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Sucia

Mobile Internet Tools (Cell & Wifi Boost, etc.)

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Talk to me about your preferred setups for mobile internet and wifi boosting... I'm seeing a wide variety of solutions, and price points, and looking for a sweet spot (if any).

What do you use and like? Based on experience, what would you recommend today?

In particular, looking for best choices for antennas as my mast is due to be stepped in a few weeks, and hoping to find the best choices so installation is easier. May want to simply start with antenna of choice, then figure our router, etc. later.

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5 hours ago, Sucia said:

Talk to me about your preferred setups for mobile internet and wifi boosting... I'm seeing a wide variety of solutions, and price points, and looking for a sweet spot (if any).

What do you use and like? Based on experience, what would you recommend today?

In particular, looking for best choices for antennas as my mast is due to be stepped in a few weeks, and hoping to find the best choices so installation is easier. May want to simply start with antenna of choice, then figure our router, etc. later.

This is something I know absolutely zero about, so I’m looking forward to any info on this —not that I’m planning to unstep my mast any time soon at all.  Equipment (for what exactly), mounted where, etc.

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When we first started cruising with internet access, we would take a laptop ashore with a built in phone modem and try to convince people in foreign countries to let us plug a phone line into the phone jack. This was sometimes successful but more often not. Try explaining it's a local call in a foreign language because AOL had lots of phone in numbers in lots of countries. 1995-1998.

2nd time cruising 2009-2017 - we had a wifi booster that was good and effective at picking up weak wifi. But open wifi was rare because people were getting clued in to wifi security. Worked OK in French Polynesia where internet is crazy costly so a few enterprises offer pay per hour wifi. We could use it at anchor a long way from shore. But super slow data rate. Now I would not bother with it. Some people used theirs in marinas where the wifi antenna was in the marina office and a forest of masts and wires dampened the signal to the outer docks. We did not spend much time in marinas.

But 95% of the time we just bought a 3G sim card, put it into a phone and set up the phone as a wifi hotspot.  We used Opera Mini, a browser that can strip out all photos via their servers. Your URL request would go to them, they download the page, remove as much photos as you specify, and then serve it to you. Great for saving data because text is tiny compared to even just 1 photo.

A lot of time was spent in restaurants with decent wifi. Buy a drink or a snack, and surf for an hour or two.

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WiFi ashore in cafes and YCs. Some places are weirdly wired for WiFi throughout town with a MAC-locked purchased plan. Otherwise, like Zonker said: a local cellular SIM card and hotspot.

Starlink is still in very limited fixed-location testing. The antenna is s problem on a small boat but that will likely be addressed in the future. No practical general solution offshore except for the very limited InReach and Iridium devices for weather and texting.

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SIM/hotspot as mentioned above. WiFi is almost always locked, not worth buying equipment to bother with. Weather via Sirius, ties into my chart plotter. 
 

What I have wished for is a simple cell signal booster...

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28 minutes ago, Max Rockatansky said:

SIM/hotspot as mentioned above. WiFi is almost always locked, not worth buying equipment to bother with. Weather via Sirius, ties into my chart plotter. 
 

What I have wished for is a simple cell signal booster...

Hoisting the phone to mast is not enough?

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I hoist my phone up  occasionally when we are just out of range otherwise.  It is a handy trick on occasion, but doesn't get used all that often.  I use a small dry bag so rain is not a problem and I generally run it up the flag halyard where it can't get bashed into the mast or anything.  Still, it comes down when the wind gets high.   

I agree on the wifi booster being of marginal use.  We need it about as often as we need to hoist the phone.  Since it came with the boat it gets used, but I wouldn't replace it if it died.  Others I know seem to get more use of theirs, so ymmv.

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the club i'm a member of has a wifi transmitter on the club house that broadcasts into the marina.  it's locke but as a member i can log in. BUT the transmitter is oriented sort of away from my slip and its on the other side of the club house roof from me.  i'm  guess its 75 metre from my boat to the club house.  the wifi is net to useless for me, i can connect from inside the boat but it won't handle much use, if i stream anything it will lose connection...madening.  will a bosster help this situation?

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10 hours ago, Upp3 said:

Hoisting the phone to mast is not enough?

That's what I do. I use a cellular modern with a battery good for about 12 hours and when in an area with marginal reception I place it in a small dry bag and haul it up the flag halyard. The flag halyard is better than trying to get it to the top of the mast because winds will bash the unit into the side of the mast and this is avoided with the flag halyard. The dry bag is tightly folded around the modem to help stop it flopping around in the breeze too much.

Since the modem is specifically for the boat, this made it easy to integrate all the boat's instruments into the wireless network so now I have instruments and internet all on a single SSID.

Other than this basic setup, other solutions can start to get expensive because you just can't send a cable to the top of the mast carrying a cellular or wifi signal as the attenuation at the frequencies used is pretty severe which generally means that some kind of repeater setup is required.

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12 hours ago, notallthere said:

What about starlink?

As mentioned not a Today solution... Yet.. they are offering trials of Starlink in the UK... so... very close and supposedly by the end of this year it shall be viable... (so not tomorrow.. but almost tomorrow in covid time).

3 hours ago, chester said:

the club i'm a member of has a wifi transmitter on the club house that broadcasts into the marina.  it's locke but as a member i can log in. BUT the transmitter is oriented sort of away from my slip and its on the other side of the club house roof from me.  i'm  guess its 75 metre from my boat to the club house.  the wifi is net to useless for me, i can connect from inside the boat but it won't handle much use, if i stream anything it will lose connection...madening.  will a bosster help this situation?

A booster may help, but.. probably better to get a good VPN.  Most routers used are consumer models adapted for enterprise use.  By having a VPN.. the router sees one connection.. not a bunch of different things.... and you may get better performance..   A ubiquity or clone may also help...

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3 hours ago, chester said:

..... its 75 metre from my boat to the club house.  the wifi is net to useless for me, i can connect from inside the boat but it won't handle much use, if i stream anything it will lose connection...madening.  will a bosster help this situation?

A booster with a directional antenna is required. You must get your signals above the noise.

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8 hours ago, Toecutter's Ghost said:

That's what I do. I use a cellular modern with a battery good for about 12 hours and when in an area with marginal reception I place it in a small dry bag and haul it up the flag halyard. The flag halyard is better than trying to get it to the top of the mast because winds will bash the unit into the side of the mast and this is avoided with the flag halyard. The dry bag is tightly folded around the modem to help stop it flopping around in the breeze too much.

Since the modem is specifically for the boat, this made it easy to integrate all the boat's instruments into the wireless network so now I have instruments and internet all on a single SSID.

Other than this basic setup, other solutions can start to get expensive because you just can't send a cable to the top of the mast carrying a cellular or wifi signal as the attenuation at the frequencies used is pretty severe which generally means that some kind of repeater setup is required.

BTW, have you compared regular phone and modem? Does the modem give you better connection, as I would think? Somehow I think that modern phones and antennas are more optimized for looks than signal strength.

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14 hours ago, Upp3 said:

BTW, have you compared regular phone and modem? Does the modem give you better connection, as I would think? Somehow I think that modern phones and antennas are more optimized for looks than signal strength.

They have connections to connect an external antenna, and I did originally buy an omin-directional whip style for installation but never bothered with it, so in theory, yes. Without the external antenna it's about the same as a standard phone in regards to reception. The main advantage of the modem (aside from the ability to hang it outside the boat which markedly improves reception) is that you don't need to go through the hotspotting routine to hook up to it and WIFI power output is adjustable so that it doesn't need to burn through the battery quite as fast. They can also monitor data usage which is handy.

9 hours ago, Max Rockatansky said:

Does the suggested modem solution require its own SIM and data plan?

It uses it's own data SIM. Normally supplied as an add on to an existing phone or data plan. As an example, my Telco charges $10 extra a month for additional SIMs. I was fortunate to have been a pioneer with tablets in the early days so scored mine for nothing which I now hang onto very dearly!

On the topic of SIMs, it's worth noting that prepaid data SIMs can be used as required when traveling through different regions as coverage areas can vary depending on Telco's. Coverage maps and even cell tower location information are readily available online that can be used to determine the best Telco coverage for any particular area or even anchorage.

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Not mobile, but maybe of some interest: Just got email from Elon.  (Filled out the "interested in beta" form months ago.) Limited availability of Starlink now in my area - I had 15 minutes to decide, then they moved on to somebody else.  No time for ditherers.  

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I used a WeBoost cell booster all summer with a trucker style antenna mounted atop my Bimini or on our van’s roof rack. It added 2 bars pretty reliably. If there’s no signal, it can’t boost it. But it allowed me to work remotely (or at least check in) throughout most of the Olympic National Forest and the backside of Catalina Island. 
 

edit: this is the one I think https://www.amazon.com/weBoost-471410-Signal-Booster-Motorhome/dp/B07TYGJ9TV/ref=mp_s_a_1_9?dchild=1&keywords=weboost+cell+phone+booster&qid=1611203771&sprefix=weboos&sr=8-9

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9 hours ago, socalrider said:

I used a WeBoost cell booster all summer with a trucker style antenna mounted atop my Bimini or on our van’s roof rack. It added 2 bars pretty reliably. If there’s no signal, it can’t boost it. But it allowed me to work remotely (or at least check in) throughout most of the Olympic National Forest and the backside of Catalina Island. 
 

edit: this is the one I think https://www.amazon.com/weBoost-471410-Signal-Booster-Motorhome/dp/B07TYGJ9TV/ref=mp_s_a_1_9?dchild=1&keywords=weboost+cell+phone+booster&qid=1611203771&sprefix=weboos&sr=8-9

Does it hold up well on the boat? 

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3 hours ago, Elegua said:

Does it hold up well on the boat? 

I pull it off when I'm not out cruising, so a bit tough to tell.  It's a very simple unit, with only the coax antenna connections and a 12v power supply, and it's pretty easy to rout the antenna cable so as to keep it in the cabin.  

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On 1/13/2021 at 6:20 PM, Sucia said:

Talk to me about your preferred setups for mobile internet and wifi boosting... I'm seeing a wide variety of solutions, and price points, and looking for a sweet spot (if any).

What do you use and like? Based on experience, what would you recommend today?

In particular, looking for best choices for antennas as my mast is due to be stepped in a few weeks, and hoping to find the best choices so installation is easier. May want to simply start with antenna of choice, then figure our router, etc. later.

I needed reliable comms to go cruising, so I have a cellular system, a wifi booster, and two satellite systems - see attached oneline. As expected, the cellular system does the vast majority of the work. I bought a high end MiMo antenna and connected each side through its own failover booster to a Pepwave machine modem, which I connected to a multiplexer (along with other WAN sources in a failover scheme) to broadcast wifi into the boat. The boat wifi is divided into two networks with access controlled by MAC address - one network for the laptops, with software on each laptop to control bandwidth use, and another network for the iOS/Android devices that is basically selectively crippled because those things go nuts with bandwidth when they see wifi (they have some tools for bandwidth control when on a direct cell signal).

The cellular system has been wildly successful. In the US and Canada we used a GoogleFi SIM, though you can use anything you like. In the Caribbean we eventually got booted off GoogleFi, so now in Antigua we have both a Digicel and a Flow SIM in the Pepwave, one of them always works. If you wanted to do just the cellular side of this system, it's not that expensive.

One caveat about putting antennas up masts - the signal loss down the coax is severe. My coax run is only about 12 feet from the top of my aft accessory mast down into the lazarette where the Pepwave lives - from there it's an ethernet cable 50 feet to the multiplexer. There is at least one company that's packaging up a MiMo antenna and machine modem together in a little dome to put way up the mast which gives you the best reception without the signal loss. Course then you need to go up to change SIM cards....

Hope this helps.

 

2019 Boundless Comms System OneLine.pdf

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On 1/23/2021 at 12:59 PM, CapDave said:

One caveat about putting antennas up masts - the signal loss down the coax is severe. My coax run is only about 12 feet from the top of my aft accessory mast down into the lazarette where the Pepwave lives - from there it's an ethernet cable 50 feet to the multiplexer. There is at least one company that's packaging up a MiMo antenna and machine modem together in a little dome to put way up the mast which gives you the best reception without the signal loss. Course then you need to go up to change SIM cards....

Hope this helps.

 

2019 Boundless Comms System OneLine.pdf

I've always spent a few extra $$ to buy high quality coax.... the return on the relatively small extra investment is worth it 

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On 1/14/2021 at 2:43 PM, Zonker said:

Buy a drink or a snack, and surf for an hour or two.

INTERNET CAFE! PANDA | Neocha – Culture & Creativity in Asia

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On 1/20/2021 at 9:35 PM, socalrider said:

I used a WeBoost cell booster all summer with a trucker style antenna mounted atop my Bimini or on our van’s roof rack. It added 2 bars pretty reliably. If there’s no signal, it can’t boost it. But it allowed me to work remotely (or at least check in) throughout most of the Olympic National Forest and the backside of Catalina Island. 
 

edit: this is the one I think https://www.amazon.com/weBoost-471410-Signal-Booster-Motorhome/dp/B07TYGJ9TV/ref=mp_s_a_1_9?dchild=1&keywords=weboost+cell+phone+booster&qid=1611203771&sprefix=weboos&sr=8-9

Aha, I've seen those on the never ending parade of sprinter van campers. Now I know what they are. SA is useful!

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We use a KVH antenna and wifi service. The antenna picks up the strongest cell signal and we can use any device on board the boat. The KVH antenna is only good for coastal range, not off shore but it is strong and reliable ( at least for us in the Northeast). My wife needs to be able to link up to her hospital network at any given time so the KVH is the best for us. Antenna was about $1400, and the service costs about 100 to 200 per month, we go dormant over the winter for 9.99 per month.

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For WiFi, the Ubiquiti Bullet M2 is widely regarded to be the best solution.  You need a good 2.4 GHz antenna and a PoE injector to make it work.  There is no antenna cable because you run Cat5 from it to your laptop or router.  I don't have one.  I understand they can be tricky to configure.  I am not aware of a 5 GHz equivalent, but it is difficult to get enough distance with 5 GHz for extra effort to make sense.

I have used cellular extenders and while they do have a place they are tricky to get right.  You need a good deal of isolation between the high antenna and the low antenna, and the high antenna has to be directional, IME, for them to really help.

There seems to be declining interest in either as LTE availability and coverage improves, and prices come down.  There are a lot of things I don't care about any more now that I have Google FI and this is one of them.

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