. The antenna on the amplifier can pick up the internet signal better than the smaller antennas in mobile phones and laptops. The received signal is then converted into its own Wi-Fi network to which you can connect multiple devices. It is good to know that such a Wi-Fi amplifier mainly provides a better range, the gain in speed is generally very small.
It is also good to know that you connect to a public network with the internet at the campsite. These are often accessible without a password or via a freely available password, which makes you vulnerable to hackers who want to intercept data. That problem can be solved by using a VPN. A VPN connection uses encryption so that data is encrypted up to and including the VPN server. Public networks such as on a campsite cannot gain insight into your data traffic. An additional advantage of a VPN is that you can pretend to be in the Netherlands, so that you can also watch Dutch television and streaming services.
Own data bundle with hotspot function of your smartphone
If, like us, you prefer camping off-grid, you are dependent on a mobile connection for internet in the motorhome. Fortunately, roaming costs within the EU have been abolished and you can simply use your own data bundle from your mobile subscription. Via the settings on your smartphone you can create a hotspot so that you can set up a local Wi-Fi network based on your subscription. This way you also have the option to connect other devices such as your laptop and use the internet on them. A disadvantage of this option is that the battery of your phone will run out very quickly with this option, you will sooner suffer from poor range due to the small antenna in your phone i.c.m. the damping and reverberation of the motorhome, and that there are conditions for using your own data bundle abroad. This is better known as a fair use policy.
To prevent misuse abroad, a limit in data (lower than your bundle) and a period of use often apply. The main thing is that you have a lasting relationship with the Netherlands and that you use your season ticket more often in the Netherlands than abroad. For reasonable use, many providers look at a period of four months. Did you use your season ticket more often abroad than in the Netherlands during that period? Then you will be contacted, after which you will have to adjust your internet usage abroad, you will have to demonstrate your sustainable relationship with the Netherlands or after which your subscription may even be (temporarily) stopped.
So if you are abroad for a long time or if you need more data than your bundle provides, it is better to buy a local SIM card with a certain amount of data on it. Has the bundle run out? Then you buy a new SIM card or put a new credit on it. Many smartphones support a 2nd (e-)SIM card so that you can insert a local SIM card while you can still be reached on your Dutch number.
Mi-Fi or 4G/5G LTE Router
A Mi-Fi or 4G/5G LTE router is a device that takes a SIM card, after which you can turn it into a Wi-Fi network. This allows you to create your own Wi-Fi network in the motorhome to which you can connect all devices – such as telephones, laptops and tablets. The difference between a Mi-Fi router and an LTE router is very small these days, which is why these names are often used interchangeably. An LTE router is often somewhat larger and intended for a permanent installation (has no battery), while a Mi-Fi router is quite compact and has a battery so that you can create a mobile hotspot. Do you want good internet in the motorhome, especially if you like to camp off-grid? Then instead of the names you better pay attention to functions and specifications such as LTE Category, supported frequency bands and the possibility to connect an external antenna. You can place an external antenna outside the motorhome so that you no longer suffer from the damping and reflection of any metal body of the motorhome. As a result, the network signal is better received and you have a better range.
When choosing the right Mi-Fi or 4G/5G LTE router, it is good to pay attention to this:
- Mobile networks: 3G / 4G / 5G
- Supported frequency bands and in which countries they are used
- The theoretical speed of the mobile connection (LTE Category)
- The speed and frequency band of the Wi-Fi connection
- Presence of external antenna connection
To set up a good connection, the router must support at least 4G, but with the arrival and rollout of 5G, you could also look at a router that also supports 5G. These are a lot more expensive to purchase, but now that new 5G frequency bands are becoming available, it can certainly be worthwhile to invest in the right router right away. The new 5G standard provides, among other things, faster connections with less delay, although it is still very dependent on the provider how this is used. Another advantage of a 5G router is that the modems used are of higher quality, so that a good connection can be set up even with poor signal strength.
4G and 5G routers are both versions of LTE. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and describes the mobile communication system (4G and 5G are ‘evolutions’ in this). Within LTE, a distinction is made in categories to indicate the (theoretically maximum) connection speed. The higher the category, also known as CAT. mentioned, the higher the speed at which data can be sent and there is less congestion on the Wi-Fi network. Do you often work remotely from the camper? Then we would recommend going for at least a CAT.12 LTE router. All 5G routers support at least CAT.20 anyway, but there are also 4G LTE routers that support this category. In that regard, and with 5G, which is still far from being available everywhere, it is still really good to opt for a mobile router that supports a maximum of 4G at the moment.
When choosing a 4G/5G LTE router, pay close attention to the aforementioned points, including the frequency bands. In general, a distinction is made here between USA, Europe and APAC. When you buy a router in the Netherlands, it always meets the requirements for the EU, but sometimes also for other parts of the world, so you can also take the router with you if you have plans to travel outside the EU or overseas. Check with which providers the router is compatible so that you know from which providers you can buy a local SIM card. Because although a router can support the frequencies in a certain part of the world, the router is not necessarily compatible with all providers that are active there.
When it comes to frequency bands, it is also useful to pay attention to the frequency or band with which the Wi-Fi is broadcast. These frequency bands are better known as 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz. Wi-Fi uses radio waves to exchange data with connected devices. This signal is broadcast over a GHz frequency. The advantage of a 2.4 GHz is that the signal is strong and therefore has a large range. However, the speed will decrease if more devices are connected to the Wi-Fi network. The advantage of 5GHz+ is that there is less interference and the signal offers extra high speeds, so working with large files is no problem. A disadvantage of 5GHz+ is that the range is less than 2.4GHz and you therefore have to stay close to the Wi-Fi modem. However, this is not a problem in the compact space of a motorhome, which is why it is best to look at a router that supports 5GHz +. Please note that your Wi-Fi devices also offer 5Ghz. If this is not the case for all your devices, you must still use the 2.4GHz frequency band or use a dual-band Wi-Fi router that can use both frequencies simultaneously.
As discussed earlier, it is advisable to work with an external antenna for a good range. There is a lot of choice among these antennas, but the easiest thing is to choose a housing that contains several (omni) antennas. These are referred to as 2×2 or 4×4 MIMO. For a faster connection, a 4G/5G LTE router uses multiple antennas. Two or four antennas are then combined for the best signal. Depending on the connections on the router, you can opt for two or four external antennas or combined antennas in one housing. Check with the seller whether the antenna has the correct connections or whether you may need an adapter cable.
NOTE*: Never buy a 4G/5G Booster. A router receives the signal from a network and converts it into a hotspot, while a Booster retransmits the mobile network on the 4G/5G frequency. That’s not allowed. It is not your network frequency but that of the provider, which means that you are not allowed to broadcast freely on it, which is why a Booster is prohibited in most EU countries and there are high fines for using it.
Tip cheap router: Huawei E5577
Tip beste prijs-kwaliteitverhouding router: Netgear Nighthawk M2 (4G + CAT20 + 5 GHz + 4×4 MIMO)
Tip new 5G router: Netgear Nighthawk M6 Pro (4G/5G + CAT20 + 5/6 GHz + 4×4 MIMO)
Tip antenna: Peplink Mobility 40G
Internet via satellite
An internet connection via satellite has long been used by people who sail at sea or adventurers who travel in remote areas and therefore work with a satellite phone or internet to keep communicating. Internet via satellite is generally very fast and reliable, although for a long time it was very slow because the satellites used are far from the earth (over 35,000 km). However, the Starlink satellites are in a low orbit only 550 km from Earth, so there is hardly any delay. This has caused a small revolution, especially now that Starlink also has a receiver that is small enough to take with you and is equipped with a fixed installation that you can attach to a roof rack, for example.
The big advantage of Starlink is that you basically have internet everywhere, even in remote places far from civilization. Where a 4G/5G LTE router stops when there is no coverage, Starlink still works. However, you must have a clear view upwards for this. When you camp off-grid in nature, you can suffer from less / poor range because trees block the free view. With a one-time purchase of €450 and monthly €100 (you can switch the subscription on and off) it is not immediately a cheap solution for internet in the motorhome. However, the purchase of a good LTE router is not cheap either. In terms of budget, the difference is less than you might think, although many people do not spend that much money on local SIM cards every month.
But there are also disadvantages to internet via Starlink. As mentioned, the monthly plan is generally more expensive than most people will spend on data on a local SIM card. Moreover, Starlink has a huge impact on the environment. For example, the Starlink satellites cause unnecessary extra space debris, they can disrupt the signals from radio telescopes, making the work of astronomers and therefore science more difficult, and the launch of a rocket to get the satellites into space creates tons of extra CO2. emissions. Internet via satellite is a great solution for fast and reliable internet, but it also has serious disadvantages with a huge impact.
What is the best option for you for internet in the motorhome depends on what you are going to use it for. If you only use the internet during holidays and for fun, then it is fine to use the camping wifi and occasionally the hotspot of your phone. Do you travel more often and would you rather have more security with regard to internet without spending too much money on it? Then buy a MiFi router, for example the widely used Huawei E5577 in combination with a local SIM card.
Do you regularly combine travel with work and is good internet important to be able to continue to do your work on the road? Then it is best to opt for a mobile router i.c.m. an external antenna and a local SIM card. This is also the option that we use in the camper, where we have chosen the Netgear Nighthawk M2</ span>. This router supports 4G (CAT.20), 5GHz, can be used worldwide because the router supports all frequency bands and you can combine the router with a 4×4 MIMO so that you can use the maximum antennas for better range. For the antenna we use the fixed antenna Peplink Mobility 40G. This has four 4G/5G antennas combined in one housing. Due to the simple assembly and the flat design (36mm high), it is almost unnoticeable and is therefore ideal for the roof of a motorhome.
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