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How to get internet when traveling in Australia

This article is the culmination of study on a quest to get internet when working remotely from the campsite in Australia. You have come to the wrong place you are looking for general information on mobile and internet providers. If you are looking for a way to get reliable internet in remote locations you are in the right place… read on.

Personally I am a bit of a tech nerd and have a need to stay connected when wanting work remotely. I’ve spent plenty of time reading up on the best options and ways to stay connected. WiFi and internet access has become essential for everyday life. Living in a caravan is no different – working, contacting family, and ability to get information means wifi and internet is very helpful. If you’re wondering how to get internet in a caravan or car, this easy and definitive guide to getting internet and wifi is for you.

In summary this article covers:

  • Mobile Carriers and Maps
  • Signal on the move – If you are looking to boost signal for 3G voice calls only when on the move then the cel fi go is the best option.
  • Starlink Internet
  • Stationary reliable internet – When stationed at a camp site the cel fi go is not the best option. 
Bald Head

Coverage and Carriers

Whilst pricey Telstra is certainly the most popular. Second to that we have boost. After that there are Telstra re-sellers like Aldi but your connection is limited. In some circumstances Optus is a good carrier to go with.

We suggest only Telstra or Boost. Aldi and the other resellers who use the Telstra Network are not able to provide a full seed service. The resellers only provide access to the Wholesale Telstra Network, which is NOT the full network. You can find a couple of guides here:

  • https://www.whistleout.com.au/MobilePhones/Guides/Telstra-mobile-network-coverage
  • https://www.telstra.com.au/coverage-networks/our-coverage
Screen shot of the Telstra Coverage Map

Cel-Fi Go

Recently, we got a Cel-Fi GO installed in the caravan and then promptly sent it back. If you haven’t heard about this thing, basically it is a mobile repeater, which can improve mobile reception in your vehicle. Our main issue with it is that the device works best on 3G, which is really only able to handle voice calls.

 What is it?

Cel-Fi GO is a mobile repeater station for your vehicle.  It works by receiving the network signal, amplifying it and then re-transmitting it within the vicinity of your vehicle.  Your phone obtains the boosted signal from the GO to improve voice and internet connectivity.

The Cel-Fi Go costs about $900-$1,200.00 to buy the kit, and then there is the installation. Installation is fairly simple but could void the warranty.

It works as a repeater, you can buy an external antenna, then you plug it into the Cel-Fi, the Cel-Fi “Boosts” the signal, and outputs the “Boosted” signal to another, small antenna that gives anyone in range a 5 bar phone signal. There are a few problems with this.

  • The Boosted signal is only available in limited area around the booster, i.e. inside the vehicle
  • The external antenna is doing most of the work here. The Cel-Fi unit itself seems to be stuck in the late 1990’s technology. It will not give you better internet speeds
  • Modern Modems/Phones use a thing called “MIMO” (Multi in, Multi Out) where they use multiple antennas to increase data speeds. Some phones and modems are able to do 2×2 MIMO, and some are able to do 4×4 MIMO. Cel-Fi is not capable of this, it is single antenna in, single antenna out.
  • Cel-Fi is essentially designed for 3G Voice, and it will greatly help you to maintain a voice call in remote areas. This is what it is designed for, not internet data.

Netgear Nighthawks & Antenna Set-up

So what’s a better option than a Cel-fi Go? Any 3G/4G/5G Modem that has external antenna ports. There are a lot of mobile modems that do not offer external antennas.

My choice is the relatively new Nighthawk M2 Modem from Telstra. I purchased from Ebay at a cost of $280. This modem is fully functional on the 4G network, it does not allow for 5G. I chose this as the 5G transmission is fairly short so I have assumed we will be in a town/near an antenna if 5G is available.

This modem also functions very well on 3g/4g, and has 2 external antenna ports. The two ports mean we can use a 2×2 MIMO with an external antenna or two. Also, this modem has a battery in it, so it can operate with no power supply for a period of time. It displays Data used for the month on the front of it, which is quite convenient.

We have tried quite a few antennas including the cheap Ebay versions. The one we have settled with is the widely recommended  https://www.telcoantennas.com.au/rfi-wide-band-mimo-3g-4g-5g-panel-antenna-700-3800

RFI Wideband MIMO Panel Antenna

This antenna is fairly small, so we can stow it easily and it doesn’t catch the wind too much (This is important). It works exceptionally well. The antenna is directional also. (This is quite important as it lets you select which tower you want to communicate with). When this first arrived I was able to take the signal inside our house from 1 bar to 5 just by pointing it in the right direction (it wasnt even on a mast!). Pointing the antenna into the right direction is very important. You can use the Aus Phone Towers App to find out where your nearest tower is and then move the antenna acrodingly.

So some of you may ask, how do I use this panel antenna on a mast? The answer is a pretty simply app called Aus Phone Towers.

  • https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=au.com.bitbot.phonetowers&hl=en_AU&gl=US
  • https://apps.apple.com/au/app/aus-phone-towers-3g-4g-5g/id1488594332

This is a great, Aussie developed and run App that specifically provides information to anyone, for free, about what phone towers there are in the area you are in, how much bandwidth they have and what services they provide.

Starlink for in Australia 

Tesla’s starlink is now availble for Beta testing in Australia. Basically there is a limited amount of systems being deployed at this stage. You can apply for one via their website.

Starlink differs from traditional satellite internet in several ways. Its satellites are only 300 to 500 miles above Earth, while traditional communication satellites are 23,000 miles above Earth. The closer distance improves latency, which is the time it takes to get a response.

Instead of single geostationary satellites that serve a wide area, Starlink will be launching several thousand satellites with narrower coverage areas resulting in higher bandwidth and faster speeds. 

There are issues with coverage in Australia. The location of your “home” address can be updated. However, currently (as at Feb 2022) there are numerous locations unavailable. In researching we have found that Northern WA and some of the NT is not covered. 

Dishy McDishface Starlink
Dishy Mc Dish Face

Many cell phone companies (Boost, Telstra and those on the Telstra Network) have pretty good coverage, and unlimited plans allow traveler’s to rely on those cell phone plans for pretty good internet. If you are in an area with decent coverage, you can browse, stream, and use your phone/Nighthawk as a hotspot for laptops and other devices. We will be staying with the Netgear for now. 

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