Need internet access on your travels around New Zealand? Learn here what your options are, whether you're here for a few weeks or months.

Van Life: Internet access for travellers in New Zealand

Paul Ryken Last Updated: Saturday 15 August 2020 New Zealand, Take the right gear, Work from anywhere Leave a Comment

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Knowing that we would be exploring New Zealand in a campervan for a year, we extensively researched which internet service would suit our needs the most. And after selling our campervan and transitioning back to carry-on backpacks, we reviewed our options once again.

If you (plan to) travel around New Zealand, whether for a few weeks or several months, today’s post will help you:

Vanlife enables you to work and play anywhere | Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash
Vanlife enables you to work and play anywhere | Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

Determining your requirements

Why do you need internet access on the road?

The WHY will determine how important mobile internet access is and what value it has to you – both in monetary terms and time. If you need internet access to generate an income, you will need to consider:

If it is just for social interactions with family and friends or for pleasure (watching Netflix etc), availability and speed are the more important factors.

Plugging in a Cat5 cable is not an option when you want to be mobile | Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Plugging in a Cat5 cable is not an option when you want to be mobile | Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How do you access the Internet?

What you use the internet for will often also determine what device/s you use to access it:

You also need to decide whether you want to have internet access on one device only (for example, your smartphone) or on multiple devices (for example, your smartphone AND your laptop computer).

How much data are you going to need?

You will need to determine your daily (or monthly) data usage to find the right solution for you. We were on a plan with 130GB per calendar month, which meant we could not use more than an average of 4.27GB per day. We had four devices through which we accessed the internet: two smartphones and two laptop computers. We watched Netflix occasionally, but the majority of our data use was business-related.

Data Usage Calculators

We recommend you estimate how much data you think you will consume by using a data usage calculator:

Use several to do a comparison and go with the worst case scenario to ensure you don’t underestimate your needs. When it comes to choosing your provider/option, keep your data usage in mind and select a provider that offers easy upgrades/downgrades (if needed).

Check your data needs with various calculators before you choose a plan | Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Check your data needs with various calculators before you choose a plan | Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A word on Netflix

How much data does Netflix use to stream your favourite television series or movie? How many hours do you spend watching streamed content? It soon adds up over a month:

DefinitionLowMedium / StandardHighUltra-HighAuto
Gigabytes per hour0.30.73.07.0Highest Available

Always select standard definition to save on data. You won’t notice the difference on a smaller screen.

Using the lowest definition will save your data | Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash
Using the lowest definition will save your data | Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Your worst enemy: Data leakage

To ensure you do not exceed your data allowance, implement (some of) these simple rules:

  • Turn off all mobile data for non-essential apps.
  • For IOS users, turn off Background App Refresh and Location options for all non-essential applications.
  • Reduce the number of times a day your inbox refreshes for new email and/or turn off the ‘push email’ functionality. You can also stop your email app from downloading attachments automatically.
  • Only update apps once a month, at the end of your data period (if you have enough data available).
  • Reset Statistics (under Settings/Mobile) at the beginning of your data period to monitor your data usage and/or select the option to receive data usage alerts if available through your Internet Service Provider.
  • Stream video or download/upload large files (particularly photos) using (someone else’s) Wi-Fi. If you connect your smartphone to a Wi-Fi network, it will automatically use Wi-Fi instead of your mobile data.
Avoiding data leakage is easy with a few simple steps | Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash
Avoiding data leakage is easy with a few simple steps | Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

New Zealand mobile networks

The following New Zealand mobile providers use their own (cellular/wireless data) networks:

Smaller operators rent towers from the main operators:

Network Bands/Frequencies

Vodafone

The Vodafone New Zealand mobile network operates on the following frequencies:

  • 2G – GSM 900MHz
  • 2G – GSM 1800MHz
  • 3G – 900MHz (U900) in rural and marine areas (up to 120 kms offshore)
  • 3G – 2100MHz (U2100) in urban areas
  • 4G – 700MHz (Band 28)
  • 4G – 1800MHz (Band 3)
  • 4G – 2600MHz (Band 7)

Spark

  • 3G 850MHz / 2100MHz
  • 4G 700MHz (LTE Band 28)
  • 4G 1800MHz (LTE Band 3)

So why is all this important? Before you buy a MiFi or modem device, ensure it complies with the New Zealand band/frequency requirements.

Do I need a portable Wi-Fi router or modem?

If your smartphone is locked, you need internet access on your laptop computer or you want to use multiple devices, you might want to consider a portable Wi-Fi router or modem. This wireless device connects to the internet through a 3G or 4G mobile network and broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal.

The fast and secure internet connection can then be shared between multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices within range of the router/modem’s signal, including smartphones, laptop computers, tablets and even game consoles – although the more devices you connect and use, the slower the service.

Why can’t I just buy a SIM card and tether from my smartphone?, you may ask. Theoretically, you could. But do bear in mind that many prepaid SIM cards cannot be used for tethering.

Pocket Wi-Fi or Mi-Fi

Pocket Wi-Fi/Mi-Fi are small portable Wi-Fi routers and generally contain a battery or are powered via a USB connection. The following devices are recommended, however, double check that the device you purchase, whether in New Zealand or overseas, is valid for New Zealand frequencies and service providers:

Make and ModelSold byComments
Alcatel LINK Zone 4G Pocket WiFiPBTech, Vodafone New ZealandConnect up to 14 WiFi ready devices at once, 4G ready (4G plan and 4G coverage required), Long battery life (1800mAh)
Huawei E8372 USB Mobile Wi-Fi HotspotPBTechSupports Spark New Zealand/Vodafone/2Degrees Mobile 4G/LTE Networks, Includes Band 28/ LTE-700MHz for rural areas
NETGEAR AirCard 800SSpark New Zealand

Wireless Modems

Wireless modems are slightly bigger than a Pocket Wi-Fi or Mi-Fi device. They run on 12v power, and you can generally plug them into a cigarette lighter or into AC power via a wall adapter. Device options include:

These modems support both 3G and 4G networks. On 4G, you will see speeds of 5-50Mbps download and 1-12Mbps upload. On 3G, speeds are 1-15 Mbps download and 1-5Mbps upload. The speeds vary depending on how far away you are from a tower and how busy that tower is.

Internet solutions for up to 3 months travel in New Zealand

Buy a Vodafone Travel SIM card

If you travel around New Zealand for a month and only need the internet for social media, emails and light web surfing, the Vodafone New Zealand Travel SIM could suit.

These local prepaid SIM cards come with data, call minutes (mins) and text messages (TXTs) usable in New Zealand and to stay connected with your home country. They also have a data-only SIM card for iPads, tablets and Mobile Wi-Fi devices:

Data OnlyMinutes, TXTs and dataMinutes, TXTs and dataMinutes, TXTs and data
Data3GB1.5GB4GB10GB
Duration3 months30 days30 days30 days
PriceNZD50NZD29NZD49NZD59

The Vodafone Travel SIM Card is available in the Vodafone stores at the International Airports in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, any other Vodafone store and online. Online purchases however need a delivery address in New Zealand. For more details, including up to date pricing and terms and conditions, check the Vodafone website.

Buy a Skinny Travel SIM card

Skinny, a division of Spark New Zealand, uses Spark’s 4G network. Skinny offers Travel SIM cards for people with greater data only needs, however (international) call minutes and texts (within New Zealand and to Australia) are limited to 200 each:

Data OnlyMinutes, TXTs and dataMinutes, TXTs and data
Data20GB2GB6GB
Duration60 days30 days60 days
PriceNZD88NZD28NZD48

Buy a 2Degrees Prepaid SIM card

2Degrees is the third provider with its own mobile network in New Zealand. 2Degrees’ network covers major towns, cities and rural areas around New Zealand. In areas without 2Degrees coverage, users roam onto the Vodafone network.

2Degrees offers data only plans as well as data, call minutes (mins) and text messages (TXTs) combos, which include an hour of free data daily and allow you to carry over unused minutes and data for up to a year upon renewal.

Data OnlyMinutes, TXTs and dataMinutes, TXTs and dataMinutes, TXTs and data
Data500MB/1GB/15GB or 12GB1.25GB2.5GB10GB
Duration1 or 6 months30 days30 days30 days
PriceNZD10/20/50 or NZD99NZD19NZD29NZD49

Get Internet access with your Campervan Hire

  • Britz provides 1GB of Wi-Fi per hire via their in-vehicle tablet (which can also be used as a hotspot for up to two devices at a time). The internet service is provided via Vodafone New Zealand. You can purchase 1GB and 5GB packages to top up your data via Britz. Wi-Fi is automatically included if you book the inclusive pack (liability reduction, and camping table and chairs).
  • Freedom Campers provide Pocket Wi-Fi (on the Vodafone 3G network) as an optional extra: $100.00 for 3.5GB of data/3 months or $130.00 for 5.5GB of data/6 months. Top-ups are possible from 500MB/30 days.
  • Spaceship Rentals provide a free 2Degrees prepaid SIM card, which you need to activate and top up to be able to use it.
  • Wendekreisen Travel provides a free Vodafone Travel SIM card, though again, you need to pay for the plan itself.
  • Wilderness provides an optional onboard WiFi in their motorhomes using the Wireless Nation service with unlimited data (subject to coverage), which allows you to connect as many devices as you want.
Not many campervan rental companies hire out modems | Photo courtesy of Britz New Zealand
Not many campervan rental companies hire out modems | Photo courtesy of Britz New Zealand

Rent a Pocket Wi-Fi/Wireless Modem (including data plan)

As mentioned above, if your smartphone is locked, you need internet access on your laptop computer or on multiple devices you may want to get a Pocket Wi-Fi device or Wireless Modem.

The following companies rent out Pocket Wi-Fi devices (including internet service plan) in New Zealand:

CompanyPlanPrice per dayComments
MyWebSpotSingle PlanEUR9.90500Mb of 4G data per day
PocwifiSingle PlanUSD8.99Unlimited data
Tep WirelessSingle PlanUSD8.95Unlimited data, speed slows down if you use more than 3GB/day

DiscoverNET also offers 1-6 week data plans and equipment hire (including a Huawei Modem with 12v power plug for your vehicle and a puck antenna). Travel Pack plans start with $140 for one week/50GB of data, increasing weekly/by 50GB up to $400/300GB for six weeks.

Internet solutions for 3+ months travel in New Zealand

The Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) is a New Zealand Government initiative to provide fast broadband to areas outside the urban copper and fiber networks. It uses more than 540 long-range towers to provide broadband coverage to homes and businesses within range.

Up to 85% of rural New Zealand can access RBI wireless broadband which means you still have internet access in remote areas. We found that only a few spots during our travels around New Zealand had no signal: the Catlins at the bottom of the South Island and sections of the East Cape on the North Island. In most towns, campgrounds, freedom camping site etc, you’ll be able to pick up a 4G signal which is fast enough to stream your Netflix programs.

Are you in coverage?

Check if you’re in an RBI coverage area for Netspeed or Wireless Nation.

Rural Broadband Plans

The plans below are our recommendation based on the following criteria:

  • Travelling around New Zealand for more than 3 months with no fixed abode
  • Using the internet for business or like to download/watch streaming video
  • No contract term option only.

You need a wireless modem to access Rural Broadband. All plans below have download speeds of up to 50Mbps. The option highlighted bold was the one we used for a year.

VendorPlan nameData per monthSetup feeMonthly price
DiscoverNETLite45GBCost of modem - NZD275.00 or supply your own 4G modemNZD79.00
DiscoverNETStandard130GBCost of modem - NZD275.00 or supply your own 4G modemNZD99.00
DiscoverNETPro220GBCost of modem - NZD275.00 or supply your own 4G modemNZD159.00
NetspeedRB 30/10030 GB PM data / 100 GB AM dataNZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modemNZD79.95
NetspeedRBI 120/100120 GB PM data / 100 GB AM dataNZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modemNZD99.95
NetspeedRBI 200/100200 GB PM data / 100 GB AM dataNZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modemNZD169.95
NetspeedRBI 250/UL250+UL GB totalNZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modemNZD239.95
Wireless NationNZMCA Data 40GB Anytime | 50GB AM40GB Anytime | 50GB AMThere’s an investment of $299 (already discounted for NZMCA members) for a powerful 4G enabled RBI ModemNZD79.00
Wireless NationNZMCA Data 130GB Anytime | 50GB AM130GB Anytime | 50GB AMThere’s an investment of $299 (already discounted for NZMCA members) for a powerful 4G enabled RBI ModemNZD99.00
Wireless NationNZMCA Data 220GB Anytime | 50GB AM220GB Anytime | 50GB AMThere’s an investment of $299 (already discounted for NZMCA members) for a powerful 4G enabled RBI ModemNZD159.00
Wireless NationLifestyle 65GB Anytime | 50GB AM65GB Anytime | 50GB AMFor an open term option, buy the RBI Modem for only $329 and you can give 30 days notice anytime!NZD89.00
Wireless NationLifestyle 120GB Anytime | 50GB AM120GB Anytime | 50GB AMFor an open term option, buy the RBI Modem for only $329 and you can give 30 days notice anytime!NZD99.00
Wireless NationLifestyle 200GB Anytime | 50GB AM200GB Anytime | 50GB AMFor an open term option, buy the RBI Modem for only $329 and you can give 30 days notice anytime!NZD159.00

#To qualify for the Wireless Nation NZMCA plans, you must be a member of the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association. Wireless Nation gives part of the revenue of each connection to the NZMCA to help improve member benefits and parks.

Bestseller No. 1
How to live in a van and travel: Live everywhere, be free and have adventures on a campervan or motorhome – your home on wheels
Hudson, Mike (Author); English (Publication Language); 286 Pages - 06/13/2017 (Publication Date) - Bluedog Books (Publisher)
$13.99
Bestseller No. 2
How to Live the Dream: Things Every Van Lifer Needs to Know
Hudson, Kristine (Author); English (Publication Language); 114 Pages - 03/19/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)
$14.99
Bestseller No. 3
How to Live In a Car, Van, or RV: And Get Out of Debt, Travel, and Find True Freedom
How to Live in a Car Van or RV And Get Out of Debt Travel and Find True Freedom; Wells, Bob (Author)
$7.45
SaleBestseller No. 4
Living the RV Life: Your Ultimate Guide to Life on the Road
Bennett, Marc (Author); English (Publication Language); 256 Pages - 11/20/2018 (Publication Date) - Adams Media (Publisher)
$17.89

Fellow van dwellers in New Zealand: What internet service do you use and what has been your experience? Please leave a comment below.

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Need internet access on your travels around New Zealand? Learn here what your options are, whether you're here for a few weeks or months.
Need internet access on your travels around New Zealand? Learn here what your options are, whether you're here for a few weeks or months.
Need internet access on your travels around New Zealand? Learn here what your options are, whether you're here for a few weeks or months.

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