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Old 08-04-2021, 15:42   #1
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WiFi and Cellular extenders

I am hoping to be on my boat as much as possible this summer but need to stay connected to work. I am considering both a Wi-Fi and cell extender but have heard mixed reviews. I understand that Wi-Fi extenders are likely only to be helpful when docked at a marina. Hoping that I can use my cell data as an alternative. Any advice or comments based on experience would be appreciated.
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Old 08-04-2021, 15:53   #2
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

I use my cell phone as a hotspot. It works great IF there is good cell service, and depending on how much bandwidth you need. So it depends on how the cell service is where you want to cruise. When I was in Penobscot Bay, Maine a couple of years ago, T-Mobile, my phone provider, had poor to non-existent service. I was able to connect my phone to an alternate local provider, but that was just lucky the provider was so accommodating. Depending on where I was, service was still marginal. If there is any decent cell service where you plan to cruise, you can get either a SIM or a hotspot from that provider for the duration of your trip.

Cell extenders work by putting an antenna up higher and amplifying the signal. If there isn't any signal to begin with, it won't work. I've resisted installing an extender because the antenna has to be high enough to see the signal. You can't test it until you're somewhere your phone doesn't get a signal. People do report getting a usable signal up to 5-10 miles away from a cell tower.

The Wi-Fi extender can only help if there is a reasonable Wi-Fi signal close enough, and either the Wi-Fi is unsecured, which is unlikely these days, or you have logon information for the Wi-Fi. And the Wi-Fi has to have better data rates than your cell phone, or there's no point anyway.
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Old 08-04-2021, 18:04   #3
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

There are very few marinas where the wifi is fast enough for much beyond email - especially in the evening when everyone is on. We haven't used our wifi amplifier for three years.

Cell is the way to go but expensive cell boosters rarely do a good job with today's 4G or LTE. The best solution is to get an inexpensive hotspot and plug a MIMO antenna into it.

The Mobile Internet Resource Center will point you in the right direction

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Old 08-04-2021, 18:13   #4
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

Haven't used my wifi booster in years now. Even a couple yearscago when i did use it the speed was barely useful lots of times (2 mbps). Marinas say they have “free” ection.wifi, which doesn't mean it is useful for the internet.

Have found my cell phone is faster and more reliable now days than some unknown wifi connection.
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Old 09-04-2021, 09:31   #5
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

I put in a cell extender on my boat, which I use in Puget Sound. There are towers all around so this gives me a really great, strong signal. This feeds into a Pepwave LTE router, which broadcasts WiFi in my boat. Works great. But...and hereís the thing...if I go anchor in some remote cove, even a cell extender can only get what itís exposed to. Thereís no universal solution.

Iíd strongly suggest you take a look at Steve Mitchellís website, SeaBits. Heís done an extensive amount of work on boat comm systems. Heís got some great ideas and suggestions. Good luck.
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Old 09-04-2021, 09:31   #6
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

Steve Mitchell writes a great blog about all things Internet and boats.
He covers this topic in great detail.

https://seabits.com/

Sean
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Old 09-04-2021, 09:51   #7
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

I have found in most remote locations that my international setting with Verizon gives me all I need wherever I am. It costs $10 per day for a 24 hour period starting when I first use it during the day. If you don't use it you aren't charged for the day. Your phone can also be used as mobile hot spot for the same period. For me this was the best rate for the remote locations I sail. An example was sailing between St Lucia and St Vincent 20 miles out and perfect reception.
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Old 09-04-2021, 10:09   #8
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

Starlink is working now for fixed users, and planning service to mobile users.
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Old 09-04-2021, 10:16   #9
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

Quote:
Originally Posted by CarlF View Post
There are very few marinas where the wifi is fast enough for much beyond email - especially in the evening when everyone is on. We haven't used our wifi amplifier for three years.
Cell is the way to go but expensive cell boosters rarely do a good job with today's 4G or LTE. The best solution is to get an inexpensive hotspot and plug a MIMO antenna into it.
The Mobile Internet Resource Center will point you in the right direction
I agree with all the above.

We haven't used our wifi booster (antenna mounted on mizzen mast) since we started cruising full time as marina wifi universally sucks and land connections are all secured now, requiring a password. You'll find very, very few open wifi connections anymore.

Cell internet is the way to go now, until satellite catches up (Starlink is now in beta and we look forward to getting it). Until then, we have 100GB of AT&T for $100. per month (we work remotely while cruising and haven't exceeded this plan), and unlimited streaming from T-Mobile with their Binge On plan.

Our electronics guru, a master electrician who upgraded our boat electronics and electrical system, recommended this dual SIM Cradlepoint router for our needs and I've been very happy with it. After using several other popular marine cell booster solutions in the past, this thing blows them all away and is used commercially in trucking and shipping fleets.
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Old 09-04-2021, 10:20   #10
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

Quote:
Originally Posted by GWilly View Post
I put in a cell extender on my boat, which I use in Puget Sound. There are towers all around so this gives me a really great, strong signal. This feeds into a Pepwave LTE router, which broadcasts WiFi in my boat. Works great. But...and hereís the thing...if I go anchor in some remote cove, even a cell extender can only get what itís exposed to. Thereís no universal solution.

Iíd strongly suggest you take a look at Steve Mitchellís website, SeaBits. Heís done an extensive amount of work on boat comm systems. Heís got some great ideas and suggestions. Good luck.
In remote locations in the San Juan Islands I've been able to get a signal by putting my LTE router into a baggie (for protection) and mesh bag and run it up the mast with an extension cord for power. Works great, but only works on sail boats!
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Old 11-04-2021, 12:11   #11
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

I regularly use a booster antenna for our laptops. I have two ALFA units that plug into a USB. We have one big Hawkings antenna that works when we are far out in the bay. Usually we use much smaller antennas.
It brings the signal from 1 bar to 4 bars. Or no bars to 2 bars.
I does not make slow wifi any faster. But it allows us to connect clearly when we otherwise would have no wifi or intermittent wifi.
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Old 11-04-2021, 22:25   #12
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Re: WiFi and Cellular extenders

Unless you are in a marina (and a marina with a very good WiFi service, which is super rare) skip the wifi extender. Only workable wifi signal I found is xfinitywifi if you have a Comcast subscription but you still need to be close to the source. Also I'd skip the cellular cell boosters, they are close to useless. I have had both types, in various versions. I finally sold them all on EBay, that was the best use I have had from them.

Best choice is to invest in a decent router and LTE antenna and an LTE package (T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon etc, depending on your location), but these can easily can get complicated and expensive. I and the admiral work full time from the boat and we have two T-Mobile, and one Verizon SIMs on routers (I use Mikrotiks) and one AT&T and another T-Mobile tethered from phones to the router.

As someone previously suggested Steve (Mitchell) writes great articles on it on Seabits.com, have a look.
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