Wi-Fi on the go: get online anywhere# Camping
When you’re camping, sometimes going online isn’t just a fun waste of time – it’s the fount of all wisdom. You use it to find your way around and look for your next campsite. You capture precious memories and share them that very moment with the people you love most. When you’re on holiday, Wi-Fi on the go isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s a key aspect of your trip.
If you want to go online anywhere and save your precious mobile data at the same time, you can:
- log into public hotspots.
- take advantage of community Wi-Fi.
- get a mobile Wi-Fi router.
- use a dongle.
We’ll weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of all the different options in our comparison guide to Wi-Fi on the go and tell you:
- the best ways to get Wi-Fi for campers
- which Wi-Fi routers are particularly good for on the go
- how to set up a router
- the right plan for you
What is Wi-Fi on the go?
We’ve all been there. You’re on holiday, having a leisurely breakfast, and all you want to do is send a couple of quick messages to family and friends. You hope your holiday photos won’t use up too much data. ‘Network not found,’ says your mobile. Hmph.
So, you head off to the nearest cafe to find free Wi-Fi. You ask around and in the tenth place you visit in this cute little town (that doesn’t seem so small or so cute anymore) you finally strike lucky. Eureka! You’re connecting… and now you’re waiting. And waiting! You wait a little longer until you’ve finally sent your holiday photo. And you aren’t feeling so relaxed right now. Luckily, there are now some good alternatives available to your endless search for public Wi-Fi.
In the UK, there are two main ways to get Wi-Fi access on the go:
- traditional Wi-Fi straight from permanently installed networks using Wi-Fi routers (e.g. via hotspots)
- via the mobile network, i.e. using mobile data
We opted not to include satellite internet in this article as it’s prohibitively expensive.
Using free hotspots and public Wi-Fi
The first option saves your precious data and takes the edge off your phone bill. Furthermore, mobile phone providers can’t guarantee 100% coverage and your data connection may fluctuate. Hotspots and public Wi-Fi are a reliable solution.
It’s incredibly simple. Mobile network providers such as BT, Virgin Media, O2 and Sky provide you with their established infrastructure. Free access is usually included in your phone contract if you are one of their customers.
Then there’s what’s known as the Wi-Fi community. Here, individual users make their internet connection available to the public. Via their router, they set up a second public Wi-Fi network alongside their own private network. You can use their hotspots for free if you are also part of the community. That means that if you set up your own hotspot that people can use, you get free Wi-Fi on the go, with no extra contract or obligations.
Where to find Wi-Fi on the go: locating hotspots
The best way to find public Wi-Fi hotspots is via the biggest providers, BT, Virgin Media, O2 and Sky. You can navigate straight from their websites or apps to public Wi-Fi. It’s a little trickier with community hotspots, however, as they aren’t always so easy to access. You might find yourself standing outside a garden gate, since the reception from the private building doesn’t extend onto the street.
Google public Wi-Fi networks near you to find out how to get online. When combined with the free internet available in railway stations, shops and cafes, public hotspots form a vast network.
BT, Virgin Media, O2 and Sky Wi-Fi hotspots
With a whopping five million-plus hotspots around the UK, BT has the nation’s biggest Wi-Fi network. It uses the technology from the services it supplies to home broadband users to securely share bandwidth through a separate channel, helping people everywhere get online.
You can find BT Wi-Fi hotspots in airport terminals, service stations, shopping centres, hotels, conference centres and cafes. Look out for signs. Don’t want to waste time saving login details? You can use the BT Wi-Fi app to connect automatically when you’re close to a hotspot.
There’s one important caveat: you have to be a BT customer to get free unlimited access to their Wi-Fi. Access starts at GBP 4.99 per hour for everyone else.
Like BT, Virgin Media has millions of hotspots all over the UK that it provides using some bandwidth from routers owned by its broadband customers. It provides Wi-Fi at many airports and in London Underground stations – although not the underground tunnels themselves. Again, you have to be a customer to enjoy the service for free – and you’ll need to download the app, too.
O2’s thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots around the UK have one major advantage over BT and Virgin Media: they’re free for everyone to use, including non-O2 customers. A total of 4,500 of these are automatic hotspots in restaurants, retailers and other outlets owned by O2 partners. If you are an O2 customer, your phone connects automatically to a hotspot if the signal is stronger than the 3G or 4G in that area. People who aren’t O2 customers can still use hotspots – they just have to register first.
Sky’s Wi-Fi service, known as The Cloud, also requires you to register. Its hotspots are available in more than 20,000 locations in the UK, including university campuses, sports facilities and high-street chains. Most locations are free to use, but some charge – you can pay online by card or via PayPal.
Using public Wi-Fi on the go – our security tips
Speaking of internet security: on public Wi-Fi, you’re never alone. Your mobile device is often more susceptible to malicious access to your data on these networks. It can be captured and even saved. Here are a few simple tricks to protect your data from misuse:
- Make sure the software on your device is up to date.
- Only visit certified websites (https://).
- A VPN client helps encrypt your data.
- Install anti-virus software on computers, laptops and tablets.
- Don’t send any sensitive information, such as confidential logins or chat messages.
The best Wi-Fi for campers – a mobile router in your motorhome
If you’d rather use your own Wi-Fi network on the go, a mobile router is the perfect option for you. This little box works just like your smartphone or tablet: pop in your SIM and use mobile data. Special plans are now available for routers with flat rates for LTE data.
To be more specific, the router connects to the mobile network and forms a Wi-Fi network at the same time. With your mobile device, you then connect to the Wi-Fi network as usual. The router uses power from a built-in battery. This is particularly handy when camping, as you can’t always get power from a socket. If you have to charge the battery, many devices can use power from the 12-volt connection in the motorhome.
Mobile routers with 4G internet can cost as little as GBP 40 to GBP 50. If you only want to use the internet with your laptop, a dongle with a SIM might be enough for you. The principle is the same, but you insert it straight into your computer like a USB stick. Now all you need is the right data plan. Some providers sell them as a bundle. You should compare with individual providers to work out whether buying a package is more cost-effective than buying the SIM and router separately.
Our travel tip: make sure you buy a data plan with an EU-wide flat rate. This is the only way to ensure you can use Wi-Fi wherever you go when you’re abroad in Europe.
If you still aren’t sure whether this mobile Wi-Fi solution is for you, you can try it out for a while with your mobile phone. Instead of using the router, use your smartphone to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot – this is known as tethering. Then log into your laptop or tablet and you’re ready to go. Over time, however, this will wear down your phone’s battery and data. A mobile router is a better choice if you use the internet more often.
The best Wi-Fi on the go – comparing routers
Ultimately, there’s only one thing a router needs to do: supply reliable internet. But deciding on the right device isn’t so simple. Battery life, connection speed, SIM format – not to mention price – all play a role in your purchase decision.
Netgear and TP-Link have previously stood out in comparison tests for Wi-Fi routers, while Huawei performs well for a comparatively low price. If a new router is out of your price range, look out for second-hand models.
Set up a mobile Wi-Fi router
We recommend testing out your router before you head off on your next camping trip. In the worst-case scenario, you need to spend hours setting up the new device when you could have been sitting by the fire with a beer. Luckily, most routers are quick and easy to set up, so the trial run doesn’t need to take much time either.
To set up your Wi-Fi for on the go:
- charge the router battery fully.
- insert the activated SIM card.
- turn on the device.
Your mobile network should already be there. The router is now using the standard factory settings. If you’d like to change these, you must:
- enter the router’s IP address in your laptop or smartphone browser.
- enter the SIM PIN.
- adjust the security and all other settings to suit your preferences.
Tips on saving data
Although a wide range of data plans is available, you can’t have unlimited Wi-Fi on the go. Although you might get more gigabytes for your money, the speed slows down after a certain period of time.
Our data-saving tips
- Switch off automatic and background updates on your device where you can.
- Download music and videos at home or using public hotspots instead of streaming.
- Change your cloud sync settings.
- Use software like Little Snitch to monitor data transfer.
In brief: Wi-Fi on the go – use a combination
Although there are all kinds of wonderful opportunities to get Wi-Fi on the go, full network coverage is unfortunately not available (for now). Your mobile router’s reception depends on your internet provider, for instance. The same goes for community hotspots and public Wi-Fi.
Depending on what you use the internet for and how often, we recommend using different combinations. If you’re a digital nomad, it’s worth your while getting a mobile router with a big data plan from a mobile phone provider. If you also use community hotspots and head to a cafe once in a while, you can work from virtually anywhere.
If you only really need Wi-Fi on the go when you’re on holiday, perhaps all you need to do is check out hotspot coverage in advance. If there aren’t enough Wi-Fi networks where you’re going, you can always take a dongle or router. Monthly payment plans are available.