One of our favourite places to visit is Cornwall. We know of some fantastic campsites to stay on whenever my wife and I are in the county. Two of the best are Treyarnon Bay caravan park and Little Winnick touring park. As good as they are, the one problem we consistently have when staying on these sites – is trying to get online. In our campervan WiFi is something we can only dream about!
As my business is mostly conducted online, I need to check emails and websites daily. So a reliable connection is a must when on the road. Usually, I use my smartphone as a mobile hotspot, then connect the laptop to the phone to get online. Most of the time this works OK-ish but it has never been very reliable. Nine times out of ten, my wife and I have to leave the campsite to find a WiFi hotspot or nearby coffee shop.
As we have another trip planned soon, I decided I needed to solve the campervan WiFi problem once and for all…
How to get internet in a campervan – the search begins
After a lot of research, I’ve now got a much better understanding of the problem. This has led me to what I believe is the ideal solution for us and our issue. I know that we can’t be the only ones who have a problem getting internet in a campervan, so I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned.
Let me take you through the 4 main options I discovered, and tell you which one I’ve chosen, and why.
Option 1: Using a smartphone
The most obvious way of getting online is by using a smartphone. However, if the signal in your area is poor or your mobile provider doesn’t cover the area you’re in, then the connection is likely to be patchy and unreliable at best – especially when inside a campervan. (Being in what is basically a metal box, is not the best place to be to get a good mobile signal; the signals strength is dramatically reduced, as most of the signal will be bouncing off the bodywork of the campervan.)
What can be done to improve the mobile signal?
Not a lot really. (That’s what I’ve found anyway). There are products on the market that promise to boost the signal strength but I couldn’t find one that I thought was worth buying. Most seemed to promise more than they could actually deliver. Even if they did improve the signal, you would still need to go outside of your campervan to get the benefits.
In our opinion, the only real way to improve your signal is to check which provider has the best coverage in the area you intend to stay in. Then buy a PAYG (pay as you go) sim for that provider. (EE say they cover 99% of the UK with 2G and 4G, and 98% with 3G.)
Option 2: Using the campsite’s WIFI
Having WiFi on a campsite is commonplace. So why not just use that? Well, you can. We have stayed on a couple of sites that have provided really good free WiFi. We have also stayed on sites that offer WiFi as a paid extra, this is usually Club Wifi. In our experience Club Wifi is expensive and can be slow, especially if the campsite is busy. There can also be certain restrictions on use; for instance, no streaming videos or TV. Also if you’re pitched up some distance from the WiFi antenna, the signal can be hard to get, especially inside the campervan.
If you do choose to use the campsite’s WiFi but are finding it difficult to get a good connection, then you might want to use a WiFi booster. A WiFi booster will improve a weak WiFi signal in and around your campervan. The added advantage of a WiFi booster, is that if you’re a BT customer you may also be able to pick up any nearby free BT fon hotspots. (If you’re not an existing BT customer and still want to take advantage of the millions of BT hotspots around the country, then you can buy a fon access pass.)
A popular WiFi booster is the Kuma wifi kit
The Kuma kit includes a high powered long range directional antenna which is mounted on the outside of the vehicle. The antenna can pick up a WiFi signal from up to 1.5km away. The WiFi signal is then passed to a WiFi repeater inside the campervan, which rebroadcasts the signal wirelessly to your devices.
Will a WiFi booster work for you?
There is no guarantee that a WiFi booster will improve your connection, as the reason for a poor signal may lay elsewhere. However, if by simply walking closer to the campsite’s WiFi antenna the signal on your device improves, then this is a clear indication that a weak signal is the problem, and a WiFi booster should definitely help.
Option 3: Satellite broadband
Just one word can be used to describe satellite broadband, and that is – expensive! The equipment needed can run into thousands of pounds, and an additional monthly subscription is also required. So this is not really an option I would personally consider (especially now we have 4G mobile broadband as an option). So let’s quickly move on.
Option 4: Mobile 4G broadband
Finally my search for reliable and affordable campervan WiFi has led me to mobile 3G and 4G broadband. (Well, mostly 4G as this is 10x faster than 3G. Generally, 4G download speeds are between 5Mbps and 12Mbps. Upload speeds between 2Mbps and 5Mbps.) This is better than a lot of campsite WiFi I’ve used! Depending on the mobile provider, 4G now covers 99% of the UK.
Most of us use our smartphone to connect to 3G or 4G all the time. So what’s the big deal, I hear you say! Well as mentioned earlier, getting a reliable 4G signal, especially in a remote location is not always possible. If you’re lucky and you can get 3G or 4G on your phone, you’re still going to struggle to get a reliable signal inside your campervan.
So what is the solution? Well, it’s a small portable box of tricks called a MiFi (my fi) unit.
A Mifi or portable mobile hotspot is a device that works much like a smartphone. You insert a sim card into the MiFi device and it connects to a nearby 4G network. If there’s no 4G then it will automatically switch to 3G. Now in itself, the MiFi unit is no different from a smartphone in that respect, however, the real benefit comes from connecting an external antenna to the MiFi device.
The antenna will boost the 3G and 4G performance by up to 5 times. This could mean the difference between getting a signal or not. Even if a mobile provider says that there is no coverage in a particular area (they mean when just using a phone) you could still receive a reasonable internet connection using an external antenna connected to a MiFi device.
MiFi – this is the route I’ve decided to go down
My research has led me to believe that 4G broadband now offers a real alternative to conventional broadband. Some people who find it difficult to get reliable broadband through a landline have switched to 4G mobile broadband. Another advantage in using 4G over the campsites WiFi, is that the 4G connection is not going to be shared with other campers – so speeds won’t drop at busy times.
Best MiFi device
“What is the best”…is often subjective. You’ve only got to read through reviews to see that one person says that so and so is the best thing since sliced bread. Whereas, someone else says that the exact same product is rubbish. However, in the world of 4G Mifi units, the name Huawei seems to be one of the most popular brands.
So after researching what is the best MiFi device – I chose to go for the Huawei E5577
Why I chose the Huawei E5577
- The Huawei E5577 is very compact at just 9.5cm x 5.5cm x 1cm. So could easily fit in my pocket if I wanted to take it out and about with us. (That is another benefit of a MiFi unit. You can have your own mobile WiFi hotspot wherever you go, as long as you can get a signal.)
- It has a 6-hour battery life. Which will be enough for us, as 99% of the time it will be used in the campervan so can be plugged in if the battery is running low. (You can buy the E5577S, which has a 12-hour battery life but you’ll pay around £25 extra.)
- Up to 10 devices can be connected to the Huwei at any one time, and it can handle download speeds of up to 150 Mbps. (Not that I’m likely to get that sort of 4G speed.)
- The Huawei E5577 is unlocked to all networks, which is great. Before setting out on our next road trip I intend to check which provider gives the best 4G coverage in the area and buy their data sim. With the correct sim, the Huawei E5577 and E5577s can also be used abroad.
- Finally, the main reason for picking the Huawei E5577 is that it has inputs for an external antenna (not all models do). The Huawei E5577 can be used without an external antenna, however using one will greatly increase signal strength. We want to use it inside the campervan, so an external antenna will be crucial to receiving a good 4G signal.
So next I need to choose a suitable 4G antenna.
To be honest, at first I did find all the talk of directional, omni-directional, gain, MiMo, etc. a bit confusing. But I think I’ve finally got my head around it…
A directional antenna only receives the signal from the direction it’s coming from. Whereas an omni-directional antenna receives the signal from every direction (360 degrees). So if you’re using a directional antenna you would need to know which direction the signal is coming from (this smartphone app does exactly that). You then point the antenna in that direction. Directional antennas work best if you have a clear (unobstructed) line of sight of the mast.
It’s a common misconception that the higher the gain the better. High gain antennas are usually directional. Generally, radio waves can’t pass through solid objects, if there are obstacles in the way (between the mast and the antenna) then the signal will bounce off them, scattering the signal. So when the signal reaches the antenna its highly likely that it will be coming from multiple directions. As a high gain directional antenna has a limited angle of coverage (around 30 degrees), the directional antenna is unable to collect any signal outside this area. In fact, high gain antennas can make things worse.
An omni-directional antenna has the advantage of receiving a signal from all directions (360 degrees). So it will pick up the signal bouncing off your campervan’s bodywork as well as other nearby obstacles. This will maximize the signal strength. Whatever antenna is used, the simple fact that the antenna is outside of the campervan will be enough to improve the signal.
Cross polarised antennas:
To improve signal strength and thus maximise data rates, a cross polarised antenna is recommended. A cross polarised antenna basically has two antenna elements, one angled at 45 degrees to the left, and the other, 45 degrees to the right. This is why a cross polarised antenna has two cables coming out of it. (If only one cable from a cross polarised antenna is connected to the MiFi unit, the data rates will half.)
So what 4G antenna to chose?
I have decided to go for the Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0001. It is a mid-priced 4G/3G/2G LTE cross polarised omni-directional antenna. The 4G-XPOL-A0001 is not cheap at around £80 and there are much cheaper 4G antennas available. However, I don’t see the point in cutting corners at this stage, especially as the antenna is probably the most important part of the 4G broadband setup. As the saying goes, buy cheap, buy twice!
What I like about 4G-XPOL-A0001 antenna
Positive reviews aside, I like the fact the Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0001 has different mounting options. It can be screw mounted, pole mounted, or (using the four suction pads) mounted to a window or the bodywork of the campervan.
- I don’t want to permanently mount the antenna to the campervan for 2 reasons. I would also like to use it in our caravan.
- If I were to permanently fix the antenna to the campervan, then in order to receive the best signal the antenna/campervan would have to be oriented in the direction of the mast. This would not always be practical or possible. At least if the antenna is attached using suction pads, I will be able to stick it to the side of the campervan that faces the direction of the signal.
The 4G-XPOL-A0001 is a low gain antenna so is designed for areas where there is an existing mobile signal – which according to EE is 99% of the country. (If you need a high gain omni-directional antenna and are prepared to splash out a few more quid, then the Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0002 would make an ideal choice.)
In order to connect the 4G-XPOL-A0001 to the Huawei E5577 I’ll also need two SMA Female Jack to TS9 cable adaptors. (The Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0001 comes with two 5m of low loss cables, but the connectors on the end of the cables won’t just connect to the inputs on the Huawei E5577 without the two cable adaptors.)
So now all I need to complete the set-up, is a sim…
PAYG data sim
After checking which mobile provider offers the best 4G coverage in the areas we will be visiting. I’ve decided to buy a 6Gb PAYG EE data sim. This particular sim last for 30 days and more data can be added online if needed. If 4G is not available then 3G will be offered automatically.
(Beware when choosing a data sim. I found that some data sims that advertised 6Gb valid for 90 days. Actually meant that you get just 2Gb of data per month, for three months.)
Tip: If you’re using a laptop in your campervan to connect to the internet, turn off automatic updates. Or you could waste most of your data allowance on updating your operating system!
HOW TO GET INTERNET IN A CAMPERVAN – MY CHOICE
Just to recap…
This is my chosen 4G campervan WiFi (MiFi) set up:
1x Huawei E5577 portable MIFI device unlocked to any network
1x Poynting XPOL-A0001 Cross Polarised 4G Omni LTE Antenna
2x SMA Female Jack to TS9 cable adaptors
1x 6Gb PAYG EE data sim
I hope that you have found this article useful, and have learnt something from my research on how to get the internet in your campervan.
I will be reviewing my 4G mobile broadband setup when I get a chance to use it later in the year. So if you would like to know how it performed, come back to this article to find out.
See you on the road!
OUR CAMPERVAN 4G WiFi SET UP – POST UPDATE
REAL LIFE ON-THE-ROAD REVIEW
After writing this article and deciding on the best 4G mobile broadband set up for us, I went straight to Amazon and bought everything you see in the picture above.
All the items were delivered within 4 days of ordering. The last piece of the puzzle (the two cable adaptors) arrived on Saturday evening at 8.30pm which was a surprise, well done Amazon!
OK then, what I’ll do now is review one item at a time, and then do an overall review of the complete 4G mobile broadband set up.
So let’s get started.
Huawei E5577C review and setup guide
What’s in the box?
- 1x Huawei E5577C MiFi device
- 1x (1500 mAh Li-ion polymer) battery – gives 6 hrs of use or 300 hrs standby
- 1x USB to micro USB lead
- 1x quick start guide
- 1x warranty card
First impressions of the Huawei (pronounced “Wah-Way”) E5577C
On removing the Huawei E5577C from the box I was surprised by just how tiny and light the device was. It’s only just slightly bigger than a credit card and approximately 10mm thick. The portable size will make it ideal for travelling. The device seems well built and has a pleasing tactile curved design which feels good in the hand.
Located on the front of the device is a small display screen (approx 33mm x 33mm) and also the power on button.
On the top of the device is a menu button…
and on the bottom is a micro USB charging port, and just to the right, a small cover/flap…
which when removed reveals two TS9 external antenna inputs. The flap cannot be completely removed due to a tiny plastic hinge. Only time will tell how well this hinge stands up to repeated use.
The back of the Huawei E5577C is removed by inserting a fingernail in a small opening in the top right-hand corner and gently pulling.
This reveals the battery compartment, full-size SIM card slot and microSD card slot. Inserting a microSD card (optional) enables the user to store and share data on the card.
A label inside shows the default WiFi details of the device, these should be changed to something more secure (more on how to do this a little later on). At the bottom is a reset button, which when pressed (using a pointed object like a pencil) and held for a few seconds restores the device to its factory settings. This is handy if you forget the unique username, password or SSID (network name) you’ve chosen.
Before the Huawei E5577C can be used, a SIM and battery need to be installed.
Fitting the 4GEE 6Gb data SIM
I bought an EE data SIM, as EE provide the best 4G coverage in the areas we’ll be visiting.
Inside the package are a Top-up card, Multi-SIM (just snap off the size you need) and a setup guide.
As the Huawei E5577C uses a full-sized SIM, this is what I removed and fitted.
Finally, the battery just slides in and the back cover snaps back on.
Before turning on the MiFi device the battery needs to be charged up. This is simply a case of connecting the Huawei E5577C to a computer’s USB port using the supplied cable. When we are away, I’ll be using our PowerCube instead of a computer to charge the device.
Turning on the Huawei E5577C for the first time
Before powering up the device, you need to make sure that you have network coverage for the SIM in the area you’ll be using it. It takes about 30 seconds for the Huawei E5577C to boot up and connect to the network. After the welcome screen, the network information is shown on the screen.
The main display shows signal strength. 2G, 3G or 4G connection. WiFi status. Battery life. Network provider. SSID (the default name of the network name – this should be changed to something unique). The default password (again this needs to be changed). And the amount of data used so far.
The EE SIM needs to be activated before it can be used. This is a simple process. The SIM comes pre-loaded with a small amount of data for activation purposes. To activate the SIM – first you need to connect the Huawei E5577C to a WiFi enabled device (in my case this is a laptop). Connecting to the Huawei E5577C is exactly the same process as connecting to any WiFi network, eg. identify the network, click connect and enter the WiFi key.
Once connected to the Huawei E5577C a browser window automatically loads and the EE activation screen is displayed. Then all you need to do is click ‘Activate’.
Activation completed screen.
Huawei WiFi manager
Now that the SIM is activated we can go to the Huawei WiFi manager. This can be done one of two ways. Option 1. using the web interface (by typing in http://192.168.8.1 in the address bar of the browser). Option 2. download the Huawei HILink app to your phone or tablet. As I’m using a laptop I’ll be choosing the first option.
After typing in http://192.168.8.1 in the address bar of the browser you’re presented with a log in screen.
The default login details are User name: admin, Password: admin. This information is also displayed on the label inside the battery compartment.
Once logged in you’re then presented with 3 steps to complete. Following these steps will help make the Huawei E5577C more secure.
Step 1. Configure WLAN (wireless local area network) Settings
The default name wireless network name (SSID) for the Huawei E5577C is HUAWEI-9080. For security reasons, we need to change this to something unique. It’s also highly recommended that you tick the ‘Modify Password’ box and change the default password too. The site SSID and password are displayed on the home screen of the device. Clicking ‘Next’ takes us to…
Step 2. Update Configuration
This is where you choose how the Huawei updates its software. I left this on Auto-download.
Step 3. Modify Password
The final step is to change your login password. This is the password that you use to login to the Huawei WiFi manager. (If you remember, this by default was ‘admin’.)
Once you have completed step 3 the Huawei home screen will be displayed.
Using the Huawei E5577C as a WiFi extender/repeater
Before I go any further and explore the other settings in the WiFi manager, I need to turn off the data connection. (This is necessary because all the time the Huawei E5577C is connected to EE, it will be eating into my data allowance.) But, if you disconnect the device from the laptop then you cannot access the WiFi manager. So what do you do?
Well the Huawei E5577C comes with a great little feature, which when turned on allows the device to connect to a nearby WiFi hotspot (in my case, my home network). It will then rebroadcast the signal to your device. Once the ‘WiFi extender’ feature is enabled, the Huawei E5577C will automatically switch from a 2G, 3G or 4G connection to a local WiFi network. (You’ll still need to know the wireless password/key to connect). This will save using data unnecessarily. When out of range of the WiFi hotspot the device will switch back to 2G, 3G or 4G.
The WiFi extender feature should be useful when staying on a campsite with free WiFi. Using the Huawei E5577C with the external antenna should make the connection more reliable, as the WiFi signal will not have to pass through the metal bodywork of the campervan.
The WiFi extender feature can be turned on one of two ways.
1. With the device turned on, click the menu button on top of the Huawei E5577C 8x (one click of the button = one scroll) then when ‘Wi-Fi extender’ is selected…
push the power button to turn it on.
* Next, go to the WIFI manager page and click on ‘Settings’ (at the top) then ‘Wi-Fi Extender’. This will expand into a submenu, showing ‘Wi-Fi Extender’ and ‘Priority’. Click on ‘Wi-Fi Extender’
This will take you to another page where you will see all the available WIFI networks. Select a network from the list by clicking on it.
Next, click ‘Connect’. If this is the first time you’ve connected to the network you’ll need to enter the password/key.
Once you’ve successfully connected to the WIFI network you should then see ‘Wi-Fi’ (as opposed to 2G, 3G or 4G) and the networks SSID on the home screen.
2. The second way to turn on the WiFi extender function is to click on the Wi-Fi extender button on the home screen.
Then click on ‘Settings’ at the top of the page and follow the same procedure shown earlier. *
Now, the Huawei E5577C is not using any mobile data. Mobile data will only be used if the Wi-Fi extender button is clicked again (turning it off) or if the Huawei E5577C is out of range of the hotspot.
Other settings in the WiFi manager
What’s been covered so far, should provide adequate information to use the Huawei E5577C for both mobile data and local WiFi connections. This is how I’ll be using the device when travelling. There are numerous other settings in the WiFi manager; most are best left alone unless you know what you are doing. (If I were to talk about all of them here, I’m sure you (and I) would soon get bored.) If you want to know more then you can always download the Huawei E5577C user manual.
Huawei E5577C performance
At the end of this 4G mobile broadband review/setup guide, I’ll be testing how well the Huawei E5577C performs in a real-life (on a campsite with no WiFi) situation. (With and without an external antenna fitted.) Which leads me nicely onto the next piece of equipment.
Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna – REVIEW
What’s in the box?
- 1x Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0001 Cross Polarised 4G Omni LTE Antenna
- 1x pack of fixings, 4x wall plus 4x suction pads and 1x jubilee clip
- 1x User installation instruction sheet
To be honest with you, my first impressions of the XPOL-A0001 was a little disappointing. The antenna’s casing and the mounting bracket is all plastic, as expected…
however, where the top part joins the bottom bracket, to my eye it doesn’t look like it fits properly.
It looks like the two halves are designed to touch to create a waterproof seal, but they don’t touch. I tried pushing them together but they didn’t move. I contacted the Amazon seller about this and after checking the rest of their stock they assured me that this is how they all are. However, the seller did see my point.
If you look close, you can see sealer around the joint, so it should be waterproof. It just looks wrong – do you know what I mean? You’d expect a little better, especially as the antenna wasn’t cheap at just under 80 quid! Anyway, let’s move on.
The quality of the rest of the plastic construction is generally pretty good. As are the two 5 metre low loss cables coming out of the bottom. The XPOL-A0001 can be wall, pole or window mounted. I’ve fitted the 4 suction pads for window/bodywork mounting.
The top part of the antenna can be removed from the bracket by unscrewing the gland nut. (This should make it easier to fit if you are fixing the antenna to a wall.)
The user installation instruction sheet briefly explains how to mount the antenna using the 3 different methods. There are no other instructions or details outlining how to use the antenna.
The XPOL-A0001 antenna’s cables are fitted with SMA female jack connections which are too big to plug directly into the Huawei E5577C. So in order to use the XPOL-A0001 with the Huawei E5577C I had to buy two SMA Female Jack to TS9 cable adaptors. There were a couple of different types of cable adaptors or ‘pigtails’ as they are also known.
The cheaper ones I saw on Amazon had a 90-degree angle on the TS9 (small) end. I thought this might not be very practical as the cables could lay awkwardly as they come out of the device. After reading through the buyer’s reviews, a couple of people mentioned that they didn’t fit onto the MiFi device very well. This helped me decide to buy the more expensive, straight cable adaptors you see below.
The cable adaptors are very good quality.
The left SMA female connector (shown above) on the cable adaptor screws directly into the XPOL-A0001 antenna’s SMA male connector (shown below).
In the picture below, you can see one cable adaptor screwed into one of the XPOL-A0001 antenna’s cables.
The small TS9 end then pushes into the Huawei E5577C and are a reassuringly tight fit!
How well did my campervan WiFi/4G broadband setup work?
The first test:
Well, we have just arrived in Cornwall for another few weeks of exploring our favourite county. The first campsite we’re staying on is Treyarnon bay caravan park. We’ve stayed here twice already this year and usually struggle to get a good Vodafone signal so this should be a good place to test out my new MiFi equipment.
I say should, because for some strange reason my phone is now receiving a really strong 4G signal? This is unheard of – what’s going on! I have run a speed test and am getting 17 Mbps download speed and 8 Mbps upload speed. This is amazing speed considering that last time we stayed here (just a couple of months ago) I was lucky if I even got a signal on my phone. All I can think of is that Vodafone has upgraded its mobile coverage in this area. Which is great in one way but a little disappointing in another, as now I don’t really have the need for my new MiFi setup here.
However, I did run a couple of tests so I could compare my MiFi equipment to just using a mobile phone, and the results were very surprising.
First I tethered the laptop to the Huawei E5577C (no eternal antenna connected). As you know I’ve got an EE sim fitted in the Huawei E5577C so I was interested to see how EE’s service compares with Vodaphone’s. Well, I turned on the Huawei E5577C and after waiting around 30 seconds the device locked on to the EE network. Disappointingly a 3 bar 3G was all that I could pick up.
I ran a speed test and the results were: download speed a paltry 4.5Mbps and upload speed a pathetic 0.8Mbps. (Remember my mobile was receiving a good 4G signal – with 17 Mbps download speed and 8 Mbps upload speed.)
So round one goes to my Vodafone mobile phone.
Next, I connected the Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna to the Huawei E5577C, then (using the suction pads) stuck the antenna to the outside of the window…
straight away the signal went from 3G to a 2 bar 4G signal. I tried repositioning the antenna several times but couldn’t improve upon the 2 bar 4G signal.
I ran another speed test, and download speed was a reasonable 16Mbps and upload a weedy 0.67 Mbps.
So round two also goes to my mobile phone!
Now if (like the last time we stayed here) I wasn’t able to get Vodafone coverage, then I would be really pleased with the results I got from my new MiFi setup. But to be honest, my mobile phone has worked better and is more than adequate for getting online.
I’m pretty sure that the initial disappointing results using the MiFi setup are down EE coverage rather than the equipment itself. It’s still early days testing the MiFi gear, as the holiday progresses I’ll have more opportunities to test the equipment more thoroughly.
Testing the mobile 4G Mifi gear on another campsite
The second test:
We’ve just moved down the county about 40 miles to another remote campsite near St Agnes. So this is a great opportunity to test out our Mifi gear again. I can still pick up a good 4G Vodaphone signal here on my phone with a download speed of 10.7 Mbps and an upload speed of 9.54 Mbps. Which considering where we are isn’t too bad at all. Plenty good enough to check emails and browse the net.
Now to see how EE compares when using the Huawei E5577C.
Straight away the Huawei E5577C (on its own with no antenna) received a strong (4 bar) 4G signal with a download speed of 14.6 Mbps and an upload speed of 17.8 Mbps. This is a real improvement over Vodafone, especially on the upload speed.
Round three to EE and the Huawei then.
Now when I connect the Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna to the Huawei E5577C the speeds and signal strength increased yet again. This time signal strength was a full 5 bars and download speed an impressive 25.3 Mbps and upload speed a whopping 29.0 Mbps. Considering the remoteness of the campsite I was really pleased with these figures. They are comparable with the broadband speeds we used to get at home before upgrading to superfast broadband.
Round four goes to the Huawei and Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna.
However, the elephant in the room is the fact that I can still get online just by using my phone. So I don’t really need the Mifi gear at this campsite! But it’s still nice to know that it’s performing well nevertheless.
Lands end campsite, mobile 4G MiFi gear test
The third test:
We’ve now moved to a campsite right down the bottom of the country, very near to Lands End. The campsite owner tells me that the mobile signal down here is poor at best, so this should be a good place to test out the MiFi gear.
First off, using my Vodafone mobile.
Despite what the campsite owner said, I’ve managed to receive a strong 4G Vodafone signal on my phone! Download speed is a very impressive 33.1 Mbps and upload speed is a reasonable 5.71Mbps. Now, this sort of 4G speed is excellent especially in such a remote area, so well done Vodafone.
Now onto the Huawei on the EE network.
After turning on the Huawei E5577C and patiently waiting for it to connect to the EE network, I was hoping see Vodafone speeds or even better. Well, I was disappointed to see that the device could only pick up a 3 bar 3G signal. I tried running a speed test but the signal was so poor that the test failed.
Next, I connected the Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna and within a few seconds, a 2 bar 4G signal was received. I ran a speed test with the following results. Download speed 20.3 Mbps, upload speed 1.11 Mbps. Now, these speeds are fine (good enough to stream YouTube videos) but are not as good as the Vodafone speeds. Why is that?
After checking the network coverage in this area, I see that Vodafone offers 4G coverage but EE doesn’t, saying this is one of the few places in the country they do not offer 4G (only 3G) coverage. So that explains the poor signal on EE.
At first, I was disappointed with the results of the test until I realised that even though EE doesn’t provide a 4G service in the area, I still managed to pick up a usable EE 4G signal using the MiFi equipment. The key to this was the XPOL-A0001 antenna.
Yes, I know that I didn’t need the MiFi gear this time, because as luck would have it my phone was picking up a strong enough 4G Vodafone signal, but if I wasn’t using Vodafone this would have been a different story. However, this test has shown me that the 4G mobile MiFi setup I have, will get you online even though the mobile network provider says that there is no 4G coverage in the area using conventional means. Which in my opinion, is pretty impressive.
I think that I’ll call this round, a draw.
The Lizard peninsula campsite, mobile 4G MiFi gear test
The fourth test:
I’m really getting a good opportunity to thoroughly test out this 4G mobile campervan WiFi gear. We are now staying on the Lizard peninsula which is the most southerly point in the UK. Last time we stayed here (Silver Sands) I couldn’t get a signal on my Vodafone mobile and not much has changed there. No phone signal, and no 4G.
Time to boot up the Huawei E5577C. Without the external antenna, the Huawei picked up a weak 4G signal with no bars! I ran a speed test with the following results. Download speed 4.09 Mbps and upload speed 0.30. Slow speeds but still usable 4G broadband.
Next, I connected the Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna and received 1 bar of 4G signal strength. The speeds increased to 10.7 Mbps download and 1.42 Mbps upload.
Vodafone does not offer any 4G coverage in this area whereas EE does. This is why I could pick up a weak signal without the XPOL-A0001 antenna. Using the EE 4G without the external antenna was painfully slow. As soon as the XPOL-A0001 was connected to the Huawei the speeds more than doubled. I was impressed with this instant improvement and could stream a Youtube video in standard definition, no problem.
So who gets this round? Vodafone or EE?
Well, it’s got to go to EE and my mobile WiFi setup. To be fair, if I had an EE sim in my phone I would have been able to pick up a weak EE signal but I wouldn’t have been able to boost the signal with the XPOL-A0001 antenna to get a better 4G broadband speed. So I’m giving this round to EE and my MiFi gear.
Final campervan WiFi test in the Pentewan Valley
The fifth test:
We’ve arrived at our final campsite (Little Winnick Touring park) which is set in the middle of the beautiful Pentewan Valley, St Austell, Cornwall. The site is in a wooded valley, which is lovely (we like trees) but is probably the worst place to try and pick up a mobile signal. I knew before arriving here that I couldn’t receive a Vodafone signal on my mobile. However, EE does say that they offer a 4G signal here, so I was expecting good things.
I confidently turned on the Huawei E5577C and waited for it to connect to the EE network. A few moments in and the two words I didn’t want to see were on the display: NO SERVICE. Not a problem I thought, I’ll just connect the Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna and that will do it. Nope, nothing. Still, NO SERVICE. I tried moving the antenna to different locations with minor success. One spot managed to occasionally pick up a one bar 2G signal, then the signal would drop for a few minutes and reconnect.
When connected the speeds were not measurable. It took nearly 5 minutes to check my emails and even longer to load BBC weather. I’ve concluded that this location is just too difficult for any mobile signal to reach. My MiFi setup could only receive the weakest of signals, but it did manage to receive a signal never the less. However the signal was so weak that surfing the net was impossible.
The only choice left…
Was to use the campsites ClubWiFi. This was something I didn’t really want to do, as I still had 3 GB of data left on my EE sim. Anyway, I bit the bullet and bought a 7 day access pass for £15. Well, I expected the ClubWiFi speeds to be pretty good, but they weren’t. Just 2 Mbps download! Very very slow. The slowest we’ve experienced this trip.
Now I’m not sure why the ClubWiFi was so slow, as the park has multiple antennas. It may well be down to the location of the campsite and all the surrounding trees, or the number of other people using the service. Whatever the reason, using ClubWiFi here has been the slowest and most unreliable experience of the whole trip for us. Really, really frustrating! Mobile 4G has proved to be immeasurably better. I tried using the Huawei E5577C WiFi extender function to improve the performance, but for some reason it couldn’t pick up the ClubWiFi network.
Anyway, I think I’ll have to give this final round to Mother Nature!
Conclusion: was it worth buying the mobile 4G MiFi gear?
Over the last three weeks, I’ve had the perfect opportunity to thoroughly test the mobile 4G MiFi equipment and can now share my findings on getting WiFi in a campervan.
This is what I’ve found:
If your mobile provider offers good 4G coverage in the area you’re visiting, then all you need is your mobile phone to get online. A MiFi device like the Huawei E5577C is unnecessary. If you want to use a laptop when you’re away, then just use your phone as a mobile hotspot.
However, if your phone’s network coverage is poor (or not supposed to be available in the area, like I found with EE), then using a MiFi device like the Huawei E5577C connected to a good external antenna like the Poynting XPOL-A0001, can provide great results. Even with a poor signal, using the Huawei E5577C with the XPOL-A0001 antenna gave some impressive 4G broadband speeds.
A lot of the time, whether or not I could pick up a 4G signal was down to the network provider, and not the equipment. However having a MiFi set like mine will (usually) ensure that you’ll receive the best mobile 4G signal and speeds.
If your mobile provider doesn’t offer coverage then you could always swap the sim in your phone for another provider who does offer coverage, but I guess not many people will want to do this. So using a MiFi device like the Huawei E5577C will make it simpler to swap sim cards. Like me, you could buy an EE PAYG data sim (EE currently offer the best UK 4G coverage) or find out who offers the best coverage in the area you’re staying in, and buy that mobile provider’s data sim.
My thoughts on the Huawei E5577C:
I found the Huawei E5577C very easy to use, although the 6 hour battery life seemed to go quite quickly. If I intended to be online for a while I would use the Huawei whilst it was plugged into a USB charging socket, so the battery life wasn’t a real issue for me. The small size made it easy to store and fit into a pocket if I wanted to take it out and about with me. The two TS9 external antenna connections held up well to constantly plugging in the XPOL-A0001 antenna. The little flap that covers the TS9 connections showed no sign of coming off.
My thoughts on the Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna:
I was very impressed with the Poynting XPOL-A0001 antenna. Every time I connected it to the Huawei E5577C the signal strength and speeds increased. At first, I was a little dubious whether the suction pads would hold up but they worked well, even in heavy rain and 50 mph winds!
All in all, I am very pleased with my 4G mobile campervan WiFi setup and would recommend it. You may not need it everywhere you go, but you’ll be glad you’ve got it with you for the times that you can’t get a signal on your phone that you can tether to.
5 tips to reduce data usage on a Windows 10 laptop
Whenever a laptop connects to a local WiFi network, not only will it be using data for surfing, streaming, downloading or sending emails. It will also be using data in other ways too; ways that you’re probably not even aware of. This can soon eat up your data allowance unless you know how to stop these tasks running in the background.
So here I’ll share my five Windows 10 data saving tips: to make your data go further when you’re on the road.
1. Turn on metered connection
To do this, click on your preferred Wifi network and connect. Then click on ‘Properties’.
Once the properties window has opened, turn on ‘Set as metered connection’. This will stop any Windows 10 or other background apps downloading data hungry updates on the selected network.
2. Turn off background apps
Any unwanted apps running in the background can be turned off to save data. To do this go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Privacy, then scroll down to and click on ‘Background apps’.
Here you can turn off all background apps or just the ones you don’t want running in the background.
3. Choose what gets loaded on start-up
Stopping any rarely used programs from loading when Windows starts up, is another way to conserve your data. For further data saving, you can also prevent data sync tools like Windows OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox from loading at startup. To choose what loads on startup, hold down, ‘Ctrl’ + ‘Alt’ then push the ‘Del’ button. Next click on ‘Task Manager’ > ‘More details’ at the bottom left corner. Next, click the ‘Start-up’ tab at the top. Select which programs you don’t want to be loaded at startup by right clicking on ‘Enabled’ then choose ‘Disable’.
4. Turn off live tiles
The live tiles in Windows 10 will consume some data, so it’s a good idea to turn off the ones you don’t need. To do this simply right click on the tile, then scroll down to ‘More’ then click on ‘Turn Live Tile off’.
5. Install Google Chrome ‘Data Saver’ extension
There is a very useful ‘Data Saver‘ extension that Google provides free for its Chrome browser. The extension works by sending most of the web traffic through its server, compressing the data, then showing you that data in the Chrome browser. This means that less data gets downloaded to your laptop.
Once installed, you can turn the Data Saver on or off. To do this, click the icon at the top righthand corner of the Chrome browser, this will open a window (shown below). You can then tick or untick the box on the right to turn the Data Saver on or off.
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