What would we do without the internet? It’s the biggest library in the world, It’s also the biggest time-waster in the world too. But, it has become essential to life, or so it appears. The law says we have to pay our taxes online, both the UK and France and probably most other western countries. But unfortunately there is just no level playing field where the internet is concerned.
Sorry, quite a bit of background first but I will eventually get to the point of the story, promise.
Almost every week, somebody on the MotorHomeFun forum asks “How do I get reliable internet while travelling?”
We have double the problem because our house in France is in the Black Mountains and it is just not possible to get the World Wide Web up to us along the bit of string complete with knots they call telephone wires! I kid you not, a couple of years ago a truck somehow severed the telephone wires where they crossed the road near us. The guy, probably on his bike marked France Telecom, eventually found it and literally added a new piece of cable with about fifty inner wires just twisted together with the broken ones and ran it across the tarmac to the cable on other side. That stayed like that (with cars driving over it for about a month till they eventually erected a new higher concrete telegraph pole, presumable to stop it happening again. So our little hamlet is a no go for Mr. Google.
Steve fitted a special aerial to the motorhome so we could park near McD’s etc. and pick up emails while we were travelling and that is still working fine as many of the camper stops and restaurants have free open Wi-Fi. We even took it on our trips to the USA and it did the job well there as well. So internet in the Motorhome was possible but not necessarily every day.
But at our house in the mountains things were very different (no McD’s thank goodness!). After a lot of research he came up with an idea, we just about had line of sight from the roof of our house to the roof of a friend 7km away and he rigged up a pair of special aerials to transfer the signal so we could share their internet. This was fantastic and worked very well for a few years but eventually became difficult because of maintenance issues while they were away etc.
Finally we bit the bullet and fitted Satellite Internet but again after research Steve discovered that if we had the right sort of satellite internet, he could also modify the satellite dish on the roof of the Motorhome to use the same system so at the end of October 2015 he fitted it to both the house and Motorhome and all we had to do was move the modem from the house to the motorhome when we went away.
If you look at the picture on the right. The big grey box on the arm is the special two way iLNB for talking to the Astra 3 satellite which supplies the internet. The smaller one on the left is the standard LNB which is carefully aligned so as to point at the Astra 2 satellite at the same time so we can have TV and internet simultaneously.
It wasn’t fast, in fact we never ever achieved the 10Mb/s speed advertised even in the early hours. The maximum ever was 3Mb/s, usually less than 1Mb/s and we only had 10Gb data per month but unlimited between midnight and 7am which meant quite a few late nights when a large download or update was required. It was also very expensive £50 per month, but at least we could us it when we were away which is at least six months a year. Unfortunately the speed over those two years has been getting slower and slower and while we were in Portugal this year, although we had a good signal we just got no internet at all and the company, Satellite Internet, just didn’t seem particularly interested in fixing it so Steve politely told them where to stick it!
Sounds rash, but he had a fall-back plan. We had bought a little device in Benidorm a couple of years ago called a MiFi, which uses the Mobile (Cell) phone signal to set up a private network in the Motorhome which we could connect all our devices to and get the internet. We had been successfully using this when it was too windy to put the dish up. 3-telecom in the UK have a special deal which gives a fixed 12Gb of data with a limit of 12 months to use it. It’s only supposed to be used for two months outside the UK but the idea is that you have a few of them and rotate them every two months. They cost about £30 each which is much less than we were paying for the Satellite data, win win! In actual fact we had read that if you didn’t do a lot of streaming etc. or heavy usage, 3 didn’t actually switch it off after 2 months, which is what we found. We put one of their sims in the MiFi in September used it around the UK when we couldn’t get WiFi then in France in December then Spain and Portugal in January and February and it didn’t get switched off until the data ran out.
So the plan was, we could use the MiFi in our house as well. Not as convenient but at least we would not be without the internet. In fact, we ordered a new MiFi from Amazon which could use the faster 4G-LTE network when it was available. Together with two 24gig-24month sims from 3, to arrive when we got home. These sims were £45 each so almost two and a half times as much data for less than we were paying for Satellite. All Steve had to do was find a way of connecting the PC’s, which didn’t have WiFi, to it.
So now we get to the intended part of the story, I know, a long time coming and you are on your third cup of coffee to stay awake.
Steve thought, there must be a 4g router for home use so started searching and came across this article by Simon Armstrong who lives in the French department 09, Ariege, on the SurviveFrance ex pat’s website, about a 4G Box from Bouygues Telecom here in France. Reading the information on the web, it really sounded too good to be true, 200Gb of data per month yes you read it correctly 200Gb or Go as the French say and the price? €32.99 per month which includes the compulsory €3 for the box rental. But, it was being restricted to areas which couldn’t get landline internet. That’s us then we thought. When we are at house, our phones usually lock on to the Bouygues network so it sounds perfect and Steve remembered that there was a Bouygues shop in the Geant supermarket complex in Carcassonne about 40 minutes drive away. So, into the car, we’re on a mission.
All the other mobile phone shops were heaving with Saturday shoppers but the Bouygues one had nobody, just the young female assistant doing what most youngsters do, looking at her phone. So in we go.
Now this is where Steve made his first mistake. Our French is not good, I know what your thinking; well it should be by now. But try as we might even after years of lessons, we still struggle. So Steve has practiced an approach in French which goes like this:
“I am sorry, I only speak a little French so please speak slowly.” They usually, after we have struggled a bit answer in English with a smile or else go and get a colleague who does speak English. But this time probably because most phone shops around us do have English Speakers, Steve said; “I am sorry, I only speak a little French, do you speak English?” She slowly looked up, obviously annoyed that a customer was disturbing her private texting and said; “Yes.” nothing more. So Steve ploughed on and explained in English what we were looking for. She said, “It’s restricted, where do you live?”. So Steve gave the address and she said; “It is not on our system”. So Steve said that the village Mairie had recently changed the name of our road and gave our old address. “No, that doesn’t exist either, you can’t have it.” Judy had an Idea and said how about the main road through the Hamlet, that must be there. Main road is a bit of an exaggeration, it is still not much more that a cart track. Shop lady said; “Yes, that’s on the system, but you don’t live there so you still can’t have it.” Stalemate!
Judy needed to buy a couple of bits from the supermarket so left Steve dejectedly sitting on a bench trying to check the Bouygues website. By the time she came back he was having a conversation, in English, with their “Web Chat” system. The lady on there told us that it was no problem the offer was available to our hamlet and just tell the assistant to leave the address as just the hamlet name. Back to the shop to be told very rudely that regardless of what the “Web Chat” says, we can’t have it.
Steve more-or-less had steam coming out of his ears and was not prepared to be beaten, so back onto the internet to see where the nearest alternative Bouygues Telecom shop was. Narbonne, about 65km away by motorway but only half as much back home as we are midway between the two. Unfortunately though, it was in the centre of Narbonne which is a nightmare, rather than in the out-of-town shopping centre. Well we found the shop and after driving round the tiny streets for about fifteen minutes found a car park with two spaces left and only a short walk from the shop.
By this time we were busting for the loo, should have gone in Carcassonne. But amazingly just before we got to the shop there was one of those, Super-Loo’s, no time for chivalry, Steve is a man of a certain age and he dived in before he exploded. Then on coming out he held the door for Judy. Now, I don’t know whether you have come across these Super-Loo’s but as soon as the door closes after being used, powerful jets of water come on to wash the whole thing down….. Luckily, half a second before the door closed he realised and grabbed it and asked Judy to step out a second. As it closed we heard the click of the lock, the red light came on then the powerful jets of water. Wow, that was close. We were in fits of laughter for the whole of the washing cycle which lifted our mood somewhat before we did battle again with Bouygues Telecom.
In the shop Steve started the conversation, the correct way this time and before he had finished the first sentence she said, in perfect English; “I speak English, how can I help you?” We told her what we wanted and explained that our address wasn’t on her system but the Web-Chat had said we can just use the Hamlet name for registration, “That’s fine,” she said, “I will need a utility bill, your passport and a credit card.” “I’ve got those and my cheque book with a RIB in it.” said Steve. A RIB (Relevé d’Identité Bancare) is an essential document in France to set up a direct debit. “Great,” she said, “That’s all I need then”. Literally ten minutes after entering the shop we were leaving with a very elegant cardboard box containing our Bouygues 4G-box. As we were leaving she said; “If you can’t get a good enough signal or you don’t like it for any reason, bring it back here and we will refund your money.” Total cost, €29.99 plus €3 for the monthly charge plus €19 caution (deposit) on the equipment and no long term contract. We were in shock, after the treatment in Carcassonne, what a difference. Can’t wait to get home and try it.
Literally ten minutes from getting home Steve had it connected up and we were on the internet but only three bars and 3G speed. But we had internet and actually faster than we had experienced before. But after a little bit of searching on our now, reasonably fast internet Steve found that there was a Bouygues mast about 3km from us as the crow flies and if he put the router right up in the corner of the room it should be able to “see” the mast through the window. Voila the blue light came on and we had 4G with 5bars. This is an image of the speed test we did. Once, we recorded 45Mbps down and 28Mbps up but this speed is more than enough for us.
So, there you have it, a fantastic result for us. All we need to find out now is whether they allow roaming so we could put the sim into our MiFi when we go away in the Motorhome.
Total usage in the first week is 39Gb so we will easily keep within our allowance and that includes a major Windows-10 upgrade on the PC which took the first 25Gb.
Judy is more than happy because she can watch her art videos on YouTube now and we can both download the newspaper to keep up with the world. The only thing we can’t do is download from the BBC iPlayer because we no longer have a UK ISP which we had with the satellite system.
Bye for now, till next time…….