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Old 16-05-2010, 12:31   #1
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Internet and Cruising

I'm currently cruising the waters of the NE USA and would like to know what are my internet options while underway? Mostly staying with 5-10nm from shore heading to the LIS now. Internet use would be primarily for grib files and email.

Any info greatly appreciated
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Old 16-05-2010, 13:01   #2
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Off the cuff VHF, SSB and then Verizon.no issue with any. Last I was up that way some mooring/ anchorages had pay and play lan networks. Im not playing so those choices I dismiss. Not hard to find an open network thats on the dirt anywhere up that way.
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Old 16-05-2010, 13:16   #3
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think I will settle for the virgin pay as you go "broadband 2go" I have a ssb on board but do not have a pactor modem. Thanks for the info
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Old 16-05-2010, 18:46   #4
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Five miles off the coast of the NE US you will often find cellular braodband simply isn't there. The towers in coastal locations are set up primarily for the shore population, and the service from each carrier varies radically.

I've played "bars bars, who got the bars?" with other folks while only three miles south of Long Island, and again within LI Sound and east of Montauk Point, and I can tell you that in some places, Sprint and Verizon have no signal at all, while AT&T does. In other places, you can lose the AT&T signal as well, they're not perfect either.

Two miles offshore of major population areas, you're more likely to get signal. But at 5+ miles? Don't expect it to be reliable, for voice or data, unless you've mapped the spots and the carrier. None of them will guarantee it.

And the minor league players, like Virgin? REALLY RETHINK THAT. I have one associate who used them, and any time I tried to call their cell on a weekend, I'd get "all circuits are in use, please try again later" for literally two days and nights running. If you go with a second-string carrier, make sure you can get a refund if you can't get service.
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Old 16-05-2010, 19:23   #5
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Here is my current boat's M2 Bullet list of Local Area Networks.
As you can see by the bar on the right of the screen, there are a lot more off the screen.
At the top of the list are the non encrypted ones.
"Flexible" is my own boat's LAN.
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Old 16-05-2010, 19:26   #6
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Digital cell phone signals don't have the range that analog signals did. Even with a digital amplifier you won't get a signal. We just returned to the Chesapeake from Tortola via Bermuda.I was able to get internet coverage althogh intermitent using Globalstar.
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Old 17-05-2010, 08:49   #7
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Globalstar, Iridium, and Intellisat all have offshore data link services but they are incredibly slow when compared to wifi or cellphone data services. SSB via Winlink/Airmail provides low cost data services but the equipment can be costly. You can buy amplified WiFi antennas with a whole watt of power and really "reach out and touch someone." But digital signals are "line of sight" and it doesn't take many miles offshore before the antennas cannot "see" each other.
- - WiFi and cellphone data services are incredibly fast and convenient and cheap when available, especially when compared to satellite data links. But if you are going to be "out there" and want data access you are going to have to bite the bullet and pay what it costs.
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Old 17-05-2010, 12:01   #8
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"Digital cell phone signals don't have the range that analog signals did."
Sure they do. Handheld phones are limited to 600mW of power, same as the analog phones were, and "bag phones" limited to 3 watts. The only differences being that bag phones and car phones are no longer generally available for sale, so you're stuck with the 600mW handheld phones, unless you buy a bidirectional booster and get back up to 3 watts. (Damned good idea for a sailboat.)

Phones also behave differently, a lot of what you experience is the result of how the cellular companies choose to operate--and not the technology. Phones always used to power up at full power. Now, in order to claim a week of battery life, they use different programs like "always power up at 30mW, if you can't reach a tower, step up the power one step (double it), and next time restart at the lat power level but try to cut that in half again". They also use the minimum amount of power while connected--and if another user (with a car phone!) comes within range of the same tower? You get dropped and the stronger call "captures the flag" and gets connected.

Making an external antenna (for cars OR boats), a short cable, and preferably a booster all very good ideas if you really want a connection out of the urban streets.

But the public only wants to know "tiny and cute!" so the cellular companies outright hide or lie about these facts. Apple has taken flack over the iPhone's poor performance--because they buried the internal antenna in the back of the phone, where your palm masks all signals, and they provide no external antenna option. They're not the only ones.

Then there are other limits in the system, i.e. no matter what you are using, you probably cannot get a connection past 32 miles from a tower. The program logic in the system says that if you are that far away, based on signal propagation delay regardless of power, you must be dropped because surely, there's some other tower that should be handling the call.

That *might* not apply to 611 and 911 calls, which are actually handled differently by the system. When you dial 911, your phone automatically uses full power, and the responding tower automatically uses full power. Same for 611 calls.

Beyond that, every cellular company plays more games than a Vegas cardshark.
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Old 18-05-2010, 07:27   #9
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Cell phone "data link" services are not connected through the little handheld cellphone. You have to purchase a separate PCMIA card (some are called "AirCards") which is inserted into your lapbook/notebook computer. It has it own antenna attached and some have provisions for extension cables for the antenna so it can be placed outside. Some cards have provisions for permanently installed "cell phone" antennas on your mast.
- - The cell phone system provider has separate antennas installed on their towers that are purely "data link" antennas and do not handle voice phone services. So these systems can operate at much higher power output from what a handheld flip phone is restricted to operate.
- - But you still have the "line of sight" restrictions due the UHF frequencies utilized.
- - These systems were just becoming popular, especially in the islands, when WiFi started appearing. Prices for "aircard" cell phone data link services were extremely high as they were the only viable alternative to copper wire modems. But WiFi quickly stole their customers away and cell phone data link service virtually disappeared. But now the phone companies have cut their rates to match paid WiFi services and have the advantage of higher speeds than most WiFi. So this type service is re-emerging especially in the islands were you can subscribe and use the service in many different islands. This is a result of the major phone companies buy up all the little island phone companies and consolidating them into basically two major providers - "Lime" and "Digicell" in the eastern islands. The western islands have "Orange" and "Verizon" and someplaces "Sprint," As the companies buy each other up the names change but the services go on.
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Old 18-05-2010, 10:04   #10
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"Cell phone "data link" services are not connected through the little handheld cellphone."
A good point, but I suspect they suffer from the same low power limits, since they would fall under regulation as a device being used right next to the "meat", and having the same radiation exposure limits.
A quick check online showed zero claims for output power on any of them. AFAIK a tethered cell phone will provide the same performance, and both the dongles (cards) and phones may or may not provide for external antenna connections. "All" the phones pretty much used to, though the new smartphones have dropped them.

Separate data antennas on the towers?? Maybe for some carriers, others definitely don't, since their data and voice are streaming on the same networks, same frequencies, same technologies. And I don't think you'll get an honest answer from any of them about that.
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Old 18-05-2010, 15:58   #11
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Actually the power limits on the "air card" type pcmia cards is limited by the power available from the computer to the card. But they are not legally limited since the antennas are not in intimate contact with your head unless you fall asleep face down on the computer keyboard.
- - I know of cruisers who use the system and you can see the huge cell towers on the tops of nearby mountains/hills and it is multiples more distant than local shore-side WiFi server antennas.
- - But it is difficult to spend US$150 for an "air card" when WiFi is already built into your computer and/or amplified WiFi antennas are available on-line for the same amount of money. The "air cards" are specific to the cell phone company whereas WiFi is generic world wide and service available either free or at competitive prices. Being a world cruiser I don't like purchasing high-price region-specific equipment when universal equipment will do the same thing anywhere in the world.
- - Prices for WiFi access in the Caribbean vary from free to paid service at about US$8-10/day and US$40 to $75/month. The "air card" systems I know about charge first for the purchase of the pcmia card and then about $40/month for service.
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Old 18-05-2010, 20:35   #12
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"But they are not legally limited since the antennas are not in intimate contact with your head "
No, but the FCC tends to regulate all transmitters based on the time-vs-proximity to any human contact. That includes equipment that people will be walking up to, or walking past, or living down the road from. The formulas take into account frequency (microwave!), exposure time, and proximity, and "your lap" or "your desk" counts as close proximity. Guaranteed there is a specific limit for the equipment and service--much as there was a 3W limit for bag and car phones, etc. Even when proximity is not considered--there's a specific FCC limit for output power on every type of radio, every type of service. Every one. (Pretty much the same for the regulators in any country.)

And the 500mA/5V limit for the USB socket (higher for card slots) would yield a limit around 2.5W into the card, which might mean 1000mW output. Effectively the same as a handheld phone once all is said and done. By way of comparison (apples to oranges, yes) the WiFi radio in many computers is only 25-50mW when add-ons typically range 250-500mW. Of course, if you order a laptop with a WWAN (cellular) card built in, it is also vendor-specific, so buying an external one is pretty much required if you want a different provider.
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Old 18-05-2010, 23:12   #13
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Weather info / forecasts....

borvaprops,
I see that the title of your thread is "Internet and Cruising", but your question is primarily about getting weather info and forecasts......

Quote:
Originally Posted by borvaprops View Post
I'm currently cruising the waters of the NE USA and would like to know what are my internet options while underway? Mostly staying with 5-10nm from shore heading to the LIS now. Internet use would be primarily for grib files and email.

Any info greatly appreciated
I'm assuming that you're not finding NOAA weather radio (VHF) useful????
And, since you DO have an SSB, that the NWS Marine Offshore forecasts (from USCG on HF) are also not to your liking???? (NO need for a PACTOR modem!!!)
And, that other conventional weather sources (local radio and TV, marina posted weather forecasts, local newspapers, USCG vhf ch. 22 and 2670khz broadcasts, etc. etc....) are also not usable for some reason????

The reason I inquire is that the NWS/NOAA Marine weather forecasts are the "Gold Standard" that everyting else is judged against.....and that wanting to view computer models (GRIB's) on a computer is considered only a secondary source of weather data.......

Please advise if you'd like some more details.....
But, 'til then, have a look here....

Coastal Weather (voice) 24hours/day, coverage typically out to 20 - 40 miles offshore, including all of LIS, etc.....
http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/images/msc1f.pdf
http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/images/msc2f.pdf
Marine Publications

Offshore Weather (voice), covering most of the US and entire N. Atlantic Ocean.....(also Hi-Seas forecasts)
USCG HF Voice

All of these broadcasts are FREE (our US tax dollars at work!) and all of the above require NO special equipment......



If you download some free software (JVComm) and connect your laptop to your SSB (just receive only), you can get weather charts / forecasts, and text forecasts right on you laptop......from just about anywhere in the US and N. Atlantic.....
Weather charts / forecasts:
NWS Radiofax
http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/fax/hfmarsh.txt
Text:
USCG HF SITOR



As I mentioned, ALL of these forecasts are the US NWS / NOAA Marine weather forecasts, and are the Gold Standard that everything else is compared to.....
You can receive them relaibly from much further offshore than any "cellualr" or "wi-fi".......20-50 miles for the VHF, and 3000 - 4000 miles for the HF-SSB.....
And they're free!!!!

More info here.....
National Weather Service Marine Forecasts


I do hope this helps.....

John
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Old 19-05-2010, 06:32   #14
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Nothing like getting back on subject and Ka4wja has several excellent solutions to getting weather reports. I can occasionally receive NOAA VHF radio broadcasts from Miami while anchored in Georgetown, Bahamas which is 200+ nm away. But VHF signals can bend a little "over the horizon" and the transmitter in Miami is putting out some serious wattage.
- - Also with an SSB onboard and using the free JVComm32 software program you do not need a Pactor or other modem. JVCom32 uses your computers audio/sound card to demodulate the fax signal. Tune in the NOAA weather fax frequency that works best and then activate JVCom32 and the weather fax charts and text forecasts will appear on you computer screen (slightly more to it than that, but it is quite simple once you learn JVCom32).
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Old 19-05-2010, 06:47   #15
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If you're trying to get a connection using your internal wifi antenna, i think you'll be disappointed. I had much better luck, and longer range, by installing a high power link and an external antenna. I found that signals that showed as 1/0bar on the computer showed 3/5 bars on the link. Costs vary but $250-300 is a good range. Most of the links use either USB or firewire, are b/g, but many are upgradable via software to b/g/n.

I'm not sure grabbing the mail or grib files while underway is a good idea. I try to grab these before leaving the dock and tend to believe that the forecasts are good for 2-3 days. Underway, I've got the VHF or SSB for weather updates.

Cell phone coverage depends on the carrier, tower locations, and the weather. It's possible but I tend to concentrate on sailing and navigation rather than chatting up a friend or grabbing email.
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