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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Question: What is the best way to get internet access while being a live-aboard in the US? I have searched first for my answer but haven't found a thread for it yet. I am about to retire, plan on buying a boat and become a live-aboard. I'm not planing on staying very long at any certain port or marinas, but do plan on hanging around the great USA for a few years till I get my seamanship experience before I plan on making the big jump across the big ponds. I don't really need a fast connection. Just a basic connection to stay in touch with family and friends. Sailnet seems like a great community and do appreciate your advice.
 

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we did pretty well with a mobile hot spot and the required data plan. We did this separate from our cell phone. The did the bullet for the boat, and we were often able to use the marina WIFI.

Pretty easy now and the prices are much better than they were 6 years ago.
 

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snake charmer, cat herder
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in so cal i had best luck with sprint, a si had unlimited data service.. worked reasonably well. worked well also when i was in usvi and puerto rico.

now i cruise full time, outside of usa, i use marina wifi when i am in a marina, which is only during furycame season, and it is not reliable. i will be trying something kinda lil pricey , which will make my boat a hotspot using signals from the marina, which are usually ok, and creating a connexion, which is usually lacking, so maybe i can actually use interwebz.
banda ancha, in this marina, seems to be being blocked. it is the mexican version of 3g dial up broadband service. it is adequate.
 

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Cruising the east coast USA I use Verizon mi-fi, costs me about $80 a month. I've been doing it so long Verizon probably doesn't offer it any more, they've no doubt moved on to something new and improved and more expensive.
It's worked well for me, much more reliable than trying to snag a wifi signal.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks for your input. I hope not to need a cell phone while on board to save on my monthly budget. Just a WiFi connection every few days for email to stay in contact with friends and family. I have heard that internet access over seas can get very costly but I will deal with that when the time comes.
 

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Finding open Wifi access points is not as easy as it use to be, but they are still out there. We have done detailed postings of our wifi progression and you can find them on our blog here, The Trawler Beach House: WiFi . The wifi extenders work well, especially when you make marina stops. But they also will get you wifi at anchor as long as you don't need to connect every day. We are working on a part 4 to include devices like Mifi and using a smartphone as a hotspot or by tethering. It isn't finished yet but I hope to have it up soon. If you don't want to try and build your own as we did, buying a package is the best way to go at about 3 to 4 times the cost of building it yourself. But that works for some boaters.
 

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My phone acted as a wifi hotspot and I had full 4g a lot of the time. I would use it with the big boy data plan, it is unlimited but they throttle me after like 8 gigs and I had no problem streaming tv and movies through hulu or netflix while I was on the hook. There was a limit once I got throttled, but for just surfing the net it didn't use too much.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Too cool. Thanks again for the info. I knew some marinas have access but didn't know how expensive they were. Besides, never know I might be able to snipe me an access every now and then. Streaming vids from Netflix or Hulu isn't a real need unless I can, then I will, LOL. Man! I am sure glad I found Sailnet. Love the feel of being a part of the family. Thanks to all, Tbone.
 

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I think grabbing open access wifi is going to quickly become a thing of the past. We find a 3G/4G iPad is the most useful electronic device we've ever added to the boat. Data plan is $20 per month and we've never used it all.

Because the cell capable iPads have a built in gps receiver, it also makes a perfect navigation backup and there are many programs available for that. Some free, some a few dollars. Email, books, movies, internet, look up repair manuals or advice, weather, real-time radar, wind forecasting, AIS websites, marina look-ups, restaurants reviews, anchor alarms, the list is endless. We'll never be without one again.
 

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Freedom isn't free
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I think grabbing open access wifi is going to quickly become a thing of the past.
You may not find "open wifi" but free WIFI is likely to become a larger, and more available technology going forward. Whole city WIFI is real, and is growing in commonality. While its restricted, and filtered (much like WIFI cafes) it's still free.

I figure internet access will become ubiquitous, and paying for it through targeted advertising will become the standard, not the exception... Also WIFI standards are pretty old now, as people beg for more bandwidth they'll be scrambling for more frequencies. I know, 802.11ac, and WIGIG exist, as does WiMax...

I truly think we'll see 2 paths... Cellular providers going to bandwidth, and non-minute billing (using VoIP), this will be "private" internet, and free WIFI (or other technology) internet (where you are subjected to filtering, and advertising to pay for it).

I have a whole rant I go on where I believe cable, telephone, and power companies will be fighting over WHO gets to bring you bandwidth... and you'll pay for the GB/month you use, and content will be cloud based. We're getting there (Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, etc)... but the old guard networks are fighting it tooth an nail. Much like the record companies fought MP3s, and iTunes (that worked so well right?).

I've been wrong before though.
 

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The internet is going to become a thing of the past. Esp when mesh networking gets a good foothold. For many more reasons than stated in the following article. The least of which involves, finally getting away from annoying ads. The best, finally moving toward "true privacy." But that is still somewhat into the future.

As for today? Most marina wifi requires a password. And open networks (such as Starbucks, Mickey Ds, etcetera), due to their "openness" are not particularly secure. So, if you do go in the latter direction, exercise care.

That said, you could use this site to find open wifi hotspots around the US. Or, as Minnewaska suggested, just get a 3G enabled iPad or iPad mini and pay $20/month. If you're just checking email, 250MB should be plenty. Plus, your connection will be more secure, and you get the GPS added bonus, as Minnewaska also noted.
 

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Mermaid Hunter
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My AT&T phone comes with access to AT&T WiFi. There are access points with the attwifi SSID all over the place that are free (well included). Granted there have been a couple of cases of spoofing reported but a VPN takes care of that. We use Comcast for cable TV, Internet, and phone which includes access to xinfinity access points that are cropping up in more places. Neither is strictly speaking free but are included in services we buy anyway.

Janet's Verizon phone is a hotspot which we find useful if a tad slow.

In cities and towns we generally find WiFi for Internet (we are on an xfinity access point now using our Ubiquiti Bullet and Air802 antenna). Off the beaten path we use Verizon - after all every cow pie in America has a Verizon tower on it. *grin*
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Thanks Dave. The iPad still seems like the best choice for me so far. Now the mesh networking does sound interesting. As for cell phone needs, I don't use them very often. I now have a Go Phone with AT&T that I reloaded back in July of last year. $100 for 1000 minuets/one year, which every comes first. I still have 884 minuets left.
 

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I have a refurbished 16GB 3/4G enabled iPad mini that I picked up through the apple store for around $300 +shipping & taxes. The nice thing about refurbished models is price and they're covered under the 1 year warranty. Btw, this price will likely drop when the new devices come out this fall. I really like the size, and of course, the GPS. Notably, should you go this route, you will need to decide the carrier *before* purchasing, as they are locked to specific carriers.

Another thing to note wrt the GPS and maps. Be sure to launch the map app (do this when connected to a wifi hotspot, to save bandwidth) to your desired location before going off-grid. That will download the map for that location. At which point, you can use the GPS/map functionality without having to go back online. Which in turn, should help to reduce your overall bandwidth.

Sailing apps often come with their own maps, so you probably won't have that issue. Though, you'll probably need to be connected to wifi when installing the app.

As for deciding whether this route really makes sense.

It really depends upon how much you're willing to monitor your online usage. I disable my 3/4G when I have wifi access. Granted, 3/4G is disconnected when you're connected to wifi, however, it will reconnect the minute you go out of wifi range. And this does mean some bandwidth usage (100k or so). I also turned off auto-fetching my email, as well as disabling "load remote images" and "preview" in my email settings. I use the built-in email client, as opposed to the web due to, again, less bandwidth. I also have in-app purchases disabled, as some app devs are quite unethical, and put sneaky ways to try to get you to purchase something via the in-app purchase route. I have my browser set to private browsing. Again, reducing bandwidth, bc you're not downloading cookies from gadzillions of ad campaigns. The down side is that you must then log in, every time you visit a site, such as this, and want to, for example post. If you save your passwords, however, the autofill option makes this a piece of cake. I disable location services, and only enable it for when I need it, and only for the apps I want to use it with. Though, that's more a privacy thing than a bandwidth thing.

Oh and. Totally unrelated to bandwidth the iPad OS does not support FLASH. Which is actually a good thing, as that particular tech is full of security issues.

But, I digress.

While I am not trying to deter you from this choice, if an iPad will be your primary means of communication, the way you will need to use it to keep bandwidth down, is something worth considering. In other words, you may want to ask yourself, am I prepared to jump through these hoops? Bc, being charged per MB, once you've exceeded your monthly allotment can grow pricey real fast.

My rule of thumb is, use wifi where available, with 3/4G as a backup. Which basically means disabling the 3/4G, and only enabling it, if I have a burning need to go online, and wifi is unavailable.

That said, and imho, the biggest challenge in this connected world we live in, is data storage. Yes, there's various cloud options. Most charge a monthly fee (i.e., $10/100GB). Or you can get the free, 3GB or whatever. Regardless, I am admittedly quite skeptical wrt just how secure data is in the cloud. Actually, I, personally, do not think it is the least bit secure. But that's just my iSec side talking. In any event, I would definitely *not* recommend storing *sensitive data* in the cloud.

Which leaves other storage options. Since an iPad does not have a USB connection, a wireless hard drive might be worth investing in, at some point down the road. The 1TB model runs around $150 or so. Though, again, I, personally, would wait until the kinks get worked out and the prices come down... usually 2nd or 3rd generation.

Eta ~ there are other tablet options, as well. So, do your research!

Oh and. One last thing (sorry!). On forums such as this, you can disable images for profile, avatar and posts. This will also reduce your bandwidth.
 

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BJV
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Dont rely on just one system.
We use wifi extender (power over ethernet) for when we can find an open wifi connection. Most marinas have wifi, some free some at a cost.
Also have a MIFI unit, which is essentially a data through cell network device which allows us up to four devices. This costs an additional $10 on our cell phone plan. Alternate to this is a smart phone which has a hotspot capability. We did that with our Verizon I phone but that proved to be expensive, a friend on ATT found out same.
If you are going cell phone and have any intention of cruising outside the US then get an unlocked GSM phone. This allows you to put SIM cards from other countries and use their network.
Check out ActiveCaptain.com, they have some excellent articles on onboard data/comms options/solutions.
 

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For the past year or so I've been using Clearwire, but they merged not too long ago with Sprint. If you purchase a used Clearwire spot device I think you can still sign up for the service. My advice is to get a dedicated 4G wireless device. I don't have any issue watching netflix or using streaming services like rd.io while surfing / shopping / email etc.

I have a hotspot on my iPhone as a backup, but the data plan through Verizon isn't as forgiving. ymmv
 
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