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Old 07-01-2013, 09:13   #1
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4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

Like most of us I'm interested in increasing my time aboard. As much as sailing for me is about unplugging from the world; being able to quickly be online and working allows me to spend weeks on the water instead of days.

I'm currently in the process of relocating to Atlanta Georgia and my cruising grounds will be out of Savannah Georgia. I work on the internet remotely already for my company. If I have good network access, say enough to run a skype voice call, then I can pretty much work from anywhere. I have been reviewing any number of options that might give me good network access, for an appropriate price, at as far a distance as possible and am wondering about the following solution:

I'm thinking that out of Savannah cruising between the outer banks and Jacksonville FL I would get a 4g wifi hotspot device. It might not always be the best data access but especially in some of the more populated areas it would be plenty. Would using a 4g mobile wifi hotspot on a Verizon, Sprint or ATT network work 5 - 10 miles offshore? I'm even thinking of adding an 4g repeater antenna to the mast with the repeater box down below in the boat. My goal is to get great network speeds and be able to cruise most of the east coast anchoring and working when appropriate.

Has anyone ever tried this setup? It seems the costs are much more appropriate than a full-on marine satellite setup that would cost tens of thousands. Of course electricity and power consumption would be another issue but if I can at least gain connectivity I'm not afraid of working on electrical efficiency and power generation.

Thanks all for your help,
Justin
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Old 07-01-2013, 09:36   #2
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

I don't know what a 4g WIFI Hotspot is, but my AT&T connected iPad has been strong from New York to Key West to at least 10nms off the coast.

I find the LTE very expensive but with that turned off so it uses the 4G to be much more economical.

If you mean a SIM card for a PC USB modem it should be the same, or better.
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Old 07-01-2013, 09:42   #3
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

MarkJ,

Thank for your reply, that's great feedback. An example of a 4g hotspot is a product like the following:

XCom Global International MiFi Hotspot Review & Rating | PCMag.com

Cheers,
Justin Beals
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Old 07-01-2013, 10:13   #4
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

Well, I beg to differ with MarkJ. I live in Oriental, NC and the only carrier with decent coverage is Verizon and it is not even 3G.

You will be in one of the worst places along the US coast for wireless service. Georgia has a hundred miles of coastline without even 3G coverage. South Carolina is a little better as the coast is more populated, but it is still mostly 3G or less. I don't think that you will get 4G anyplace except the major population centers: New Brunswick, Savannah, Hilton Head, Beaufort (and maybe not there), Charleston, Wilmington and nothing north of there in NC.

You might want to communicate with Jeff Siegal of Active Captain fame at Jeff@activecaptain.com. He works onboard his trawler and anchors out a good bit up and down the coast from Maine to Florida. His website may also have articles on wireless coverage.

David
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Old 07-01-2013, 11:46   #5
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

Quote:
Originally Posted by justinbeals View Post
I'm thinking that out of Savannah cruising between the outer banks and Jacksonville FL I would get a 4g wifi hotspot device. It might not always be the best data access but especially in some of the more populated areas it would be plenty. Would using a 4g mobile wifi hotspot on a Verizon, Sprint or ATT network work 5 - 10 miles offshore? I'm even thinking of adding an 4g repeater antenna to the mast with the repeater box down below in the boat. My goal is to get great network speeds and be able to cruise most of the east coast anchoring and working when appropriate.

Has anyone ever tried this setup? It seems the costs are much more appropriate than a full-on marine satellite setup that would cost tens of thousands. Of course electricity and power consumption would be another issue but if I can at least gain connectivity I'm not afraid of working on electrical efficiency and power generation.
A very simple alternative is to just throw a MiFi router (as the one you linked to) or a smartphone in hotspot mode in a waterproof bag and hoist it in the mast. Then you can connect to it using a WiFi connection from below. The drawback to this solution is that you have to take it down to recharge it at short intervals.

If you use the solution with an antenna and a cable down to a router you will loose some signal strength in the cables. This might be minimized by the gain of the antenna and some expensive cable, but if you can live without a 24/7 network connection I find it simpler to bring the router to the signal (at the mast top) instead of the opposite.
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Old 07-01-2013, 11:54   #6
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

while cruising, just go wifi wherever you stop to anchor--and marinas will have wifi.
i find i am busy enough at sea to not want to use interwebz.
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Old 07-01-2013, 11:58   #7
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

It's not 4G, but with WiBE HS21 Pro HSPA+ 3G Router - Waterproof 3G Router (IP65 rated) for outdoors installation it seems like somebody finally noticed that there is a need for this kind of product.
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Old 07-01-2013, 13:04   #8
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

Remember you are using a low power, line-of-sight limited service. Generally, you need to be within about 20 miles of a tower for dependable service. That has been my experience both on boats and on ships.

As long as you are within line-of-sight of a cel tower, you could try some sort of high gain antenna (this is probably not legal) or parabolic reflector. For WiFi, a wok with a USB wifi dongle mounted in the approximate focus point makes a noticeable improvement. Maybe tethering from your iphone located in a woktenna would help your service at marginal ranges.
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Old 07-01-2013, 14:14   #9
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

justin, in reality you will get cellular service around 3 miles max from the nearest cell tower, which will mean a coastal city or highway or other location in the best case.

4G is also somewhat of a fickle term. "4G-ish" is more accurate. Last year the FTC was debating taking all the cellular companies to court, because the US follows ITU regulations and the ITU says that none of our cellular systems comes anywhere close to what "4g" speeds are really defined as. Instead, they changed the US law to prevent the massive fraud suits from being filed. Welcome to the third world.

So yes, if there's service that could work for you. Check your service provider for coverage maps and take them with a grain of salt, most of them don't do a lot of testing offshore and they really aren't looking at that market except in major ports where sailors might pay for the service.

High gain omnidriectional antennas and active boosters will help, but only to a certain extent. The cellular system will reject your calls once you are ~16 miles from a tower, regardless of how good the signal is. In practice? ~3 miles is all I've found, but then you have to guess where the towers are, because the cellular companies are afraid you might vandalize them if you knew where they really were.
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Old 07-01-2013, 17:22   #10
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Originally Posted by hellosailor
justin, in reality you will get cellular service around 3 miles max from the nearest cell tower, which will mean a coastal city or highway or other location in the best case.

4G is also somewhat of a fickle term. "4G-ish" is more accurate. Last year the FTC was debating taking all the cellular companies to court, because the US follows ITU regulations and the ITU says that none of our cellular systems comes anywhere close to what "4g" speeds are really defined as. Instead, they changed the US law to prevent the massive fraud suits from being filed. Welcome to the third world.

So yes, if there's service that could work for you. Check your service provider for coverage maps and take them with a grain of salt, most of them don't do a lot of testing offshore and they really aren't looking at that market except in major ports where sailors might pay for the service.

High gain omnidriectional antennas and active boosters will help, but only to a certain extent. The cellular system will reject your calls once you are ~16 miles from a tower, regardless of how good the signal is. In practice? ~3 miles is all I've found, but then you have to guess where the towers are, because the cellular companies are afraid you might vandalize them if you knew where they really were.
Gsm because of TDMA has a fixed distance of 22 miles to the base station
And what actually happened is the us networks convinced the ITU ( which owns the trademark 4G) to designate lte ,umts+ etc to designate this as 4G. Real 4 G takes lte advanced or WiMAX 2


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Old 07-01-2013, 17:30   #11
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

I can use iPad and 4g iPhone with AT&T off St. Simons Island to 10-12 NM with no problems. The service has been good all the way to St. Augustine.
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Old 07-01-2013, 17:32   #12
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

"Gsm because of TDMA has a fixed distance of 22 miles to the base station "
I'm guessing what you are alluding to is that by 22 miles, there is so much latency in the signals that the TDMA protocols cannot accommodate it. Last I heard, the carriers set a limit of 16 miles because of latency issues, regardless of whether the technology would support more. Even the ones who don't use GSM or TDMA, from what I'd been told.
Bottom line: There are limits imposed on the systems, which users can't get past.

Inkwell, glad you've found a hot zone, but don't count on that kind of coverage in most waters. All you'd need for that coverage is one good tower in one good location, which happens to be pointed out in the right direction. And of course, since most of the cellular device makers have stopped providing external antenna connections...easy solutions are no longer as simple as they used to be.
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Old 07-01-2013, 17:43   #13
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Originally Posted by hellosailor
"Gsm because of TDMA has a fixed distance of 22 miles to the base station "
I'm guessing what you are alluding to is that by 22 miles, there is so much latency in the signals that the TDMA protocols cannot accommodate it. Last I heard, the carriers set a limit of 16 miles because of latency issues, regardless of whether the technology would support more. Even the ones who don't use GSM or TDMA, from what I'd been told.
Bottom line: There are limits imposed on the systems, which users can't get past.
It's a designed limit. It's due to a feature called Timing Advance, which controls the signal arrival from near and far phones do that the burst falls correctly into the 1/8 gsm time slot. It's coded as a 6 bit number and adjusts in increments of a bit slot ( which corresponds to 550 metres resulting in a maximum 63 x550 or 35km.

Some base stations implement an extended range feature using two time slots and 156 position TA , giving a theoretical range of 120 Km

Dave
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Old 07-01-2013, 18:48   #14
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Wilson will be coming out with a new 3g & 4g quad band booster system later this month
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Old 07-01-2013, 19:38   #15
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Re: 4g internet access - East-Coastal Cruiser

We went up the ICW this year, with an AT&T Ipad and a Verizon MiFi. The Verizon signal was almost always usable, but not the AT&T. Now if I could just get Verizon to stop overbilling me every month...
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