My wife and I like to retain both broadband and mobile ‘phone access whilst touring.When we first toured I subscribed to the CMC WiFi site system, but found it somewhat slow and unreliable with patchy coverage and quite expensive. 

We then stopped on a C&CC and found that they used a different WiFi provider, and guess what, they wanted paying for their system too, although I see that they now provide WiFi as a free service.

Neither service helps with the mobile phone connection.

I learnt that I could use the internet service on my mobile phone to create a hotspot in our caravan. It’s slow on the weaker 3G network, but where a 4G service is available it is actually very quick and usable, but too expensive for regular use. 

The drawback with using the mobile phone network is that reception can be patchy, or even (horror of horrors) totally absent; so it closely matches the average site WiFi system in terms of availability!

Deciding to try the mobile ‘phone system, and in order to avoid using my mobile-phone tariff I bought a TP-Link router which takes in the mobile data signal and retransmits it as a password protected local WiFi signal that all our digital appliances can connect too. The router has it’s own sim card so I was able to fit a 24GB sim card for the Three network, I bought it via Amazon for £28.40. It’s marketed as “Internet with Legs”. Unfortunately, when I needed another two year later I found that the price had increased to £45.00! However as I only need it while touring, and the allowance can be used over a two year period, I still think that it represents reasonable value.

When placed close to a window our router worked well on most occasions, but it had to be set-up and plugged in each time, which was a bit of a chore for a lazy soul like me. Ideally I wanted it permanently set-up and always available so I could peruse the news over morning coffee without having to mess about with kit and wires. 

I believe the reception inside a caravan is worse because the signal has first to get in through the caravan’s structure. It seemed to me that a roof mounted aerial would provide an unobstructed and stronger signal, so the hunt was on for a suitable aerial. 

I eventually found a reasonably priced multi-band MiMo puck amplification antenna, whose specification looked promising, on eBay (not that I’m an expert on such matters) so I bought one. It looks like it would do the job and tests at home confirmed that it worked well with my router, providing up to 60 Mbps download speeds on the 4g Three network. I must add here that I live about 100m from a mobile aerial array, so I guess that has a bearing on signal strength.  

Puck aerial top view

Puck aerial underside

 

Its installation would first require a 20mm hole drilling through the roof, but what’s another hole between friends! For those interested, technical details of this aerial may be found on the Connex Technologies website. My unit came with a removable powdered coated steel backplate, referred to as a ground plate. Unsure if this improved the signal performance or not I decided to keep, it’s a shame that the unit isn’t white, but at least it’s out of sight on the roof.

As anticipated, the hole drilling was quite easy. I selected a position that would bring the aerial’s twin leads through the roof into the corner of our wardrobe. The down leads were fed down through the hole and the aerial was plonked on the roof with lashings of Sika 552 sticky stuff, after first having cleaned the area with Sika 205 fluid to ensure maximum adhesion. 

Roof aerial in position

 

It was whilst connecting the TP-Link router that a problem arose. I failed to check the polarity of the 12v circuit I had connected to and soon found that it hasn’t any reverse polarity protection resulting in a blown circuit. Drat!

As the current range of TP-Link router doesn’t have the removable antenna necessary to connect to the new puck antenna down-leads, it is no longer suitable, so a replacement had to be found.

The Huawei E5577s portable router receives good ratings and has the necessary double aerial sockets so was selected as a replacement even though the input sockets are much smaller than those on the puck aerials down-leads, so adaptors had to be purchased with the aid of eBay; more expense! 

Router in position

Router

 

The down-leads were enclosed in a length of self-adhesive mini-trunking within the wardrobe and out through a hole to a position just below the wine cabinet, close to a 12v socket where the router was mounted on the wall using a strip of self-adhesive velcro. 

Mini-trunking in wardrobe

 

Switching the router on and powering up my lap-top quickly allowed an internet connection to be established; which was a bit of a relief. I must explain here that this was taking place on our storage site where a mobile phone signal is non-existent, at least on my iPhone, so I was happy to see the router indicating a signal, even though it was only on the 3g network. It seems the 4g service has yet to reach that part of rural Lincolnshire. Carrying out a download test gave a speed of 6Mbps, usable for internet and email use even if well below that which I receive at home. 

I’m happy to report that the Huawei 232c router works very well, and is very easy to set-up; in fact the set-up procedure consisted of charging its internal battery, inserting the sim-card, switching it on and then entering its password into my computer. The most difficult part of the procedure was removing the back of the router to insert the sim card, not the best design. 

Speed check

 

The one oddity that I did find is that the router’s password is displayed on the front LCD screen at start up for all to read, not the most secure arrangement. 

  • The costs of the various components were:
  • Puck aerial £19 
  • Adhesive and cleaner (already has some) £5
  • Mini-trunking £5
  • Aerial lead adaptors £12
  • Huawei router £85
  • Total cost, excluding a sim card £126

 

So far we have used it on two trips totalling nine days and found the system both usable and reliable, certainly sufficient for our needs. 

 

 


Comments

MiFi — 2 Comments

  1. Great little article David, thanks for sharing. We’ve crossed paths a few times in fb groups and just seen a link to your website through the camogg group I recently joined. This is something that maybe of interest to me and the growing family. I’m not entirely sure how it works, as you say “doesn’t use your tariff” The SIM card you bought does this come with a usage period or is it like a top up card for data usage?

    • Hi Ryan,
      Thanks for taking the trouble to comment.

      The “Internet with Legs” SIM card is valid for two year, and that period start from the date you first use it. When the data is used you can top it up, but that is quite expensive compared with the initial cost although useful if you are out in the wild somewhere.

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