Wilson cell booster testing, on Sun Dancer

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jul 30, 2010

Wilson amp install.jpg

Panbo reader Pat Harmon is cruising Alaska aboard M/V Sun Dancer and he kindly agreed to write about some gear, seen above, that's helping him stay in touch:

I recently installed a cell phone booster on my 43' North Pacific trawler, and although I am not an expert, my hands-on experience may be helpful to my fellow boaters. I am computer literate and had Navy electronics training back in the 60's...

Cell phone amplifiers/boosters are bi-directional amplifiers which boost both the signal from and to your cell phone and also boost the signal to and from the cell tower. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this. There are systems that work with only one cell phone at a time and systems that work with multiple cell phones. The ones that work with multiple cell phones essentially create a local hot spot. Each system has the following in common: an external antenna to communicate with the cell tower, a bi-directional amplifier, and an interior antenna or a direct connection to communicate with your cell phone.

There are several issues that the manufacturer's design engineers must deal with. First, the unit must be able to vary the amount of gain needed to be useful but not overpower the cell tower. Second, they must deal with potential feedback with signals broadcast by the interior antenna being fed directly into the exterior antenna. Then, the power supply needs to match the power available to the power requirements of the system. (All this has to be done in order to get FCC certification.) Lastly, there are many different approaches that the individual cell phone companies use to provide service; there are no universal standards.

With the advent of the "smart phone" with practical applications, the expense of a cell phone booster is becoming a lot more worth considering. For a simple but effective solution Wilson Electronics has recently introduced a model that works with a single cell phone called the "Sleek". The Sleek has a MSRP of $130, with the street price significantly less.

My system has a Wilson 801245 50dB dual band amplifier. It connects to an external cell phone 3dB omni-antenna mounted high on the radar arch (seen way below). Inside is a patch antenna supplied by Wilson (seen below). My unit is powered by 6VDC which requires a DC-DC converter also supplied by Wilson. The booster is a bi-directional amplifier which creates a local "hot spot" in and around my boat. The unit works with multiple cell phones simultaneously from most service providers (Nextel is an exception). It works with both voice and data, it boosts the signal strength in marginal situations and makes communications possible where poor or no service would otherwise exist, and it works with both 3G and Edge networks. It would cost less than $500 to duplicate my installation.

pat patch antenna.jpg

With the booster I seem to get an additional two bars on my iPhone. Without the booster I have had no service, but turned on the booster and had two bars. I have had 3 bars in the marina parking lot and 5 bars on my boat with the booster. It is not unusual to see people using their cell phones standing on the dock near my boat taking advantage of the better reception in my "hot spot."

My wife and I are presently cruising in Alaska. NOAA weather radio and the USCG radio have large holes in their coverage in Southeast Alaska. The cell phone coverage with my iPhone and its apps allows me to get weather information over a wider area and with virtually no static. Mostly over the Edge network, with 2 bars I can get the text forecasts I am interested in, plus the latest surface analysis and fax forecast charts. The weather radar doing a one hour loop is a stretch.

Out in the wilderness of very remote Alaska the Edge network service is much faster than the 3G network in Juneau. Essentially I had more bandwidth in remote areas, probably due to being one of the few people using the network in the area.

Wilson Electronics seems to be the dominant company in the field of Cell Phone Boosters. They make units for buildings, office, home, vehicles, and marine use. They offer many options and variations. Call their tech support (1-866-294-1660) and let them assist you in selecting the components you need for your particular situation. Just in the area of antenna adapters there is a long list of options. Units are powered by both AC and DC at various voltages. Antenna selection can be difficult. This is not rocket science, but the sheer variety to select from does require knowledgeable assistance. Had I called tech support first I would have selected a different interior antenna.

For some reason the boating public is not generally aware of cell phone boosters. I think they have a definite place in the suite of electronics we choose from to equip our boats. Although the need for a cell phone booster is a matter of personal preference, for me, cruising in Alaska, it has proven to be essential equipment.

{Many thanks and smooth cruising to Pat Harmon}

pat antenna setup.jpg


Great write up. I will recommend this to a friend. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by: Bill Bertin at July 30, 2010 2:35 PM | Reply

Thanks to Pat & Ben for providing this information on a topic of great interest to me.

Posted by: georgelewisray at July 30, 2010 6:37 PM | Reply

One caution on those. I have one, and am concerned about power budget for any "always-on" piece of equipment. But it's not that easy. I spoke with Larry at Wilson and got bad news in response to my question about whether the 3W amplifier is RF-transparent when power is off. "I wouldn't expect any signal to go through it," he said, going on to suggest installing a barrel connector when the amp is not in use.

This calls for a somewhat fiddly switching solution to allow a bypass - at least a coax connector matrix or manual reconnection (remembering to power off before leaving it unterminated). If the mode is to connect it when in truly remote areas and disconnect it otherwise, that's not a problem, but assuming that it will just help when needed translates into a significant ongoing power drain.

Having said that, I should also note that mine is about 3 years old (I forget the model number, but will check if desired). Perhaps a new version solves this issue... I do hope so, as it's otherwise an excellent tool.

S/V Nomadness

Posted by: Steven Roberts at July 30, 2010 8:10 PM | Reply

1st a word about Wilson Electronics the CTIA and other real Bi-directional amplifier manufactures have complaints into the FCC on these products. Since they are not carrier or band specific the following can and does occour. Say your service is AT&T A Band cellular (800MHz) and B block PCS (1900MHz). Your AT&T site is 4 miles away so your AT&T devices (phone's) are running in open mode power control they are calling for the amplifier to transmit at full power, the problem lies in the amplifier's then generate noise that say another carrier in the B cellular band can not tolerate causing interference without you even knowing it. It also causes the amplifier's (Wilson) to rebroadcast both signals the 1db compression point being the closer carrier in many cases not the service your handsets work on resulting in poor performance or intermittent service to your phones or data devices.
Then we have the entire RF oscillation issue when dealing with bi-directional repeaters. I understand Wilson has a sampling shut down circuit but in reality if these systems don't have 15db of isolation plus the gain of the repeater between the Omni on the mast or arch and the re-radiating antenna you generate noise. So to do the math you need 65db of isolation between the outside antenna and the inside service area antenna, this is hard to achieve in a small Yacht. The only real way to measure the isolation figure and check for RF feedback (oscillation) is with a spectrum analyzer how many boaters have one of these?
Now lets talk about re-broadcast of other carrier's signals (unwanted) This will happen because there is no selective filtering in these amplifiers. The PCS band is compromised of the A,B,C,D,E,F & G blocks. These BDA's repeaters amplify all blocks on both uplink and downlink. On 800MHz they rebroadcast both the A,A'A",B,B' & B".
Sorry they are poorly designed pieces of equipment that in reality should almost never be used.
However I don't quite feel the same about their direct connection units where you have an externbal antenna, a lower gain 30db bi-directional amplifier and a direct connection to the phone. While the downlink will still rebroadcast all the above frequencies the uplink is closed and there is little chance of RF feedback or interference to other cellular network providers.
If cellular communications is that important to a boater the Ericsson W35 hooked to an external antenna is your best bet and will get the same range without affecting anyone else's network like the Wilson re-broadcast unit's. The Ericsson will also work on the new UNTS 1700/2100MHz band as well as the 900MHz band. You simply hook the RJ11 to a cordless phone and your laptops to either the 4 port switch or connect to the low power internal WiFi B&G access point in the W35.
Sorry to be Debbie Downer on Wilson but I am surprised they are still allowed to sell these units.
Bill Lentz

Posted by: Bill LentzBill Lentz at July 30, 2010 10:38 PM | Reply

By the way to operate in today's cellular environment the amplifiers both uplink and downlink are Class A meaning they draw full current at all times.
Bill Lentz

Posted by: Bill LentzBill Lentz at July 30, 2010 10:47 PM | Reply

We have the Digitial brand marine version of this wireless multi phone amp on board our 40' sailing vessel, personally i do not see any difference with it on or off. Would like to hear about other experiences with this type of equipment

Posted by: Mystiko at July 31, 2010 9:30 AM | Reply

have tested the Digital and Shakespeare in addition to the Wilson mini repeaters (BDA's).I have been satified with generally improved performance on Nextel (IDEN) with the direct connect low gain Shakesphear unit. I work as a contractor installing commercial grade Bi-deriectional amplifiers and none of the above would ever be installed in a carrier grade fixed system. However the testing I have done on these mini BDA's was for my own vessel. I do see improvemnts to my IDEN 800/900MHz dual band direct connect I355 handset on Nextel. However when I get near a paging transmitter especially 940.02MHz the phone shows poor SQE and sometimes drops calls. This is from the repeater downlink amplifier module being driven to it's compression point. There are numerous variables when using a mobile repeater with phones using open loop power control. I still have the Nextel only Shakespear unit installed but I generally just hook the external Digital Antenna Company Omni to the I-355'S external antenna port and have better consistent results than when the amplifier is installed in line.
I had a typo in one of my posts above I meant to say the UMTS band (1700/2100mMHz) not UNTS (my bad).
In addition running pingtest and using the cellular versions have resulted in slower speeds and higher ping times when running through this style mini repeater than with the unit directly connected to an external antenna on the boat.

Bill Lentz

Posted by: Bill Lentz at July 31, 2010 6:59 PM | Reply

Found this very useful especially as I am trying to contact Wilson to do an offshore unit for the UK and Europe for MB in the 1900/2100 paired 3G Spectrum.



Posted by: steverow at August 1, 2010 7:53 PM | Reply

If by chance you can ever get them to make a UMTS 1700/2100MHz and PCS version you will slao need to change out your donor (outside) antenna to one of the new expanded band Omni's.
Bill Lentz

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 2, 2010 1:09 AM | Reply

I have been using a similar bidirectional Wilson Amp on my RV for about 6 months. The Marine antenna, is essentially the same as the trucker antenna (built in ground plane radials).

The signal is definately increased by at least 2 to 3 bars in every case (mostly used with an i phone). There are places where I have not been able to get a signal in the past, and have excellent bidirectional communication.

There has been none of the problems described in some of the above posts. However, the interior antenna is effective for a very small range--that is 4" to 12" for most istances. There is little effect if you are more than 4 feet from the internal flat bar antenna.

The device is FCC certified, and I have not heard of any problems--these are used by many truckers and RV owners. Some of the smaller boat owners (C Dory group for example) have also used these amps and antennas.

They are a great addition to the communications for either small boats or any area where there is deminished signal strength. But remember this remains line of sight--so if you cannot "see" the cell tower, it will work work. Ie if there is a mountain between you and the tower--forget it. Along the ICW it is excellent.

Bob Austin

Tom Cat 255

Posted by: Bob Austin at August 4, 2010 7:30 PM | Reply

Hi Bill,

My name is Jonathan Bacon, and I am the Marketing Director at Wilson Electronics. I came across your comments, and I wanted to address your thoughts.

First off, the points you bring up are valid ones. Improperly designed broadband cell boosters (amplifiers), which do not address automatic oscillation detection and shut down, proper power control algorithms, proximity overload to another carrier's site, and many other issues that we at Wilson are aware of, and deal with in our designs, are prevalent and do create problems.

To make matters worse, inadequate booster certification standards by the FCC have allowed troublesome boosters into the marketplace. Wilson Electronics has gone to extreme measures in recent years to build boosters that are harmless to cell sites. Other boosters should be held to the same standards. That is why Wilson Electronics filed a petition with the FCC, asking that booster certification requirements be increased. In summary, not all boosters are created equal.

As far as the carrier approved solutions for signal boosting, these solutions are only available for fixed, (building) installations, and will run somewhere north of $5,000. They are useless in a boat or vehicle; therefore, carriers offer no solution for people on the go. Broadband boosters are perfect for users on the go as they are affordable and convenient.

The main issue preventing these devices from being blessed by the carriers is lack of communication. Mobile boosters would be approved if carriers were more willing to communicate with us. As this state of the art technology is available, we want to share it with the carriers, in order to ultimately benefit the end user. In summary, a well known industry consultant Andy Seybold has reviewed our products, and written a white paper that covers our safeguards in more detail. We would be happy to share this with you or anyone. Please let us know where to send it, or contact us at

Posted by: Jonathan at August 4, 2010 8:15 PM | Reply

Not sure what to make of it, but, yesterday my company, which is the parent company of a small (now defunct) marine electronics company in Tennessee, was served a court order to turn over any documents regarding business done with Digital Antenna. Seems AT&T has filed suit against Digital Antenna. In reading the documents it is unclear what exactly the complaint is. They (AT&T) want every advertisement, invoice, and customer name that has anything to do with Digital Antenna.
I liked the company's antennas, though not crazy about their cell boosters, they didn't seem to work in our part of the country.

Posted by: Bob Taylor at August 5, 2010 9:13 AM | Reply

Hi Guys, and thanks very much for all the info,
Jonathan, thanks for coming on and explaining.
I have been in touch with Wilson and had a decent email back from one of their support chaps, Glen.
I think they now only do the US PCN 1800 version although from their pdf specs it seems that they used to manufacture a model that was pretty much Euro PCN and 3G,(1.9-2.1GHz) part No 811910. They also do currently part No. 811710 which will do 2G PCN GPRS for us. although there is some drop off at the start of our 900 mobile Transmit range which starts at 880MHz rather than 890, but I'm sure it will cope all right.
As these are broadly illegal in the UK I have no idea whether they would be siezed by customs if I imported a quantity, but they will only be required for use outside territorial limits. We can cope with distances up to twelve miles or more by the normal means of height and gain antenna.
Information on this is scant on both the Ofcom and ETSI websites.
Jonathan if you could advise me, are you able to export to Europe without restriction?
Once installed are the amplifiers transparent to the 1900/2100 range at normal Power levels?

Many thanks.

Steve Rowlandson

Posted by: steverow at August 5, 2010 10:36 AM | Reply

Jonathan, I appreciate your position and polite responce. Please understand full disclosure I represent and consult for all of the top tier 1-4 carriers in the US as well as ClearWire.
Here is the CTIA FCC filing about signal booster and the sale to the general public.

Here is VZW and US Cellulars comments on booster sales.

Bill Lentz/CTO

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 6, 2010 11:41 AM | Reply


As a radio engineer I agree with some of your comments, but I think that by and large that this has more to do with cell networks retaining control of the equipment provided for their contract and PAYG users. This is certainly the case in the UK, where the four main carriers hate phone/modem unlocking etc.

Interference to Emergency services is an often quoted parody of the truth and widely used by governments as an excuse. For instance it was used here in the 1960's to bring in the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act in 1967 to close down all the offshore AM Pirate radio stations. Later research proved this to be completely untrue.

I think it's worth pointing out that any Emergency service in any country worth it's salt will be using a National Trunked Radio System such as TETRA for it's primary emergency communications, and this coupled with the fact that major Cell operators like Vodafone who do handle some government, military and high end commercial traffic have a priority calling order, where these organisations are always at the top of list once polled.

I think it's also worth remembering that in this forum we are specifically talking obout offshore use, and even with an amplifier the effects on quite distant cell sites will be inconsequential, as long as the device passes FCC/CE requirements for Spurii, Intermod and Co Chan Interference.

So to sum up I think that you are right when referring to use in Urban areas when close up with cell sites, but I think that the problems will probably be with other users equipment ie phones/modems rather than cell sites themselves, which are adequately protected with lots of very expensive cavity filtering.

There is definitely a need for this sort of equipment when working offshore and the same applies to RV/s and camping in remote areas.
The new generation of Navigation Equipment like Coastal Explorer and Maxsea Time Zero etc rely heavily on interactive input from Web applications like weather forcasts, both text and graphic, plus pilotage and destination info from Websites like Active Captain,, Boatlaunch, ACC, Google Earth and others.
A new generation of Chartplotters which will probably feature a real time spot depth Vector layer linked to Tidal Station realtime information, via the web is just a few years away, if it's not being done already??

In the UK wireless network coverage is inadequate and free ones really dont exist anymore. The hourly cost of a public wi-fi link here is around $5 although that discounts with the amount of time that you buy.
They dont really have any adequate range for coastal/offshore use anyway.

So lets turn this one it's head a little and perhaps your organisation should in fact be putting pressure on the Network Operators to provide adequate rural and coastal areas coverage, instead of maximising profit by simply swamping urban areas with lots of competing cell sites. If this happened and we could be assured of universal coastal coverage up to the radio horizon, then amplifiers would not be needed, but for the moment for some people they are the only way forward.



Posted by: steverow at August 7, 2010 8:28 PM | Reply

As no kind of engineer at all, I find this conflict very confusing. And conflict it is; I don't think you'll find many FCC filings as angry sounding as the one Bill posted, and I doubt Wilson, Digital Antenna, and the other cell booster companies like being characterized as criminals!

I can't say I read the entire PDF (I am trying to take a quasi-vacation here), but I did intuit that this may in part be about control before Steve suggested as much. It doesn't seem like the cell companies are interested in any technological solution that doesn't enable them to directly manage a booster.

I also noticed in the Wireless Week article that the National Transportation Safety Board favors the tighter restrictions that Wilson has proposed, which seems odd if they won't really work as the CTIA claims. Also, why hasn't the FCC enforced rules against unlicensed boosters if they're causing so much trouble?

On the other hand, I know Bill is very informed about this, and thinks the boosters are causing all sorts of problems. What's a cruiser like me, often at the edge of cell service, to do? Am a bad wireless citizen if I use a booster? Are there some types that are more network friendly than others?

Posted by: Ben at August 8, 2010 8:45 AM | Reply

Ben there are solutions.
Wilson sells some excellent adapters and antennas that can effectively increase range and performance of a cell phone and not impact the carrier. The problem is that people don't like to be tethered.
In my own boat on Nextel/IDEN I use a 9dbi Omni`about 30 feet of LMR400 and an adapter into the back of my Motorola I-355. To solve the tethering problem I installed a Dock-N-Talk unit which feeds a 5.8GHz Panasonic cordless phone system.

On AT&T I use an Ericsson W-35 connected to a 9dbi Omni. The W35 will work on 800, 900, 1800, 1900 & 2100mhZ bands. I am using about 25 feet of LMR400 to feed the W35. The W35 will provide GSM, Edge or HSPA+ from either AT&T or any other GSM provider. The W35 has a built in WiFi router for data and an RJ11 jack which feeds my cordless phone system. The nice thing about the W35 is you can use your SIM card from your personal AT&T phone (w/data plan if you want data) when you arrive at the boat. What I do is forward my other phones to the W35 when we arrive at the boat.

I have just given 2 examples of how people can get extended range without using a booster (BDA).

If you are in a "No SVC" area the booster will not help it needs stable signal to rebroadcast. The tethered methods above don't introduce additional amplifier noise to the network providers or are less likely to introduce unintended signals to your handset at levels they can't cope with (downlink overload) or noise.

Look if data is life or death then I would recommend a unit like the Skipper 150 or FB-150 to be used when and only if needed. Yes the cost is expensive but they work almost everywhere.

Over the last 4 years I have seen the number of "free" WiFi access points grow not decrease in the US. So a good WiFi bridge router is still important for data or Skype while on the hook especially in the US.

Ben endorsing a concept is different than actually implementing it. Keep in mind the same NTSB doesn't want cell phone usage while driving. This is not the 1st filing against this type of booster.
Commercial grade BDAs made by GST, ADRF, R-Tron, TX/RX, Sk Telesys and Andrew already have these features and the key selective band filtering.
In the US selective band filtering (using SAW filters) doesn't lend itself to the mobile environment. A quick example Sprint in the Philadelphia/South Jersey PCS market is on the 1900MHz B band. Travel to Baltimore and it is A1&A2, then DC it is A1,A2&A3, move to Richmond it is C5&D. Some other parts of rural Virginia and it is B band.
I hope all can see this is a difficult issue.
I can provide actual FCC actions and documented interference cases but I'm not sure that would be productive.

Steve the US only has a national 700MHz and 800MHz trunked system on the books. 1st responders and the Federal government rely on a host of VHF, UHF and commercial provider's. Other than the military there is no Gold standard for intra-operability.
Sad huh?


Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 8, 2010 10:12 AM | Reply

Thanks for the explanation, actually it's not so sad really, the US is a vast country and would be difficult to cover with a Tetra network, but I am suprised that it isnt available in populated areas.
You are in the same situation as we were here about 15 years ago, before digitisation, with the police fire and ambulance services all on different freqs using different PMR services with no kind of intra-operability at all.
During the late Seventies when I was working for the Home Office I spent a large part of my time tracking down interference from CB Radios, Illegal at the time, whose third harmonic dropped nicely on to the Lowband Base Transmit of several county Police services, invariably caused by users trying to "tweak" their rigs for max output and blind to the fact that much of that apparent power increase wasn't at 27MHz at all. This was just below the Broadcast VHF -FM band. As these base serices were operated in semi duplex (Rx always on)most of the time with full duplex for talkthrough, you can imagine the havoc that this caused. Now that we have a National Tetra network all this has gone away.
The Military of course (especially yours and ours) have always had intra operability through the various Nato Networks, but I think they do still take up too much rarely used "ring fenced" spectrum which could be released for commercial/personal activity even if only on a secondary basis which could be grabbed back in times of crisis.
Some of the Amateur spectrum particularly at UHF T-band operates in this way.



Posted by: steverow at August 9, 2010 10:29 PM | Reply

Steve, great points about power on frequency vs. reading power from a detector or power meter with calibrated loads. The only real way to check power output and spur emission is with a spectrum analyzer. I guess you just helped me make my point about no band selective repeaters what is the actual power it sure isn't all where it belongs.

§ 22.383 In-building radiation systems.
Licensees may install and operate inbuilding
radiation systems without applying
for authorization or notifying
the FCC, provided that the locations of
the in-building radiation systems are
within the protected service area of the
licensee’s authorized transmitter(s) on
the same channel or channel block.

Bill Lentz

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 10, 2010 3:37 PM | Reply

Steven (and apologies for a delayed reply--I've been at a trade show), Wilson manufactures several products that operate on the 900/1800 MHz freq range, none of which amplify or pass the 1900/2100 MHz frequency range (though we are a little confused by what you mean by "transparent"...transparent to these frequencies or transparent to the network). We do also make a unit which amplifies the 900/2100 frequency range.

The Wilson Signal Boost (model 811910), which operates on 900/1800 MHz may perhaps be the most applicable to a 900/1800 application as far as performance vs price. As with all applications however, it is difficult to recommend product without knowing the intended use. For example, data card with antenna port (or without?) One phone? Data card and phone? Signal improvement over a large area?

As far as the export question: Our products can be exported out of the US w/o restriction. On the import side, we have never had any issues with any customs authority blocking an importation. As far as putting a product in service, each country's Telecom authorities have their own regulations and each service provider, the prerogative of disallowing a booster from being put on their system. This is an area best left to individual subscribers as situations vary. Hope that helps!

Posted by: Jonathan in reply to steverow at August 10, 2010 5:48 PM | Reply

Hi Bill, it's seems obvious you're interested in debating this through and through, and at this point we may need to agree to disagree on several of the points that you brought up since we interpret things rather differently.

What I can offer to you and the other readers is that there has been some positive movement and reviews of our products by the carriers. We're hopeful that in the near future full dialog may actually take place. It's worth noting that Canadian carriers have approved Wilson products after extensive testing.

Also, it is true, there have been some issues with what we call "legacy products" or previous models that did not incorporate our protections and patented techniques to protect the carriers systems, and we are working to correct those issues as they arise.

Hopefully that clarifies a few of the issues and we can get back to agreeing... to disagree. ;-)

Posted by: Jonathan in reply to Bill Lentz at August 10, 2010 6:30 PM | Reply


Sorry your head has been caused to spin so much based on the debate. Frankly, I didn't expect it from this, as it was a review (and a good, in-depth review) of one of our products, that works effectively and transparently.

You are free to use our products and can purchase them at, select BestBuy locations (or online),, RadioShack (or and several other places. If needed, our tech support is excellent and should be able to help you with any questions about using our marine equipment. They can be reached between 7 am and 6:00 pm (Mountain time), Mon-Fri at 1-866-294-1660.

Hope this helps!

Posted by: Jonathan in reply to Ben at August 10, 2010 6:36 PM | Reply

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the exchange..very interesting and eye opening. I enjoyed it tremendously.
I'm glad that your free wi-fi is still alive and kicking and growing, long may it continue.
Over this side of the pond our 2.4GHz EIRP limits are 200mW, and applies to most CEPT European Countries.
Add to that the fact that most home networks are now installed by service providers like BT, or Bundle Subcontractors like Talk Talk and are all WEP/WSK encypted, then the chances of dropping on to someones unencrypted network is becoming inceasingly remote.
There are always of course workarounds to deal with the power issue with Yagis/plates/sectors etc, but the encyption is a major issue. I know that S/W is available to get into these networks in minutes, but this definitely breaks the law over here, and we dont want to get involved in that.
On the flip side of the coin. our Main 3G network provider, Hutchison 3 Network, has just dropped it's PAYG data prices to £10 per GB (about $13.5) and this will last a careful yottie up to three weeks or a month as long as you dont dont stream video etc. They also have a 2G roaming agreement with Orange PCN at 1800MHz, so with just two network units(H3G and Vodafone) you can cover three networks and get extremely good offshore coverage on 900/1800/1900+2100).
Bill I would like to stay in touch from time to time as I found your expertise most helpful.

Jonathan, if you could contact me privately I would be grateful.

Thanks guys for a great exchange of views.



Posted by: steverow at August 11, 2010 6:48 AM | Reply

Steve, happy to do so, but how do I contact you? Please feel free to reach out to me at Look forward to hearing from you! Thanks!

Posted by: Jonathan in reply to steverow at August 11, 2010 3:11 PM | Reply

Jonathon, this has been a great discussion.
We can agree to disagree I wish you and Wislon the best. As I mentioned you do have some great products I would recommend to mariners.

Steve good interesting points of view came out of these posts.

Ben, thank you for allowing me the opertunity to show my position as it relates to some US tier 1 carrier's and CTIA's position.

Bob Austin great to hear from you again it has been some time and I appreciate your input and 1st hand use.

Best to all,
Bill Lentz

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 11, 2010 9:09 PM | Reply

I can't follow all the techno-babble in this thread. I would like some advice on a booster for cell phone and for wi-fi. Does anyone have a recommendation for the best hardware for a boat?
Capt K

Posted by: Bob Kingsbury at August 14, 2010 4:28 PM | Reply


Sorry about the jargon and Techno Babble, this is what happens when you get radio engineers together, and the debate could have gone on and on but I think that both Bill and I thought that there would be little point,as like a lot of engineering debates there are always valid points for and against, and one eventually has to make some sort of "value judgement".

I do know however that for some mariners using a booster, particularly if working farther offshore, or in areas of extremely poor 2G and 3G coverage is probably the only viable option, in the absence of any other really viable system.

Norway for instance has a system called "IceNet",
which works in the very old original 400MHz original analogue frquencies and has been specifically retained and adapted for Marine use, and is used by fishing vessels and mariners way way out into the North Sea, by virtue of very high mounted cell sites and the lower frequency which has much better propagation than cell phone freqs.
As we in the US and UK are unlikely to ever get anything like this, then I suggest you contact Wilson direct, Jonathon Bacon seems like a helpful chap. They should be able to advise you on what gear you will need for your cruising areas.

Thanks for putting up with us.


Posted by: steverow at August 15, 2010 5:56 PM | Reply

I agree with Capt. K about the techno-babble. One of my hopes when I wrote this article was that it would bring out other options for the mariner for using cell phones at sea. There is a place for technical discussion here and Ben is to be praised for posting it. There is some good information and some that is not of much use to the average boater. However, there are many technical types that read and contribute to this blog. I can paraphrase President Truman, “You can lay all the experts end to end and not reach a conclusion.”

I do believe that if you have problems with cell phone coverage a booster may be the solution for your situation. Sorry I can't give specific recommendations for you, Calling technical support at Wilson would get you a Wilson solution, I just am not aware of any competing products.

Pat Harman

Posted by: Pat Harman in reply to Bob Kingsbury at August 15, 2010 7:48 PM | Reply

Digital Antenna definitely competes with Wilson re: cell boosters and antennas, and is especially oriented toward marine applications:

Pat, I've never forgotten a vaguely related quote (not attributed to Truman or anyone else) which goes thusly:

"If you laid all the statisticians in the world end to end across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean...(wait a beat) would be a good thing."

I don't think we want to substitute radio engineers for statisticians in that little nasty, do we?

Posted by: Ben at August 15, 2010 8:06 PM | Reply

This may be of some interest to cruisers on the board.

New data released by mobile media company JiWire, which recorded data from some 315,000 public WiFi locations from May to June, shows that free WiFi hotspots in the U.S. outnumber paid WiFi locations for the first time. JiWire indicated that 55 percent of U.S. locations are now offering free WiFi, which represents a 12.6 percent increase from the first quarter. Not surprisingly, hotels and cafes offer the most free WiFi access, while hotels, cafes and airports continue to be the primary WiFi venues. WiFi in these venues is like air. It's just expected to be there and mostly for free.

Moreover, Starbucks' move in July to offer free WiFi can be characterized as the last barrier to paid-for WiFi. It did so after McDonald's went free. And it appears a whole host of retailers will use free WiFi to not only offer connectivity to their customers but to help sell products. Sam's Club, for instance, recently announced plans to outfit all of its warehouses with free WiFi, which the company says should help it sell Internet-enabled HDTVs.

This move to free WiFi makes me wonder how long providers like Boingo can continue on a paid subscription model. There are just too many free hotspots popping up. JiWire's report shows an 11 percent increase in other locations, such as universities and transit, which indicates the rapid emergence of new types of locations implementing WiFi as an added service.

Then again, there are those who frequent WiFi hotspots enough to want to pay to have a single sign-in through a company like Boingo. And as mobile operators see hotspots as a strategic asset, both in terms of customer retention and offloading data traffic (for mobile operators), there is a need for an aggregator of sorts to make the move between 3G and WiFi a seamless process. Moving the idea even farther, there could be an opportunity for a WiFi wholesaler of sorts to deploy WiFi optimized for carrier connectivity and in places that are strategic to operators. We could very well see the WiFi aggregator model rise again in a different form.--

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 19, 2010 11:40 AM | Reply

That's great news for you guys and long may it continue that way. I agree entirely about 3G/wifi aggregation and I would predict that that will happen in the near future. It is of course possible to get devices over here that will auto fall back from LandlineBB,to Wifi and finally to Dual SIM 3G. Sarian Systems make a unit but it is very expensive. Once we have a proper dual Wifi/3G modem from Huawei like the E58xx series that will auto switch, all this will be possible for the Mariner and Consumer in general.

Bill Ive sent you a link which you may find interesting, Ive sent it via Ben 'cos I dont have your em address.


Posted by: steverow at August 19, 2010 11:56 AM | Reply

A free hotspot is one thing, but one that is not password protected is something else. My experience up and down the ICW over the past year is that there are very few open hotspots accessible to boaters.

Posted by: Rick at August 19, 2010 5:05 PM | Reply


That's pretty much the same situation over here in the old country, there are free sites cafes/pubs whatever, but you need to be a client and go in to the place, buy a cup of coffee or a pint of beer to get the PW which often changes frequently. They are useless for coastal cruising anyway because of the limited power already outlined. All this means that you have to de-bunk the boat every time you want to use wi-fi.
I think 3G/GPRS is the only way forward for us really.


Posted by: steverow at August 19, 2010 5:26 PM | Reply

Please reread the article you don't have to purchase anything more and more networks are being opened. I'm not talking homes with AP/Routers and borrowing service. I have personaally installed 10 Marina Grade WiFi systems where all that is required for free access is areeing to the Tems of Service and a redirect to the marina's website and services. No WEP/WPA or WPA2 encrption. This is a huge growing trend in NJ, NY, Virgina and Washington DC. I will be building out at least 3 systems on the North Carolina coast PPalmico Sound area). What is in common attracting customers and retaining them. The number of WiFi enabled devices is set to double by 2014. Now if you are using your basic laptop below decks don't expect much range. If you are running an external client it is not uncommon to cover 3 miles from each direction of the marina. This is an exploding trend. Still the biggest problem in for Rural Marinas is the lack of decent backhaul to the ISP. I will be compiling a list of marinas and shore based AP's that provide free service.
There are quality of service (QOS)limits (throttling) for free user's but don't dismiss WiFi.
If you have home internet service or most carrier services you can get a code to access the numerous systems the cable companies are installing along Long Island, New Jersey, PA and Delaware shores.
Please don't dismiss WiFi if all you are using is a basic laptop with a built in card I can understand why you don't see many AP's.
These are exciting times for cruisers to augment their 3G Cellular services with WiFi.

Bill Lentz

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 20, 2010 11:27 PM | Reply

Free and open wifi for boaters is rare on the east coast. Our experience is that if the service is not password protected, other methods are used to limit access to only customers. An example, at one marina the wifi antenna was mounted on an inside wall under a desk. When I pointed out that it would be better if the antenna was mounted on the roof of the building, the Manager informed me that the location was deliberately chosen to limit range. He did not want boats in a nearby anchorage connecting.

There are a few exceptions. When we were in Baltimore, our laptop (even without any sort of external amplification) "saw" over 20 wifi networks, nearly all access restricted in some way. But we were able to connect to Johns Hopkins, where there were no restrictions, only warnings about unauthorized use.

The problem is not with the availability of equipment to receive wifi signals. The problem with wifi is the policies of marinas and shore based AP's to limit access. I am happy that some of your customers have a more enlightened attitude, but they are the exception.

By contrast, there are very few places on the ICW where there is no cell coverage (Verizon), but there are a lot of places where the signal is weak enough that data transfer rates are very slow. So a cell phone amplifier is on our list of nice to have.

We are looking forward to your list of free and open wifi. Hope you will post it here

Posted by: Rick at August 21, 2010 8:22 AM | Reply

Rick are you currently using an external antenna on your Verizon phone or data card? This would probably be all the help you would need on the ICW.
Check your (TOS) terms of service with VZW they expressly forbid using boosters.

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 24, 2010 6:02 PM | Reply

Bill, my phone is tethered, and there is no way of connecting an external antenna. I know, I have the wrong phone, but when I bought it I didn't know I would have a problem with slow data speeds in some places, and of course Verizon didn't mention it either. But I haven't bought a booster yet, but it is not because of anything in the Verizon contract.

This was a great discussion, and I am greatfull for all the valuable info here.

Posted by: Rick at August 24, 2010 8:32 PM | Reply

Rick what model phone do you have perhaps I can point you in the right direction for an external antenna adapter.

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 26, 2010 6:19 PM | Reply

Nokia 6205.

Posted by: Rick in reply to Bill Lentz at August 27, 2010 3:26 AM | Reply

You would need this adapater and an external antenna even if you purchase a booster. Well you might not need the adapter depending on the booster you purchase. It wouldn't hurt to try the above combination 1st. Then if it doesn't satisfy your needs a booster may help. I would still recommend using a direct connect booster since you will have less chance of RF oscillation.
I hope this helps and is within the rules of this board.

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 27, 2010 10:37 AM | Reply

Bill, What do you think of the Wilson Sleek I linked to in the entry, or Digital Antenna's cradle:

Do they get around the problems associated with rebroadcasting cell signals, or are you still concerned about their amps?

Posted by: Ben at August 27, 2010 12:47 PM | Reply

I have made my position fairly clear I don't like broadband cellular boosters.
However the cradle units leave one end of the system closed and have a far better chance of not causing interference to network operators. I would suggest the Wilson unit over the Digital.

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 27, 2010 1:19 PM | Reply

Bill, we agree! :-)

Ben, here are some reviews from media other media that reviewed the Sleek (though most didn't do it for technical reasons, per se, but a few did):

Keep in mind, all of our boosters are built to be copacetic with carriers networks as per our engineers and PhD's.

Great discussion all. This is a great forum.

Posted by: Jonathan at August 27, 2010 1:49 PM | Reply

Hi Bill and Jonathan, Jonathan, sorry I havent been in touch yet, it's on my to do list,I'm checking out the legal situation here and looking at ways to attenuate, to make sure the 1W EIRP limit isnt exceeded on a standard USB Modem at 1800 and 1900/2100.
(900 isnt a prob as it's 2W EIRP).
BTW is there any power control on your straight amplifiers?

Bill did you get that pdf that I passed on through Ben, some of it makes interesting reading.

I just wanted to return to an earlier part of the thread where we were discussing coverage and why we are about to get a coverage dividend over here shortly.
Eons ago, before the dinosaurs, in the early 900Mhz only analogue days, Vodafone and BT Cellnet (Now O2 (telfonica)) did a deal with the two major TV mast providers in those days before privatisation the BBC and ITV. They put 900 sectors near the very top of the TV masts which are mostly located on hills and 200-300 metres mast hieght although some are a lot higher. All of the TV transmitters were analogue using vestigial modulation PAL and ranged in power from 100kW to 1.2MW. There was no problem with co-existence, TV at 500-800MHz and GSM at 900 provided the sites were well engineered. They give tremendous GPRS coverage and are "Mega Cells" up to 40 or 50 miles from the TX is not uncommon. However when things moved to 1800 with the advent of the PCN networks there was of course a severe intermod problem, and any PCN operator had to site their antenna well down the mast away from the TV cylindrical slot.
Now, we are in the middle of the Digital TV Switchover here which is due to be completed in all areas by 2010 with about 40% of the country now digital terrestial only. The great advantage is that the huge reduction in power neccessary to transmit a digital multiplex over the same distance, down from hundreds to a few tens of kilowatts, in most cases, means that the PCN and 3G operators will be able to climb up the masts to somewhere near the top. As a lot of these TV towers are coastal thats going to be a big bonus for the sailing public as they will be able to cover a huge rural,coastal and offshore area.
I'm looking forward to the Mobile applications fallout from all this over the next few years.



Posted by: steverow at August 27, 2010 6:08 PM | Reply

I meant of course 2012 for full switchover and there is another bonus, a huge tranche of spectrum no longer needed for TV, which Ofcom is already organising the auction of. I suppose it's too much to hope that a specialised operator will come in and give us a 3G marine network at around 600Mhz??


Posted by: steverow at August 27, 2010 6:32 PM | Reply

Steve don't count on the cell carriers moving back up mast. Here in the US cell sites are moved lower so the carrier can have a tighter frequency reuse pattern. Lower sites mean more sites using the same frequencies = more subscribers less blocked calls.
In the US 700MHz LTE will soon be launched for data by Verizon. The digital transition is finished here in the US.
Yes I got the PDF thank you,

Posted by: Bill Lentz at August 28, 2010 4:05 AM | Reply

Steve, to answer your question relating to if our boosters have power control, the simple answer is yes.

Each booster has a max output power and also has our overload protection which will make the booster power down as it gets closer to a cell site. The tricky part in answering your question more fully, is knowing which booster you are looking at using? Is there a specific booster you had in mind? When we find out which one it is we can tell you what the max output power is. Hope that helps!

Posted by: Jonathan in reply to steverow at August 31, 2010 12:10 PM | Reply

Johnathan I actually like the Sleek unit. Because it is not made to enhance an area only the device attached to the cradle it is less likely to cause RF oscillation. It also allow the anplifier to shut down when it is not needed. I was the Video on Fierce Wireless by the way guys a great daily e-mail service and website about the cellular & data industry and it is current breaking accurate information.

Posted by: Bill Lentz at September 2, 2010 11:15 PM | Reply

I'll take that as a positive Bill! Thanks for the note on how you feel. One day we'll convince you on our patented technology that prevents oscillation, but till then I'll take your response as a positive. Appreciate the conversation!

Posted by: Jonathan in reply to Bill Lentz at September 4, 2010 2:23 AM | Reply

Hi Bill,

Yes you are absolutely right about the way things are going in relation to urban areas with the addition of more and more micro and femto cells, but the TV mast sharing represents a very good way for a carrier to cover a sparesely poulated rural area with less customers quite cheaply, viz planning permission required as the mast is already there, no lengthy local protests or enquiries, and minimal construction costs with only specialist high working riggers required.
The rentals on these sites are also suprisingly cheap in relation to their coverage.
I really do expect the 3G providers to move up mast next year when the opportunity arises with bigger mega cells. As data is now so cheap £15 for 3GB monthly expire,(and coming down all the time) it represents a real alternative for rural areas far from an exchange with insufficient backhaul on lengthy old copper using BT's awful ADSL. It's not difficult for a mobile operator to compete with 2Mb/s ADSL with a current theoretical D/L of 7.2Mbs

Jonathan, I finally got round to sending you that private email!!.



Posted by: steverow at September 5, 2010 6:58 PM | Reply

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