Wifi Access in Europe - A Quick Basic Guide

By far the easiest and cheapest way to pick up internet when travelling abroad in a motorhome is through the use of Wifi. It is becoming more common for towns to provide free Wi-FI access as do many cafe’s, bars and of course campsites. Then there is also unsecured networks left open by uninformed or just plain generous users! 

It is wise to treat all unsecured networks with caution and be sensitive over what information you pass over them, such as banking information and so forth. If you want to be ultra careful, setup a separate e-mail account with a generic name and unique password to send and receive e-mail from.

The main thing to facilitate you gaining access to Wi-Fi is through improving your Wi-Fi antenna over an above the one that comes built into your laptop. There are a number of reasons for this - firstly your built in WiFi antenna was only really designed to work in an office or home environment and was never meant to span large distances. Its antenna is likely just a bit of copper wire running around the internals and if you're using your device inside your motorhome or caravan, you then have the insulation materials to contend with. 

When this blog post was originally authored April 2011 we went on to recommend some products which were the best that were available at the time. Many of these are now difficult to source or are out of date, but in 2012 we setup a business specifically focussed to supplying the communication needs of fellow Motorhomers - Motorhome WiFi.

The products now listed below are a selection of products available on our website and each of them have been tested and used extensively by us. The first two are USB based devices, suitable for laptops and further down there is our iBoost system which will work with multiple devices (including iPads, tablets and phones) simultaneously. 

Motorhome WiFI High Power Omni  (Omni-Directional - Upto 1km range) - £89.99

The first device is a Omni-Directional antenna which means that doesn't have a ‘best’ side, it picks up signals from all around. This is the easiest thing to use because it doesn't require any manual fine tuning in order to gain an improve a signal. The antenna is fully weatherproof and attaches ideally to the side of the vehicle using 4 strong suction cups and should be mounted so that as much of the white antenna mast clears the roof-line of the vehicle.

The antenna is fully weatherproof and comes equipt with 5m of USB cable 

The below is a screenshot taken from Net Stumbler, I have clicked on the 'Encryption' column heading to sort the networks into encrypted and unencrypted (highlighted with a green box). In simple terms, you want to adjust your antenna until one of these shows a steady green and then close the application and then attempt to connect to it using Windows as per usual. 
Net Stumbler - Click to Enlarge
If you a using Windows 7 you will be better off downloading a program called inSSIDer (click) which while slightly more graphics heavy performs the same task as Net Stumbler.

What about iPads and Tablets?

Motorhome WiFi iBoost System (Directional - Upto 1.5km range) - £159.99
Available from: Motorhome WiFi - iBoost System

The #1 question we was always asked was 'does it work with an iPad?' The answer was always 'no', until we came up with the iBoost kit. The system uses a powerful active directional antenna and an internal router inside your van to re-broadcast the signal to all of your devices. It's a booster and a repeater at the same time, which is great if you find yourself on a campsite with a strict one device per connection rule!

Out First Prototype System:

Left is one of the first antennas we sold when we started the business Motorhome WiFi. Because the antenna was originally designed to be pole mounted and fixed, we modified the unit to allow you to maximise the adjustment in a free-standing environment or with a suction mount. I fitted a custom made bracket into the base, the same size thread as you find in the bottom of a digital camera. 

Our Long Distance WiFi Record - 18km!
We were able to connect to Wifi in Corfu from mainland Greece - a distance of 18km over water!
Any questions or comments please feel free to contact us via the form on the About Us page!

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  1. Really useful and easy to understand stuff Addie - cheers!

  2. Great information! I'm living in the dark ages! I must get up to speed on this stuff!

  3. Lots of info. Much appreciated

  4. That's it, I'm going back to working online and travelling Europe with my partner, we've been talking about it for a while and you've now inspired and shown the way.

    Time to plan, save and sort things out !

    Thanks so much for this blog :)

  5. The NET-WL-USB-CPE has recently been upgraded and Net Stumbler won't recognise it (not mine anyways!). I found a program called inSSIDer 2.0 which seems to do the job just as well. I've also signed up for BTFON which allows you access to all UK based BTFON wi-fi networks for free (When I say free, I mean after you've bought a BTFON box (£34) and plugged it into a broadband connection). There is also an app for Android (possibly iPhone) that shows you where all the BTFON wi-fi hotspots are.
    Thanks for the blog - am really enjoying it and making plans.

    1. Hi Mark,

      You're right - NetStumbler doesn't always work with Windows 7. I am going to update this guide shortly and include inSSIDer which is a better application.

      We too have BT FON which is of limited use in the UK and unfortunately of no use in Europe, we've only found one hotspot in the last 8 months!

      Safe travelling! :)

  6. Adam, in Europe are there hotspot type wifi services? i.e. you know that you can get BT wifi for free if you already have a BT account, etc.

    Have you signed up to any services? do you have any recommendations to sign-up to?

    Cheers Matt

    1. Hi Matt,

      We have never needed to sign up to any Hotspot type services. There are very limited associations with BT / FON in Europe and we have not yet actually found any access point that support these (we have a FON account).

      All the best!

  7. It's not so much a problem with Net Stumbler in Win7, as it is a problem that Net Stumbler has always been picky about which netcard chipsets it will work with.

  8. Thanks, this is really useful! Both my wife and I work freelance and need to be able to get online while we're travelling, so this is really good to know. We'd been looking into satellite, but it's SO expensive! This sounds like a much better solution :-)