Marine internet, a connected year on the water

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Publisher of Panbo.com, passionate marine electronics enthusiast, completed the Great Loop in 2017.

44 Responses

  1. Neil says:

    Great article for those cruising the US
    When further afield we often have to live with flakey Internet access.
    Can you suggest a browser that will download ONLY the text from web sites?
    Reader view in Safari is a help.

    • Harold Beer says:

      The Opera browser will do exactly that. Just a checkbox in settings to disable images. And there’s an add-on to disable images on a site-by-site basis.

  2. Benjamin Götke says:

    We have cruised in the eastern Caribbean for a year. I found a 4g cellular router on ebay(75 usd)for home use, which was powered by 5V(USB). At every island we bought a 5GB dataplan for between 5 and 12 USD, plugged in the sim and the wifi on the boat. If the reception was bad at some remote places, I’ll power the router with a powerbank, put it all in a plasticbag an hoisted it in the mast(45feet) That helped 🙂

  3. Jeff Harrison says:

    Great article, looking forward to more. One option I’m keeping an eye on is SpaceX low Earth orbit satellites internet service. The prototypes are up and testing, rollout if memory serves starts 2019.

  4. Richard Cassano says:

    BenS, I’m looking forward to your upcoming articles on boat WiFi – cellular connectivity. I appreciate the basic tutorial defining this technology, but honestly, I approach a subject like this looking for a single box, an App, connect power and your up and running, type of system. It seems this might be the direction the hardware is heading. My current WiFi extender is usually non- functional so I’m definitely interested in a better low current draw solution, at least in port.

  5. Dave says:

    Articles on internet connectivity are always interesting and show how many people are looking for solutions. But I find most of the articles, like yours, focus on U.S. use. We travel to Mexico and Canada every year or two, and are constantly looking for a way to connect there, as well as in the U.S. The problem with buying a data sim from a local provider is a) it can get very expensive, and b) many providers require buying a year plan even if we are only there 4-6 months. If you have any ideas for multi-country use (i.e. a world-wide universal router) I would appreciate the info.

    • Steven Dubnoff says:

      Google’s Project Fi is simply excellent for travelling internations. 4G Data is $10 a gigabyte, no matter where you are in the world (including the U.S). Data only SIMS are free — you pay only for the data. If you don’t want to buy one of their phones, it is possible to activate a SIM on a friend’s phone and then put it any phone, even an iPhone. In the U.S., you will be on T-Mobile. Internationally you will roam to all sorts of carriers.

      I can’t say about Mexico, but in Western Canada it works like a charm.

  6. Ben S, thanks for a great article, and also the product recommendations. I’ve been looking for some way to add cellular capability to my existing Wi-Fi setup – the “Badboy Extreme MJ” version of the Ubiquiti Bullet, that has been flakey to the point of useless. A couple of questions – Is the purpose of the Engenius EAP1200 simply to add wireless capability to the EdgeRouter, because the EdgeRouter is Ethernet only? Wouldn’t a single box be preferable for this, or did you want separate devices for a reason? Also, are you running two Bullets off the arch, both connected to the EdgeRouter? It looks like it only has a single POE port… and did you wire all those devices into 12VDC, or use the AC wall warts? Just curious…
    A follow up post with a basic wiring diagram and installed equipment photos would be a big help! Thanks,

    • Ben SteinBen Stein says:

      Grant,

      The EAP1200 does provide in-boat client network WiFi. It’s not necessary to use separate wireless access points but for management, upgradability and reliability it’s a configuration I far prefer. If I want to change the router I can do so without impacting wireless and vice versa for the access point.

      I do run two bullets on the arch, they are both powered by the EdgeRouter as is the EAP1200. My model of EdgeRouter has POE on all five of it’s ethernet interfaces. The product photo shown in the article is for a slightly different model.

      I power my EdgeRouter via 12v and it in turn powers everything else.

      Ben

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ben, thanks much for your answers, I appreciate it. Sounds like a great system. I’ll see if I can duplicate something similar this summer. Cheers,

  8. Sven-Bertil Carlsson says:

    Hi!

    Could you please also consider testing MVGs NeptuLink and Locomarine’s Yacht Router solutions and compare them against e.g. BoatWeb?

    http://www.mvg-world.com/en/products/field_product_family/neptulink-114/neptulink-mvg-nouvelle-version

    http://yachtrouter.com/

    Best Regards,

    S-B Carlsson
    Aland Islands

  9. Mitch Anderson says:

    Hi Ben,

    For a future article, perhaps you would consider testing my set-up. I am using a MikroTik wifi/poe router (hAP ac lite) and the Groove 52ac for marina wifi. These two components are very inexpensive. I’m interested in how you would interface LTE into that set-up at a reasonable price. Would that NetGear LTE modem do the trick?

    This is very much a roll-your-own solution. Configuration is complex. Someone should write a simple iPhone software interface to the router OS for this use. I’d buy one for sure!

    Thanks,

    Mitch

    • Ben SteinBen Stein says:

      Mitch,
      I don’t have any hands on experience with the MikroTik hAP line but as long as it supports WAN (internet connection) balancing or selection an ethernet based LTE modem like the NetGear I’m using would allow you to add an LTE connection to your setup.
      Part of the premium you pay for a dedicated marine product is for the ease-of-use and configuration apps. Ubiquiti has a very nice management app for their AirOS products but it’s aimed at managing more complex networks not at simplifying small networks like we run on our boats.
      Ben

  10. I think that the Buzz Wireless multi-SIM card 4G cellular device…

    https://www.panbo.com/buzz-wireless-launches-global-4g-solution/

    …is interesting in part because it suggests how hard cell data can be when going international. I believe that there are similar devices out there that aren’t so marinized (and expensive) and wonder if anyone has had experience?

  11. Bryan Austin says:

    Ben, I have the Pepwave SOHO router, Ubiquiti wifi and Netgear 815s cell modem. I also have the ubiquiti PoE switch. Cost aside, do you prefer the ubiquiti EdgeRouter or the Pepwave SOHO router?

    • Ben SteinBen Stein says:

      Cost aside I think they’re both great products but I have to give an edge to Pepwave product for a better user interface. Also, if you have any questions on this I would suggest you might post over in the new Marine Electronics Forum. We’ve teamed up with Steve Mitchell from SailBits on the forums. Steve is a longtime PepWave user and quite knowledgeable about their products.

      • Hi Bryan,
        As Ben mentioned, I am a longtime user of Pepwave, but also Ubiquiti/UniFi products. I use both in commercial installations for my “day job” as well as consulting for marinas and boaters for my side job(s).

        If I were setting up a WiFi network across a building, home, or marina, I would choose Ubiquiti/UniFi for the actual access points, switches, and management. I would use Pepwave for the router between that business/place and the Internet.

        If I were building out a boat network, I would choose Pepwave across the board if I could afford it, as they make compact single box solutions that have more features than anyone else on the market.

        Ubiquiti/UniFi’s routers are amazing when it comes to performance, but their UI and features are a long ways behind the general market.

  12. Robert Hagens says:

    Hey Ben, been reading the manual of the Ubiquity EdgeRouter. What technique did you use to decide whether to route traffic via the bullet (wifi) or the 4G modem?

    • Ben SteinBen Stein says:

      For the most part I let the router decide. It is configured with a service that monitors connectivity on both links and decides if each connection is up and passing traffic. If it is it then load balances across the two connections. If for any reason I didn’t want traffic to go to one connection or the other I went into the EdgeMax UI and disabled the connection I didn’t want to pass traffic.

  13. Robert Hagens says:

    Hi Ben, one additional question, does the Ubiquiti Bullet Bm5-Ti provide a simple UI, like the Wave WiFi Rogue Wave so select the best SSID to connect to ?
    thanks in advance
    Rob

    • Ben SteinBen Stein says:

      Robert,

      The native Ubiquiti UI isn’t nearly as simple as the Wave WiFi UI. You can see it above (it’s the middle picture just to the right of the picture of bullet and to the left of the Wave WiFi UI). It is a very powerful UI and allows control and diagnostic information on every aspect of the bullet but user friendliness isn’t its strong-suit.

  14. Grant J. says:

    Ben S. – Have you had a chance to test the Ubituiti Bullet AC yet? It’s the kind of dual-band option I’m looking for, to replace my Bullet-based 2.4Ghz “Badboy Extreme”. It’s also very affordable – but I’ve read that it is hobbled by some proprietary TDMA-based “airMAX” software, that cannot be disabled – and ONLY allows it to connect to hotspots that are also using Ubituiti Wi-Fi gear with the same software enabled! This makes it pretty much useless for visiting multiple different marinas, if that’s in fact true. I can’t seem to find a definitive answer.
    The only other dual-band solution I’ve seen that is a screw-on replacement for my original Bullet-based EC is the Rogue Pro – but it’s SIX-times the cost of the Bullet AC, and I don’t really need the “user-friendly” interface, POE injector, etc.
    – And – I’m curious what device the Rogue Pro is actually using inside – if it’s not the Bullet AC? They advertise that it only requires 12V POE, whereas the Bullet AC needs 24V – so I’m thinking it’s a different device….

    • Ben SteinBen Stein says:

      Grant,

      I haven’t had a chance to test a Bullet AC yet but I took a look at the specifications on the bullet. It looks to me like the TDMA feature set is an overlay over the standard WiFi standards. I will say I’ve dug for a while now and still can’t find anything that definitively describes compatibility but there’s enough in the specs that makes it appear like it’s an overlay feature. AirMax is the general term Ubiquiti uses for their WiFi product range firmware. the TDMA feature set is (I think, based on my reading) a proprietary mechanism Ubiquiti is using to manage RF congestion.

      • Grant and I also have been chatting offline, and we both contacted Ubiquiti separately. The Bullet AC only works with other Ubiquiti airMAX products, and will not connect to other non-airMAX WiFi endpoints similar to previous Bullet products.

        Right now the only dual band, cheaper WiFi booster that I know of is the MikroTik Groove series, which I’ve written about a bunch.

  15. Grant J says:

    I agree, I just can’t stomach the idea of strapping the Groove to a pole mount on my otherwise nicely arranged radar arch – if I could adapt it to a standard marine mount, it would be a no-brainer.
    Which brings me back to the Rogue Pro – Rogue started their whole business model, if I’m not mistaken, by taking an off-the-shelf, first-generation Bullet and writing a user-friendly interface for it. So again – if they’re not using the Bullet AC as the “guts” of their dual-band product, what are they using?? And how do I source one of these as a stand-alone product without buying a $600 kit?

    • Harold Beer says:

      I use the Mikrotik Groove with wallmount wireless microphone antenna bracket. The N connector size is the same as US microphone thread – 5/8″
      So at the top of my sailboat mast I have my VHF antenna sidemounted, and on the other side my Groove. A VHF antenna mount will work, as well, but you really need to look at clearance – the Groove body is rather large in diameter. The GAM mount will need a spacer.

    • Harold Beer says:

      I use the Mikrotik Groove with wallmount wireless microphone antenna bracket. The N connector size is the same as US microphone thread – 5/8″
      So at the top of my sailboat mast I have my VHF antenna sidemounted, and on the other side my Groove. A VHF antenna mount will work, as well, but you really need to look at clearance – the Groove body is rather large in diameter. The GAM mount will need a spacer.

  16. Grant Jenkins says:

    Thanks Harold – not sure what either of those mounts look like, but this is going on the radar arch of a power boat and uses a standard Marine 1” threaded mount. See the Rogue wave or Bitstorm webpages for an illustration.. The Groove has some kind of twist-off plastic cap on the base which precludes using a threaded mount.

  17. Bryan Austin says:

    I fabricated my own PVC housing similar to what is used by the Island PC Guy. Drill a hole in the top cap and screw the Mikrotik to the antenna. Use an o-ring to seal the antenna to the cap. The base cap must include the female threaded insert and it just screws on to the normal stainless base. Feed the Ethernet cable up through the base and into the housing. Works great.

    • Bryan Austin says:

      IslandTimePC.com

    • Ben SteinBen Stein says:

      Glad you mentioned this. I did something very similar and it worked out pretty well. The biggest downside is that it’s difficult (really nearly impossible) to see LED indicators on the bullet, though I don’t really have much need for that.

      Ben

      • Bryan Austin says:

        Clear PVC tube helps but is quite pricey and hard to get just 12-16” piece.

        • I’ve been using the Coastal Marine WiFi design — M2 Bullet in an opaque PVC casing — for several years and found I didn’t miss the seeing the LEDs. It’s also held up well and is a cinch to install or mess with since there’s no need to twist the Ethernet cable.

          https://www.panbo.com/coastal-marine-wifi-a-winner/

        • Grant Jenkins says:

          Bryan, thanks for the tips. I’ll spend a little time at the hardware store and see if I can duplicate the PVC housing you describe. I need it to be watertight, and also look half-decent. I’m not sure how you get the bottom cap constructed seamlessly to go from 2″ PVC to a female 1-14 straight thread fitting, I’m guessing this involves either multiple pieces or creative machining!
          If only there was something like this that would fit the native housing of the Groove –

          http://www.bitstorm.com/1-14-antenna-adapter/

          Then we could dispense with the PCV housing altogether and just weather proof the upper antenna connection with heatshrink or what have you…..

  18. Bryan Austin says:

    You’ll need a reducer to get from the 2″ PVC tube to the 1″ size and then an adapter to insert that is threaded. I found them at the local plumbing store. You can find them online as well. Good luck.

  19. John says:

    I’d like to have one high-power long-range omni-directional dual-band (concurrent 2.4Ghz & 5Ghz for b/g/n connectivity) Wireless Client/EC that’s able to be cleanly mounted directly to a standard 1” marine mount.

    It’s a shame the Ubiquiti Bullet AC (B-DB-AC) firmware has TDMA connection limitations/problems with non-airMAX access points. It’s got a nice powder coated aluminum body that can be adapted to 1” mounts and sells just under $100 (plus cost of dual band antenna & POE)…please someone make a firmware fix!

    The Mikrotik Groove A 52 ac has complicated RouterOS firmware and is difficult or impossible to adapt/cleanly mount to standard marine 1” mounts. (We really need to convince Steve Mitchell at SailBits to post a step-by-step “how to” guide or video for boaters on this one!)

    The only two viable systems I could find are the Wave WiFi Rogue Pro DB (Dual Band) & Aigean LINK7-SS. Both sell for about $625 online which is pretty steep and bound to come down as more competition release similar offerings.

    It looks like they’re both 500mW Atheros MIPS 74Kc, 600MHz radios so likely based on the Ubiquiti Bullet AC with a custom casing/enclosure and firmware.

    Anyone test these or know of similar products/solutions?

    500Mw Atheros MIPS 74Kc, 600MHz

    • Hi John,

      IslandTimePC has a PVC casing for either of these dual-band bridges:

      http://islandtimepc.com/marine_wifi.html

      I’ve often heard good things about the company, but I’m pretty sure that users still have to deal with the complex native Ubiquiti or Mikrotik interfaces.

    • Hi John,
      I actually have a PDF guide (very rough) of how to setup the MikroTik Groove that I have used with some folks to help them get started.

      But I agree, a better step-by-step guide is needed. It is definitely on my list of things to do, and I will move it up the priority list based on the interest around it!

  20. Grant Jenkins says:

    Hey John, I feel your frustration!
    It would have been nice if Ubiquiti hadn’t restricted the Bullet AC to their own airMAX OS networks – perhaps they didn’t realize the installed base of marine/RV users that were already using the various Bullet products for mobile hot spot access – or, just didn’t care to support that market. It would have made an easy swap-out upgrade to any of us already using a single-band Bullet 2.4Ghz version, and finding that band unusable at busy marinas.
    I did find out, by chance, that the Mikrotik Groove A 52 ac actually fits inside the metal housing on Bitstorms Badboy Extreme MJ (which screws on to a 1″ marine mount), which is the product I currently have. So I’m eager to check that out and see if it fits as promised. Apparently the fellows up in Toronto designed the housing with future expandability in mind, as the Mikrotik product is a slightly larger diameter than the Ubiquiti one, but they claim it will fit.
    Unfortunately – my Mikrotik Groove A 52 ac came out of the box with the lower antenna connector separated from the antenna, so I either have to return it to Amazon or super-glue it on…leaning toward option 2. I’ll post back if I get this project finished –

  21. Another general comment, although I suspect this might generate some dissent….

    I look at the MikroTik and Ubiquiti products, if purchased directly for the sub-$100 prices, as something I would use for 1-2 years, and then replace with whatever current technology is available. As a result, I am less concerned with longer term marinization (is that a word?) of the devices. I also try not to invest in costly or complex mounting, and use more simplistic pole mounts.

    I also realize that I live/sail in an area with far less solar damage than the tropics, where even a few months of a plastic MikroTik in the environment will trash it.

    Nevertheless, for these cheaper products, I try not to get into them for too much money knowing that I will replace them for the same or similar price in a year or two. With standards and technology changing as fast as it does, and knowing the upcoming changes to WiFi and LTE in particular, I don’t think a $500+ investment in WiFi boosting technology is something I could justify personally.

    Back when LTE was not as prevalent, and 2Ghz WiFi was the only choice, it made sense because that was the only way for many people to get ‘net access. And 2Ghz didn’t change that much for a long time, and most boaters didn’t care when it did as they were utilizing things from much further away, thereby only needing the original technology.

    The other main reason many of these more pricey solutions still exist, and should still exist, is because of their custom firmware/software and support. Not everyone wants to be knee deep in the guts of MikroTik or Ubiquiti when their kids are screaming at them that their Netflix show isn’t working. In fact, I would argue that most of my time spent on the boat is supposed to be less stressful!

    However I believe the days of $500+ WiFi repeater systems are numbered – in the past few years, I haven’t seen adoption of 5Ghz by those solutions (one of the main topics/frustrations in comments here) and their support is less than what you would expect when issues arise.

    I would really like to see a couple of companies provide $300-400 solutions using the same or similar hardware in a dual band device. I think boaters would buy a new one more frequently at those prices, and be taking advantage of new technology as a result.

    I personally will continue buying sub $100 devices, configuring them myself, and replacing them every year or two – so I’ll be spending the same (possibly more because of my efforts to keep them running) as folks buying commercial products, but have more fun (!?) and flexibility.

  22. John says:

    I completely agree. Don’t overthink if it’s made of stainless steel or submersible etc as the tech is evolving so rapidly that it will likely be obsolete in 1 or 2 years anyhow. Hence the payback isn’t there for a $600+ device.

    Honestly I’ve read so much iffy feedback on most of these customized firmware devices that also scares you from taking a chance on one or another. I’m certain some of these won’t be around in a year or two while others may flourish and continue support/product development.

    I think as of today the Mikrotik Groove seems the most attractive cost/benefit if I can get through the RouterOS setup/learning curve. Steve, do you happen to have a link for that rough PDF guide for setting up the Groove? I’m going to order one and brush up on some ‘”youtube university” this weekend. It cant be any harder than setting up my old DD-WRT repeater. LOL

    • I’ve tested / bought / used almost all of the customized firmware devices. Their firmware is an improvement in terms of usability in all cases. However, they also hide certain settings it would be nice to be able to tweak, which is frustrating.

      I’ve considered many times product-izing a WiFi+LTE solution with MikroTik, but the support of that device would be significant and has always scared me away. While I did not have any great experiences with their support organizations, I have pretty high standards, and I also spend the majority of my working time at a networking company and understand the challenges of support.

      I am still considering a product offering, but it would be a DIY sort of situation, where you could get the plans, configuration details, and hardware all in one kit, with the hardware not being marked up hardly at all, and most of the cost focused on the configuration and plans. Or you can do it without it by just buying the same bits and figuring it out yourself.

      I do not have a link to the PDF as it is not online, but I have it and can send it in email if you drop me a note with your details. I also moved the MikroTik guide up my priority list and will spend some time on it this July 4th weekend.

  23. Paul Steindorf says:

    Anyone have experience with Mofi Network?

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