Today I want to talk about mobile broadband on a narrowboat. Anyone who lives on a boat soon discovers that living in a metal box isn’t the best thing for getting a signal, add to that the often remote locations and it can often be a real hit and miss affair.
I have always been quite a heavy user of the internet and since we moved on to our narrowboat I have been trying to work out the best options to get online. I have a MacBook Pro laptop and an iPhone.
For the phone I am on O2 and on the boat I get a reasonable enough phone signal and can (slowly) get emails and view the odd web site. My contract includes 2GB of internet access but with the speed I can get I use very little of that. If I go into town I can pick up a 4G signal.
WiFi is supposed to be coming to the marina soon, so I don’t want to enter into any long contracts when I should be able to get it free in the next few months.
Using the laptop I have tried several options so far.
Wi-Fi on Site
There is wi-fi from ineedbroadband.co.uk on the marina but I could only get a signal outside or sitting in the cratch area. The cost varies. 1 day is £5 but 30 days is just £20. This company specialises in providing wi-fi to marinas and holiday parks. Here is a map showing their locations.
I also tried a 3G Dongle on the 3 network which is supposed to be the best network on the canal system. This worked fine but it is quite expensive. I am keeping this mainly for when we are away from the marina. This can be purchased for £35 with 3GB of data and then topped up as required. For example 10GB of data is £15 but only lasts for 1 month.
As the dongle requires a USB port it is not suitable for a phone or an iPad. I found reception ok but improved it by buying a USB extension cable which I hung out of the window with the dongle sealed in a plastic bag.
I found it easier and cheaper to buy the Dongle through Amazon
From there I tried a Huawei MiFi again on the 3 network. This had the advantage of being able to connect all my devices rather than just the laptop. On a monthly rolling contract this was £40 for the MiFi unit and £16 for 10GB of data,but it didn’t see me through a full month and can’t be topped up beyond the 10GB. Go over your limit and the charges are astronomical. £1 for every 10mb.
(UPDATE Sept 2015) Having now moved location to a marina with no wi-fi, I have changed my contract with Three to a 24 month contract. I now get 15GB of data for just under £15.
I have now purchased a wifi booster from Amazon for £40. This is attached to a pole outside the boat and I then run the supplied 5 metre USB cable in through the window. This has meant that I can now pick up a much stronger signal and can use ineedbroadband without having to go outside.
When we do get marina wi-fi I should now be able to get a strong signal.
Scanning with this device, it picked up about 12 other users broadband signals, though of course they are all private and locked. It could be useful though on our travels to pick up any open networks. It is supposed to have a range of several hundred metres.
Typical of an item from China, the instructions were completely useless but fortunately a reviewer on Amazon had given instructions, including where to download Mac drivers.
How do you get mobile broadband? I would be interested to hear what you use and how well it works.