Have you ever wondered how to get wifi in your car? Perhaps you've pulled over, trying to answer a work email. Or you're a passenger, desperate to keep the music streaming. Or you're a parent, with kids who need occupying. As long as you're not driving and emailing, then this is the essential guide for modern life. For giving your car its own internet connection makes journeys more efficient for the driver and more entertaining for your passengers, here’s how to get started
Obviously, being on the go, you're going to need more than just one of the best wifi extenders, which is where we'd send you for all your other home internet needs. Adding a WiFi hotspot to your car provides your passengers reliable internet coverage for their phones, laptops, tablets, dash cams and anything else they need to get online with while travelling. Streaming YouTube Kids and Netflix to the kid’s iPads could revolutionise long journeys, while a stronger connection also ensures you stay contactable even in those areas still plagued by phone signal blackspots. And all you might need is one of the best wifi dongles. Read on.
What do I need to get wifi in your car
If you have a relatively new car it might come with a SIM card slot and wifi functionality already. Audi for instance has been offering free wifi in their cars since 2016, with many other manufacturers following suit.
But if you don’t have the luxury of a relatively new car, you will either need to use your existing mobile phone as a hotspot for fellow passengers or invest in a separate portable wifi router. Known as MiFi or a MiFi dongle, these compact, wireless devices, usually a little smaller than a smartphone, create a localised wifi signal that you can use on the go. Wifi booster apps might be able to help, too.
Available with either 4G or 5G coverage - for fast, reliable speeds similar, and in some cases faster, than your home broadband - these mobile devices require a SIM card that provides internet using cellular signals.
Once plugged into your car’s USB slot it will provide wifi for everyone in the car as long as there’s a strong enough mobile signal.
Where can I buy a MiFi dongle and which brands do you recommend?
MiFi is offered by several mobile networks directly. They sell a range of portable battery powered routers, and just like buying a smartphone, you will often get the router for free when you sign up for a monthly tariff.
Other brands such as Huawei (opens in new tab) and Netgear (opens in new tab) sell a range of high performance portable routers costing from around $50, but remember, you will generally need to buy a SIM card for them before you can get online.
If I can create a wifi hotspot on my phone, why do I need anything else?
Allowing other people to tether to your smartphone and piggyback onto your signal is quick and easy, and great for short journeys. But with a car full of people streaming content for hours, they will use a huge amount of data, which could cost you - not great when we all want to know how to make wifi faster.
It’s worth checking with your phone provider as tethering may not be included in your monthly data allowance, especially if you don’t have an ‘unlimited’ data plan. If this is the case, you could end up with a hefty bill at the end of the month.
Tethering is also a huge drain on your smartphone’s battery, so make sure there’s a spare USB charger for it.
Is in-car wifi actually more reliable than a smartphone?
Mobile dongles and routers use the same LTE connection as your smartphone, but because they are designed to do just that, they’re better at maintaining a weak connection and making sure everyone who needs to be connected stays that way.
It’s also important to note that a private mobile hotspot offers a much higher level of security than a free mobile hotspot in a cafe or public space.
How much does car wifi cost?
As with smartphone SIM cards, you'll need a data contract, either as a monthly contract or pay-as-you-go, which can be a more affordable choice if you only need to use it occasionally.
Costs start from around $10 a month for 4GB, rising to $40+ for unlimited data and downloads.
Some MiFi devices let you connect 10 or more devices to a single hotspot, which will work out a lot cheaper than paying for multiple accounts to get online, especially if you’re travelling overseas where roaming charges can soon add up.
If you live rurally, you may also need to consider which network is best for you as certain providers have more reliable coverage in certain regions.
How to set up a MiFi router
One of the great things about in-car MiFi dongles is that they require very little setup. Charge it up, or plug it in, insert the SIM and turn it on. Within a few seconds you should be able to find the available signal on your laptop, mobile or tablet, then, just as you would any other hotspot, you enter the password and away you go.
Chris Haslam is a UK-based journalist who specialises in writing about tech, gadgets, audio, lifestyle and eco living. He regularly writes for Livingetc, and also contributes to WIRED, T3, Stuff, Ideal Home, House Beautiful, Your Home, Homes & Gardens, Grand Designs, Real Homes, Good Homes, Beautiful Kitchens, Country Homes & Interiors, Tesco Magazine, Style at Home and British Airways High Life Shopping
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