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Old 12-30-2015 Thread Starter
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Options for WiFi/broadband

I'm about ready to pull the trigger on a mizzen mounted WIFI antenna and router because I can't easily get access from the marina where I keep my boat. I know there are a few companies out there that offer variations of the ubiquity bullet WiFI router mated to an antenna and mast mount, but I wondered what else is out there.

It recently came to my attention that there is such a thing as 3G/4G/GSM routers. One company called "the wire" uses the above WIFI hardware along with a 3G4G router. While being able to access the internet when there is no handly wireless network would be a big benefit I wonder how this works with regard to one's cellular provider.

What is out there? What's everyone using or lusting after? What works in the rest of the world?

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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

The main competitor seems to be the GrooveA 52HPn. Not sure if there is any real difference as far as performance goes. Here is a video of someone working on one. He is a programmer and had serious issues so watch out. I have heard some folks say they are better than the bullet, but not sure why.


I have an older Ubiquiti LOCO that has a built in antenna, and it has been rock solid. I have not used it for a couple of years, but used it for several and even had it running for over a year without have to reset it or reboot it or anything way better than any USB device. I was quite solid but if I were to do it again I would go for the Bullet in the high power version. I got it on the recommendation of Saildog. There is a good thread about setting the bullet up if you search, Bene505 had posted info on it as well. I also have a USB based on the Alpha chip-set and find it needs to be power cycled quite often to maintain any level of throughput and had trouble finding working firmware and drivers.

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Old 12-31-2015
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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

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Originally Posted by MedSailor View Post
I'm about ready to pull the trigger on a mizzen mounted WIFI antenna and router because I can't easily get access from the marina where I keep my boat.
There are a number of options.

From an architectural point of view there is an external access device--a router--that connects to the shore side WiFi access point, a power-over-Ethernet (poe) injector that uses the Ethernet cable to the router for power to the router, and an internal router to disseminate Internet access inside the boat (although you can use wired Ethernet instead if you prefer).

USB-connected devices like the Alfa are simple and inexpensive but their performance is not nearly as good. Radio sensitivity is well below the standard set by alternatives. In addition the drivers required by USB are prone to failure which locks up your PC (Windows or Mac). It is interesting to note that The Wiries, based for years on the Alfa, has finally redesigned their product to use a Ubiquiti Bullet. I carry a USB Alfa in my computer bag for WiFi range extension on the road and in bars and cafes. I'm the guy sitting in the corner pounding on a laptop. *grin*

The Bullet has been the WiFi range extension gold standard for several years. The Bullet on my boat has been in operation for almost seven years. There are a number of sources for systems based on the Bullet. Note that many are relabeled and some have custom firmware intended to simplify the user interface. The latter point is not as wonderful as you might think as if the Bullet locks up (more likely with custom firmware than factory firmware) and you reset it you will have the factory firmware and a new learning curve. Frankly I think the factory user interface is pretty straightforward. For an internal WiFi router I happen to like the Cisco Linksys WRT-54GL. It is reliable, robust, and runs off 12VDC. I spoke with the engineering folks (not tech support) at Cisco last year after they released a bunch of new WiFi products and they continue to recommend the WRT-54GL for applications like ours. There are other options available.

A second option is the Microtek Groove, most famously available from IslandTimePC. Bob Stewart's customer service is first rate and he can sell you a complete kit including mounting brackets. The biggest difference between the Bullet and the Groove is that the Groove does not have a bridge mode which you will never use anyway.

The third option is the RedPort Halo. I have a Halo on my boat that has been in operation for about two years for side-by-side testing. The Halo performance is equivalent to the Bullet. The Halo is available with either of two matched internal WiFi routers (called an Optimizer) that have some unique capabilities that are attractive most notably a firewall that can be toggled on and off that keeps Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android operating systems and applications from "phoning home" to download huge updates. When bandwidth is limited and/or paid for by the bit this is a HUGE deal.

To integrate cellular (3G/4G/LTE) Internet access you need an additional radio. That can be built into the WiFi box (as The Wirie does it) or a cellular radio connected to the internal WiFi router. Unless you will manually decide which route to take to the Internet (an approach with some merit) the internal WiFi router must be smart enough to manage access. There are two good solutions to this part of the problem: one of the range of Cradlepoint products (the solution of choice in the RV community) or the RedPort Optimizer Premiere (my recommendation). I like the Optimizer for automatic failover, the firewall, and the in-built support for just about every satellite system on the market. If you have or might add a satellite phone the Optimizer is a no-brainer.

For the actual cellular radio you still need a service provider. For cruising in the US either Verizon or AT&T are good choices. Both have hardware that connect to the internal router using USB. Verizon coverage is marginally better and AT&T speed is better. I do not recommend Sprint, T-Mobile, or any of the regional carriers unless your cruising grounds are very limited. If you leave the US (even just to the Bahamas, Canada, or Mexico) AT&T is your best choice with a quad-band or quint-band radio stick that is unlocked for local SIMs in your international cruising grounds.

For your installation the best locations for the external WiFi router/antenna are on a radar pole aft, on a backstay, on the pushpit, on a spreader, or a dorade guard. Mounting at the masthead is likely to distort the antenna pattern of your VHF radio and can reduce performance if you are located too close to the shore-side access point. A mizzen masthead is fine although it is better reserved for an AIS VHF antenna and mount your WiFi router/antenna somewhere else. The internal WiFi router should be mounted quite low and centrally in the boat. The Wirie internal WiFi router is in the external box which is why I still do not recommend it even though they have converted from the Alfa to the Bullet. You want your internal WiFi low and central to: provide good coverage throughout the boat, limit range to the boat, avoid radio co-channel interference between the internal and external WiFi routers, and avoid radio co-channel interference with the shore-side access points to which you are trying to connect. Be sure to secure your internal WiFi router.

Disclaimer: I sell this stuff. I can sell you a system based on the Bullet, the Groove, or the RedPort Halo. You will get a better price on the Groove from Bob Stewart at IslandTimePC; I can't compete with his volume on Groove. I can pre-configure your system to make it more plug and play. Within some limits I can customize mounting. There are other people who can do the same work but most marine technicians just open the boxes and plug things together. If you are in or passing through the middle Chesapeake Bay or are where I happen to be on a delivery or speaking engagement I also do owner-assisted installation. I can support DIY installs by phone, Facetime, nearly any IM service, and email.
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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

I got a wirie a couple years ago, no 4G available then. I just mounted it on the pushpit for trials, I'm in a hole, high cliffs surround the harbor. Range is up to a mile or better line of sight. Unfortunately while I had a lot of networks available, they all pretty much sucked. A couple hotels, a coffee shop, pizza place and 1 subscription network and the yacht clubs, all seemed to crawl. So, I got a dedicated 4G hotspot from Verizon, you can use your phone but you almost have to leave it on charger because it sucks the battery on a phone. They charge $20/month for the device and your data charges, I was getting 10GB per month for $80. Doesn't take much for the internet but my wife likes to stream TV and that burns thru data, I'm up to 16GB now.
I guess I'm suggesting it might be prudent to check around and see if there's WIFI around that's worth the effort.

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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

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I got a wirie a couple years ago, no 4G available then. I just mounted it on the pushpit for trials, I'm in a hole, high cliffs surround the harbor. Range is up to a mile or better line of sight. Unfortunately while I had a lot of networks available, they all pretty much sucked. A couple hotels, a coffee shop, pizza place and 1 subscription network and the yacht clubs, all seemed to crawl. So, I got a dedicated 4G hotspot from Verizon, you can use your phone but you almost have to leave it on charger because it sucks the battery on a phone. They charge $20/month for the device and your data charges, I was getting 10GB per month for $80. Doesn't take much for the internet but my wife likes to stream TV and that burns thru data, I'm up to 16GB now.
I guess I'm suggesting it might be prudent to check around and see if there's WIFI around that's worth the effort.
I agree there used to be lots of networks available ether intentional or not. I used to get about 8 signals were I live and there would be 6 or 7 open. But now they are all encrypted. The internet providers are providing wireless routers and they come by default locked, and most can't be modified. I can tether with my phone, but it is $10 a gig on my plan.

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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

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Unfortunately while I had a lot of networks available, they all pretty much sucked.
Backhaul is always a possibility and network congestion can be one, but most likely is that the channel you were using on the boat side was the same channel used by the shoreside APs. It can also be co-channel interference between the shoreside APs but more likely you were shouting in your own ear by using the same or an adjacent channel (WiFi channels overlap) for boat side as shore side.
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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

I know just enough to be dangerous Dave, the speed from a hotel would be fine then highly variable, I assumed it was congestion/bandwidth. My best connection was a nearby unsecured shop selling tourist trinkets, I sure didn't know how to optimize whatever I could get.
I do get my panties in a twist over the amount Verizon charges for data, Damn Pirates !!

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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

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There are a number of options...
Now THAT is what I call a useful post!

In a former life I was a network admin, and I completely agree about using factory firmware and interface. I hadn't realized that some of the after market sellers had changes this. Thanks for the heads up. I think I'll just build my own system based on the bullet.

I figured that the 3/4G would require a second radio. That radio probably uses it's own antenna no? I can't imagine the bullet would allow it to pass through, and the antenna used probably wouldn't be optimized for it anyway.

Speaking of antennas, thanks for the reminder that the mizzentop isn't the best place. I actually contacted my rigger yesterday and was planning on putting it here. I have an AIS antenna up there now that I don't want to mess up. One question though, will the AIS antenna be interfered with just because another antenna is next to is, or does it have to be broadcasting. I'm not likely going to be actively using AIS and WiFi at the same time.

With regard to locations, if I were to put it at the mizzen spreaders, right up against the mast, it would probably turn it into a directional antenna due to the mast acting as a reflector. How about putting it at the outboard end of the mizzen spreaders? Will the shroud interfere with it?

I've noticed that the bullet and antennas are sold in 2.4GHZ and 5GHZ models. Should I get the 5 or 2.4? Also, I see antennas sold at 2.4 or 5ghz, does it matter which one I get? I also see people recommending 12db for their antennas. That seems like a lot....

Thanks for your help! I'm soaking it up!

MedSailor

PS One more question, do you plug your wifi boat router directly into your 12V system or do you use something to supply a more constant voltage? i.e. does it handle 12.5-14v without problem?

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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

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Originally Posted by MedSailor View Post
Now THAT is what I call a useful post!
Always trying to help. *grin*

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Originally Posted by MedSailor View Post
I think I'll just build my own system based on the bullet.
Fine. Be aware that mounting brackets can really add up. Have a plan. Generally you want to mount the antenna and hang the Bullet from beneath it. The Bullet is not strong enough to be the mount.

Quote:
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I figured that the 3/4G would require a second radio. That radio probably uses it's own antenna no?
Correct. The radio will have a built-in antenna just like your cell phone does. Under the dodger or in a dorade work.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MedSailor View Post
Speaking of antennas, thanks for the reminder that the mizzentop isn't the best place. I actually contacted my rigger yesterday and was planning on putting it here. I have an AIS antenna up there now that I don't want to mess up. One question though, will the AIS antenna be interfered with just because another antenna is next to is, or does it have to be broadcasting. I'm not likely going to be actively using AIS and WiFi at the same time.
The issue is the additional antenna acting as a reflector or director (like the passive reflectors and directors on roof-mount TV antennas).

If you do choose to mount on a spreader it is best to mount midway between the shroud and the mast. You will be well served to get a contour gauge - a bunch of small pins captured in a bracket that allow you to make a template for a complex shape like the top and bottom of a spreader. You can cut matching top and bottom shapes from Starboard and put flat mounting surfaces on the top (for your WiFi) and bottom (for a horn, speaker, or upside down antenna) with the whole thing clamped around your spreader.

Too close to either end and the mast will be a reflector and shield while the shroud would be a director and reflector.

We are dealing with microwave frequencies here and you have more space than at the masthead so mid span is fine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MedSailor View Post
I've noticed that the bullet and antennas are sold in 2.4GHZ and 5GHZ models. Should I get the 5 or 2.4? Also, I see antennas sold at 2.4 or 5ghz, does it matter which one I get? I also see people recommending 12db for their antennas. That seems like a lot....
9dBi antennas are fine. More is not always better especially on sailboats. Air802 antennas are a particular favorite of mine but there are lots of choices. Definitely 2.4 GHz. 2.4 GHz is the older and more broadly implemented standard. 5 GHz does not work as well (even where it exists) at penetrating buildings, trees, leaves, fiberglass etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MedSailor View Post
PS One more question, do you plug your wifi boat router directly into your 12V system or do you use something to supply a more constant voltage? i.e. does it handle 12.5-14v without problem?
All the systems I listed are very voltage tolerant. Most will take 10 - 24 VDC at the device. You will have some voltage drop in the Ethernet cable.

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Re: Options for WiFi/broadband

We originally purchased the BadBoy system, mainly for simplicity as we'd been told the set up on the Bullet was a bit complicated. When the radio on the BadBoy died after about a year and they wouldn't stand behind their product even though they determined it to be a software issue, we bought the Bullet radio bit only. We expected all kinds of connection problems with the BadBoy proprietary software, but we plugged it in and it's worked with the Unleashed flawlessly ever since. We didn't even have to change our password!
We can get about 1.5 mile range across a bay, but the speed slows way down at that distance.

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