Yes an odd title and no we’re not following the trail of Sir Lancelot or Monty Python! Strangely the Holy Grail for many Motor-Homers is Internet access on the move. Whether you are addicted to Facebook or Instagram or, like many motorhome travellers, you run a business from your office on wheels or just want to watch TV or Netflix etc. or in our case listen to BBC Radio2 while driving through the Sahara desert.
First an apology. You may recently have received a strange email from my Blog saying “Temporary Post Used for Theme Detection. This was a test message from my Blogging software while setting it up on my new Laptop. Unfortunately although it was deleted instantly WordPress was too quick and sent it out to all my subscribers, sorry if it confused you.
We (meaning Steve) were early adopters of personal computers and as it emerged the internet. Initially, mainly for email, the “instant” form of communication was amazing oh so much better than Fax, remember those? The French still use them and often demand Faxed documents. Then latterly for doing Tax and other government things that are steadily moving on-line and of course all the other things like Facebook, buying far too much stuff and reading and writing blogs like this one.
We bought our first personal computer in about 1975, 46+ years ago. It was a business machine about the size of a one draw filing cabinet and about the same weight, an absolute monster but state of the art with an amazing 256Kb of ram memory and twin 12inch 1Mb floppy disks. The BBC computer of the time was a toy by comparison. By modern standards though it had as much computing power as the average modern fridge. But Steve learned to program and write solutions for our business and we could throw away the old typewriter and especially the well used bottle of Tipex and carbon paper as we had “Wordstar” the much missed original word processor program. Then came the spreadsheet then book keeping programs. What a difference it made to running our business. To many motorhomers all the benefits of the internet are now essential in their tin boxes while away.
Popular use of emails arrived a little before we bought our first real Motorhome and although we had a mobile phone a dumb Nokia I think, we didn’t embrace the smart phone when it appeared preferring a laptop PC. But we needed internet for our business emails so used to park outside McDonalds to use their Free WiFi. Most times though it was difficult to get near enough so we bought our first Wi-Fi aerial the “Rocket” from SOLWISE and a 12volt USB router to produce a “Home WiFi” experience within the motorhome and provide a firewall to help guard against hacking on the public wifi.
I have moved this system to each of our Motorhomes when we changed and it has been great and in fact we still regularly use it when on campsites with good wifi or parked on a friends drive. The campsite system thinks that their limit of only one device is connected while we have our phones and tablets all connected to our own system. We used the Rocket and Router on our trip round Western USA in 2011 in a hired RV when we first started this Blog. You can read it HERE.
We had our first experience of real Internet on the move in Morocco of all places. Being an emerging country and quite large and barren it started setting up its twentieth century communications network very late so could jump straight into new technology and created a network of Microwave towers with line of sight to each other to carry the communications so it was a very short step to set up a mobile telephone network. The population had never got used to having landline telephones, so quickly embraced the mobile. On one of our trips we noticed some of the Motorhomes with small plastic Coke bottles attached to their aerials. On further investigation we found that they were to protect USB dongles for the internet. We quickly bought one from an electronics souk (market) for about £20 and enjoyed almost unlimited internet for the rest of our stay of nearly three months.
We had moved to rural South of France a bit before this where Broadband was impossible and still is. Steve solved the internet by beaming a signal across the valley from friends in a nearby village but it was not great and relied on the goodwill of friends so he was constantly on the lookout for a system which could work in the house and in the Motorhome as we were away for about half of the year.
Internet from the mobile phone network like in Morocco was very expensive in Europe but Satellite internet gradually surfaced as a contender with the price becoming more affordable albeit quite expensive. So after a great deal of research a system was sourced that would work at home in France and also could be fitted to the motorhome so only the special modem had to be moved from house to motorhome when we went away. Here on the left is the Motorhome motorised satellite dish with the system fitted by Steve after a fair bit of work to modify and strengthen the mechanism for the extra cables and LNB needed for the internet and TV signals. The large square grey LNB is for satellite reception and the left one is for TV. (Click any picture to bring up a larger version). They are carefully spaced so that when a UK TV station is selected and the system lines up to the Astra-2 satellite, the Internet LNB lines up to Astra-3 for internet. This worked very well for a few years and we moved it from our previous LeVoyageur Motorhome to our current Hymer. Unfortunately, not getting enough domestic customers but being heavily used by companies like the BBC etc. the bandwidth gradually reduced until it was totally unusable.
So the search was on for another system and while in Benidorm for Christmas we heard about a local shop selling a small pocket device called a “MiFi” which was basically the same as the Maroc telecom Dongle. It was a small device produced by Huawei for Vodafone, model R207, but unlocked by the shop so as to be used on any network, it took a data sim and connected to the internet via the 3G, 4G mobile phone network and unlike the Moroccan Dongle which plugged into the laptop it produced a local WiFi hotspot that any of our devices could connect to. This worked really well for the rest of the holiday so we cancelled the Satellite contract while in Portugal and removed the massive LNB from the dish. The sim in the MiFi was replaced with a local one as we moved between countries and it worked out actually not as expensive as the satellite system and it seemed able to pick up a signal when our phone couldn’t. So it beat the other method which we could have used by adding data to our phone and using that to create a WiFi Hotspot. The problem with using the phone was that the phone sims available were very expensive for mobile data and changing sims meant different telephone numbers each time. So our Dual sim phone with our French and English pay-as-you-go sims for making and receiving calls on the move and the MiFi for internet.
Although it worked at home, being up in the mountains the signal for the MiFi wasn’t amazing and it was only WiFi so it couldn’t connect to the home ethernet. Then Steve read a report about a home 4G system from Bouygues Telecom in France. This was a 4G router for home use which could both do home WiFi and connect to our ethernet network for the wired devices. This system gave a very generous data allowance of 200Gb of data a month for €32 with a one month trial and no contract. So not a lot to lose. The result was transformational, we were able to use the internet as much as we liked even for streaming films and UK TV catch-up and only once used up all our data when our son and family came over for over a month with all their devices.
We had three good years with that device for internet at home and the MiFi for internet on the move using a UK “3” Internet with legs sim which still worked fine in France but Steve had this constant niggle that we were paying €15 per month for our home telephone with about €10 for calls to mainly receive constant sales calls and six months of the year the phone rental and the €32 internet was wasted because is didn’t allow roaming. Except for the two years of isolation during Covid when of course, we couldn’t travel. The Bouygues 4G Box had a socket for connecting a telephone but Bouygues only supplied a data sim.
After quite a bit of research Steve found a company in France called Free.fr that did a phone sim with 150Gb of 4G data while in France and allowed roaming in Europe including the UK but with data reduced to 30Gb per month while roaming which would probably be OK while touring in the Motorhome. But it also gave unlimited calls to Landline & Mobile numbers in France and unlimited calls to and from the UK but landlines only. All this cost €20 per month with no contract (Sans Engagement).
So after a bit more research we ordered a Huawei B535 4G-LTE modem from Amazon.fr for €108. Which is the latest much more advanced version of the router supplied by Bouygues and is also 12volt so we can hopefully also use it in the Motorhome. The router arrived very quickly and we put the Bouygues sim in and all was working perhaps a little better than before. So we returned the Router to the Bouygues shop and cancelled the contract at the end of the following month. Then we cancelled the France telecom line which only took a couple of weeks. But we had a month to wait out the Bouygues contract but all was performing as before so not a problem. There was a €16 cancellation fee buried in the small print from Bouygues but that is quite normal for France. Finally a few days before the contract finished we visited a Tabac shop which we knew had a FREE.fr machine that would instantly issue a new sim for the new “phone” contract we wanted. So quickly home to try it, would it work? would they detect that it was actually a modem not a phone? We switched the sims and whoopee it connected and after a few minutes the 4G LTE blue light came on. A quick speed test and WOW, 60mps, a bit faster than Bouygues. But does the phone work? We connected the handset that was connected to the France Telecom Landline and phoned Steves French mobile number and sure enough we had connectivity and now another “Landline” albeit a mobile number. The ethernet connected and all the wired devices worked OK.
So where are we now? We had cancelled the Landline and saved €300 per year and hopefully all those cold sales calls every evening just as we sat down to dinner. Cancelled the Bouygues 4G Internet at €392.88 per year but swopped it for the FREE.fr 4G internet at €239.88 per year thus a saving of €453 a year, but it had cost us €108 + €16 so we would be just less than €416 better off this year then even better beyond that, as long as the router lasted passed its two year warranty. This all sounds really good but can we move it to the motorhome when we go away thereby able to use all we are paying for all the time while in touring round Europe including the UK?
As I mentioned before the Huawei Modem is 12 volt but I couldn’t find out whether it would cope with the motorhome voltage which can go up to 14.4 volts under charge so decided to buy this stabilised power supply from Amazon at £24.99 together with some 5.5mm connectors. I soldered a connector on to the power supply and wired it into the motorhome and the modem connected straight to the internet and the phone worked fine but it had to be near the window as having an aluminium body the motorhome is like a faraday cage which reduces the signal to the modem. But it was all working up in the mountains of rural France, not bad and quite a good speed.
I had been researching WiFi antennas for the motorhome for some time to help the MiFi which we had since replaced for a better one with the possibility for connecting an external aerial to help reception in low signal areas, there are many aerials on Amazon and eBay but very few suppliers are brave enough to publish the exact WiFi spectrum they perform in and the gain they produce at each frequency. Many people on the forums recommended Motorhome WiFi they have a great reputation and I have met the owners who are really nice people and I am told provide a fantastic customer service. But it is not easy to find specific technical information about their products. I was leaning towards a company called Poynting because they publish the gain of each of their aerials for all mobile phone frequencies. Within an hour of emailing them I had an extensive reply then even a telephone call from the MD of the company to discuss my requirements and the reasons for his recommendation based upon my expected use which would be mainly away from towns so needed a good performance in the lower mobile phone frequencies. His recommendation was the MIMO-3-12 which I bought from HERE for £145 but shopping around is essential as the price fluctuates.
The MIMO antenna arrived very quickly and it was beautifully made and came with a number of fittings. I chose to use the extended through the roof kit so had to drill a 22mm hole through the roof of the motorhome. The secret is to measure ten times then drill a small 3mm hole to finally check it is in the correct place. At least it is easier to block a 3mm hole! I got it right first time thankfully. The device has a special self adhesive base but I also sealed round the threaded spigot with PU adhesive then a final sealing around the perimeter for belt and braces. The connections are SMA the same as the modem so I didn’t need adaptors which can reduce the signal. It also has within it two other aerials, one for GPS signals and one for transmitting the WiFi signal but the Huawei B535 doesn’t have external connections for these connectors and I only really want a local hotspot within the motorhome anyway.
The picture above shows our motorhome with the various aerials. On the left is the Oyster Satellite Dish, then the Rocket wifi Aerial, then the Pointing Mimo-3-12, then one of the solar panels. On the right is a picture of our Tech Cupboard with from the left to right; The ICECRYPT satellite receiver to the right of which is the three spare connections from the Poynting Antenna below which is the regulated 12volt power supply then the Huawey B535 Modem/Router which I have fixed upside-down, above which is the USB modem which the Rocket Aerial connects to then the control box for the Oyster satellite Dish.
We have now been using the system at home in France for about a month with good results and in the motorhome for four months. Travelling through France for our terrible trip back to the UK see our last blog; Trip Back to the UK with all it’s Problems. And since, including nearly two months on our son’s drive in the south of England which is actually a mobile phone “Black Hole”. We couldn’t get enough signal for the internet but had perfect home telephone all the time while our mobiles wouldn’t work very well. But for internet we connected to his wifi with the Rocket aerial. But apart from his house we have had internet 24/7 with Alexa waking us up to the radio and playing BBC Radio-2 through France and in the Highlands of Scotland where FM reception is bad.
Yes we have spent a lot of money over the years on getting the internet, but we have been able to run the our business from anywhere, keep in touch with our friends and basically carry on exactly as we do at home. Hopefully the current system will continue to work as well as it does now and I expect that data costs will come down gradually.
The Modem, Poynting Antenna and our Data SIM are all 5G ready but 5G will only be of use within large towns and cities because it’s range is so short. But the system should serve us well I hope for many years to come.
I hope our search for the Internet Holy Grail has been interesting. HAPPY MOTORHOMING.