Help Ex­tend Con­nec­tiv­ity

Cruising World - - Front Page - BY DAVID SCH­MIDT

Long-range cel­lu­lar and Wi-fi boost­ers can de­liver lower-cost phone and data con­nec­tiv­ity for coastal cruis­ers.

An early sail­boat me­mory in­volves my fa­ther and me sail­ing his trusty old Catalina 27 from New Jer­sey’s At­lantic High­lands to nearby Horse­shoe Cove, where we an­chored and went swim­ming. My dad grilled din­ner on our rail-hung bar­be­cue and even served blue­berry cheese­cake — a fa­vorite — for dessert, all with an eye to­ward in­still­ing his love of cruis­ing into the heart of his then 4-year-old son. All was go­ing smoothly un­til bed­time, when it hit me that Mom wasn’t aboard. Panic!

Given that this was 1981, cell­phones as we know them didn’t ex­ist, nor did text mes­sages, so Dad called home — via a ma­rine op­er­a­tor — over VHF. While I was happy to hear Mom’s voice over the crack­ling ra­dio, even at that ten­der age, I was less en­thused to hear fish­er­men cut­ting in on the open line to take snarky pot­shots at a home­sick lit­tle boy.

For­tu­nately for me, Dad spun the sit­u­a­tion into a teach­able mo­ment about self-suf­fi­ciency. For­tu­nately for con­tem­po­rary kids, to­day’s long-range cel­lu­lar and Wi-fi boost­ers can help de­liver pri­vate voice and data com­mu­ni­ca­tions well be­yond the reach of a smart­phone’s an­tenna with­out dec­i­mat­ing your cruis­ing bud­get.

Let’s start with United King­dom-based Dig­i­tal Yacht, which has long built con­nec­tiv­ity so­lu­tions for cruis­ing sailors. The com­pany splits its of­fer­ings be­tween cel­lu­lar and Wi-fi de­vices.

In the Wi-fi realm, Dig­i­tal Yacht’s WL60 and WL70 Wifi booster an­ten­nas in­crease the range of a com­puter’s Wi-fi con­nec­tiv­ity to over half a nau­ti­cal mile. Mean­while, the WL510, with a range of 4 to 6 nau­ti­cal miles, is Dig­i­tal Yacht’s high-end Wi-fi-only so­lu­tion. It in­cludes a high-gain, om­ni­di­rec­tional an­tenna and a 33-foot coax­ial cable, which is used to con­nect the WL510 to a com­puter or wire­less router (an up­grade to a 66-foot cable is an op­tion).

For mariners in­ter­ested in tap­ping into on­shore cel­lu­lar net­works, Dig­i­tal Yacht’s 4G Con­nect or 4G Con­nect Pro sys­tems work with 2G, 3G and 4G (LTE) cel­lu­lar net­works. The sys­tems in­clude a built-in Wi-fi router so that all on­board wire­less de­vices can catch a data fix, and both sys­tems work with un­locked SIM cards (al­low­ing users to pur­chase them from any lo­cal provider). The stan­dard model in­cludes a built-in mul­ti­plein­put, mul­ti­ple-out­put (MIMO) an­tenna, while the Pro model fea­tures both the built-in MIMO an­tenna and dual 19-inch ex­ter­nal an­ten­nas for greater range and per­for­mance. More in­for­ma­tion on th­ese prod­ucts can be found at dig­i­taly­ach­tamer­; prices start at $200.

Buzz Wire­less’ Hubba X4 Global (buz­zcon­ is a mul­ti­pro­to­col data router that’s pri­mar­ily fo­cused on the com­mer­cial ma­rine mar­ket, but it could also in­ter­est in­ter­na­tional voy­agers be­cause this cel­lu­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tor is ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing on in­ter­na­tional LTE net­works. “The unit’s mo­dem al­lo­cates fre­quen­cies and bands on de­mand, ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal net­work’s re­quire­ment,” says Steve Smith, Buzz Wire­less’ chief ex­ec­u­tive.

In ad­di­tion to a fre­quency-ag­nos­tic mo­dem, the Hubba X4 Global boasts dual Sim-card slots, an IP67 weath­er­proof rat­ing and hard­ware

through­put lim­its of 300 Mbps for down­loads and up to 50 Mbps for uploads. But, Smith cau­tions, the de­vice is only as good as the net­work to which it’s con­nected. LTE net­works are ca­pa­ble of the speeds men­tioned, but whether you find them in re­al­ity is a lo­cal is­sue.

The Hubba X4 Global can reach cel­lu­lar net­works from up to 20 nau­ti­cal miles off­shore, giv­ing coastal sailors a com­fort­able reach, while globe-girdlers will ap­pre­ci­ate the sys­tem’s abil­ity to net­work with a ves­sel’s ex­ist­ing satel­lite-com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem and gov­ern the boat’s in­ter­net con­nec­tions. “It works by send­ing out pings to all pos­si­ble routes to see if a con­nec­tion is avail­able and then switch­ing be­tween each one ac­cord­ing to the user’s set pri­or­i­ties,” says Smith. Own­ers typ­i­cally pri­or­i­tize LTE, which is the cheap­est op­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally, Buzz Wire­less’ ma­rina Wi-fi kit en­ables the Hubba X4 Global to ac­cess free in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity, when avail­able. Units start at $1,730.

Satel­lite-com­mu­ni­ca­tions provider KVH ( has swung an eye to­ward cel­lu­lar con­nec­tiv­ity with its new

Trac­phone LTE-1, which can ac­cess cel­lu­lar net­works from up to 20 miles off­shore at down­load and up­load speeds as fast as 100 Mbps and 50 Mbps, re­spec­tively. The LTE-1 fea­tures data trans­mis­sions that are sent over en­crypted cel­lu­lar net­works, says Shawn Ben­nett, KVH’S Tracvi­sion prod­uct-line man­ager. Users can stream high-def­i­ni­tion video, live TV and mu­sic; post to so­cial me­dia; check email; and use Wi-fi call­ing to make and re­ceive voice calls. The high-gain dual MIMO LTE-A an­tenna ar­ray in­side the dome pro­vides sig­nif­i­cantly ex­tended range com­pared to cell­phones.

The Trac­phone LTE-1 will be­gin as a U.s.-only prod­uct; how­ever, KVH has broad longterm hori­zons. “The Trac­phone LTE-1 is con­fig­ured to use dual cel­lu­lar car­ri­ers and to au­to­mat­i­cally switch be­tween those car­ri­ers to en­sure sig­nal cov­er­age,” says Ben­nett. “With our fu­ture plans to go be­yond U.S. wa­ters with the Trac­phone LTE prod­uct, we will ex­plore LTE so­lu­tions with mul­ti­ple SIM cards.”

The LTE-1 com­prises a dome that weighs just 6.25 pounds and houses a high-gain dual MIMO an­tenna ar­ray, a cel­lu­lar mo­dem, a Wi-fi router and a GPS re­ceiver. It can also sup­ply fast in­ter­net or voice con­nec­tiv­ity to nu­mer­ous wire­less de­vices within its wire­less lo­cal area net­work.

Cus­tomers pay KVH $199 a month, which in­cludes 20 gi­ga­bytes of data; ex­tra data is billed at $9.99 per gi­ga­byte. Ser­vice can be “win­ter­ized” for $9.99 per non­ac­tive month.

Also, for any­one who sails with a KVH mini-vsat broad­band Trac­phone, the LTE-1 is de­signed to in­te­grate seam­lessly into the ves­sel’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions scheme, which is smart and fru­gal. “KVH sys­tems can be con­fig­ured to pro­vide seam­less, least-cost rout­ing so the cus­tomer will re­ceive the most af­ford­able con­nec­tiv­ity at any given time while on the wa­ter,” says Ben­nett, adding that ad­di­tional charges ap­ply for this con­fig­u­ra­tion.

For un­der $900,

Shake­speare Ma­rine’s Web­watch WC-1

(shake­ of­fers users the abil­ity to ac­cess on­shore Wi-fi, as well as 3G and 4G cel­lu­lar net­works, and it can au­to­mat­i­cally switch be­tween ser­vices to de­liver op­ti­mum speed and per­for­mance.

The dome-en­closed Web­watch WC-1 weighs less than 4 pounds and can si­mul­ta­ne­ously sup­ply wire­less in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity to up to 32 dif­fer­ent com­put­ers or wire­less de­vices, thanks to a built-in Wi-fi router and Eth­er­net cable. Users sup­ply their own 3G ser­vice from AT&T, T-mo­bile or Cricket, or 4G AT&T data-only SIM cards for ac­cess­ing cel­lu­lar net­works, and they can man­age their con­nec­tiv­ity ei­ther via an app or browser-based user in­ter­face.

The Web­watch WC-1 will down­load data at speeds up to 100 Mbps; uploads are at up to 50 Mbps, de­pend­ing on the car­rier. The WC-1 can be pur­chased with or with­out an HDTV re­ceiver, which fa­cil­i­tates stream­ing high-res­o­lu­tion im­agery. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Web­watch WC-1 fea­tures a built-in fire­wall and vir­tual pri­vate net­work for added on­line se­cu­rity.

Wave Wifi (wavewifi .com) has de­liv­ered Wi-fi

con­nec­tiv­ity for sailors since 2004, and its con­tem­po­rary of­fer­ings, which start at $350, in­clude stand-alone cel­lu­larand Wi-fi-only sys­tems, com­bi­na­tion cel­lu­lar/wi-fi re­ceivers, broad­band routers and other spe­cial­ized an­ten­nas. The com­pany’s flag­ship lon­grange cel­lu­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tor and mul­tisig­nal router, the

MBR-550, is de­signed for sailors who are look­ing for speed and sig­nal flex­i­bil­ity, while the Rogue Reach is aimed at bud­get-minded mariners seek­ing af­ford­able Wi-fi.

The MBR-550 can de­liver a wide range of Wi-fi and cel­lu­lar con­nec­tions, and op­tional third-party satel­lite-com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­nec­tiv­ity. Users can view the sig­nal strength and qual­ity of all avail­able con­nected hotspots via Wave Wifi’s browser-based graph­i­cal user in­ter­face. The MBR-550 fea­tures dual cel­lu­lar an­ten­nas, a sin­gle SIM slot for user­pur­chased cel­lu­lar data cards, and a sig­nal-ag­nos­tic router (which is also com­pat­i­ble with satel­lite-com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment) that shares its con­nec­tiv­ity with net­worked com­put­ers and wire­less de­vices. How­ever, it re­quires an ex­ter­nal Wi-fi an­tenna to har­ness and dis­trib­ute this sig­nal to net­worked wire­less de­vices.

The Rogue Wave is a rail-mounted wire­less bridge and Eth­er­net con­verter with a built-in 22-inch an­tenna that can share its 2.4-gi­ga­hertz Wi-fi sig­nal over a hard­wired Eth­er­net con­nec­tion to a com­puter or wire­less router. Al­ter­na­tively, users can pur­chase the Rogue Pro, which comes bun­dled in a stain­lesssteel im­pact-re­sis­tant case that quickly sheds heat. Both Wave mod­els can act as Wi-fi-only re­ceivers, or they can be net­worked with an MBR-550 to de­liver Wi-fi con­nec­tiv­ity.

As with the other de­vices dis­cussed in this ar­ti­cle,

In­ven­tica Tech­nolo­gies’

Yachtspot routers (in­ven­ti­ca­ma­ let users con­nect to shore-based cel­lu­lar or Wi-fi net­works. The range, which starts at $1,800, in­cludes the Wi-fi-only Yachtspot

Wi-fi, the cel­lu­lar- and Wifi-en­abled Yachtspot 4G+

Wi-fi and the Yachtspot Pro, which fea­tures both global 4G LTE and Wi-fi an­ten­nas and the abil­ity to merge satel­lite and fixed-line con­nec­tiv­ity. All units fea­ture the com­pany’s pro­pri­etary DNS Blaster soft­ware, which speeds up in­ter­net brows­ing time, and its Safe Surf VPN soft­ware, which en­crypts all Wi-fi data.

“Us­ing open Wi-fi has al­ways car­ried the risk that your in­ter­net ac­tiv­i­ties can be lis­tened to,” says Mark Luff­in­g­ham, di­rec­tor of Euro­task Ltd., In­ven­tica’s U.S. dis­trib­u­tor. “It’s a com­plex sub­ject, but what is sure is that by rout­ing your traf­fic over a VPN, those risks are elim­i­nated.”

Yachtspot users man­age their on­board net­works with In­ven­tica Tech­nolo­gies’ pro­pri­etary In­ter­net Con­trol Cen­ter soft­ware. All mod­els come bun­dled with Lte-ul­tra and HSPA+ data cards that pro­vide peak cel­lu­lar-net­work up­load speeds of 50 Mbps and down­load speeds of 100 Mbps. How­ever, as al­ways, real-world per­for­mance de­pends on the car­rier’s net­work.

A Wi-fi booster an­tenna atop the mizzen mast lets the owner of this ketch stay con­nected while sail­ing near shore.

Buzz Wire­less’ Hubba X4 Global

Shake­speare’s Web­watch

KVH’S Trac­phone LTE-1

Yachtspot Pro Uniden’s MHS335BT ra­dio Wave Wifi’s MBR-550 router

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