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Old 28-10-2015, 14:19   #1
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Wifi in the Caribbean

In January my wife and I and our three children (ages 10, 7 and 5) will be doing a six-month cruise on a 40-foot Jeanneau. We'll be cruising between Trinidad and the BVI and are looking for advice for the best way to stay connected while cruising. I have been looking at a Cruising World article describing three Wi-Fi systems designed to connect with and amplify wireless signals. We'll use the Wi-Fi to check e-mail, help with our kids' homeschooling, Skype with family and research the islands we visit.
I have been looking at a Cruising World article describing three Wi-Fi systems designed to connect with and amplify wireless signals. I cannot tell, however, if WI-FI is the way to go, or if using cell phone reception (with sim cards? other service options?) to create an internet hot-spot is better. What works more frequently or reliably? Is there another strategy that we have not thought of? Do you use different strategies depending on the specific country? Are sim cards cheap enough to make using the cell phone strategy a good option? Which is more prevalent in those islands, wireless or cellular/data service?
The last time I cruised the Caribbean, 13 years ago, I would just find an internet cafe whenever I could, but I imagine the options have changed since then.

Thanks for any input.
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Old 28-10-2015, 16:06   #2
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

We have a fancy WiFi antenna, but rarely use it. It's great at connecting to on shore WiFi services (some of them with pretty expensive fees), but we've found that the Internet to be infuriatingly slow on these shared services. Which is pretty frustrating if you've paid for it. It's somewhat rare that we find a WiFi connection from the boat that works better than a local SIM card on our phones.

We have dual SIM Android phones, with TMobile in one slot (which allows us to keep our American number, seems to work nearly everywhere, and has inexpensive roaming, but slow roaming data that is only really good enough for email), and a local prepaid SIM card in the other slot for high speed data and calling locals (who tend to not want to call you back on an American number). The local SIM cards tend to work on multiple islands, and we just paid about $28 for 2 gigs of data.

If we want fast Internet, we generally bring a laptop or iPad ashore and go to a restaurant or bar. For the price of a beer or happy meal (in more developed islands) we can often get a faster Internet connection than we can from the boat with a paid HotHotHotSpot (or whatever).

So I'd recommend taking a smallish laptop (netbook or Macbook Air size) or iPad with a bluetooth keyboard, a nice Pelican case to keep it safe (waterproof bags dont seem to stay waterproof for long in our family, no idea why). For us, the goal is light enough weight that it's not absurd to carry around town while running errands. Since we tend to make Internet playtime the last errand, typically at the cruisers hang out where we tied up the dinghy.
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Old 28-10-2015, 16:56   #3
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

Last year we sailed down from BVI to Grenada and back again. I had to be in contact with work while away and we used a wireless router and modem from ALG Link in the BVI. Worked well in most places but we did have to change the SIM at one of the islands due to connectivity issues. ALG Link BVI WiFi for Private, Chartered and Bareboat Yachts We still use them.

I believe AxxessMarine have something similar. | Marine Data Services
Neither of these options are cheap but I had to be online.
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Old 28-10-2015, 17:12   #4
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

There seem to be two issues:

1. What system you have on board

2. How you get a signal

For 1, Active Captain's newsletters have had some very good information.

For 2, most everyone now recognizes that there are no more free wifi signals out there, even grandma's new router comes pre-loaded with security numbers/codes.

A search on this and other boating forums about "wifi" and "wifi signals" will give you tons of reading material.

Panbo: The Marine Electronics Hub also has some good material.

These folks have some recent info for where they're sailing, too:

You searched for wifi | Sundowner Sails Again
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Old 29-10-2015, 04:15   #5
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, JeanJeff.
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Old 29-10-2015, 08:40   #6
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

I like to use a Hotspot that uses a SIM card separate from anything else. You can connect at least 8 different gadgets to it. It just needs a SIM card for every country. Just search for 'huawei hotspot' on Amazon to start with.
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Old 29-10-2015, 08:51   #7
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

msponer has it right. Local country simcards for $5 or $10 dollars together with a few extea dollars for airtime is the most expedient for us. Similarly, an IPad in a backpack is the way to go ashore. Cafés and restaurants vie for business promoting free wifi so why not use it. I have yet to find a Marina which provides quality hight-speed internet service to my vessel at dock as advertised. Its always expensive and its always a disappointment.
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Old 29-10-2015, 08:54   #8
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

Are we ruling out; SSB options, & Sat Phones?
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Old 29-10-2015, 10:02   #9
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

I would combine a mobile hotspot with either a local or international SIM card. The hotspot will allow several devices to connect to the web via just one SIM card. You can either get a local SIM card for this, which will be cheap but you may need to get a new one depending on which territory you sail into. An international SIM might be the more convenient way to go, as it is prepaid (meaning you can't run up a huge bill, you only use what you've already paid for) and you won't need to switch it out in a different place. I used Telestial for a trip before now, and they were very good.
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Old 29-10-2015, 12:02   #10
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

Quote:
Originally Posted by aucoingc View Post
I have yet to find a Marina which provides quality hight-speed internet service to my vessel at dock as advertised. Its always expensive and its always a disappointment.
AGREE...thats true on Lake Ontario as well. I installed a smart TV on my baot because my marina (confederation basin, kingston) had just upgraded the wifi, and promised fast access. But just too many users...soooo sloooooowwwww.

Also, when I was in Antigua, sims available everywhere real cheap, plenty of wifi hotspots. I'm not sure, but I think you need an unlocked GSM phone...here in canada most phones are still locked (and useless).
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Old 29-10-2015, 12:45   #11
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

Uncivilized,
The reason nobody is mentioning SSB and/or sat phones, is two-fold...
Quote:
Originally Posted by UNCIVILIZED View Post
Are we ruling out; SSB options, & Sat Phones?
JeanJeff, mentioned cruising from Trini to the BVI, and needing "connectivity" for various uses/purposes that would require web-access/web-surfing....
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeanJeff View Post
We'll be cruising between Trinidad and the BVI and are looking for advice for the best way to stay connected while cruising.
<snip>
We'll use the Wi-Fi to check e-mail, help with our kids' homeschooling, Skype with family and research the islands we visit.
Facts are that with the e-mail-only connections of SSB, with only a few kb/s of speed (up to 8kb/s for PACTOR4)....and the even slower (2.4kb/s) data connections thru a basic sat phone, neither of these would give them any web-access/web-surfing....
And, secondarily, with the terrestrial networks (cellular/3G/4G, or some Wi-Fi) being ubiquitous along this cruising route, there is no need to think about "satellite" comms....let alone the price of the systems / air-time!!



I hope this helps clarify things a bit..

Fair winds..

John
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Old 29-10-2015, 13:16   #12
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

Quote:
Originally Posted by hamburking View Post
AGREE...thats true on Lake Ontario as well. I installed a smart TV on my baot because my marina (confederation basin, kingston) had just upgraded the wifi, and promised fast access. But just too many users...soooo sloooooowwwww.

Also, when I was in Antigua, sims available everywhere real cheap, plenty of wifi hotspots. I'm not sure, but I think you need an unlocked GSM phone...here in canada most phones are still locked (and useless).


I believe, by law, that your provider has to unlock your phone if you ask for it. But if not, you can unlock it on the Internet for about, well I last paid eight dollars Canadian.
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Old 03-11-2015, 18:09   #13
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

In the USA, after you have had the same phone for a while, the carrier has to unlock on your request. Unlocking on your own happens to be illegal now. No comment. I usually buy unlocked phones on Ebay.
Digicel is throughout the region, 30GB data for one month for about $110, but you cannot roam for reasonable rates. You might get to a new country, and the local store may be out of SIM cards. Welcome to the West Indies.
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Old 04-11-2015, 06:55   #14
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, gappyhilmore.
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Old 10-11-2015, 08:31   #15
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Re: Wifi in the Caribbean

Hi,

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeanJeff View Post
The last time I cruised the Caribbean, 13 years ago, I would just find an internet cafe whenever I could, but I imagine the options have changed since then.
I would recommend a multi-tiered approach. You can get a so-called NAS (basically a network attached hard disk) cheaply, which you can load up shoreside with anything you expect to need, reference books, etc.

Due to moving frequenctly in Hongkers (though not on the water) I have learned the value of not having tons of DVD's, books etc.

Instead I have a 9 Terabyte Diskpack with RAID5. You can then install a wifi router etc. and you have your own local network. This can handle anything you expect to need, including tons of ripped movies, downloaded TV series, Music, reference book, curiculum etc.

The legal situation is a bit questionable on some stuff, but such a local "internet cache" is great. Plus you control what is going on, so you know what is on your "BWW - Boat Wide Web".

Sure works for me. I started out in the mid oughties on a 1TB drive, I never delete stuff, I just upgrade the Harddrive solution every other year. I am sure you could get a truely waterproof enclosure for this, with external heat-exchanger for cooling, so it should even survive a flooded boat.

What is more cool, if you have a shore-base, you can have an equal system there, which you can remote connect to and get it to pull new stuff, which gets synched up, once you are back in civilisation, on some form of fast network. Imagine pulling into port and have your systems auto connect and pull the latest episodes of your fav TV shows from the shore based data crypt....

Which brings us to the next point. While all my HK Midelevel flats had (of course) wired internet, I tend to go to remote parts of Hongkers for holidays, renting of Air'B'n'B. There you usually find cellphone sticks inserted into the router. The Network is slower than wired, but usable. There are also those personal hotspots, battery powered which are great for excursions ashore, of course they can also be linked into a wifi network.

So, you have a lot of content you take along (just like food etc.) and you can get onto the local Cellphone Network, where available.

This leaves staying in touch with shore when you are far enough off-land that even with boosters and special aerials (which you should probably have) you cannot get decent cell signal.

I guess back to shortwave and a 2.4K modem speed (heck, I remember hacking phone companies and even the Pentagon on acoustic couplers that did even less).

Set clients apps right and dowload text only. It may be time for a mail collector and re-server app on the BWW, routers these days should handle it. That way you wake up and have all the e-mails you tried to get away from in the first place by going cruising waiting for you in the morning. Ain't that swell (someone shoot me, please)?

I'd say router, disk pack, casing to avoid moisture ingress etc. to make a boat network should fit the space of a 19" rack, say 430mm X 132mm or less.

More fun stuff, you can jack wireless cameras (docking?, security?) and all sorts of sensors (bilge water?) etc. into such a wifi network (it usually has slots for 255 conneted devices) and have the server ring your smartphone if something is up.

I know all this goes against "simple systems", but sometimes more complex means more simple. A "on demand" wifi based bilge water sensor can last for ages on a duracell and self report for battery change.If it gets wet you can wake up and manually pump if you must or turn on the engine to seriously pump if you have a major leak. Think of it as a modern style Smoke Detector.

So anyway, I would suggest to:

One - take as much data as you can handle and think to need on a waterproof platform that is low power.

Two - have cell modems available to jack into your network so you get shorebased Cell, have boosters etc. so you gget ul bars way off shore (this kiind of system may be illegal to use shoreside).

Three - have radio modem for when you are far off shore (or don't so you have an excuse to be out of touch for a while).

Greez SSAL
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