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Old 25-01-2016, 10:52   #1
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Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Non-Emergency Internet and Data Communications on Board, Onshore and Offshore

A shipmate and good friend of mine is about to set out around the world, and asked me to help him specify a mobile data and WiFi system which would work everywhere. He liked the way it worked on my boat and wanted something similar for his big trip.

I thought I would post it here in case someone has other/additional/contrary ideas for him.

I want to make the caveat at the very beginning that I do not use social media, so these ideas do not consider how to post to social media from offshore. AFAIK, there are low bandwidth ways to do it, but this is beyond my experience and so not covered here.

Onshore and offshore are totally different animals, so I will divide this into two parts.

A. First the easy part, Offshore.
There are four types of data comms you might want to have offshore: Internet access, text messaging, email access, and weather (GRIBs, weatherfax, routing data, etc.)

1. If you want Internet access offshore, then you need one of the various satellite systems available, and the money to pay for it. I do not have this and don’t feel the need for it, so I won’t comment.

2. For email, you can use either satellite data, or HF radio using either Pactor or soft modem. I use HF radio via SailMail and Winlink. I use an Icom M802 radio and a Pactor III modem, which is exactly what my shipmate already has AFAIK. Winlink is free but requires a ham license, and you must not discuss business in your correspondence. Sailmail requires a modest payment, and can be used for business, but limits the number of minutes you can connect. The combination of both systems is pretty much an ideal solution, in my experience. Even a fairly large daily volume of correspondence can be carried out with this system. This system requires some skill and knowledge (like everything having to do with HF radio), and since the bandwidth is low, it takes some time. But for me this is perfectly satisfactory.

3. For text messaging, the killer app is one of the new satellite text systems, either DeLorme or Yellow Brick. In my opinion, this is an irresistible value proposition, costing little either in hardware or running costs, and making you reachable anywhere on the globe 24/7/365 and giving you the ability to send anyone on the globe a short text message anytime you want. Since 90% of all communications (in my experience) can be carried on with short text messages, this is revolutionary. Highly recommended to all offshore sailors. As an alternative to one of these systems, some sat phones offer similar text messaging functionality.

4. For weather, you can download weatherfax and NAVTEX broadcasts via HF radio, or using dedicated receivers. I have a dedicated NAVTEX receiver but don’t use it. You can also receive routing information by email, or you can use the “getfile” function in SailMail, a splendid tool for getting GRIBs and other weather files.

So for me, that’s it for offshore. You can add a sat phone if you like. I actually have a good fixed install sat phone on my boat, but it’s not hooked up and I don’t intend to activate it. If I really need voice comms offshore – and I don’t plan to, since practically anything you need to communicate by voice, can be communicated by text messaging – but just in case, I will use a phone patch via HF radio.
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Old 25-01-2016, 10:54   #2
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

B. Inshore and In-Harbor.

There are two variants: mobile telephone data, and WiFi. Like for most cruisers, mobile telephone data is my primary data comms when near land or in harbor, but I note that the quality of WiFi in marinas has improved dramatically in the last year or two. The advantages of mobile telephone data are: (a) it works everywhere or nearly everywhere, and not just in one spot; and (b) more robust, reliable, and faster connections. But you pay by the gigabyte, so this is usually not so good for very heavy duty tasks like streaming movies. And you have to chase down a local SIM card in every different country you visit. So sometimes you need WiFi. Therefore, I have both.

1. Mobile telephone data.

In order to get and distribute a mobile telephone data connection throughout your boat, you need a router. There are three types: (a) your smart phone, set to give a “wifi hotspot”; (b) a mobile router, called “MiFi device”; or (c) a fixed mobile telephone data router. I use all three.

A few considerations:

• Note that LTE data is available in most of the world now, so make sure that all of your equipment is LTE-capable. LTE is really worthwhile, giving you connections very close to a wired home connection in speed and latency. VOIP services like Skype work OK and much of the time on 3.5G (HSPA+), at least if you turn the video off, but work really well and almost all the time on LTE, even with the video turned on.

• Note that different frequencies are used in different countries. Make sure that your equipment works on all of the frequencies in all of the countries you will be visiting.


a. For the fixed router, I use the Huawei B593 LTE router, this one:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Huawei-B593s.../dp/B009QW3ZG4. It can be used in very simple ways or very powerful ways – according to your needs and abilities. At the most simple, you just put a full-sized SIM card in it, turn it on, connect to it by WiFi or Ethernet, access the control panel via a certain IP address, set the AP, and Bob’s your uncle. There are many more complex and powerful functions for anyone who needs them. You can also connect a media server via USB or Ethernet, and you can create a wired network if you need it. It will do just about anything you need. I will post separate instructions later. NOTE: there are a number of different models of the B593. You want the B593s-22, which has the worldwide frequencies.

Note that the B593 has been replaced by the newer B315: huawei B315 4G Router UK Version - High Speed LTE 4G Router with WiFi and Ethernet LAN. I can’t comment because haven’t used it, but this is probably the one to get, since the B593 is end of life already.

The fixed router has internal antennae, which are adequate for most situations, but you can also connect an external antenna. I use this one:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Poynting-XPO.../dp/B00ABMPSN6

I attach it to the inside of one of my salon windows with the included suction cups. You can also buy a directional antenna which could be useful if you are in a fixed location (in a port or marina), have a weak signal, and need an antenna you can point right at the tower. I would consider having one of these on board for such cases:

Fullband FB4GD12 Outdoor YAGI Directional 3G / 4G Antenna 12dBi Peak Gain

Note that all these antennas are really two in one – they are “cross polarized” so one antenna with horizontal polarization and the other vertical, with two different cables and connections. LTE is supposed to have this – it’s supposed to deal better with multipath problems and other things. There is some controversy whether you really need it or not on a boat, where you are likely to have line of sight to a tower. I don’t know the answer to this, so I use the double-lead cross polarized ones just in case, which give me excellent results.


b. For the MiFi device, I have a couple of devices, neither of which I recommend. One of them is an older Huawei device which works very well and is very handy, but it’s not LTE. The other is an LTE device which simply works poorly. I would get one of these:

Huawei E5878 4G Mobile WiFi Modem| Buy EE Kite Huawei Prime E5878s-32

The reasons why you want a MiFi device besides the fixed router, are several: (a) backup; (b) to carry off the boat with you in case you need your Internet access somewhere away from the boat; (c) to haul up the mast on a halyard in case you need antenna height to get over an obstacle.
The trick I learned from Noelex on this board is that you can take your MiFi device, put it in a waterproof plastic bag, and haul it up to the top of the mast on a halyard. It together with its antenna will be way up high, but you can still connect to it with WiFi. I have used this trick successfully on a number of occasions.

If you wanted to take that a level further, you would buy a MiFi device with external antenna connectors, add a good omnidirectional antenna, and hoist it up together with the antenna.

c. Smartphone hotspot is self-explanatory. This works fine and is quite enough for many cruisers without any routers or MiFi devices. It’s just a little tricky in case you also want to do voice, because many times you can get the best data plans only with dedicated data SIM cards. Also, smartphones these days typically use micro or nano SIM cards, whereas routers usually use full size SIM cards, so it can be tricky to swap the same SIM card between smartphone and router.

Now as to data plans. These vary by country. In Europe there are now some pan-European plans, for example Three Feel At Home, which allows you to use both data and voice allowances in select countries just as if you’re at home. Otherwise:

a. Buy a local SIM card in every country. This is the standard solution. My annual Baltic trek takes me through the waters of ten (10!) countries, so this gets old pretty fast, but you can’t beat it for cost because it means no roaming charges.

b. Have a subscription with low international roaming charges for just in case you can’t find a local SIM card or for short visits when it’s not worth it. I use a Russian number for this. Russian carriers are especially good for this because they are huge – so have great bargaining power in the roaming market, and very efficient, so very cheap.

c. One of the new global data roaming SIMs like from Google Fi: https://fi.google.com/about/plan/, which offers data at $10 per gigabyte practically worldwide. Very cool indeed! Or FreedomPop: Free Wireless Internet | Free Internet | 4G Wireless Internet - FreedomPop FreedomPop's latest free SIM plan includes international data. FreedomPop looks really cool – the first 200mB of data every month is FREE. Both of these look like something every long range cruiser should have. There are probably others, and a good trawl around the Internet will probably be worthwhile.

You probably want ALL of these solutions, in varying proportions.



So basically, that’s it. Others will have much to add to this, I’m sure.
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Old 25-01-2016, 10:55   #3
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Now just one P.S. – about VOIP.

Do you use voice telephone services? I use them less and less; I prefer to email and text. But for some situations only a phone call will do. Voice comms is beyond the scope of this note, but keep in mind that VOIP – voice over IP or voice using a data connection – has gotten better and better as better technology has been invented, and as data connections get better and better.

I use three types of VOIP:

1. Skype

2. Generic VOIP (using the Zoiper application and CallFreely service provider)

3. My office network.

The office network is often very useful – I can log in and call anyone in my office, and patch myself through to an outside line as if I were sitting in my office.

Generic VOIP is cheapest – about 1c a minute for most landline calls, more to call mobiles except in the U.S. (because of Calling Party Pays). I have been somewhat disappointed in the quality, which is usually not as good as Skype. One a really good data connection, sometimes you can get a high definition CODEC like uLaw to work, and it sounds wonderful, but so far it is fiddly.

Therefore, I find myself using Skype most of the time. Skype to Skype audio calls, if both parties have a reasonable data line, are of absolutely fabulous quality, far better than POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). And are free. Skype to a normal telephone is cheaper than POTS, but double or more the cost of generic VOIP, but in my experience you are much more likely to get a usable connection. I guess Skype has some really good technology to optimize the CODEC for the quality of the data connection.
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Old 25-01-2016, 12:26   #4
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

C. WiFi.

WiFi was all the rage, for data in harbor for cruisers, then faded out, and now is “in” again, to some extent.

WiFi was the first really useful Internet on board, starting in the late ‘90’s, before mobile phone data was of much use. In those days, there were many open AP’s – people would leave their routers open with no password, and anyone in the neighborhood could connect and use them. Marina wifi worked better because there were relatively few users.

Then – people started securing their home routers, and marina wifi starting to be used by everyone, and broke down. Meanwhile, mobile phone data got better and better. From circuit-switched “by the minute” connections (who had that? I started with that in about 1998), we finally got packet-switched GPRS, then EDGE, then – oh happy day! – 3G, then HSPDPA, then HSPA+, then LTE . . .
But now many marinas have starting installing new wifi systems with decent load management, and with much more robust Internet connections, and suddenly wifi is usable again. Although wifi will never match mobile data for coverage, there are cases when it’s useful (when you need a whole lot of data and don’t want to pay by the gigabyte, when you’re in a country only for a day or two, when you can’t find a local SIM card . . . ).

So here’s what I do for WiFi:

1. Built-in laptop wifi card.

2. WiFi dongle on a USB extension.
3. The Bullet.

Very often, the built-in wifi card on your laptop won’t give a decent connection. These are designed for connecting inside your house or office, not over distances outdoors.

I find the cheap WiFi dongle to work really well. Some people have reported problems with drivers, but I have never experienced this. The drivers for the cheap (20 euros?) Chinese dongle I have are stored on the dongle itself, and could be installed in two minutes and run perfectly on all my laptops. The range is probably 500% better than the built in laptop card, and using the USB extension, you could raise it up and hang it in the salon window so it gets line of sight. Brilliant investment of 20 euros. I would get something like this:
A6210 | WiFi Adapters | Networking | Home | NETGEAR

Then, the Bullet. This is the basic building block of all of the commercial pre-packaged solutions like the “Wirie”, but there’s hardly any need to pay for this. The Bullet Titanium (the version which is decently weatherproof) costs only $115 (Robot Check) and is a snap to connect. You connect the Bullet to an appropriate antenna and mount the pair as high as you can get it, on a radar pole or a spreader, and run Cat6 weatherproof Ethernet cable to your nav table. You plug one end into a POE adapter, which is what puts power into the Bullet (“POE” stands for “power over ethernet”), and then with another, short, Ethernet cable, you plug into your laptop or into a router. The POE adapter can take 12v power from your main system.
My Bullet is the version 1.0 and works differently from the new ones, so I won’t go deeply into details about how to operate it. It is controlled via your computer by putting in a certain IP address into a browser. You have to manually choose and connect to the AP you want to use. With my old bullet, you had to change the IP address of your computer to a static IP address – very clumsy, but I understand you no longer have to do that.

The Bullet is immensely powerful and immensely sensitive, and will make robust, industrial-strength connections to AP’s you can’t even see with other WiFi adapters, up to incredible distances. Believe me, it is very, very worthwhile, if you intend to use WiFI much.

Other parts you will need:
Robot Check

With the Bullet connected to a router like the Huawei B593 (and I only just figured out myself, how this is done), then the WiFi connection is distributed to all users on the boat. So – you turn on your Bullet, open the control panel, choose a connection, make the connection, close the control panel. Voila – everyone on your boat can connect to your router, and have access to the Internet.
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Old 25-01-2016, 13:02   #5
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Thanks for a great writeup on all these options. Of particular interest to me, the global data roaming SIMs look very interesting. A quick study suggests these might still be slightly out of reach on a practical level though. At least for the caribbean.

I "Requested an Invite" to the GoogleFi program and they said I might expect to hear something back from them in a week. And it looks like they might only be supporting a limited number of devices (new Nexus devices) in this pilot program. Some uncertainty here, as they also say BYOD in one instance, and it would seem the SIM card ought to be compatible with a much wider range of devices. Can't say with any authority tho.

Current standing of FreedomPop: FreedomPop's latest free SIM plan includes international data
"Though it's known as the "Global SIM," initially it'll only work in the US and the vast majority of Europe, including the UK (obviously). By year's end, however, FreedomPop is planning to expand roaming coverage to additional countries in Southeast Asia, Latin America and beyond."

All other international roaming data plans from the standard US carriers look pretty untenable from a data usage viewpoint. Verizon might be the best in allowing you to use your existing plan globally for an added $10/day. Others offer only extremely low-end usage rates.
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Old 26-01-2016, 10:50   #6
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Thank you for taking the time to create this clear write-up, Dockhead. Your generosity is appreciated.
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Old 26-01-2016, 12:50   #7
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Thanks Dockhead, more useable information in this post than in several other threads combined!

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Old 26-01-2016, 14:55   #8
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Brilliant, thank you.
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Old 27-01-2016, 04:20   #9
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Great write up with lots of details.

You touched on it at the end of your last post about the bullet, but a lot of people may not have got it fully. Having a 4G router Dockhead recommends that can also accepted a wired connection, and figuring out how to connection your Bullet (etc.) to it is worth while. We were full time RVrs for 5 years, So we generally had WIFI access, but every time we moved, I had to setup every device with the new WIFI info. After a year of that I got smart and setup a 4G router and something similar to the Bullet (which didn't exist back then), and when we moved all I had to do was reconfigure the wifi for the "bullet" all the devices just connected to the router like normal, and when we were out of WIFI range, it could roll over to 4G and again no reconfiguring of devices. This made life much easier, especially for the non-techie in my life!

laika, the reason that GoogleFI only works with Nexus devices is because they have dual network ability, which is how GoogleFI gets such great coverage, they are using two different cell carrier networks for the 4G side of the the system and the Nexus phone can connect to either.

A word about Freedom Pop: I haven't used Freedom Pop directly, but One of my clients does Water Billing/Management for Apartment complexes, and part of the system is a computer on site that connects to the radios of all of the valves, etc. On some properties that computer is connected to the Internet via Freedom pop. Which works "ok", as the main purpose is nightly uploads of water usage stats which is just a small text file. But any time we have to remotely connect to one of these computers, via LogmeIn, the connection speed is horrendous, and no where near as good as my connection speed when I use my cell as a hotspot. Maybe we just have bad luck with the locations it is being used, but my brief exposure to freedom pop has not made me a fan.
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Old 27-01-2016, 11:47   #10
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteHalstedc View Post
Great write up with lots of details.

You touched on it at the end of your last post about the bullet, but a lot of people may not have got it fully. Having a 4G router Dockhead recommends that can also accepted a wired connection, and figuring out how to connection your Bullet (etc.) to it is worth while. We were full time RVrs for 5 years, So we generally had WIFI access, but every time we moved, I had to setup every device with the new WIFI info. After a year of that I got smart and setup a 4G router and something similar to the Bullet (which didn't exist back then), and when we moved all I had to do was reconfigure the wifi for the "bullet" all the devices just connected to the router like normal, and when we were out of WIFI range, it could roll over to 4G and again no reconfiguring of devices. This made life much easier, especially for the non-techie in my life!

laika, the reason that GoogleFI only works with Nexus devices is because they have dual network ability, which is how GoogleFI gets such great coverage, they are using two different cell carrier networks for the 4G side of the the system and the Nexus phone can connect to either.

A word about Freedom Pop: I haven't used Freedom Pop directly, but One of my clients does Water Billing/Management for Apartment complexes, and part of the system is a computer on site that connects to the radios of all of the valves, etc. On some properties that computer is connected to the Internet via Freedom pop. Which works "ok", as the main purpose is nightly uploads of water usage stats which is just a small text file. But any time we have to remotely connect to one of these computers, via LogmeIn, the connection speed is horrendous, and no where near as good as my connection speed when I use my cell as a hotspot. Maybe we just have bad luck with the locations it is being used, but my brief exposure to freedom pop has not made me a fan.
Thanks -- useful and interesting!

I would be really interested to hear whether anyone on here has experience with either Google Fi or Freedom Pop, or any other similar systems.


P.S. -- I realize I might have confused some people with the term "LTE". I use this in preference to the term "4G" because "4G" is actually "3.5G" in some places, including the U.S., that is, HSPA+. LTE is "true" 4G.
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Old 27-01-2016, 12:08   #11
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

This is a fantastic write-up, Dockhead. Having all of this information in one place is an invaluable time saver. I'll definitely be bookmarking this.


Thanks!
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Old 27-01-2016, 13:14   #12
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Thanks Dockhead, great having this all in one place as others have said, appreciated!
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Old 28-01-2016, 01:35   #13
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Dockhead

I've made this a sticky - sorry but you'll just have to come back and upgrade it as new technology becomes available
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Old 26-06-2016, 13:04   #14
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

Thank you so much. I was looking at the ubiquiti bullet, but was unsure if it would work. I am struggling to locate a 12v input 24v output POE adapter. Is there one you could recommend?

Thanks

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Old 26-06-2016, 18:26   #15
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Re: Non-Emergency Data Comms, Offshore and Onshore

You can run a Bullet directly from your boats 12 volt buss as long as you do not have a very long cable run (ie. less than about 60').

For a long cable run look for a Tycon TP-DCDC-1224 POE. You could also use any DCDC power supply that can supply a regulated output of 18-24 v at .8 amp or more.
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