Why we chose Mobile Satellite Internet
We now live in a “connected” world, not having Internet access while on the road in our motorhome is not an option for many people.
When travelling we rely heavily on an internet connection. Not only to get our daily fix of fun (Motorhomefun that is), I need it for my work as a security consultant and my daughter, who is home educated, logs into an interactive internet school every weekday at 9:30. Her online school requires a good, fast connection as she is receiving and sending voice and video in her virtual classroom.
On the face of it our options for internet whilst on the road looked good. Listen to anyone these days and they will tell you how easy it is to get internet both at home and abroad. Motorhomers have a broad array of choices with mobile broadband prices falling and the performance improving dramatically. All this is essentially true, most of us can access the internet on our phones with generous or unlimited data packages and we all know that free Wifi internet is everywhere. However while this situation might appear to be ideal for motorhome travellers, we have found the practicalities are very different.
Free WIFI Everywhere.
Many cafés, coffee shops, bars, fast/junk food eateries and restaurants offer free Wifi and if your internet needs are casual then this might be all you need. However while we find them convenient, they are rarely fast enough for our needs and we consider they are not safe enough to do things like buying goods or banking. Also many of the business emails we send are ‘Commercial In-Confidence’, so we rightly worry about the security of these on public networks. So while free Wifi is OK for checking the online price of something you’ve seen in a store, or maybe checking email, that’s about it.
The cheapest and probably the best option for casual users is the Wifi provided by many campsites. But experience shows that many campers are heavy users in that they watch a lot of video, upload pictures, use Skype for calls etc.
Since all campers on a site share the same internet connection, the speed of Wifi service will decrease as the number of people on it increases. This means that at peak times the internet speed, even on sites with plenty of bandwidth, reduces to a crawl and very often loading pages or downloading email is painfully slow, if you can connect at all. Yes you can purchase Wifi aerials which might help you get a better signal but even these cannot help when other users are taking all the bandwidth to catch up with what is happening in Albert Square.
Another problem with Campsite Wifi is when the distribution system often does not provide uniform Wifi signal strength across the whole site. There will be areas of the site that are better connected than others and on some sites there will be areas where you cannot connect at all. There are devices with external antennas and amplifiers that can help to capture such weak signals and if you are going to rely heavily on site Wifi they may well be worth purchasing.
Read about this service and you’ll think that it’s dead easy to find a connection anytime you want one; especially in built up areas all over Europe. In the UK, BT broadband customers get FON access free. It works by reserving a small portion of every BT user’s Wifi network capacity for use by us passing motorhomers. Some people swear by it, many swear at it, either trying to log in or at the slow speeds it provides and that’s only if you can find a hotspot. Outside built up areas this can prove difficult, likely impossible. We have been a BT broadband customer since the beginning, but successful log-ins to Fon hotspots have been few. Maybe we have just been needing internet in the wrong places.
What about 3G and 4G networks
Three 3G has been a saviour to us when touring the UK and we have found that at 8 out of 10 places we travel in the UK we can find a good connection with reasonable speeds. We do stop in poor signal areas on occasion but work and school means that this can only be at the weekend.
Using 3g in Europe has been cripplingly expensive for travellers, but things are changing for the better, maybe?
Everyone was pleased to hear the news that European mobile phone operators are opening up their networks for foreign nationals to roam, (forced by legislation). Some operators; notably ‘Three’ started offering customers this roaming facility early and it’s been well tested throughout Europe and beyond. Using your cheap UK data allowance in Spain and France is great too. However, things are not quite as rosy as they might at first seem. There have been plenty of reports on the forums that while users can access the internet abroad, the slow speeds make the internet almost unusable for anything more than basic text based email.
Maybe these foreign companies are not allowing us foreign roamers full access. Or they are throttling our connections in some way? Who knows, but clearly, for data at least, it’s not the communications nirvana we expected.
Couple these slow speeds with phone contracts that insist unless a phone is used in the UK now and again (times vary with providers) this roaming at UK rates facility will stop. The argument being that the service extends abroad for people to go on a two week holiday from the UK rather than a three month tour or longer. Some people on longer tours are getting round this, by buying many different Pay As You Go sims so they can activate them one at a time and not fall foul of the short term use hurdle.
WE NEED TO BE CONNECTED EVERY DAY and while there are some great options for connecting to the web, no one system could guarantee a connection. We are well equipped to login to Wifi with expensive antenna and bosters, we have our 3g and 4g dongles and utilise Fon and there were days that we just could connect. Especially when travelling to the wilder parts of the UK and when crossing the channel. This for us was just unacceptable.
Our Solution -Mobile Satellite Internet.
We had looked at this option before and immediately dismissed it. The internet packages were just too expensive. But a recent conversation with Eddie Jones from Vanbitz forced us to take another look at it. I was down in Taunton having an Alarm fitted to our new RV. Eddie asked if we were going away for the winter. I lamented that we would if we could, but with me and especially Katie needing a rock solid connection every day, it makes travel difficult. When abroad we have to travel at weekends (non work and school days) and then hope that campsite Wifi is good enough for me to work and Katie to login to school. Site Wifi had let us down far too often.
He suggested that we take another look at satellite internet. He told me that while the hardware was expensive, the biggest cost had always been the access costs and these had come right down making it a viable option. This sowed a seed and we did some further investigation and started pouring over reviews of hardware and costs. The internet access packages certainly had come down and some companies were offering fast packages at prices almost as cheap as BT landline internet. After much research we eventually settled on the Oyster Satellite System, it would do exactly what we wanted with the bonus of coming with Sat TV and a three year warranty. We booked into Vanbitz to have it fitted just two days before we sailed from Plymouth.
Fitting Satellite Internet to your Motorhome
We arrived at VanBitz and stopped on their excellent campsite ready for an early start in the workshop. At 8:30am, after the obligatory reception coffee, we had a commiserative chat about the state of England rugby then we were in the van discussing the best options for cable runs and shown on the roof exactly where the dish would be fitted and why. As soon as they had the OK from me, off they went to work. A fitter was on the roof preparing for the dish, another was setting the dish up on the worktop, while a third started on the necessary cable runs inside.
I’d previously settled on an internet provider, SatelliteInternet (https://www.satelliteinternet.co.uk/) they appeared to be offering the best deals. On an earlier call to them they had told me to call them a day or two before I wanted the service to start. Well I did, I called them on the hour, every working hour for the two days we were at Vanbitz. Sometimes there was no answer, most times I was answered by ‘support’ who said they’d get ‘Sales’ to call me back. I should say, they did eventually call me back; 9 days later, 9 days after we’d sailed, 9 days after we’d called Broadband Everywhere (http://www.broadbandeverywhere.co.uk/) who had us up and running with a great package in just a few minutes. Based upon this dreadful service I would recommend that Satellite Internet be avoided, if they do not return calls when you want to buy, I shudder to thing how they would perform should I have an issue to resolve. We have since contacted Broadband Everywhere a couple of times and found them helpful and efficient.
Back in the workshop, the guys had finished the install and were ready to show it off to us. We reversed out of the workshop so the dish could see the sky.
A bonus for Katie was the package came with HD TV and it was this we were shown first. The kit comes with it’s own sat decoder, so you don’t need the sky (sport) box, but it was fitted so that at the push of a button we could route the signal through the sky box or direct to the TV. Great, that was Katie happy, but what about the internet?
Pushing one button on the remote and the dish motor on the roof could be heard as fine adjustments were made as the dish looked to align for the best internet connection. An orange light on the router, next to an icon of a sat dish flashed and my iPad reported we were not on line! Suddenly and after only a minute or two this light went out and Eddie said we were connected. I looked at the iPad, clicked refresh and up came Motorhomefun as fast as you like! Brilliant. Push the button again and dish quickly aligns itself for TV. Push it again and we had internet. Both Katie and me had ear to ear smiles.
Does it work?
Yes it works very well. And the feeling that you will never have to go without a decent internet connection again makes for carefree liberated travelling. Its first test away from VanBitz came at the port. We got into the queue for the ferry and put the kettle on the gas hob. I hit the button for internet and the dish was up and aligned and I was on-line before the kettle boiled, fantastic. It’s clever though, we were only a few miles from Vanbitz and the system always starts its search where it last had a good connection, so being so close to VanBitz it was extremely quick to find the satellite and provide us with a connection. All running on 12v.
Then as often happens; as soon as my coffee was ready the queue started to move. That feeling of excitement as you drive onto the ship in your motorhome, you just can’t beat it. While driving on and being ushered into the tightest of spaces the big smile on my face disappeared as I remembered the dish! It would surely be crushed, in fact the ceiling was so low it must have been damaged already! I automatically stepped on the brakes, turned to Sian and said ‘The Sat Dish! She rolled her eyes, she had remembered Eddie of Vanbitz telling me that as soon as we start the engine, the dish parks itself for travel. I smiled and tried to make out that I knew that and was just trying to scare her. She didn’t believe me.
We landed in Spain the next day and at the first fuel and coffee stop I hit the button to get the internet, even though we were now 600 miles south, the unit locked on within a couple of minutes and we had full and fast internet. And that is how it’s been ever since. We’ve been on sites that have good Wifi internet, and the dish stays down, or get’s raised only for TV.
We often find the site Wifi is OK in the mornings but unsuitable as more people login. Now we don’t have to worry, if the site Wifi slows up or disappears, we just connect to the Satellite for a fast dependable service. And not only that, we have the signal squirted around the van by wireless router so our phones, tablets and laptops all share the connection.
We took our system right to the edge of the footprint in Southern Portugal and found that connections and speeds were still good and solid. See the map below for the coverage we enjoy.
As an aside,the Funster discount we received from Vanbitz almost paid for our Ferry Trip to Spain. This is the product we purchased http://www.vanbitz.com/
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