7 Tips: How to get a mobile signal in poor reception areas

how to have mobile signal in the outback

I did not realise how dependent I was on internet coverage until I visited Wales this year. I had no internet coverage, which limited my search for areas to see, and I could not make any phone calls in case of an emergency.

The only way I could have internet access or mobile service was to hire Wi-Fi from the campsite, restricting access when I was back at our camp.

Before travelling, check mobile coverage for your provider. If there is weak or no coverage, portable mobile hotspots can connect to 4G using a pay-as-you-go-only sim card with unlimited data. Mobile hotspots are either locked to a mobile network or can be purchased unlocked, which we highly recommend—allowing you to alternate between different service providers.

What are mobile hotspots?

There are several types of mobile hotspots available.

  • Mobile phone
  • Public hotspots are normally located in stores, restaurants, campsites or cafes.
  • Portable hotspot device using a SIM card

Portable hotspot

Portable hotspot devices are ideal if you do not want to use public or phone hotspots. They are stand-alone devices known as a router, but unlike in your home. You can use pocket-size devices in areas with poor coverage on your everyday mobile network.

They can be purchased either locked or unlocked by a specific provider. Buying a locked device to a user such as EE or Vodafone will restrict some areas where the portable hotspot device can be used. Ideally, purchase an unlocked device. It will allow you to swap over your sim to ensure that you have a service wherever you travel.

They are not restricted to usage in the UK only, although this can be expensive. On average mobile providers cater for overseas travel for a small charge, so there is no need to use a mobile hotspot. Consider the location and check coverage first. Also, check out if your hotel or campsite offers a free Wi-Fi connection, as there is no point in spending more than you need to.

I use my TP-Link M7350 4G LTE Wi-Fi, a portable 4G mobile travel Wi-Fi device from Amazon that is unlocked and connected to EE for areas like Wales, where my regular provider is useless. There are three different devices, and prices range from £39.99 to £119.99. These prices may change.

I recharge when I am back at camp, but I always keep my portable GP power bank from Amazon —allowing me to charge whilst on the go without worrying. I can charge my mobile up to 3 x, plus an iPad.

Search around for the best pay-as-you-go SIM card with unlimited data. You don’t want to have a monthly contract unless you use it continuously in remote locations. If you are unsure how much data usage you will use, log into your current provider account and search back on your records. They will have a history of your usage.

Tethering your mobile phone to an iPad or another phone

Tethering a mobile phone will only work if another person is with you on another network with a signal. Android or iPhones can convert into a hotspot that allows other devices to connect directly and use internet services. Turn the personal hotspot on within the settings and allow others to join. It does not allow anybody to join. A Wi-Fi password will be required to enable people to use your phone as a hotspot.

It is also essential to check your data usage as allowing somebody to tether off your mobile can quickly use up your data usage for the month. Please don’t end up with a £176 phone bill as I did at the end of the month. Set up text alerts via your mobile provider to tell when you reach your data limits or place a spending limit on your account.

The only drawback of using a mobile phone as a hotspot is how quickly the power will drain. During long journeys to keep my son Nicholas occupied, I will often allow him to use my phone as a hotspot for a limited time. But only for a limited time. I will use a car charger or a power bank to charge my phone during travels if I am camping without electricity.

Is it safe to use public hotspots?

On average, restaurants and local cafes have free Wi-Fi access. You will be restricted to the time you can spend on the Internet, as usual, it is for customers only. Plus, they often can be slow. The access is not secure, but it will allow you to check emails or social media accounts.

Before using these facilities, be aware of your surroundings and who sits nearby. Never use banking apps or any other apps that have your data available. Limit the activity and be mindful that you risk having your data stolen.

Don’t assume that the network connection is legitimate; many locations will have the network name on display. But if you are unsure, ask a staff member to confirm the network before using it. If possible, do not have your phone or iPad automatically connect to a free Wi-Fi connection. Always research first before joining.

Unlock old mobile phones from a specific carrier

I wouldn’t say I like messing around with my current mobile phone, even without a signal. I have many redundant phones I knew one day would come in handy. Mobiles are locked to specific network providers that will stop you from switching to other network services.

Local market stores or mobile stores can unlock a phone to allow you to use any sim that connects to another provider. The charge usually is £5 to £10 depending on where you go.

It is excellent if you travel extensively, as not all areas have the same mobile coverage. Some are excellent, and some are poor. For instance, Wales is ideal for EE or Three customers but not Vodafone.

Once your mobile phone is unlocked, you can use any SIM card for any network provider. I recommend Pay as You Go sims, as there is no contract or monthly fees to pay. Plus, you can top up whilst you are away if needed.

Do campsites have free Wi-Fi?

Not all campsites will have free Wi-Fi, although about 80% of main camps will have internet facilities. When choosing your campsite, search for accessible Wi-Fi facilities included in your campsite search, and you can book easily.

The downside of accessible campsite facilities is that everybody is using them. It is slow and can sometimes be painful, especially in the evenings. So if you want to stream a movie, it will take some time. The Wi-Fi is not secure, a warning will show when you connect.

Nicholas likes to play Roblox online games during the evening, and often he cannot as the online gaming programme does not play on an insecure network. It is also advisable not to go onto your online bank facilities either.

Can you hire campsite internet facilities?

Routers can be hired from campsites, especially in very poor reception areas. Hiring a router will typically cost £20, with a refundable deposit that will be returned when you return the router. The deposit usually is cash only.

The router will allow you to connect easily to their internet service, but you must pay a minimal daily fee of £2.50-£3.

Hiring a router and purchasing internet access is excellent on-site but does not solve the problem while exploring. Plus, you do need to have an EHU connection.

Network providers network coverage and sim pay as-you-go

A majority of mobile networks state no contract over a 12-18 month period. But beware, as most sim deals have a 30-day contract that will automatically renew. Any remaining minutes and data usage will be carried over to the following month providing the card is topped up within 7-days.

You will need to cancel the control, but you will lose any remaining data that has not been used.

Network ProvidersUK CoveragePlansCost
EE4G – 99%
Limited to large cities and towns
Free sim
No contract
No unlimited data
All unlimited texts
Unlimited calls from £15 upwards
Free EU Roaming
Data only rolls over if purchasing another top-up within 7-days.
£10 – £30
3 Mobile4G – 91%
3G and 4G overall coverage 99.8%
Free sim
Rolling contract
Data range 12GB – 50GB
Unlimted on £35 package
Unlimited calls and texts
£10 – £35
O23G and 4G overall coverage 99%Rolling contract
30 days only
Unlimited texts and calls on packages above £15
1GB – 50GB prices up to £30
Unlimited data for £36
Can add spending cap
£15 – £36
Vodafone4G – 97%Free sim
Rolling contract
Unlimited texts and calls
£40 5GB and roaming data
Data 5GB – 50GB
£10 -£40
Tescos4G – 99% using the O2 networkFree sim
Rolling contract
Prices vary depending on if you have a club card
No unlimited data
5GB to 50GB
5000 texts and calls
No Clubcard
£10 – £30
Club card
£10 – £20
ID Mobile3G and 4G overall coverage 99.8% using 3 networkUses 3 mobile network
Free sim
No contracts
Unlimited texts and calls for all packages
Unlimited data for £20 package
1GB – 20GB up to £15
£6 – £20
GiffGaff3G and 4G overall coverage 99% using the O2 networkUses O2 network
Free sim
Rolling contract
Unlimited texts and calls
7GB- 100GB for the £30 package
£10 – £30
Talk Talk4G – 97% using Vodafone network12-month sim deals only
Uses O2 networks
Sky4G – 98% using the O2 network 12-month sim deals only
Uses O2 networks
Smarty4G – 99.5% using 3 Mobile network Free sim
Rolling contract
Unlimited calls and texts
Unlimited data for £20 package
4GB – 50GB price up to £15
Money-back for unused data when you top-up
£6 – £20
Mobile phone network coverage and plans for sims only

Related questions

Can you dial 999 with no mobile signal

If there is no mobile signal for your network, but another network is available, 999 can be dialled for emergencies only. Not for standard phone calls. Emergency calls will automatically find another mobile phone network. However, dialling emergency services will not be possible without mobile networks.

UK mobile geographical 4G network coverage areas

Ofcom published a Connected Nations spring update report on September 21 of overall mobile network geographic coverage of 4G within the UK as of May 21.

UK Outdoors areasOverall coverage by operatorAreas not covered (rural)
Northern Ireland97%3%
Ofcom connected nations report as of May 21 – Mobile phone network geographical coverage.

What mobile phone network has the highest UK coverage

For overall coverage, O2 has the best for 2G – 4G, including the highest number of locations for 5G. However, they do have lower speeds compared to other networks. EE has the highest download and upload speed of 36.4/9.1Mbps, followed by 3 22.2/8Mbps and Vodafone 22.4/8.5Mbps.

EE is known to have the best coverage and higher coverage of 5G, although they are pricey compared to other providers.

NetworkEE3 MobileVodafoneO2
5G160 locations194 locations100 locations 160 locations
4G99%99.8%99% 99%
3G98%98.7%99% 99%
2G99%N/A99% 99%
Main mobile phone network coverage

Final takeaways

I prefer to be prepared and buy data before travelling rather than rely on local network coverage for areas such as Wales or Scotland. Nothing is worse than trying to hotspot from free Wi-Fi or going back to camp to learn more about the area you are visiting. It does not matter how much you research the area and organise your trip. It is not until you do not have a signal that you realise how much you rely on it.

  • Check location before arriving for mobile network coverage.
  • Check to see if the campsite has free wifi or if you can hire for a few days at additional costs.
  • Purchase a hotspot mobile device rather than use free wifi in public locations such as cafes and restaurants.


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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