I know that we like to get away in the van and disconnect… But we also need to be online! We need it for work and friends etc, but maybe you just want some Netflix?
Now, the way to do this is via the mobile (or cellular) networks. The trick is that you use something to connect to the cellular network and turn it into WiFi that you laptops, tablets etc can connect to.
There is nothing special needed for this, you can probably just do it now with the Personal Hotspot feature of your phone.
The tricky thing is when you get more rural. With poor coverage you may need something that can pick up a weaker signal, especially if your phone is inside the metal (signal blocking) van!
With our setup we have a puck shaped antenna on the roof connected to a 4G router (much like your home router, except it connects to the mobile network).
For the antenna there are many options. We’ve gone with this one from Poynting. It supports MIMO (hence the two cables) and seems nicely low profile. You’ll need to make a small hole in the roof of your van, feed the cables through and attach the puck. It comes with adapters and adhesive plates, so everything you need is in there. The cables have standard SMA connectors on them. There are cheaper options available on Amazon that really may do the trick, we’ve just never used them.
Then to the router. This was actually quite tricky to find. We needed something which could attach an external antenna to (the two SMA connectors from the puck) and also easily be powered in the van. Ideally this would just be some kind of USB connector that we can plug into our USB power sockets (or a standard 12v DC socket with a USB adapter).
In the end the only option that we found was this Zyxel N300 4G device. It is actually really straight forward, there are two connectors for the external puck (there is an internal antenna too if you don’t connect the external one), a micro USB connector for power and a SIM card slot. There’s a web interface for configuring the device (which, to be honest, is not very elegant, but it does work at least).
The final thing you’ll need is a SIM card with a data plan. Now, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to take out an entirely new contract just for your campervan’s mobile data. We have gone with pay as you go on Giffgaff (obviously this is only applicable for those of you in the UK). Giffgaff is good because it runs on O2 and you top up data when you need it. If you don’t need it don’t top it up. The data rates are pretty good too, for just a few quid you can get plenty of data.
Coverage wise this setup seems pretty good. Over the past few weeks we have always had some 4G signal (which runs at at least a few meg per second). We could in theory drop down to 3G but that hasn’t been necessary yet.
Apparently the poynting supports 5G… but rural 5G coverage might be a long… long way off!