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Old 05-12-2017, 21:29   #1
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"Internetting your boat" HOWTO

This is just a howto article. For full disclosure, I have not done this to my boat, it's too small to worry about going to these lengths and when I'm aboard I try to unplug mostly from the outside world, but I can and do sometimes use internet for work purposes while aboard.

As a former network engineer I figured I'd lend a hand to anyone looking for the answers to these questions.

In order to get good wifi or wired access to the internet on your boat you are going to need these things:

1. Internet signal
2. Tx capability (wired or wired)
3. Encryption (so nobody can sniff your signal or jack your connection for free)
4. End client hardware to make use of it (computer, cell phone, tablet, whatever)

1. INTERNET SIGNAL

Depending on where you plan to have access, this will be either cheap and easy or very expensive and difficult.

For coastal areas near major urban centres and highways, you can usually use a cellular connection via a "mobile hotspot". They vary wildly in price and features, but with a $10 extra SIM card and one of these suckers you can use your phone plan's data and light up most boats with the single device.

Most modern cellphones also have this feature, but as I'm sure most people would agree, it's better to have a working cellphone when you need it than a dead one because your crew or guests were playing on the internet all day while cruising while it was in your pocket. Just using your cellphone is cheaper, but it comes with two drawbacks: (1) it's not mountable high up the boat, and (2) being near the waterline will reduce the signal strength.

When you are far away from the coast, however, you are going to want one that can take an external antenna. There are some standard types such as SMA, TNC, N or Mini-UHF, if your handy you can run it up inside the mast and mount it on top; this will give you more range and better signal. Your wifi hotspot can be fixed in the cabin, giving your devices strong signal to the hotspot while the antenna is far away.

If you are offshore, really far away from the coast, or in areas with no cell reception or where you are forced to pay heavy roaming charges, things get more complicated. You are limited in options: satellite, internet via VHF, or dish (satellite).

Satellite phones can provide you with internet access, but this is quite expensive and slow. You could connect this satphone device (depending on the model) to a wireless router mounted inside your cabin but you're going to have to really monitor your data usage. The average web page these days runs at over 5Mb per page (stupid, really, given that all you want to do in most cases is read some text, but all their scripts, advertising code, images are starting to really add up. I remember with the average web page was like 8k. Now they are over 8,000k. Not so good for a satphone data connection). If you are going to use this as a solution I would highly recommend that you use it primarily for email and maybe instant messaging (skip facebook messenger btw- it uses hordes of data. Use whatsapp or BBM instead). If your pockets are deep you can fill your boots but don't be shocked at the huge bill. The advantage is, it will really work anywhere you want to be.

Next is VHF / HF / UHF Internet. There are thousands of people using this technology, but a lot of it is pretty cottage industry, so expect to do a lot of tinkering, and tinkering again as you enter new locales. There are volunteer HAM operators who bridge between the radio signals and their personal interent connections. BCFMCA - Internet Radio Linking Project This is a source that might get you started in BC, but you can use the lingo to search for support in your area. You could find a device that works with the device set that you choose, and as long as you can get a CAT5 cable to come out of the thing, you could install Wifi coming off that. Downside is it's going to be slower than satellite and probably less reliable. Cheaper way to go if you love to tinker around, bad way to go if you want something you can plug in and it just works.

Finally, there is dish access. This can be brutally fast and relatively cheap, but it often requires an outbound connection. The way it works is your web page request is sent via one network (ie. cellular or satellite), and then when the request is fulfilled it is blasted off the satellite and received by a dish mounted on your boat. The latency is terrible, but the throughput can be extremely good. This means voIP services, video chatting and gaming really suck, but when you need a 100Mb file downloaded once it gets moving it will really be moving. On the water, the action of the waves and orientation of your boat will really complicate things. You will need to learn how to orient toward the transmitting satellite and train the dish probably every time you turn it on and expect to use it. In a rolling sea, it will be largely useless. Probably only of any use while at dock for a significant period of time; you can mount the dish to a piling, train it, and eliminate the action of the water and only have a coax cable running to your boat. Nice thing about the latter arrangement is if you're mooring some place with a stable piling nearby, you can get blistering fast download speeds provided you have a reliable uplink connection to send your requests to.

The most expensive: two way autotraining dish. It's quite fascinating, you turn these things on and they automatically train to the satellite using a internal compass and gyro. They will lock onto the satellite all by themselves, and some models might even be able to auto adjust for waves and weather. They will transmit directly to the satellite. You are usually looking at at least a 2 meter dish (so think of where you'd mount it without the wind ripping it off). You will still face high latency issues so again, video chatting and voip are going to be awful, but provided you can keep the thing trained on the satellite and not have to keep sending requests to resend, it's about as good as it gets for the middle of nowhere on blue water.

Note: with satellite installations your data covers everything the satellite sends to you - whether you receive it or not - so if you are bouncing around and it has to send 10 requests before you get your 100Mb file, you just paid for 1000Mb or a Gb. Satellites arent cheap to put into space, and their operators could care less if you had the dish not perfectly pointed for 15 minutes.

Personally, if you can, I'd go with a cellular with a mast-mounted external antenna connected to a hostpot running off the house battery. Let your phone connect to it, don't patch everything through your phone.

3. ENCRYPTION

Setting up your little communications system and getting it working will be exciting. But not so much if the boat at anchor 300 feet away finds your strong signal and starts making good use of it. Not only will it slow your own connection down, but depending on your connection type it could cause you significant extra charges either for roaming, cellular data, or satellite.

Your first defense is encryption. Use WPA2-PSK on your router or hotspot. If you are sitting somewhere for a long period of time and someone is smart enough to have Airsnort, they can just passively soak up packets and bust your simple encrpytion in a day or two and then they have free internet. There are actually whole forums dedicated to this kind of activity, called "Wardriving"; it started with people driving around, finding a good signal, and busting the password so they could get free wifi in places they liked to go.

Another problem with lack of security on networks is once they are connected to your wifi, unless you have hardened each invidual device you are connecting to it with they are all exposed. People could hack your laptop, your computer, your phone, your tablet, and glean sensitive information. Rather than leaving your network wide open and hardening everything, just harden your network and keep moderate security settings aboard. Sometimes its useful to be able to share files between your laptop and your tablet, or a friend's laptop; or to have a desktop on board and be able to load files off it on the laptop or mobile devices.

With WPA2-PSK it's pretty easy to give out the password to a friendly boater you met - not so easy for someone sitting there to bust the password. Just be careful of who you give it out to.

FINALLY, IN CONCLUSION

If you do manage to set up such a system and are far from home, don't go around bragging about it. This will attract both thieves (who want to steal the hardware to either use it themselves and resell it) and hackers (who maybe have a lot of time on their hands at anchor until they come up with money for gas or repairs).

Some of this hardware is very expensive - things like satellite phones, radio<>internet solutions, wireless hubs, external antannae. Some of it is dirt simple (cellular wireless hub) but is a quick easy grab and sale after the sim card is floating to the bottom of the ocean.
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Old 06-12-2017, 08:36   #2
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

"WPA2-PSK"
I think that was cracked, at a terribly basic (intrinsic flaw) level this year. Still, it beats nothing.

And a number of carriers, and phones, do not allow both voice use of their data system and hotspot at the same time. So the unwary customer may find out that while they've been using a hot spot, their "phone" was turned off. That's a gotcha.

But in the US, there's no such thing as "internet signal". Just "the Internet" and "Internet Protocol". The physical layer of the network, whether that is a wired lan, ethernet, WiFi, cable company broadband, DSL or ADSL from a telco, or cellular data connecting to the internet by a backbone connection, can be any number of things, as long as they have an internet connection at the other end.
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Old 06-12-2017, 18:32   #3
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

Quote:
Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
"WPA2-PSK"
I think that was cracked, at a terribly basic (intrinsic flaw) level this year. Still, it beats nothing.

And a number of carriers, and phones, do not allow both voice use of their data system and hotspot at the same time. So the unwary customer may find out that while they've been using a hot spot, their "phone" was turned off. That's a gotcha.

But in the US, there's no such thing as "internet signal". Just "the Internet" and "Internet Protocol". The physical layer of the network, whether that is a wired lan, ethernet, WiFi, cable company broadband, DSL or ADSL from a telco, or cellular data connecting to the internet by a backbone connection, can be any number of things, as long as they have an internet connection at the other end.
It was WPA that was cracked, WPA2 is much stronger. Anything can be hacked with enough horsepower and time.

You are correct with regards to certain phones and data usage using mobile hotspot mode. I was actually referring more to the mobile hotspot device which is independent of the phone and gets it's own SIM card and has it's own antenna. Technically it would be a phone service without a phone number for data only, leaving your phone completely free for all uses. While you could use mobile hotspot on your phone, you will encounter battery life issues and the issues that you describe.

There is such a thing as an internet signal in this particular reference to marine devices. Unlike in a major urban centre where ultra high speed LTE is usually available, on the water you may only get certain types of access to wireless data networks, degrading all the way down to "Emergency Use Only" depending on how far away from home you are. You may experience loss of data connectivity and be only restricted to voice, roaming with limited features, etc. I also was making reference to other types of internet connectivity ranging from VHF to satellite.

For local coastal cruising, the mobile hotspot device with an antenna mounted atop the mast using wireless carrier networks will probably suffice. For more remote areas you may want to get a signal amplifier for the antenna and purchase a high gain antenna; it's important to know what kind of range you will need before you go out and buy the device, because you will want to make sure it will be compatible with the type of antenna you will need.

For blue water your stuck with either the satphone or 2-way dish solutions. The satphone will be very slow and data will be expensive, and the 2-way dish installation is very expensive but provided you can target the correct satellite with reasonable accuracy (which of course could be near impossible in rough weather) you could get significant throughput with high latency.

Depending how far out you go a high gain antenna and signal amplifier for the wireless hotspot device might get you just enough range. A typical problem may be that going for an extended cruise, the goal is to get as far away from the city and other people as possible and enjoy a pristine environment; however since nobody lives there and there are few or no roads, cellular reception is very poor. You might be able to boost yourself into coverage.
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Old 09-12-2017, 22:15   #4
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

That's a pretty decent descriptive writeup. So I thought I would add a little on long range wifi. Products like Wifi Ranger and Ubiquiti products can extend your wifi range into miles possibly allowing you to pickup free wifi while passing or anchored. Obviously you would still need any password info. It's always courteous to patronage the facility providing it...but still.
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Old 10-12-2017, 07:58   #5
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

Quote:
Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
"WPA2-PSK"
I think that was cracked, at a terribly basic (intrinsic flaw) level this year. Still, it beats nothing.
Right Again

https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/10/...rity-weakness/
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Old 13-12-2017, 11:35   #6
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

Good thread and one I will be watching. My wife will need reliable internet when we go cruising in 2.5 years. She is a teacher, and will need it for work. Must be reliable. It will be tax deductible for her work hopefully and I would hope most of the time to be able to use wifi or cellular data, but there will be times when she might have to be able to connect via satellite. What is in the near future for this kind of application ?
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Old 13-12-2017, 12:04   #7
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

Quote:
Originally Posted by mr-canada View Post
It was WPA that was cracked, WPA2 is much stronger. Anything can be hacked with enough horsepower and time.
Incorrect - it's WPA2.

https://www.krackattacks.com/

Also, in regards to the phone/hotspot discussion, my Nexus 5 can do hotspot and phone calls at the same time. Yes it drains the battery quickly, but if it's plugged into USB for charging then it can keep up with demands. I imagine my wife's Pixel can handle it even better. I believe iPhones can not hotspot and phone call simultaneously, though that may have changed in newer models/iOS.
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Old 13-12-2017, 13:44   #8
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

Bear-
Hopefully you do know that the IRS can get very ugly very fast about "commingled" items. If you use your wife's marine internet to bring down a weather map...you've commingled. And they will require seeing actual documentation that shows how much use was personal, how much business, or they'll disallow the whole thing. Then they'll start to re-examine everything. There's nothing illegal about commingling, she can even take the v-berth and make it into an office...as long as it is documented and separated.

Changes coming? None. Nothing. WYSIWYG. With private rocket firms being able to promise more launches, Iridium and others are putting up more satellites, so capacity and reliability should be up. But rates? Hell, satellite communications is now cheaper than cell phones were 20 years ago. Nothing is going to change soon.
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Old 14-12-2017, 17:02   #9
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

You mention that you haven't done any of this. In practice, and with current technology, things are quite different in many ways.

I don't think asymmetric satellite (cellular or other uplink, satellite downlink) has been around for a decade or two. That disappeared a very long time ago, though I suppose there might be some legacy stuff around somewhere. I used to have one and it went obsolete probably close to 20 years ago. I don't know of any service you can subscribe to today that works this way.

And two way satellite doesn't require anything anywhere close to a 2 meter dish. Ours is maybe 16", and tracks regardless of boat movement. But they are still hideously expensive. That hasn't changed.

And you have left out the most popular and arguably most practical satellite devices which are the inreach, spot, go, etc. These are essentially dedicated texting devices that work via satellite. Some can also do abbreviated email. They cover the basics, and are quite affordable.

You mention data filtering. That is really important beginning with cellular internet, and becoming critical for satellite. One of the advantages of Inreach/spot/go is that they do the filtering for you. But if you have a service that provides an open IP connection to the internet, you can dig your own grave very, very quickly. I have a really stupid "smart TV" that I caught doing a gb download, while turned off, and with automatic updates turned off. That was a good portion of my data plan, at the time. Now I have all internet access blocked for that device. When on cellular, we block certain problem devices like the TV. When on satellite, we block everything except a couple of select devices and protocols.

Also in practice, I have found wifi to be almost uniformly unavailable or so poor that it is unusable. I can probably count on one hand then number of marina wifi services that have worked in even the most basic way over the past three years cruising. They just plain suck. Cellular is typically the only thing that actually works. It's pretty sad that cellular internet works better than a marina wifi with wired backhaul.
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Old 15-12-2017, 08:27   #10
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

"I have a really stupid "smart TV" that I caught doing a gb download, while turned off, and with automatic updates turned off. "
That has become the new norm. I would hate to even TRY counting the number of computer apps and smartphone apps that I have caught updating themselves, and checking for updates, when I had previously disabled all that.
Some of them reset themselves to "check for updates daily" and "update automatically" and "update via any means" after you install whatever updates were available, even simple bug fixes. Others just seem to keep finding new ways...Amazon and Adobe being two of the most consistent offenders.
And then there are all the apps (and even web sites) that just really insist you're life won't be good unless you enable push notifications. (sigh)
Nice thing about the old old modems? There was this thing called a POWER SWITCH on the back.(G)
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Old 15-12-2017, 10:23   #11
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Re: "Internetting your boat" HOWTO

Quote:
Originally Posted by tanglewood View Post
You mention that you haven't done any of this. In practice, and with current technology, things are quite different in many ways.

Also in practice, I have found wifi to be almost uniformly unavailable or so poor that it is unusable. I can probably count on one hand then number of marina wifi services that have worked in even the most basic way....
1000% correct!
IMHO, WiFi connection to land and/or mobile based AP's, is a total waste of time.

On my boat, I have a Verizon JetPack, connected to an external ant. w/gnd plane. The only tower that is visible to the equipment is a Verizon tower, 3.5 miles away.
On a good day, I might get 3bars on the 3G band.

The Marina has a WiFi AP, less than 500' away. Totally in line of sight. And no obstructions.

Guess which connection is more stable and has better though-put?
<Hint... It's not the WiFi>
Hell, some times I can't even down load E-Mail on the Marina's WiFi.

As far as smart TV's.
If they don't know your password, they can't auto-update!
Only at home, using Google Fiber, do I ever stream movies or shows.
No way will I stream over a cell connection. I'm too cheap.
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