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Old 10-10-2014, 10:09   #1
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Fixed GSM Phones?

I am still analyzing my big trip through the Baltic last summer -- 3000 miles, 10 countries, 4 months -- a really incredible cruise it was.

I am not retired, and have to keep up with my business while I'm cruising, which is true of a number of us I imagine. So communications are extremely important.

In Northern Europe, mobile phone coverage is awfully good, and mobile phone-based Internet more than satisfactory, especially with LTE (true 4G; not the 3.5G HSPA+ falsely advertised as 4G in the US) rolling out.

Nevertheless, there were a fair number of times when there was a signal, but just not quite a good enough signal, for me to work efficiently. There were a few times when I couldn't get a reliable voice connection, either.

So now I'm revising this whole system, and have some thoughts, and some questions.

First of all, my trusty Globersurfer III 3.5G router, which I have been using with great results for nearly 5 years, finally died. I replaced it with a Huwei Mifi device. This works ok, but it has no external antenna connection. I tried Noelex's trick of hauling it up the mast on a halyard -- yes, that increases the range somewhat, but it needs a better antenna.

So after considering a Huawei 5776 mifi device, I finally settled on something different -- the fixed Huawei B593S router which is more like the Globesurfer in form factor and function. Unlike mifi devices, this does not have a battery -- it is intended for fixed installation, not putting in your pocket.

Why did I go this route? Because this device is bound to have better internal antennas and hardware. It is native 12 volts so will be easy to wire up, and it will fit right in the space at my nav table where the Globesurfer used to live. It has Ethernet and USB ports and has more functions than pocket mifi devices. It also has a telephone handset port -- something I always intended to use on the Globesurfer (but admittedly never did). Here's the B593: http://www.huawei.com/ecommunity/bbs/10176957.html



It has two antenna ports so you can connect a diversity external antenna. I also ordered one of these.

The last thing I ordered was a security cam 12v battery pack with charger. The idea is that I will put the antenna and battery pack into a waterproof project box, so that I can send the B593 up the mast in case I am desperate for signal. Otherwise, Plan "A" is to leave the B593 at the nav table with the antenna suction cupped to a salon window.

When I get it all put together and try it, I will report on how well it works, and post photos of the installation. I have high hopes. LTE (4G) coverage is now just about fully deployed in the Southern part of the UK, and in many parts of the Baltic.


Now to the question of voice comms. There were not all that many occasions, other than being far out to sea, when I had no voice comms, but the few times there were, were too many. I need to do something about it. One variant is to use the B593 with its strong antenna, but the data SIM cards I mostly use don't allow voice calls. I guess I could switch the SIM cards, but that's a bit of a PITA.

I guess I could use VOIP, and forward my voice number to some VOIP account, when I know I'm going to be in regions with dodgy signals. VOIP should work extremely well with an LTE data connection.

I guess I could buy a second B593 and antenna, and use that for voice. The radio part will be much more robust than what we have in handheld mobile phones, and the B593 has external antenna connectors. It used to be possible to buy really sturdy, high powered (5 watts) GSM phones for installation in cars (Nokia and Ericsson made them, IIRC). Is there nothing like that made today? There would surely be a market for a modern, fixed installed, high powered, robust GSM phone which could be installed in your boat with a good fixed antenna. No amount of googling on my part has turned up any such device, however. There are plenty of "desktop" mobile phone devices, and some of them have external antenna connections, which is good, but nothing with higher power, as far as I could tell.
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Old 10-10-2014, 11:28   #2
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

I posted a similar thread (using a E5776) earlier..

I have changed my plan to something very similar to yours. I plan on mounting my equipment in a Pelican case (device inside, antenna on top). This way I can put it in a convenient deck location when in an area with good coverage, or pull it up the mast for added range. I may even come up with a way to have it go up the main sail track since I only plan to use it at anchor. Inside the pelican case will be a 12V -> 5V USB supply for the E5776. I'm still looking for a waterproof connector to hook the 12V up to the case though.

I have been very happy with the E5776 on land. Its a simple, well though out device. The WIFI coverage is very impressive for a device that is smaller than a mouse. I have no problem covering my 3000sqft house.

I will be looking forward to the report on how your setup works!
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Old 11-10-2014, 09:56   #3
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

Quote:
Originally Posted by travellerw View Post
I posted a similar thread (using a E5776) earlier..

I have changed my plan to something very similar to yours. I plan on mounting my equipment in a Pelican case (device inside, antenna on top). This way I can put it in a convenient deck location when in an area with good coverage, or pull it up the mast for added range. I may even come up with a way to have it go up the main sail track since I only plan to use it at anchor. Inside the pelican case will be a 12V -> 5V USB supply for the E5776. I'm still looking for a waterproof connector to hook the 12V up to the case though.

I have been very happy with the E5776 on land. Its a simple, well though out device. The WIFI coverage is very impressive for a device that is smaller than a mouse. I have no problem covering my 3000sqft house.

I will be looking forward to the report on how your setup works!
I thought hard about the E5776 and nearly bought one. I might buy one yet, since it fulfills a somewhat different purpose (you can slip it in your pocket or briefcase).

You will find the power supply to be easier for the E5776, since that uses USB 5v power. There are millions of ready-made portable battery packs which output 5v through a USB socket. I had to go with a security camera battery pack, because 12v is not much used for consumer devices anymore.


No one has any ideas about the voice part of this question?
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Old 11-10-2014, 10:29   #4
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

I'm going to forgo the battery pack and use a small power supply(in the case) hooked to the ships 12v. Even if I haul it up the mast, I will probably haul a cable. Since the draw is so small (about 500-600ma) the cable can be pretty light gauge.

For regular voice comms, I plan to use voip, but frankly I don't do much voice calls these days. I plan to use an app called Vsee for most comms back home. Its a super light voice/video app (1mb/min for video). This will allow the kids to talk back with the grand parents.

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Old 11-10-2014, 11:15   #5
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post

It has two antenna ports so you can connect a diversity external antenna. I also ordered one of these.
The better Mifi units do have provision for external antennae. This is our latest which has two antennae ports:

Has anyone tried a external antenna? Did it help? One or two? Recomended antennae?
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Old 11-10-2014, 11:35   #6
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

I'm using this antenna. It absolutely helps.... But note, I have not used it on a boat yet, just land based. Like I said above, I plan to mount the antenna on a pelican case with the mifi device inside the case.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B001U9...ilpage_o01_s00

You want to keep the cable between you device and antenna short as possible. You can find adapters to connect the two on eBay.

Another note, the antenna is bigger than you think. Its about 2 feet long and quite heavy.

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Old 12-10-2014, 09:02   #7
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

Your device is probably not capable of voice over lte, if your carrier offers it yet. For best performance, you must have external antennas. The highest lte data rates rely upon multiple antenna paths and very good signal quality. What takes place as you attempt to connect is your mobile device reports its received signal strength to the site. The site's power out is known and the path loss over the air is calculated. Using this path loss, the mobile adjusts its power output to deliver a predetermined signal level at the site. This measurement and adjustment occurs every 10 ms typically. The system is designed for low power and control on both paths. I've never seen any High power lte devices probably due to this. It sounds like you may be better served with a Bi-directional amplifier which amplifies rx and tx, but typically don't support multiple antennas (MIMO). They are frequency specific and might work in one country, but not in another due to frequency assignments. Lte also provides for channels to be as narrow a 1.8MHz to as wide as 20MHz and some of the amps may not be able to utilize the wider ch's. 10MHz is typical for the US, but as the older 2G & 3G networks are carved for LTE carriers, you may see smaller ch's based on bandwidth available and possibly carrier aggregation where smaller ch's in different bands are combined to get the most out of what's available. I mention this because these amps and devices currently available probably aren't capable of these features. Many of the amplifiers are poor quality and cause more network problems than they fix. Back to the calculated path loss. This will determine the modulation type used and directly determine the data rate you will be capable of. In other words, it doesn't matter how much power out you have if you aren't receiving well.

To me, it sounds like you would be better served with a BDA that will get you better range for standard mifi devices and cellphones.


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Old 12-10-2014, 10:28   #8
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

Around here we can add voice plans to our cell modems, with external antenas and wilson cell boosters, Plug in a household cordless phone. And walk around the whole boat with amped phone service
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Old 18-10-2014, 10:27   #9
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

OK, I'm going to look into cell phone boosters. One problem is that between LTE and HSPA and HSPA+ and GSM, there are a lot of different frequencies required to cover Europe. I'm not sure that there is equipment available which will do all of them. Also it looks like they may not be legal over here.
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Old 18-10-2014, 10:47   #10
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

Meanwhile, I received my H593, hooray.

It is surprisingly large, not a good thing, more than double the size of the Globesurfer:

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The old kaput Globesurfer is shown for comparison.

Here is the MIMO antenna which is attached inside the salon window with a suction cup:

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Here is the impressive array of ports:

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By appearances, this is an industrial-grade full featured voice and data hub, with two different RJ-11 telephone handset ports, four ethernet ports, and a USB port.

It seems to have some VOIP functions built in -- you can program SIP accounts into it. Cool.

Now, for function.

I slipped my T-Mob sim card into it, and it worked -- exactly like the little cheap Huawei mifi device it is supposed to replace. Adding the MIMO antenna only added one bar to the signal and no noticeable improvement in speed. Maybe the antenna is only for LTE bands. I can't get LTE because my T-Mob PAYG account won't work with LTE -- 3G only.

So I bought an EE sim which does allow LTE. I'll experiment with it and post the results.

********


I am sick of topping up my Lebara voice account. I've put 100 pounds into it ($160) just in the last week. I'm in the middle of a deal, so I'm on the phone a lot, but this is ridiculous.

Lebara has great rates for international calling, but the domestic rates are carp (19p a minute whether landline or mobile). I get 500mb of data (important as I'm using a smartphone) for 5 pounds, but it looks to me like Lebara is cheating me -- when the 500mb runs out, you start getting charged an outrageous per mb fee, and you can't buy another 500mb until the month is over -- it seems to me. Bleh.

So I'm thinking about trying to get VOIP working. I use Skype with good results but it's not that cheap. I recently set up a Rebtel account (Swedish rival to Skype) which allows me to dial into local numbers. The voice quality is outstanding and I want to explore their other services. They offer a "PC to phone" calling service which might be just the ticket with an LTE data connection. Skype should also work much better with LTE -- and it often works pretty well with HSPA+, actually.

Maybe I can set up some kind of SIP account and use it with the handset connected directly to the router, using the embedded VOIP client.

If anyone has grappled with these issues, I would be really interested to hear about your experiences.
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Old 19-10-2014, 08:48   #11
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

In the old days when I actually made phone calls, I used a VOIP service called voip.ms (Voip.ms :: Worldwide VoIP Origination and Termination). It worked very well and was really cheap. Maybe it would work for you! It would be pretty cheap to check out as I think you can open an account with just $10.
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Old 19-10-2014, 09:34   #12
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

Quote:
Originally Posted by travellerw View Post
In the old days when I actually made phone calls, I used a VOIP service called voip.ms (Voip.ms :: Worldwide VoIP Origination and Termination). It worked very well and was really cheap. Maybe it would work for you! It would be pretty cheap to check out as I think you can open an account with just $10.
Looks interesting! With LTE and in general much better mobile data connections, VOIP starts to make more and more sense.

How was the audio quality?

I have noticed that Rebtel is outstanding.

Skype is highly variable -- sometimes carp, but sometimes really superb.
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Old 19-10-2014, 09:52   #13
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

The audio quality was superb (my wife didn't even know I switched to VOIP), but we did have a 50mbit DSL connection back then.

Another thing to look into is Vsee, but it can't make calls to landlines. Vsee to Vsee calls are fantastic even on low bandwidth. It was designed for dial up connections.

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Old 13-12-2014, 09:18   #14
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Re: Fixed GSM Phones?

Quote:
Originally Posted by travellerw View Post
I'm using this antenna. It absolutely helps.... But note, I have not used it on a boat yet, just land based. Like I said above, I plan to mount the antenna on a pelican case with the mifi device inside the case.
Combo of Wilson Dual Band Marine Antenna 301130 and Marine Antenna Mount 901119:Amazon:Electronics

You want to keep the cable between you device and antenna short as possible. You can find adapters to connect the two on eBay.

Another note, the antenna is bigger than you think. Its about 2 feet long and quite heavy.

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Fully aware that cable between GSM router and external antenna should be "as short as possible" but is an installation on e.g. the first spreader to far?

In my case that would be around 50 feet from my nav station. I would of course have to use low loss cable.
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