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Old 01-09-2013, 09:58   #1
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Internet On Board, Again

I'm still struggling with this issue. Particularly since it was the main annoyance of my summer cruise this year (which was pretty annoyance-free, however).

For Wifi, I have a Ubiquiti Bullet with a good antenna on my first spreader, connected to my nav table with Cat5e Ethernet. It wasn't working this summer, but I will fix it pretty soon. That will nail Wifi -- if I get a decent Wifi connection, then I can share the connection throughout the boat over my internal router.

But experience shows that you can't count on Wifi as your main Internet connection when cruising. Marina WiFi is rarely of decent, or even acceptable quality, and you often have to register and pay every time. Sometimes you can get onto municipal free WiFi (in Roscoff, for example). Some regions have a strong commercial WiFi provider with good service -- Netabord in Northern France, for example. But in other places, not. So using Wifi to connect is hit or miss.

So for a connection you can rely on -- and since I'm not retired, I must be connected, and I often have people on board who must be connected as well -- you really need to use the mobile telephone systems. Happily, data service over mobile phone networks improves by leaps and bounds. I remember cruising in SW Florida in the 1990's and using a Sprint phone connected with a $100 cable, which required giving modem commands using a terminal window to get a 1200 baud connection to Compuserve, which I paid for by the minute. And being extremely grateful to have it! How the world has changed.

So here's what I'm looking at, and I'll be grateful for any thoughts or insights.

1. Permanently mounted outdoor router. I actually installed an antenna pipe mount and pulled Cat 5e to my first spreader, anticipating installing one of these:

WiBE Pro | A revolution in 3G mobile broadband technology

This is a really quality piece of kit (with a price to match, unfortunately). It has an ingenious antenna -- three direction high gain antennas pointing in different directions, with the router choosing the one with the strongest signal.

Unfortunately, it is not available in an LTE version, and I don't want to spend that kind of money and be stuck with 3G.

So another variant would be something like this:

H685 LTE 4G Router | Proroute 3G and 4G Routers

This is very cool -- professional quality, reasonable price (it's made for M2M applications), SMA antenna connections. Sadly no POE, and I don't have a wire pulled for separate power, but I think I can get around that. So I would need to put that in some kind of waterproof box, mount the antennas on it, and put it up on my spreader. I reckon that would work pretty well. Although to change SIM cards, of course, I will have to go aloft.

2. Noelex Solution -- Battery Powered Hot Spot on a Halyard.

Something like this: Huawei E5776 4G LTE Cat4 Mobile WiFi Hotspot Test - Forum - Huawei Enterprise Business Forum

Which you can just put in a waterproof box and hoist up the mast with a halyard.

Of course, the battery will run down after 10 hours. For that, one could hook up one of those supplemental power batteries (20,000mah is available) inside the box. Or, use solar: https://www.changers.com/en which I think should make it more or less self-sustaining.

An external antenna could also be fitted to the outside of the waterproof box.

I reckon that the box could be mounted on the pushpit, where it would get a good signal for 90% of cases, especially with an external antenna, and would not need to be hauled up very often.

Downside: how will it behave, especially with a solar panel, in wind? Will it beat itself to death against the mast? And will proximity to the mast interfere with the signal? I guess I could use a flag halyard to keep it away from the mast.


I am leaning towards the Noelex solution, but will be interested to know what you guys think.
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Old 01-09-2013, 10:03   #2
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

i supplement wifi with banda ancha in mexico---isnt a great solution, but it many times works when wifi isnt available......or, why i only post pix occasionally and in spurts......
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Old 01-09-2013, 11:06   #3
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

... I am using a 4G Systems product (together with different SIM cards for different countries) here in the Baltic:

Amazon.com: 4G Systems XSBox Go+: Arts, Crafts & Sewing

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Old 01-09-2013, 11:38   #4
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

I'm connecting to you right now via LTE (4G) through an iPad mini hotspot. It's absolutely reliable wherever I go, doing everything I'd want it to do. I don't stream movies with it, but that's because there are just too many good books to read. And write.

I'd save at least $1,000 every year if wifi wasn't such a crapshoot, but the reliability of wireless allows me to anchor in wifi-questionable locals without disconnecting from my research. To me, that's a small price for the freedom to anchor wherever I please.
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Old 01-09-2013, 11:41   #5
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

now i has interweb envy.....starting with signal envy....
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Old 01-09-2013, 12:39   #6
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bash View Post
I'm connecting to you right now via LTE (4G) through an iPad mini hotspot. It's absolutely reliable wherever I go, doing everything I'd want it to do. I don't stream movies with it, but that's because there are just too many good books to read. And write.

I'd save at least $1,000 every year if wifi wasn't such a crapshoot, but the reliability of wireless allows me to anchor in wifi-questionable locales without disconnecting from my research. To me, that's a small price for the freedom to anchor wherever I please.
I'll take that as another vote for a non-fixed installation.

My situation is the same as yours, and I suspect of many cruisers -- Internet connection can't be a "crap shoot". Which means wifi is out as primary service.

Wow, data sure is expensive where you are, if you are paying $1,000 a year ($83 a month). I have been paying 10 pounds ($16) a month to TMobile in the UK for 2 gigabytes of 3.5G (HSDPA+, about 10 mbs) data per month. And only for those months I use it, since its PAYG.

Although I must say, if I had to, I would cough it up. I could not be out cruising, if it meant being disconnected from my business.
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Old 01-09-2013, 12:55   #7
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

firstly in UK/Europe I would forget about 4G at the moment. in the US 4G is really what we know as 3.5G ( see controversy over naming ).

In reality height , for 3G doesnt make a huge difference. A 3G unit on a pole or even on the pushpit is all thats required. You will need access to the SIM card as until the EU commission cracks the whip roaming on data is mad money in Europe at the moment. That typically means getting a local SIM or using a Europe wide travel SIm Travel Data Sim cards;Podsystem and paying accordingly

Europe is GSM based not Wifi. Forget public or semi public Wifi

dave
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Old 01-09-2013, 13:08   #8
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post

I reckon that the box could be mounted on the pushpit, where it would get a good signal for 90% of cases, especially with an external antenna, and would not need to be hauled up very often.
.
That is how I use it in practice.
The MiFi uniti use spends most of its time on the chart table, or under the doger.
Here it is normally powered all the time via a 12v USB adapter.
Its only if the signal becomes poor that I haul it up the mast.
The extra height does help, but the difference is less than you might expect. (The phone towers are mounted on hills and when at anchor there is little to obscure the signal even if the Mifi unit is not much above sea level)

I have a few MIFi units so if want all day coverage for a unit up the mast I can swap the batteries, charging the battery in one of the unused MiFi units (with the nuisance of hauling it up and down)
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Old 01-09-2013, 13:12   #9
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

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Originally Posted by goboatingnow View Post
firstly in UK/Europe I would forget about 4G at the moment. in the US 4G is really what we know as 3.5G ( see controversy over naming ).

In reality height , for 3G doesnt make a huge difference. A 3G unit on a pole or even on the pushpit is all thats required. You will need access to the SIM card as until the EU commission cracks the whip roaming on data is mad money in Europe at the moment. That typically means getting a local SIM or using a Europe wide travel SIm Travel Data Sim cards; Podsystem and paying accordingly

dave
Thanks, Dave, very good advice.

One of the the things which really bit me in the donkey this summer was failing to acquire a French data SIM card in advance. I will never repeat that mistake. It's harder to buy a SIM card in France than it is to buy a firearm in the U.S. I now have an Orange one which I hope will do me for next year as well (actually I will be sailing to France in less than two weeks from today; must not forget that the season isn't over yet!!).

I do think that although European "3.5G" (all these "G" designations are pure propaganda), that is, HSDPA+, is fast enough for most people (I've seen 10mbs real download speeds), I am still seeking lower latency -- hoping for decent VOIP and Skype, which still eludes me. So since EE (and TMobile) are rolling out LTE (European "4G"), and have already started it up in Southampton among many other places, I do think I will concentrate on finding an LTE device.

That's good to know that height doesn't matter -- can you explain that technically?
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Old 01-09-2013, 13:38   #10
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[QUOTE="Dockhead;1328356"

That's good to know that height doesn't matter -- can you explain that technically?[/QUOTE]

The comms engineer in my family explained that in the First World height does not matter because operators will block traffic between a tower and your device if the distance is more than X km; with X being small enough and towers being high enough that the effect of height (line of sight, etc) does not kick in before they cut you off based on distance. He added the "First World" qualification only when I mentioned the benefit I got from hoisting my phone to send SMSs a couple dozen miles from land in the Caribbean. He went on to explain that in the Third World they are known to relax the distance cap because their towers are further apart and there is less risk of your device tying up some sort of capacity in towers that are within range but not the tower you are actually using. Hopefully the experts here will remind us what the details are.
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Old 01-09-2013, 13:52   #11
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

Quote:
That's good to know that height doesn't matter -- can you explain that technically?
by and large , GSM antennas are sited above the surrounding user population. Hence the most common antenna aspect is known as "down tilt" where the antenna is tilted so as to direct radiation below the antenna horizon. ( you can typically see this on any GSM antenna farm)


Height can sometimes be an advantage where obstructions like large building etc. But in general theres isn't a big difference in an mobile antenna being at say 2-3 m and 5-6m


The reason I say ignore 4G( LTE) is that in Europe , the 3G network is typically much faster then the so called 3G network in the USA. the ITU was basically manhandled to allow 3G+ to masquerade as 4G , even though in some installations , this can be 4-8mb/s. IN europe HPDSA+ is actually 4G in the US ( and elsewhere).

Be careful in the UK that you don't mixup WImax and LTE, as Europe isn't rolling out Wimax to any extent and the UK is.


Again, Id look at a reasonable 3G router and wait for LTE to mature more and the equipment choices to also mature.

dave
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Old 01-09-2013, 13:59   #12
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

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Originally Posted by svlamorocha View Post
The comms engineer in my family explained that in the First World height does not matter because operators will block traffic between a tower and your device if the distance is more than X km; with X being small enough and towers being high enough that the effect of height (line of sight, etc) does not kick in before they cut you off based on distance. He added the "First World" qualification only when I mentioned the benefit I got from hoisting my phone to send SMSs a couple dozen miles from land in the Caribbean. He went on to explain that in the Third World they are known to relax the distance cap because their towers are further apart and there is less risk of your device tying up some sort of capacity in towers that are within range but not the tower you are actually using. Hopefully the experts here will remind us what the details are.
C
A read up on GSM Timing Advance will explain how distance away from the cell tower is controlled in GSM. IN most cases outside of urban areas GSM towers are set to allow maximum Timing advance. GSM uses a TA range of 64 units of time, which correspond to approx units of 500 Metres between the cell tower and the user. This leads to a maximum of about 35Km in GSM irrespective of power. GSM now also implements an extended range feature with allows two GSM slots to be used, provide a theoretical range unto 120 Km. ( inter island comms etc) .

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Old 01-09-2013, 14:23   #13
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

Have you looked at RedBox: the Red Box/ Communication | MailASail? It doesn't do 4G, but it's a really good access manager. I remember you talking about one of your guests hogging most of the bandwidth. This box would have solved it.
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Old 01-09-2013, 15:49   #14
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

We use the Huawei mifi devices. One thing to know about these is that the external antenna connections on these are very frail. They are really only test ports and will fail within 50 insertions or so.

So I have bypassed them and soldered coax pigtails directly into the antenna circuit and added external higher gain antennas. This is a very tricky soldering job with a lot of potential for bricking the unit, but it is possible.

We have times and places when hoisting it up a flag halyard is the only way to make a connection. But these places are far away from sea-level towers and behind islands. Hoisting gives us the line of sight necessary in these places.

But I question your need for an external antenna. Ours is only useful in a few of the particular places we cruise, but not necessary anywhere else. I can't imagine you are that far from cell towers in your cruising grounds where the external antenna will make the difference.

These can be powered by 12V adapters. For some of our cruising areas, we cannot permanently mount it because we need regular access to the SIM card to renew our data plans. Other areas are different - I don't know about yours.

Mark
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Old 02-09-2013, 07:56   #15
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Re: Internet On Board, Again

WiBE Pro | A revolution in 3G mobile broadband technology

who do you call to sign up for internet service?
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