Fancy being able to get onto the Internet from your motorhome, anywhere, anytime? I guess lots of folks do? Being sat on a remote Greek beach, beside a German river, on a mountain pass in the Swiss Alps, even on the edge of the Sahara, and being able get online, was a fantastic feeing for us.
During our previous two year stint on the road, we updated our blog every day (almost, that bottle of Ouzo was to blame!). As we shifted about a fair bit, we needed to get online from about 500 different places. Most of the time we used the cellular (GSM) networks to do it – better known as the 3G network at the time, now being upgraded to 4G. Motorhomewifi.com have recently released a 4G system which will make this all much easier and more convenient, and we’ve just installed it.
Since coming back to the UK, we’ve dragged ourselves into the position of being able to again head off out again for some long forays into foreign parts. Huzzah! Our recent focus was on getting the right motorhome for us, and then onto massaging it to our liking with a SOG Unit and Refillable LPG tanks. We’d not much considered how we could make our Internet access better when Adam from motorhomewifi.com dropped us a line. He asked whether we’d considered a roof-mounted antenna coupled to a MiFi unit. We hadn’t, but his offer of providing the antenna for free (plus a discounted MiFi) in return for documenting a DIY install was too good to turn down (thanks Adam!).
Good roaming data packages are still hard to find (the UK Three network operator seems to have the best deal at the time of writing) but motorhomewifi may have nailed the problem of trying to get a good/fast data signal. We fitted their system yesterday to our Hymer B544 motorhome. It consists of a low-profile, but good-sized, waterproof 4G antenna which sits on top of the van, high up and outside the van’s signal-shielding metal-coated case. The antenna is connected through a hole in the roof to an unlocked Huawei 4G MiFi. The MiFi holds the SIM and connects to the mobile network via the roof-mounted antenna, which boosts the signal flowing into and out of the van. It then broadcasts a private WiFi network inside the van which allows 10 devices to share the mobile network connection.
Basically, this means for us:
- Once we’ve sourced a suitable SIM wherever we happen to be, and popped it in the MiFi, we can set the data cap in the device’s web console and track the data we’re using on its screen.
- In general use, we’ll just switch the MiFi on at the start of the day, wait a few seconds for it to get a connection, then get working/playing with the laptop, tablet etc. Yep – we also used to be able to do this sometimes with Ju’s Android-based phone and its mobile hotspot WiFi tether feature, but as often as not the signal in the van was frustratingly slow or non-existent.
The install took about 90 mins and would have been much faster if we didn’t have to remove the Sikaflex gunk from an old TV aerial installation! The part of the install which will perhaps worry most DIYers is cutting the hole in the roof. Having just cut a hole in the loo door for our SOG unit, this didn’t concern me massively. In retrospect I’d have much rather cut a new hole than have to clean up the gunk which surrounded the aerial hole! The antenna is self-sealing (it has a broad glue pad on the bottom), but as I’d had to scrape the roof a fair bit I opted to pop some silicon around the base of it after gluing it down, to help keep water out. The rest of the install really is a doddle and anyone with reasonably basic DIY skills could do it in less than an hour.
There’s a video showing the kit and the install on the OurTour YouTube channel and embedded below. Ju took photos of the install too – they’re all at the end of the post.
So far our system’s only used been used in three locations. Once in the Cooler, which is notorious for having zero mobile signal, once at Zagan’s storage site, which is a field in sight of a huge mobile mast, and once here in the car park of a village Britstops pub in Leicestershire. Each time it has connected to the network in seconds and rendered a reliable 3G connection. The tests were done with Ju’s Utility Warehouse SIM which doesn’t have 4G network. The plan is to use a Three SIM when we go to Europe in the Autumn (which motorhomewifi.com also provided to us), possibly with a local SIM or two.
The antenna feels like it was made for use as a permanent installation on a motorhome or caravan. The unit has no obvious way of allowing water ingress into the antenna itself. The large glued pad on the underside of the antenna avoids the need for Sikaflex (which works really well as an adhesive/water-proofing, but isn’t the nicest of materials to work with). The lightweight but heavy duty ceiling bolt method looks very well thought out and well matched to use with either thick or thin roofs (best to install it in a cupboard, just as you would a TV antenna). I had a scan of the Internet for anything similar and couldn’t find any equivalent ‘fixed antenna’ 4G product designed for motorhomes. The competition was generally on-a-pole install, which isn’t anything like as neat and unobtrusive a solution as this design.
The optional fixed charge unit looks handy to save tying up a 12V socket (or if you don’t have a 12V socket where you want to put the MiFi). We’ve not installed ours yet, as we want to use the MiFi for a while and see where it works best (we may want to bring it outside the cupboards so we can more easily see the screen and turn it on and off).
The kit costs at the time of writing are as follows (check motorhomewifi for the latest costs):
- 4G MIMO Roof-Mounted Antenna: £149.99
- Ridge-mount kit (we didn’t need this as our roof is flat): £15.00
- Huawei E5372 MiFi: £115.00
- Huawei MiFi fixed 12V to 5V converter and charger: £9.99
- Three SIM: £10.00 (including £10 credit providing 1GB of data for use in ten European countries)
The MiFi also has a function to pick up a WiFi signal and re-broadcast it as a new WiFi network in the van. So if you’re somewhere with WiFi which charges by device, you can share paid connection between up to ten devices. Unfortunately we can’t hook this up to our directional motorhomewifi WiFi antenna, but they have a number of booster solutions which would do such a job.
We plan to use the kit for a few months out in the field (France, maybe some Spain and Italy, who knows) then write an update review. Hey, it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. Here’s the install in blow-by-blow photos folks: