THE 2014 TOURING season is in full swing and while traditionally, time away from home is a chance to get away from it all, we increasingly want to – and need to – stay connected on the move. But how? Ruth Bass investigates for Practical Motorhome.
Love it or hate it, internet on the move has been on motorcaravanners’ lips lately. The subject of many a forum debate, until recently it has felt complicated, disappointing or expensive. But now it’s sorted! We’re connected, on the move and just about wherever and whenever we want it, with minimal running costs! Want to know more? Then read on…
Ruth and Geoff fitted iBoost, which improves the reception of available Wi-Fi networks
Being late starters we had a steep learning curve getting used to technology but have become more and more excited by what it can do for us. The longer time we spend away in our motorhomes, the more it becomes more necessary to run our affairs on the move and keep in touch with family and friends, too. But it’s so much more than that.
Think of having weather forecasts at the touch of a button when planning your touring. Think online banking, Skype calls and downloading e-books or media. Think satellite navigation and route planning. Think of having an idea and being able to instantly pull up information and opening hours, not to mention the convenience of being able to look up practicalities such as night stop locations and LPG. And what’s more, think of the payload and money saved by cutting down on the heavy books and maps we carry.
After a dabble with an inexpensive Wi-Fi booster aerial we concluded that it had limited reception and in any case it was often a smartphone or iPad that we turned to for quick emails or web searches, getting the laptop out only for serious stuff. Next we considered various sim and data packages but despite recent capping of roaming charges in Europe these can still be costly and gadget specific.
We had many chats with Adam of Motorhome WiFi and were very impressed by the helpful service he and partner Sophie provide. Being motorcaravanners themselves they really understand the issues and also the limited knowledge many of us bring to the exercise. Anyway, with a birthday present on offer – for the 'van’s birthday as well as mine, and maybe the dog’s – I decided to take the plunge and get properly kitted out.
Testing the kit on tour, it was possible to get multiple devices online at the same time
Firstly, Wi-Fi. Obviously, it would be perfect to have free Wi-Fi on tour. And I’d heard that it was getting easier to find due to the expansion of FON, more of which in a minute. The iBoost therefore was our first purchase. But what is it and what does it do?
Well, put simply, it’s both an aerial and a sharing device, so it enhances the reception of available Wi-Fi networks, then allows you to get online via any of your devices, even simultaneously. Motorhome WiFi supplies it ready to go, with user-friendly instructions, and you just stick it in a window or on the outside of your 'van when you need it.
So far, so good – so off we went to test it in the UK, Germany and France. Even as novices we found it easy to use. The main problem with obtaining Wi-Fi is, of course, that many networks are password secured. In Germany, our first foreign test, we were often disappointed at the lack of open networks available, except for on campsites or in/near McDonald’s.
However in Britain, France and many other countries FON has revolutionised availability. Like many other users we experienced teething problems initially, despite having opted in to FON via our BT account prior to travelling. Eventually we sorted this by opting out then opting back in again, which we did while away. From then on, when in the vicinity of houses or businesses, we could very often find a network and surf for free.
But what if you can’t obtain Wi-Fi? Geoff and I love quiet, countryside locations and often there’s no Wi-Fi to be found. Which brings us to Birthday Present Part Two, a 3G antenna with a MiFi Box. Confused? Don’t be – it’s doing just the same job as the iBoost, but by receiving and sharing 3G mobile data rather than Wi-Fi. The antenna can be roof mounted using Sikaflex, but we find it works in a wall locker, or we place it on the roof via a skylight.
The really smart bit is the Europasim card in the MiFi box which costs only €3 a day, on days you log on, for unlimited data (though the speed reduces after 500MB). We’ve generally found that ample, allowing us masses of surfing, emails and so on, as well as perhaps a Skype call and a download or two. We’ve found it works well on the move as well as when pitched, too.
The Techie Cupboard in all its glory – it helps keep wires tidy and in one place
Identifying a wall cupboard to dedicate to the whole business, Geoff has wired in several 12volt sockets, secured the iBoost and MiFi boxes in there and tidied all the wires away. We’ve renamed it the Techie Cupboard, and it’s a great place to charge phones and iPads, saving the awful spaghetti tangle we used to end up with when chargers had to be retrieved from assorted drawers and shelves.
Now we’re connected, I can’t wait to get away again in a few weeks and use all this kit for the purpose intended!