How you get connected when away camping broadly falls into two categories. One is using the mobile network - either with your 'phone's Wifi hotspot facility or a dedicated mobile Wi-Fi adaptor.
The other is on site or locally available Wi-Fi - and that's where our latest review product comes in.
There are two main components to the Solwise kit we are looking at, both of which play an important part in making this a very useful piece of kit.
Firstly, the aerial. It sits outside your unit, so any available signal is not shielded by the walls, and is very powerful allowing you to pick up signals not normally reachable by a pad or laptop.
Secondly, the router box. This sits inside and is connected to the aerial via a USB cable. The router creates it's own WiFi signal allowing multiple devices to connect to it, effectively sharing one connection. This is particularly useful for devices that don't have a normal USB connection or where you don't want to be tethered to a cable.
Right, getting it up! A number of fitting options are provided in the kit including u-bolts for mouting to a TV aerial mast or similar, jubilee clips and suction pads for affixing to the side of your unit - and that's what we used. There is a waterproof seal at the bottom of the unit where the cable exits and provided theunit is mounted vertically, the supplied waterproof tape is not required.
Inside, there a couple of connections to make - the USB cable from the aerial to the router - and the router's power supply. Both mains and 12v adaptors are provided so you can stay online when off grid.
Comprehensive instructions are provided on how to set up the router through any web browser - and this can be done on any smartphone, laptop or pad with a WiFi facility - so pretty much anything!
Initial set up consists of these stages:
- Connecting to the router so you can access the router's set up screen - search as you would for any WiFi network.
- Access the router's set up screen through a browser
- Search for an available WiFi network and connect to it.
- Personalise and secure your own internal WiFi hotspot.
Now, that may all seem a bit of a faff. BUT, steps 1, 2 & 4 only need to be done once. When you go to another site you simply go through stage 3 again to find available networks and connect to one.
It sounds more involved than it is and if you've set up your home router you will have no problem with this.
So, you might be thinking, all very interesting but why bother? Again, there are two main reasons:
- The powerful aerial can pick up WiFi that your device may not be able to. Maybe you are at the far end of the campsite, or Wi-Fi is only available around the reception area for example. Or there may be no WiFi on site but you may be able to pick up some local WiFi with this - perhaps from a pub or BT WiFi - access to which is free if you are a BT customer.
- The router allows multiple devices to access one connection. Often site Wifi is limited to a single device either by a password or voucher system perhaps. Some even stop you logging out so you can't transfer usage to another device - we had this recently and it's a bit sneaky. In this case it would be your router that is connected. Your devices connect to the router. Imagine the potential cost saving for a family of four, all with devices to connect.
In the week or so that we've been using this we have found it invaluable. At our recent Twittercamp meet, five units were able to share one connection - one was even able to use a Now TV box thanks to the strength and stability of the signal. On our current site, my laptop struggles to pick up the site WiFi on it's own, but through the aerial and router it's fine - I've even been able to upload the video that will accompany this blog. It's very quickly become an essential part of our caravanning kit as bloggers and I wouldn't be without it now.
Thank you to Solwise for supplying the kit. We have put together a video to accompany the blog which you will find on our YouTube channel HERE
If you have any questions at all please do not hesitate to ask. If I can't answer them myself, I will try and get an answer for you or steer you in the right direction.
The kit is available at around £110 including delivery direct from Solwise HERE and many camping accessory shops too.