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:
- 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 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:
- 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 networks
The following New Zealand mobile providers use their own (cellular/wireless data) networks:
- Spark New Zealand Trading Limited (UMTS, HSDPA and LTE)
- Vodafone New Zealand Limited trading as Vodafone (GSM, UMTS and HSD)
- Two Degrees Mobile Limited trading as 2Degrees (GSM, UMTS and LTE)
Smaller operators rent towers from the main operators:
- Skinny, a division of Spark New Zealand Trading Limited (Spark Network)
- Warehouse Mobile services (2Degrees Network)
- Compass Communications (Spark Network)
- CallPlus Services Limited trading as Slingshot (Spark Network)
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)
- 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 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||Supports Spark New Zealand/Vodafone/2Degrees Mobile 4G/LTE Networks, Includes Band 28/ LTE-700MHz for rural areas|
|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 adapter. 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
Buy a 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, 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 Only||Minutes, TXTs and data||Minutes, TXTs and data|
|Duration||60 days||30 days||60 days|
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 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|
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.
Rent a Pocket Wi-Fi/Wireless Modem (including data plan)
The following companies rent out Pocket Wi-Fi devices (including internet service plan) in New Zealand:
|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|
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.
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.
|Vendor||Plan name||Data per month||Setup fee||Monthly price|
|DiscoverNET||Lite||45GB||Cost of modem - NZD275.00 or supply your own 4G modem||NZD79.00|
|DiscoverNET||Standard||130GB||Cost of modem - NZD275.00 or supply your own 4G modem||NZD99.00|
|DiscoverNET||Pro||220GB||Cost of modem - NZD275.00 or supply your own 4G modem||NZD159.00|
|Netspeed||RB 30/100||30 GB PM data / 100 GB AM data||NZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modem||NZD79.95|
|Netspeed||RBI 120/100||120 GB PM data / 100 GB AM data||NZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modem||NZD99.95|
|Netspeed||RBI 200/100||200 GB PM data / 100 GB AM data||NZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modem||NZD169.95|
|Netspeed||RBI 250/UL||250+UL GB total||NZD300 or provide your own RBI compatible modem||NZD239.95|
|Wireless Nation||NZMCA Data 40GB Anytime | 50GB AM||40GB Anytime | 50GB AM||There’s an investment of $299 (already discounted for NZMCA members) for a powerful 4G enabled RBI Modem||NZD79.00|
|Wireless Nation||NZMCA Data 130GB Anytime | 50GB AM||130GB Anytime | 50GB AM||There’s an investment of $299 (already discounted for NZMCA members) for a powerful 4G enabled RBI Modem||NZD99.00|
|Wireless Nation||NZMCA Data 220GB Anytime | 50GB AM||220GB Anytime | 50GB AM||There’s an investment of $299 (already discounted for NZMCA members) for a powerful 4G enabled RBI Modem||NZD159.00|
|Wireless Nation||Lifestyle 65GB Anytime | 50GB AM||65GB Anytime | 50GB AM||For an open term option, buy the RBI Modem for only $329 and you can give 30 days notice anytime!||NZD89.00|
|Wireless Nation||Lifestyle 120GB Anytime | 50GB AM||120GB Anytime | 50GB AM||For an open term option, buy the RBI Modem for only $329 and you can give 30 days notice anytime!||NZD99.00|
|Wireless Nation||Lifestyle 200GB Anytime | 50GB AM||200GB Anytime | 50GB AM||For an open term option, buy the RBI Modem for only $329 and you can give 30 days notice anytime!||NZD159.00|