Cellular and WiFi Data

This is part of a series describing some of our common boat systems and their operation.

We refer to these often not only for our own use, but also when asked specific questions about systems on Denali Rose, and when participating in discussions on various forums.
We aren't implying our choices are the best or only way to go; they just happen to be the decisions we made [...or sometimes what came with our boat...] 

And since we are talking about electronics, in the future our choices in this post may become dated and/or obsolete, so we will keep this information current regarding what we have and use, and what we are researching/considering for the future.

Overview:

When we are traveling or just anchored on the boat, we like to stay in touch with friends and family, and have access to the internet for all the usual reasons, including paying our bills, reading our [scanned] snail mail, etc.

While the internet is pretty much taken for granted on land, it is less available when one lives on the water in some areas...
  • Our options include:
    • WiFi: [details below]
      • 'Join' an existing network our central WiFi system can 'see'  
    • Cellular Data: [details below]
      • Use on of our cell phones as a mobile hot spot
      • Use the cell data side of our central WiFi system
    • Satellite
    • Radio: HAM/Marine SSB
    On a boat, we are sometimes in areas where signals are weak or non-existent. 

    If the signals are weak, we need to optimize the available signal using specialized electronic devices in order to use the WiFi or Cellular service. [The purpose of this post.]

    Sometimes we are just too far away, or the signals are blocked by mountains, etc. In those cases, at present we are limited to using either our Satellite Phone [our preference] or our HAM/Marine SSB radio.


    Which devices do we use to optimize WiFi and Cellular signals with good to excellent results?

    Wifi and Cell data in one device: 

    We installed a WirieProThis unit is also our WiFi router for the entire boat, and only needs a single 12VDC wire run to it. [No coax, ethernet, etc...]

    The WiriePro allows us to pick up WiFi signals our computers and phones don't even see. However, it is rare to find an open WiFi network these days, so this is not useful unless you can make arrangements to gain access to the WiFi networks of choice.

    The WiriePro also has a built-in cellular data modem. When you add an active cell data SIM card [internationally compatible] it behaves just like you were on a WiFi network.   
    To further enhance cellular reception, we added a 6dbi external cell antenna add-on offered by Wirie to greatly improve cellular range. [It replaces the 2dbi rubber ducky cell antenna that comes with the WiriePro.]
    We currently use the WiriePro cellular data when we are traveling through Canadian waters because roaming on our US [AT&T] Cell Data plan is more expensive than a pre-paid SIM for the WiriePro. We evaluate which is best each time we visit since cell data plans are constantly changing...

    Wirie also sells repeaters for larger and/or metal boats, a GPS add-on which includes free tracking, etc. 

    This is a very good company founded by sailing cruisers that understand our communication needs, and provide excellent products and tech support. Consider their products if you like to plug-and-play instead of spend your time geeking and troubleshooting...


    Cellular phone booster:


    For use with our cell phones [which are also personal hot spots] we use a Wilson Sleek 4G Cell Booster [Now labeled WeBoost; here is the link to the latest model.]

    Wilson seems to support the most carriers and frequencies. i.e., as universal as it gets right now...
    For the best performance you need to use a different antenna than the tiny one that comes with it. We use with this antenna for experimenting and land-based use, and this marine grade antenna [With appropriate marine grade antenna coax wire...] for the permanent install on the boat.
    Note: I want to reiterate that the antenna that comes with the cell booster we have is not very good. You need something like one of the two antennas above. 
    The US$18 antenna in SS is very good.... And needs a small diameter ground plane to optimize transmission... e.g., a 10-12 inch pizza or pie pan- or the like. 
    The marine antenna doesn't require the ground plane- or at least ours doesn't seem to suffer from the lack of one...
    This is a great device that- with the proper 3rd party antenna- adds additional bars of signal strength over what the phone can 'see'... [But it won't conjure up a cell signal where none exists...]

    While we are traveling in the areas where our US AT&T cell phones are supported [and because we have a large, cost-effective data plan; 40GB/month for US$150] we typically keep one cell phone [with hot spot active] in the Wilson booster. 

    Then we subscribe our WiriePro to our phone's hot spot WiFi signal - securely beaming internet connectivity [through the one cell phone hot spot] to every device on our boat. This suits our needs well in our current cruising grounds. [Alaska and Canada]


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