How to get Internet Anywhere in Australia – Remote Internet Guide

How to get Internet Anywhere in Australia – Remote Internet Guide

Update 22 SEP 21 – We have teamed up with TelcoAntennas to be able to offer this setup as a package, along with a 5% extra discount for our readers! https://www.telcoantennas.com.au/remote-data-setup-for-caravans-campers-trailers-mi

Use code 4651320q for the extra discount!

Hi Everyone,

I am a self confessed tech nerd, and a Communications Technician by trade, so saying I am interested in this stuff is a bit of an understatement.

I love the Internet, and having it as much as possible is a priority for me.

Mobile Coverage and Providers

First things first out of the mobile carriers – Telstra is the carrier of choice, followed by Boost, followed by any Telstra reseller (such as Aldi), then Optus or any Optus reseller. If you have Vodafone, pretty much don’t bother outside of major population centres. It’s not bagging Vodafone or Optus, it’s just that they genuinely haven’t invested in towers outside of major population centres. Optus is heaps better than Vodafone, but still a poor 2nd to Telstra.

Why Telstra or Boost and not Aldi or the other resellers who use the Telstra Network? The resellers only provide access to the Wholesale Telstra Network, which is NOT the full network. A good map comparison is here: https://www.whistleout.com.au/MobilePhones/Guides/Telstra-mobile-network-coverage

A screen Capture from the Whistleout Interactive Map. Take a look at the Nullarbor as an Example.

So just to Recap: Telstra or Boost will provide you the full Telstra Coverage. Anyone else simply will not. Telstra especially are starting to roll out 5G on the 850MHZ spectrum, which will provide better speeds to much bigger areas. I Don’t believe as of writing this (June 2021) that they will provide that extra 5G coverage to Boost customers.

Celfi-Go

If you ask on any of the travelling Facebook pages, or pretty much anywhere, you will be advised to use the Celfi-Go repeater system. Don’t Do it! I have one, and purchased one based on advice I received. This system is stuck in the 2000’s and will not provide you the best services that you can get, and it’s BLOODY expensive.

It works as a repeater, you buy an external antenna, (like this one) https://www.telcoantennas.com.au/telco-omni-3g-4g-4gx-antenna-700-2700mhz And 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 a small area, depending on the antenna you are using. Usually inside a car/van is all.
  • The Antenna is doing pretty much all of the work here. There is no real “Boost” from the Cel-Fi unit itself. It’s NOT giving 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.
RFI COL7195 Omni Antenna. A decent option, but not the best.

Nighthawk M5 and M1/M2 Modems

So what’s a better option than a Cel-fi Go? Basically any 3G/4G/5G Modem that has external antenna ports.

My choice is the relatively new Nighthawk M5 Modem from Telstra. I purchased directly from them for a price of $799. This modem is fully functional on the 5G network, including the new 850MHZ 5G spectrum.

This modem also functions well on 3g/4g, and has 2 external antenna ports, so it can do 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 also is quite durable. (We left ours behind once, and it was run over by a car and caravan before we retrieved it, with only a slight crack in the front plastic!) It also displays Data used for the month on the front of it, which is quite convenient.

External Antenna

We have tried multiple antenna, to reach a point we are happy with. We aren’t sponsored by these guys, but have found the service to be great and the shipping speed fast.

We have ended up with (and are happy with) the https://www.telcoantennas.com.au/rfi-wide-band-mimo-3g-4g-5g-panel-antenna-700-3800

RFI Wideband MIMO Panel Antenna

This antenna is small, light (This is important) and works really well. It’s Directional also. (This is quite important as it lets you select which tower you want to communicate with)

The important point here is that it’s directional. There are multiple options, but a directional antenna lets you point the antenna straight at the tower you want to talk to. (We’ll get to that later in the article.)

IT also has two physical antennas located within the enclosure, and two separate leads coming out of it down to your modem. This means that it can do 2×2 MIMO and gives you double the data throughput of a single Antenna.

A Mast (Or how you get it up in the air so it’s useful)

We went through a bit of an evolution to get to where we are today, and where we are happy with our mast. We started with a large Painters pole from Bunnings.

This was a reasonable option, and cheap since we already owned it. Unfortunately the panel antenna plus a strong wind decided to start bending it until we weren’t able to retract and extend it properly. So we rate this option a C-

We decided to just do things properly, and purchased (also from TelcoAntennas) this drawbar mounted option. https://www.telcoantennas.com.au/heavy-duty-galvanised-draw-bar-mount-57m-telescopic-mast

Drawbar Mounted mast from TelcoAntennas.

This is a 5.7m mast that attaches to the drawbar of your trailer, caravan or whatever. We got it with the U bolts for a 100mm tall drawbar, and we put it on the back of our caravan. It lives there all the time, and when we get to a site that we want better (or any) internet at, we simply attach the panel antenna and raise the mast up.

Our antenna on the back of our Caravan

How to use an external Panel Antenna

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. I’ve put a screenshot below from Cape Hillsborough, near Mackay, QLD.

Cape Hillsborough, QLD. Showing the towers in the area and what bandwidth they provide

So when we got to the Caravan Park here, we had 0-1 Bars of reception on our phones. I opened this app, and it quickly showed me exactly where the Telstra Tower was that I was connected to, and what services it had. I simply pointed the Panel Antenna at this tower and it was good to go.

How much difference does it make?

So here is a real world speed test from Cape Hillsborough Caravan Park in QLD. This is a popular major caravan park in a reasonable populated area of the world, and it says on Wikicamps that there is Telstra Reception available.

Here is a Speedtest done on my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. This is pretty much the best phone and antenna you can possibly buy at the moment.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Speed Test

This 3.3mbps is just use-able internet. It will be slow and unreliable, barely able to load a website, and almost certainly not able to actually use Youtube or Netflix.

Using the Nighthawk M5 and external Antenna pointed at the tower

Now that is what I’m talking about. 22mbps is great internet speed, and is perfectly able to do everything you need to do on the internet, even upload a Youtube Video. This is in the exact same spot as the mobile speedtest above, but over Wifi and through the Nighthawk 5G and the RFI External Antenna.

How much did it Cost us for this setup?

All the prices are at TelcoAntennas, but pretty much:

  • Modem – $799
  • Mast – $285
  • Antenna – $313

Telstra costs us about $75/Month for 400Gb on their new Data Only Plan.

What about the future? What about Satellite Internet and Starlink?

Like many nerds, I am very, very interested in Elon Musk (of Tesla and SpaceX Fame) and his Starlink satellite internet system. This is a system of Low Earth Orbit satellites, at 550km above the earth.

Starlink.sx showing Australian Coverage of Starlink Satellites

At the time of writing there are over 1400 of these satellites launched, and they are slowly coming out of their Beta trials worldwide. Currently (June 2021) they are servicing to the top of NSW, across to Perth and south of that line.

Early reports are very very good. 300mbps up and 40mbps down, and anywhere in that area.
Starlink are rapidly expanding this network (Including a Central Queensland base station!) and it’s predicted that by the end of 2021 they will have full coverage of all of Australia with their high speed internet.

Costs at the moment are $699 for the hardware, and $139/Month for unlimited downloads.

We have signed up for the Beta Program and will give it a go as soon as we are invited to try it out.

Conclusion

So love them or hate them, Telstra are really the only option if you are travelling Australia. We are waiting to see whether they will allow Boost access to their 5g 850MHZ network or not.

At the moment, they are the only real option, but the good news is that they have significantly upped their data limits on their phone and data plans. We have a 400gb a month Data plan for $75 a month with Telstra. Once we have Starlink, we are unsure whether we will ditch the Nighthawk or not. I think it’s more convenient in metro areas to simply have the Nighthawk modem with no external antenna or satellite dish.

If you found this article useful, clicking on an ad would be a nice way to say thank you!

This Post Has 44 Comments

  1. Ben Strachan

    Does the antenna need power? I assume the modem and antenna needs 240v power? Do you run the antenna leads through window to get to modem?

    1. admin

      Hi Ben, Answered on Facebook I believe, but for everyone elses benefit! The Antenna is unpowered and receives its power from the modem, and the modem is 12V or 240V. Yes, we run the antenna leads through our window.

  2. Craig

    Great article, thanks for going to all the effort!!
    Very keen on the Starlink System, note you signed up for the Beta Trial, do you know if that means you have a separate type of antenna for s Caravan or is it the same as the one they have for a house set up?

    1. admin

      No problems thanks!

      The Beta I signed up for is the normal house one. I haven’t been able to reach anyone at Starlink to try and become a BETA tester for the mobile version.

  3. Ben

    How are you finding the T9 connectors on the Nighthawk? Mine seem to be flimsy and wondering if it’s me, or a design flaw?

    1. admin

      They are a touch Flimsy but I am just careful with mine. Not sure if the M5 and the M2 have the same connector exacty.

  4. Sang Le

    I think Starlink is geo-lock. So you can’t use it with your camp. I hope Starlink will remove this lock in the future.

    1. admin

      At the moment yes, however you can just update your address when you move at the moment. They will definitely remove it when BETA is finished.

      1. Maurice Furlan

        A novice here. Excellent article and thanks. Can starlink be used on a yacht at sea if sailing?

        1. admin

          Hi Maurice,

          Not yet, but they are developing fully mobile versions now.

  5. Mouse

    Hi, Have you any feedback using a Telstra 5g WiFi Pro (MU 500) with the subject aerial or any assumptions? I understand by the post your preference is the Netgear Nighthawk

    1. admin

      Hi Mouse, there’s a great thread on Whirlpool Forums about this device – https://forums.whirlpool.net.au/thread/9kvmww13?p=5

      As far as I am aware, this device does not detect external antennas and there is no way to switch the antennas to external. It is very disappointing for us rural folk. My antenna supports the whole range from 698-3800mhz, but I have two of these modems and neither one will recognise it, despite it working perfectly with all my other modems.

  6. Ben M

    Very helpful, thank you. Do you use both external aerial connectors on the Nighthawk M5? If so, how does that work? Are there two aerial cables up to the external receiver? Thanks in advance.

    1. admin

      Hi Ben,

      This is MIMO. Yes I use both ports, and yes if your antenna is MIMO capable (essentially it has two antennas in the one shell) it will have two seperate antenna cables coming out of it to plug into the modem.

  7. Jenni

    Hi, I am very certain you know what you are talking about but I did just recently get a cel-fi go in my caravan on our farm. We had 1 bar and could not use the phone, you tube, Netflix etc. Sometimes but not often you could use Facebook. Now we have 4 bars of 3G and the phone signal is perfect (I know you mentioned the phone would be the best), and full internet including Netflix and You tube. Downloading an update yes is still slow but considering we have never had reception here this is excellent news for us. So after spending the money on all this I can’t now turn around and get different gear. I need to upgrade my portable wi fi device though so the Netgear one you put up would or could this work well with my cel-fi? Or is their anything to add to what I have to make the cel-fi work better and get 4G? Thanks. Great article. I wished I had seen it sooner.

    1. admin

      Hi Jenni,

      Try forcing the CelFi to use 4g instead of 3g.

      The external antenna will be doing most of the work.

      Basically ANY 4g modem should work ok with your CelFi, the Nighthawk would be overkill.

      If you still want to improve I recommend chatting to the guys at TelcoAntennas, they can sort you out with a fixed solution.

  8. Greg

    G’day,
    If you pull up at a camp site and just out of range with your phone, you can’t use the Aus towers app. But if you could put the mast and antennae up you’d have a signal.

    So how do you find the towers if you can’t get the app up and running? Do you run the pole up with antennae and turn until get a signal?

    I don’t like the idea of putting lead through a window, because of bugs etc, is there a way to have a plug on outside of van to plug antennae into, so it then feeds into nighthawk modem inside?

    Regards
    Greg

    1. admin

      Hi Greg,

      If I know in advance that there won’t be reception (usually check on Wikicamps) I’ll find the towers.

      Otherwise yes just put it up and it only takes 20 seconds to spin it around and find a signal.

      As for the lead through, we actually put some of that sticky foam strip you can get from Bunnings on the aluminium joiner where the flyscreen joins the blind. I cut out a 1cm notch and out the lead through that so that no bugs can get in.

  9. Phil

    Love the article. A great help to us novices.
    I have a Telstra 4GX Hotspot with the two external TS9 antenna connectors.
    If I get the RFI antenna you suggest, do I need adapters to connect to the TS9s?
    Did you look at alternative antennas, like the LPDA type or the 698-2700MHz 4G LTE Signal Booster Amplifier Antenna advertised on Ebay, or are they even legal in Australia?
    Thanks again for some great info.

    1. admin

      Hi mate,

      First, yes your modem will work with the external antenna. Make sure you get a MIMO external antenna.

      Secondly, yes you will need an adapter. Make sure it’s MIMO, TS-9 to SMA.

      Lastly, the LPDA are ok, I ordered some and tried them out, however for me they were too bulky compared to the panel antenna.

      Hope this helps!

  10. Pete

    Mad post mate lookin forward to this starlink, we paid $500 for RV WIFI and its absolute garbage to add amongst all your tried and tested products. We were looking at going the nighthawk recently but may hold off for the starlink 👍

    1. admin

      Thanks mate. Yep I’ve seen the same from Rvwifi. It’s just because it doesn’t have a decent antenna and the antenna does most of the work in these setups.

      One thing about Starlink at the moment, the dish is tripod based and can’t be moved while installed, so it would mean packing it up and opening it out every move, AND you have to find a relatively clear patch of sky. Not always possible in caravan parks or forests etc.

      Apparently the fully mobile dish will be mid next year from my sources.

  11. Don

    Thanks for your post, it’s very helpful as I’m starting here from a very low base. There are two tower sites around our house here. The closest is 6.2 Km away, but is on the other side of a very significant hill. The other is probably nearly line of sight but 23 Km away. Would your recommended antenna pull in a signal from that far away. We have nighthawk M2, and at present the speeds are 1.7 down and 3.8 up.

    1. admin

      Hi guys, I would recommend speaking to a professional in your situation. The guys at Telco Antennas can probably help you better with a fixed situation. Being mobile for us it’s all about the best thing for a lot of different situations, not the specific best in one situation like yours.

  12. David

    Just got this article as the internet speed in most of regional Australia is woeful. Currently in Alice Springs and speed varies dependent on the number of visitors in town and the distance from a tower. I have a RVWifi modem with a Telstra SIM in our van and wondered if a couple of the spare antenna ports would work as with MIMO things you explained.?

    A local community tech up here said the same for the Celfigo , very expensive, and talked me out of it, yet a friend says his works fine. I like the idea of a pumped up antenna.

    1. admin

      Hi David,

      You’ll have to check the Rv WIFI, I’m not sure if it works with MIMO or not. Your friends CelFi Go would work, but not as well as a Nighthawk modem with the same antenna.

  13. Peter Prassinos

    Thanks for explaining this topic in a clear and easily understandable manner which has widely differing opinions – usually around the camp fire with a few drinks put into the mix!
    The configuration that you recommend is still very expensive – approx $1,400 and with the speed of technological improvements it can be superseded in just a matter of months – eg Starlink. So it is hard to commit to this set-up when you don’t know if something better and cheaper is just around the corner.
    We travel about 4 – 6 months of the year into sometimes quite remote areas and used to have a Telstra USB modem with an external antenna that sat on the roof of the van with one of those heavy bases (magnetic) However after a while we found that the phone just by itself performed better than the modem with the antenna! And in areas where the tower signal was blocked by mountains – nothing at all was picked up from the modem and antenna. So my question is – would the RFI Wideband MIMO Panel Antenna that you recommend work with the Telstra USB modem?
    Another issue that perplexes us is the use of our Testra data. We have an unlimited data plan at home and would love to have access to it when we are travelling. This is probably a question to ask Telstra, but would you know why we can’t access our home data plan while travelling?
    Peter

    1. admin

      Hi Peter,

      If your Telstra USB modem has an antenna port (Sounds like it does) then yes you can pretty much attach any antenna. You may prefer a large omni antenna for ease of use instead though.

      With Telstra data, they definitely don’t let you use your home data on mobile, sorry!

    1. admin

      Hi Rob,

      Yep, the 10m SMA male, but yes you do definitely need an SMA to TS9 adapter also.

  14. Stu Hunter

    Folks http://www..mobilesitesafety.com.au is probably superior to other ‘tower listing sites’. It is a direct feed from the ACMA RFNSA and allows you to identify towers in your vicinity. You can then aim your antenna.
    The antenna has an approx 30 degree nose width too, so you don’t have to be super precise.

    1. admin

      Hi Stu,

      Thanks for the input. I believe Aus Phone Towers simply pull the data straight from there and put it into an easier to view format.

      Yes. very true about the 30 degree pattern!

  15. Neil Comport

    Hi Daniel,
    As a tech nuff nuff , absolutely loved your article.
    We are getting a new van, and intend to go with your setup.
    Do you know whether the new Orbi 4gx router with satellite is worth considering?
    Thanks Neil

    1. admin

      Hi Neil,

      Thanks. I wouldn’t personally – Looking at pics of the unit it DOES have antenna ports, but it also doesn’t have 5G and I don’t think it runs on 12V or battery, although I’m not 100% sure.

      And when it says “Satellite” it means a satellite (second) unit that spreads the wifi further, not that it actually connects up to a satellite in the sky for internet 🙂

      1. Neil Comport

        Thanks 🙏

  16. Neil Comport

    Hi Daniel , Telco are advising me to go for M2 as they say M5 has drop out in cables and would require larger cabling !
    Any thoughts ?
    Thanks Neil

    1. admin

      Hi Neil,

      I’m not sure how to answer this sorry, it’s the first I’ve heard of it… I’ll contact Telco Antennas and ask for some more info!

  17. Jody Hodgson

    This is a brilliant article and is some information I have been trying to wade through! I had already purchased a pre loved Netgear Nighthawk M1 I got this as it is MIMO and from my understanding it is mostly 3g in rural areas? I am not too fussed on the 5G network as we are literally needing it in rural free camp areas.. I have been holding back on the antenna solution and toying with the Cell Fi go options for a while, so your post is so timely for me to come across. Do you think the antenna choice is still the best solution and with my M1 for 3g/4g in rural areas?

    1. admin

      Thanks Jody,

      M1 should be ok with the panel antenna! We have a discount code, 4651320q that will get you 5% off the package at Telco Antennas 🙂

      Dan

  18. Brian

    Mate love your article keep up the great work.. I’m looking to buy my van next year and travel in a couple of years. I will be looking out for more of you up graded article. Thanks again

    1. admin

      No worries thanks! I’ll keep it updated with new tech as it happens 🙂

  19. Don

    Excellent article. Thank you. This is the most useful read that we have found. We are working around North Queensland in many internet service-challenged locations and have been along pretty much every pathway that you outline. We have large data uploads. Also now waiting for Starlink to be available as a mobile option. CellFiGo switched to 4G with Nighthawk M2 in the vehicle appears to have improved performance but have not observed definite proof yet with a large data upload job. A vision would be for Starlink to function as mobile service with the self-positioning dish on the roof like our Alden satellite VAST TV system. Nice to think about.

  20. Gillian Sutherland

    Thank you so much for the info you have provided in this article. We are heading off to do The Loop early next year, and have to run our distribution business whilst on the road, so reliable internet will make or break our trip. I have ploughed through so much info, and I’m not really great with tech stuff, but am going to go with everything you’ve suggested. If it can make the chore of working on the road a little less stressful it will be worth every cent.
    Love looking at all of your beautiful photography as well, thanks

    1. admin

      No worries!

      Please make sure to use the discount code for the package to get a few dollars off!

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