Internet access on a narrowboat is a hot topic as most people want to remain connected when on the move. We are no different.
When we were preparing for our first holiday on the narrowboat, I wanted a flexible internet solution that meant I could try out different network providers before committing to any long contract. This meant that I needed a device that wasn’t locked to a network so I could use any sim I wanted.
My solution for internet access on a narrowboat
I ended up picking a Huawei E5377s-32 mi-fi (mobile wireless) device (http://amzn.to/2tawivR which has been replaced by a newer version Huawei E5577C http://amzn.to/2ryOIcS ). The reason for my choice was because of the capability to also use an external aerial.
I tried pay as you go sim cards from O2, Three and EE network. Three had a reasonable deal on at the time – 12GB of data that would last for a year (or less if you used it quick). This worked well for us until Anna decided that we were going to upload daily vlogs while on the trip! Which lead to me finding I had no coverage issues with EE either.
When we moved on board, I took out a data contract with EE, which included a 4G mi-fi device. This device has been fine for general internet usage – browsing, uploading videos, watching YouTube, etc. However, when it comes to working from home and connecting to my employers network via a VPN, it has been less than great.
Basically, when the device is inside the boat best you get is 1 bar of signal. When it is in the window, this might go up as high as 3 bars. As I said, this is fine for general internet usage but seems to not be consistent enough for me to maintain a workable connection back to the office.
So I switched my sim card into the Huawei device. This had similar signal results (1 bar – 3 bars inside the boat) but I did find that the VPN drop outs were less frequent. However, when you are trying to actually do work, it’s really annoying having to re-connect every 30 minutes. Especially when you lose everything that you have open.
When we were at Crick in 2017, I got chatting with the people of a company called “Wifi on board” about connectivity. I had previously come across their website when I was researching internet connectivity options so I hoped to get some useful advice. I ended up walking away with this: https://www.wifionboard.co.uk/product/magnetic-roof-antenna/ – an antenna to sit on my roof.
What’s in the bag
- A highly magnetic antenna connected to two long cables
- 2 x short T9 connectors
The cables are long and can go inside via a mushroom vent. The T9 connections are required to plug the cables into my Huawei device (which has two sockets free for external connections).
Huawei with no antenna running on EE 4G data plan – 1 bar of signal – VPN drop out’s every 20-30 minutes.
Huawei connected two antenna running on EE 4G data plan – 5 bars of signal almost immediately and a constant connection for the whole day.
The other cable in the middle of the device is the USB charging cable. When we are on shore power, I leave it plugged in all the time to avoid the battery dying unexpectedly.
The user experience – perfect!
This was a lot of money to spend on internet access as the aerial and mi-fi device were not cheap. However, it has definitely improved the quality and speed of internet access on the boat. It was worth the money for me just to be able to spend more time working from home without having to worry about my connectivity dropping in the middle of a conference call.
The real test will be when we go out cruising and moor up in an area with poor mobile coverage. The device is supposed to be strong enough to pick up signal “from the next tower”. In theory, even when the phone signal is poor, we should be able to pick up a better signal using this antenna.
Watch this space!!