Mobile broadband has to be the most suited method for narrow boats to gain internet access. There are several solutions which cater for most requirements and budgets. Here we look at each type of mobile broadband device so you can fully understand which option is best suited to your needs.

Mobile broadband dongles are one option for receiving internet on a narrowboat
Mobile router used on a narrow boat can provide a more substantial internet connection
Mobile dongle can be used to access the internet from a narrowboat

Mobile Broadband… Is this right for you?

If you prefer a more flexible option to marina WiFi and you don’t think a Public Hotspot would work for you, the next option to consider is mobile broadband.

A dongle is the simplest way to access mobile broadband. Dongles are devices that use a SIM card provided by a network services provider to give internet access. Dongles use a mobile data package and can either by wireless or using a USB connection.

Accessing mobile broadband via a dongle provides you with the ultimate flexibility as you can take it with you and, pretty much, use it wherever you like.  Its usage is clearly not limited to being on a canal boat, it can also be used on holiday, on the train …… really anytime you are away from home or at home! Some providers also now allow you to use your data allowance in specified countries abroad too.

Dongle data packages are flexible; pay-as-you-go and monthly subscriptions are normally available.  Sometimes there is an initial charge for the device, but likewise, sometimes they are free of charge depending upon your data package.

It is recommended to thoroughly check your contract for charges if you go over your monthly data allowance; very often the provider will allow you to go over at an heavily inflated price up to a specified amount, this is often £50, without prior warning. You are able to request this is removed from your account so as not to incur additional charges and your service will be halted when you reach your data limit.

Mobile Broadband… 3G & 4G Mobile Routers

If you are requiring a more substantial internet connection for long term use; perhaps you work from your canal boat and a reliable internet connection is essential, a mobile router may be an option for you to consider. Designed specifically for marine and very rural locations, this solution could provide you with the ultimate internet connection on your boat.

As with dongles, a mobile router requires a SIM. Some mobile routers offer dual SIM functionality so you are able to switch between different service providers depending on your location.

There are several mobile routers on the market to choose from and normally consist of an external antenna and a Wi-Fi hub mounted inside the cabin. The hub creates a personal hot-spot using 3G or 4G networks and can provide data rates up to 100Mbps download and upload speeds. Some external antennas are Omni-directional and can be folded down to avoid hitting any obstructions whilst cruising. Others automatically focus and steers in the direction of the best signal, ideal as boats inevitably change location and direction a lot of the time.

A long range WiFi system can provide signal range far superior to that of a mobile dongle. One manufacturer claims they have achieved connection of 24Mbps at 2 miles, but the realistic range is around 3000ft in most cases.

  • A permanent installation, so again, if you are building or fitting out a boat then specify and provide the equipment to the boat builder/fitter in advance for a professional installation
  • Requires an external antenna
  • Ultimate solution for multiple high speed connections
  • Suitable for use with a Smart TV or set-top box (see further information below)
  • LAN (or Ethernet) and USB ports allows a computer/games console to connect to the network using a wired connection
  • Twin external antennas ports for optimum 4G connectivity with dual polarised antennas
  • Units can also support mobile calls using the SIM’s number or by using the internet to make the call i.e SIP VoIP (see further information below)

Once the computer is up and running the sky is the limit. From a mobile floating home office providing printing, scanning, copying facilities and high speed download capabilities to a fully web capable entertainment system with top quality video and audio streaming, these are currently the most high tech solution for anyone looking for internet access from a canal boat or narrowboat.

Mobile Broadband… Using Mobile Routers for WiFi Hotspots and 3G/4G

In addition to picking up 3G/4G signal via a traditional SIM card, many mobile routers can also be used to connect to WiFi hotspots. This is ideal if you are looking for the ultimate, flexible solution to ensure you can stay on-line whether you are in a marina or cruising the network.

To enable the mobile router to connect to WiFi hotspots you will need some additional equipment, namely an access point and an external WiFi antenna (in addition to your 3G/4G external antenna). These two pieces of equipment are commonly sold as two units that interconnect.

In conclusion, if you have a home mooring in a marina which offers WiFi but you also want to pick up 3G/4G whilst you are out cruising; to give you the best possible chance of achieving fast download/upload speeds, you will require the following equipment:

  • Mobile router (with a minimum of 2 antenna ports to achieve 4G speeds)
  • Dual polarised 3G/4G external antenna (or 2 x single connection 3G/4G antennas)
  • WiFi access point
  • External WiFi antenna

Your data speeds are still subject to the data speeds available from your service provider and can also be impacted by the number of other users accessing the service at any given time.

Mobile Broadband… Wireless Mi-Fi Dongles

Wireless Mi-Fi Dongles are a great solution for mobile internet access on canal boats and narrowboats the cater for multi devices through the creation of a wifi hotspot and provide internet where ever you or your boat are. With the right set up and network operator these units will cater for most of your internet requirments including video streaming.

  • Rechargeable units meaning you are not reliant on a continuous power source
  • Flexible charging, either through 240v; 12v socket or USB charger in to a laptop/PC. Many use a micro-USB connection
  • Spare/replacement batteries are often available to purchase
  • Generally connect up to 5 devices
  • Units often have a visual indication of signal strength
  • Can be 3G or 4G (see further information below)
  • Signal range can be up to 50ft
  • Can be window mounted using a mobile phone holder (for car windscreen)
  • Charging points should be considered if you are building/fitting out a boat
  • Some wireless Mi-Fi dongles have an external antenna input perfect for use with magnetic roof mounted antennas (often use TS9 antenna ports)

Mobile Broadband… Plug In USB Dongles

USB plug-in mobile internet dongles were the first development & solution for mobile internet, with trend for browsing the internet through mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets these are quickly becoming the least favourable method of mobile internet access and will probably be phased out in due course.

  • As the dongle requires a USB port, these are generally not compatible with mobiles or tablets. Most laptops and desktop PC’s will have USB ports.
  • They are not designed for use within a steel hull, so signal issues can be a problem on a boat.
  • Signal issues can be resolved by using an USB extension to place the dongle outside your boat via a window and placing in a waterproof container.
  • Only one device can be connected at any time

Mobile Broadband

Not what you're looking for? Try some other items within this chapter...

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(Saturday 25 to Monday 27 May 2024)


Britain's biggest inland waterways show.

Advance tickets can be ordered by phone and online until 12midday on Friday 17 May 2024. If you are planning to purchase advance tickets, we recommend that you do so well before this deadline to allow time for postal delivery.
Children 16 and under – free entry Saturday, Sunday, Monday

Trade & Preview Day – Friday 24 May 2024
Get ahead and visit The Fit Out Pontoon before everyone else on Preview Day!
Preview Day tickets are strictly limited to a maximum of 1,000 pre-booked visitors and give entry to the Show from 10am – 6pm on Friday 24 May.