When we returned to New Zealand in 2017 and knowing that we would be travelling full-time in a campervan, we researched which internet service would suit our needs the most. As we are now transitioning back to carry-on backpacks, we have reviewed our options yet again. If you (plan to) travel around New Zealand, whether for a few weeks or several months, today’s post might be for you. We can help you:
- Work out your requirements;
- Decide whether you need a portable Wi-Fi router or modem; and
- Find the best solution for travels up to 3 months and travels of 3+ months.
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.
How do you access the Internet?
What you use the internet for will often also determine what device/s you use to access it:
- Your smartphone or tablet might be your devices for casual, personal use (including Netflix).
- For business purposes, you may want to have internet access via 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 access 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:
- 3GStore Mobile Data Usage Calculator
- AT&T Data Calculator
- Chorus Data Calculator
- T-Mobile Mobile Hotspot Data Calculator
- US Cellular Data Usage Estimator
- Verizon Wireless Data 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).
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:
|Definition||Low||Medium / Standard||High||Ultra-High||Auto|
|Gigabytes per hour||0.3||0.7||3.0||7.0||Highest Available|
Always select standard definition to save on data. You won’t notice the difference on a smaller screen.
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.
New Zealand mobile network frequencies/bands
The following New Zealand mobile providers use their own network:
- Spark New Zealand Trading Limited
- Vodafone New Zealand Limited trading as Vodafone
- Two Degrees Mobile Limited trading as 2Degrees
The following smaller operators rent towers from the main operators:
- Skinny, a division of Spark New Zealand Trading Limited (Spark Network)
- Warehouse Mobile services (2Degree Network)
- Compass Communications (Spark Network)
- CallPlus Services Limited trading as Slingshot (Spark Network)
New Zealand cellular/wireless data technology
NZ Network Bands/Frequencies
Vodafone New Zealand
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 Operating Frequencies
- 4G 1800MHz (LTE Band 3)
- 4G 700MHz (LTE Band 28)
- 3G 850MHz / 2100MHz
- GSM 900MHz / 1800MHz are not supported bands
So why is all this important? Before you buy a MiFi or modem device (even from overseas), 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, or 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 Model||Sold by||Comments|
|Alcatel LINK Zone 4G Pocket WiFi||PBTech, Vodafone New Zealand||Connect 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 Hotspot||PBTech||Support Spark New Zealand/Vodafone/2degrees Mobile 4G/LTE Network, Include Band 28/ LTE-700MHz for rural area|
|NETGEAR AirCard 800S||Spark New Zealand|
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 adaptor. Device options include:
|Make and Model||SIM Card type||Sold by|
|Huawei B315s-607 Modem||Standard SIM||DiscoverNET, Ultimate Broadband, Vodafone, Wireless Nation|
|Huawei 4G Router B525||micro-SIM||Netspeed, Wireless Nation|
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
Vodafone Travel SIM card
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 Only||Minutes, TXTs and data||Minutes, TXTs and data||Minutes, TXTs and data|
|Duration||3 months||30 days||30 days||30 days|
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, go to https://www.vodafone.co.nz/travel-sim/.
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 Only||Minutes, TXTs and data||Minutes, TXTs and data|
|Duration||60 days||30 days||60 days|
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 Only||Minutes, TXTs and data||Minutes, TXTs and data||Minutes, TXTs and data|
|Data||500MB/1GB/15GB or 12GB||1.25GB||2.5GB||10GB|
|Duration||1 or 6 months||30 days||30 days||30 days|
|Price||NZD10/20/50 or NZD99||NZD19||NZD29||NZD49|
Pocket Wi-Fi/Wireless Modems
|Company||Plan||Price per day||Comments|
|MyWebSpot||Single Plan||EUR9.90||500Mb of 4G data per day|
|Pocwifi||Single Plan||USD8.99||Unlimited data|
|Tep Wireless||Single Plan||USD8.95||Unlimited data, speed slows down if you use more than 3GB/day|
Rental Options with your Campervan Hire in New Zealand
- Britz provides 1GB of Wi-Fi per hire via their in-vehicle tablet (which can also be used as a hotspot). You can top up data and purchase 1GB and 5GB packages via Vodafone. Wi-Fi is not automatically included in your rental but is included as a part of the inclusive pack (liability reduction and camping table and chairs). The inclusive pack is recommended, but not compulsory. You can connect up to 2 devices to your tablet at a time. The internet service is provided via Vodafone New Zealand, but additional data can be purchased only via Britz, not the provider, that is, Vodafone.
- 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 their onboard Wi-Fi, you can connect as many devices as you want and they offer unlimited data (subject to coverage).
Internet solutions for 3+ months travel in New Zealand
Rural Broadband Service
The Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) is a New Zealand Government initiative to provide fast broadband to areas outside the urban copper and fibre 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.
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.
|Vendor||Plan name||Data per month||Setup fee||Monthly price|
|DiscoverNET||Lite||45GB||Cost of modem - NZD275.00||NZD79.00|
|DiscoverNET||Standard||130GB||Cost of modem - NZD275.00||NZD99.00|
|DiscoverNET||Pro||220GB||Cost of modem - NZD275.00||NZD275.00|
|Netspeed||RB 120||120GB anytime||NZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modem||NZD99.95|
|Netspeed||RB 140||140GB anytime||NZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modem||NZD119.95|
|Netspeed||RB 160||160GB anytime||NZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modem||NZD139.95|
|Netspeed||RB 200||200GB anytime||NZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modem||NZD159.95|
|Wireless Nation||Lifestyle 65GB||65GB (with 50GB free off peak)||Setup and RBI Modem - NZD329.00 (Add MinJourneys in the promotion code field to get NZD30 off the setup and modem price)||NZD89.90|
|Wireless Nation||OP Lifestyle 120GB||120GB (with 50GB free off peak)||Setup and RBI Modem - NZD329.00 (Add MinJourneys in the promotion code field to get NZD30 off the setup and modem price)||NZD99.90|
|Wireless Nation||Lifestyle 200GB||200GB||Setup and RBI Modem - NZD329.00 (Add MinJourneys in the promotion code field to get NZD30 off the setup and modem price)||NZD159.90|
|Wireless Nation||NZMCA Data 40GB #||40GB (with 50GB free off peak)||Setup and RBI Modem - NZD299.00 (Add MinJourneys in the promotion code field to get NZD30 off the setup and modem price)||NZD79.00|
|Wireless Nation||NZMCA Data OP 130GB #||130GB (with 50GB free off peak)||Setup and RBI Modem - NZD299.00 (Add MinJourneys in the promotion code field to get NZD30 off the setup and modem price)||NZD99.00|
|Wireless Nation||NZMCA Data 220GB #||220GB||Setup and RBI Modem - NZD299.00 (Add MinJourneys in the promotion code field to get NZD30 off the setup and modem price)||NZD159.00|
#To qualify for the Wireless Nation NZMCA plans, you must be a member of New Zealand Motor Caravan Association. Wireless Nation also gives part of the revenue of each connection to the NZMCA to help improve member benefits and parks.
Our preferred supplier, Wireless Nation also won the best rural broadband provider 2017 and best specialist broadband provider 2019 at the TUANZ Broadband Compare Awards.