Our team recently visited the Melbourne Caravan & Camping Supershow and we decided to summarise all your main questions about caravan internet here.
How do I get Internet in my Caravan?
There are many options. If you are mainly staying in cities and don’t venture out too far, using your phone hotspot might cover you most of the time. Going out further you can switch to a 4G or 5G modem, that uses the same principle as your phone, but is much more powerful. You could use the same SIM-card as on your phone, but you will not be able to make any phone calls in this case. You can also get a second prepaid SIM-card from any of the Australian providers – Telstra usually has the biggest range around Australia, but there are areas where Optus would be the way to go.
At RFShop we recommend Teltonika routers, as they are robust, easy to use and will last you a long time. Their benefit is that they have external Wi-Fi antennas, as shown on the below picture. This is an advantage because you will get a much wider range and stronger signal in and around your caravan. While consumer grade modems (such as the Nighthawk) are great, they only have 2 small Wi-Fi antennas inside and you can’t do anything to upgrade them.
When do I need an Antenna ?
When you travel further out of cities or towns and your mobile phone has fully lost signal, your modem may start dropping out as well. This is when you can further increase your range by adding an antenna. The easiest way is to get an omni-directional antenna, that you can mount on your vehicle roof. Our recommendation is from the Poynting MIMO-3 range, e.g. MIMO-3-12 They can be mounted by drilling a hole through your roof or by using the magnet set. These would give you signal at about 85% of the time, when doing the lap around Australia. Their benefit is, that they are a set and forget solution, once mounted and connected to your router, you don’t have to do anything else. They will always be working and getting you the best signal from any direction, even while driving. They are small enough to not get in the way, but large enough to get you good signal (25 x 13 x 15 cm) and they come with 2 meter cables, that connect directly to all Teltonika modems. For Nighthawks and many other you will need small TS9 adapter cables.
To upgrade your Nighthawk modem, you can get just the antenna and the adapter cables here.
When do I need a directional antenna?
Directional antennas are more powerful, than omni-directional. Their downside is that you cannot use them while you are driving and they will require setting up and pointing to a tower each time you stop in a location. These can increase your range from 50 km to 100 km from the nearest tower though, depending on the landscape. They work best if there are minimal obstructions in the way (trees, hills etc). Our favourite directional antenna is the Poynting XPOL-2. You can use the omni-directional and directional on the same van, and many of our customers use this option, if they travel to the outback often.
When do I need satellite internet such as Starlink ?
Our Caravan kits all depend on the cellular network, so once you go remote outback your only option is using satellite internet. The upside is that you can get connected anywhere, the downsides are the monthly cost, setting up takes a while and you will need to have a clear view of the sky, e.g. you cannot place this under the shade on a hot day. It can be useful to have 4G backup to your Starlink, so you use 4G when in range because its easier and cheaper and then use Starlink when you go off the cellular network, this way you can get the best of both worlds, as Starlink does have the option to just pay by month.
Are 4G modems the same as signal boosters?
No, they are not the same. They both work on the cellular network, but signal booster are only good for regular phone calls, they don’t give you better internet. They are also quite expensive, with the Cel-Fi Go units alone being around $800 AUD. You could just use any 4G modem and use Whatsapp of Facebook messenger for calling.
These were the main questions we got from caravanners at the Melbourne Caravan & Camping Supershow. We hope they help you out in your research and if you have any further questions, please email us firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 1 800 737 467 or visit our YouTube channel youtube.com/c/rfshop.