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Old 14-10-2019, 08:48   #1
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Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

I have used the search functions and google and over the past 3 days have done a ton of reading on the subject of getting good phone and internet connections aboard in far off places. While I do now understand the challenges (I think) I still have no idea what to actually buy.

Analysis Paralysis! The issues and options are overwhelming...

I figured this was worth a shot - anyone who has had a similar need to us and met that need, please post what you are using. The more detailed exact make/model of hardware the better - I am looking for "Buy This" recommendations. I figure there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

NEED: We live aboard full time and will be cruising the US East Coast and Bahamas over the next year with ventures into the Caribbean later as well. I am not retired or rich. I run a small online marketing business and must have good voice and internet connections to work 2-4 hours most days.

My understanding is that cellular data is the way to go but also with wifi capabilities as well. We will likely need an external wifi booster and antenna and we will also need a cellular antenna and router. Plus cables and all....

Budget: < $1500

Cheaper is better, I dont want to spend a ton more for the same functionality. I don't mind paying a bit more for ease of use and setup. Suggestions on vendors to contact are welcome. THANKS!

Terry
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Old 14-10-2019, 11:11   #2
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

Sure. This is easy.


For cellular most people do okay with their base devices. You can about double range by using a booster. I like the WeBoost 4G-X. It's really a broadband transverter.


For WiFi your best bet is a Ubiquiti Bullet, an Air802 antenna, and a Linksys WRT-54GL router for inside the boat.



I'm happy to describe why I like those products and what else I have looked at, used, sold, and supported. You didn't ask for those things.


You'll have a tough time meeting budget with my recommendations but you'll be close if you can follow directions and DIY the install.
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Old 14-10-2019, 12:08   #3
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

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Sure. This is easy.

For cellular most people do okay with their base devices. You can about double range by using a booster. I like the WeBoost 4G-X. It's really a broadband transverter.

For WiFi your best bet is a Ubiquiti Bullet, an Air802 antenna, and a Linksys WRT-54GL router for inside the boat.

I'm happy to describe why I like those products and what else I have looked at, used, sold, and supported. You didn't ask for those things.

You'll have a tough time meeting budget with my recommendations but you'll be close if you can follow directions and DIY the install.


I am very much interested in your why answers and other recommendations! Thanks for the help!
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Old 14-10-2019, 13:00   #4
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

Sure.


There are two fundamental types of cell boosters. Some take a SIM card and connect to the local cell network and act as a micro-cell inside the boat (truck, car, house, whatever). These mean another account for the SIM card and limit you to a single network. Others pick up wide ranges of frequencies and retransmit them all at low power inside the boat. The latter is not limited to a single provider. That means a device like the WeBoost 4G-X will work across multiple providers: in the US AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, USCellular, all work.



It is still not perfect. 3G/4G uses four bands (850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz) across the globe; these are the quad-bands you may have heard of. There are 22 bands for LTE. Note that a band is a range of frequencies. There is no device I'm aware of that supports everything everywhere. The WeBoost 4G-X supports 850 MHz, 1900 MHz, and the most common LTE bands in the US. The least expensive way to be a world traveler is to have a second booster for places outside North America and the Caribbean.



The external antenna from WeBoost is awful. You want an external antenna but not theirs. Shakespeare 5239 antenna and really good coax like LMR400 or RG214. You can buy the antenna anywhere. I use The RF Connection for coax and connectors; http://therfc.com . I can do connectors but the three old guys at RF Connection have down thousands more than I have. Go with experience. Tell Joel I sent you.



I'll need to know your cruising plans to help there.



The Ubiquiti Bullet is the 800 pound gorilla in the WiFi range extender market. The RedPort Halo and the Microtik Groove are the other big players. There are a lot of niche products like the Rogue Wave and the late and unlamented Wirie. The Bullet is pretty bulletproof (ha!) and the user interface is reasonable. My hands-on experience with all the range extenders I listed and a few more keeps coming back to the Bullet. I can see three Bullets, a Halo, a Rogue Wave, and a Wirie from here. Air802 makes a really nice antenna with a good mount. You can use nearly any WiFi router for inside the boat. I like the WRT-54GL because it is robust, it runs off 12VDC (+/- a bunch that works nicely on the boat). I haven't found anything more reliable and better supported than the WRT-54GL.



One other avenue is worth thinking about. If you're going to make a LOT of long passages or be really off the grid (harder and harder these days) The RedPort Halo or a router from CradlePoint start to look better. The Halo comes with a router called the Optimizer. It and a number of Cradlepoint products allow you to plug in multiple access media (WiFi, satellite, cell) with automatic failover and switching. This is not idiot-proof. You can spend a lot on expensive links when you think you're on something cheap. You have to stay on top of things.



I don't sell any of this anymore. My volume is too low. For the WiFi setup your best bet is Amazon and eBay. You'll either need to do the research (which is good for you, like cod liver oil) or find someone like me (disclaimer - I do this stuff) to set up the configuration. For the cellular you can go to SeaTech Systems in the US or really anywhere - shop on price.



Questions are good. Any others?
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Old 14-10-2019, 13:36   #5
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

Auspicious hits the key points. For our East coast travel, Bahamas island hopping, and then on to the DR, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands we used two devices:
- otrmobile.com - $60 per month unlimited wireless Internet over the AT&T network in the US - East coast, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands
- Island Wifi - $75 per month unlimited wireless Internet over the BTC network in the Bahamas

Both work great for our uses. I am a full-time IT consultant and we use more than 100GB per month over these networks.

We have a Ubiquiti Bullet, but we rarely get a signal with WiFi networks encrypted, turned off at night, and/or over subscribed.

Cheers, RickG
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Old 14-10-2019, 14:09   #6
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

Island WiFi is the best in the Bahamas. No help anywhere else.


WiFi takes social engineering, or at least buying a beer in a bar or restaurant to get the password.
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Old 14-10-2019, 14:53   #7
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

RickG - Thanks.

Auspicious - I sent you a PM.
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Old 14-10-2019, 15:30   #8
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

We used Orange data card (mobile Internet, tethered) on all French islands. It seems to work to about 10 miles offshore with a plain wifi data dongle.


The card was about EUR 10 (USD 15) per month (=3Gb data, then upwards). The dongle came free with our Orange subscription.



Where wifi was present in beach side bars, we used a wifi booster and external antenna. We drank a beer at the bar in the morning, we used the password as long as it was valid.


Beer mostly 1.5 to 2.5 USD apiece.



With plain wifi gear (about USD 100 for antenna and booster) we had wifi onboard within about half a mile from any bar.


At the end of our stay we actually went to our fave wifi place and bought a beer for everybody there at the time (came up to about 20USD). The owner did not seem to understand but I am sure he will treat us well next winter too.



Cheers,
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Old 15-10-2019, 11:43   #9
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

Quote:
Originally Posted by RickG View Post
Auspicious hits the key points. For our East coast travel, Bahamas island hopping, and then on to the DR, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands we used two devices:
- otrmobile.com - $60 per month unlimited wireless Internet over the AT&T network in the US - East coast, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands
- Island Wifi - $75 per month unlimited wireless Internet over the BTC network in the Bahamas

Both work great for our uses. I am a full-time IT consultant and we use more than 100GB per month over these networks.

We have a Ubiquiti Bullet, but we rarely get a signal with WiFi networks encrypted, turned off at night, and/or over subscribed.

Cheers, RickG
Rick,

If the otr uses AT&T cell signals, how does it work if youíre in an area with no bars? Isnít this essentially the same as using oneís phone (assuming AT&T is the carrier) in hotspot mode?

Thanks
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Old 15-10-2019, 12:12   #10
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

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Rick,

If the otr uses AT&T cell signals, how does it work if youíre in an area with no bars? Isnít this essentially the same as using oneís phone (assuming AT&T is the carrier) in hotspot mode?

Thanks
It is a similar service to what you get on your phone in hot spot mode. It runs on the pre-pay tier that is a lower priority than the post-pay tier. It is unlimited and it is significantly cheaper than the AT&T hotspot alternative. The device we have is Netgear Nighthawk LTE router with battery and it is significantly faster than a mobile phone as a hotspot or the device that Island Wifi uses.

The Island WiFi service is a higher tier than OTR as it runs on the Enterprise tier and has higher priority.

Cheers, RickG
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Old 15-10-2019, 14:16   #11
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

We found that wireless cell data service, though available within sight of land most places now, is slow at 2G only. Not fast enough for lots of business needs.
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Old 15-10-2019, 22:53   #12
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

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Sure. This is easy.

For WiFi your best bet is a Ubiquiti Bullet, an Air802 antenna, and a Linksys WRT-54GL router for inside the boat.

I'm happy to describe why I like those products and what else I have looked at, used, sold, and supported. You didn't ask for those things.

You'll have a tough time meeting budget with my recommendations but you'll be close if you can follow directions and DIY the install.
I would like to know why you like these WiFi products and any configuration info needed to get it running. Thank you.
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Old 16-10-2019, 07:00   #13
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

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I would like to know why you like these WiFi products and any configuration info needed to get it running. Thank you.

I wrote up the background above Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi .


Configuration for the WeBoost 4G-X cellular is simple: turn it on. Installation is more important and the key is good coax and well-installed connectors. I do a lot of connectors but my coax vender does thousands more than I do so I now generally have him do it.



The WiFi range extender does take more configuration. You have to set up the Linksys router (or whatever router you select) for inside the boat and then the Bullet (which is really pretty simple). Then you can either write down the IP address for the Bullet on a Post-It note or edit your 'hosts' file on your computer to give that IP a name. Some people don't want to do all that themselves; I do it for them as part of my business.



Inside-the-boat router configuration is most important as that is what you usually connect to. What I do, unless the customer wants something different is use the boat name as SSID and then a password that is easy for the customer to remember: pet names, children's middle names, all the usual stuff. There are a few other minor settings but it isn't hard.



The Bullet is little stuff like access. I honestly don't remember - I just page through the configuration tabs and click a few options. It takes two minutes.
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Old 17-10-2019, 08:29   #14
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

For Bahamas and US look at MyIslandWifi... we loved it in the Bahamas but different devices for USA ... unlimited data !!!
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Old 17-10-2019, 16:12   #15
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Re: Please Help: Internet / Cellular / Data / Wifi

For Wifi, we have been very pleased with the ALFA USB powered external WiFi modems and routers. These are available for under 50 USD, and higher gain antennae are readily available. These are not waterproof, but do a very good job from inside the boat, and if needed, just raise with a halyard in a plastic bag. I have sent and received emails from as far away as 5 miles with a good line of sight from a few wifi hotspots.
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