Friday, December 17, 2010

Connecting to the internet while afloat.

December 17, 2010

In today's rapid paced information age, reliable internet connectivity is pretty much taken for granted...ashore. Once on the water, getting connected at all can be difficult if not impossible.

The purpose of this post is to discuss connecting to shore-side internet access points or 'hot spots' once the anchor is down. Typical laptop computers carried aboard have low power WIFI radios so unless the boat is very very close to the access point connecting directly via the laptop is unlikely. Withstanding a high-power on-board WIFI system, which I will discuss next, the only alternatives are:

#1 Haul the laptop ashore in the dinghy and track down an internet cafe.
#2 Tether a smart phone to the laptop.
#3 Utilize a 3G Mobile Broadband Modem
#4 Install super expensive expensive satellite based Internet

I won't go into pros and cons of above, but instead focus on obtaining 'free' internet access via shore side access points.

Nothing is really free, but after the initial cost of installing a high power long range WIFI system, internet access can often be obtained for free. Even with a long range high power system, selecting an anchorage often comes down to availability of WIFI.

Over the past five years of full time world cruising we've tested many systems with varying degrees of success. I'm often asked about the specifications of our WIFI system so without going into the alphabet soup of techno jargon here is what we use:

Long Range WIFI system used on LightSpeed.

Bullet 2HP wireless radio
by Ubiquity.

About $79 as of 12/17/2010 from many suppliers.
29dbm/800mw output which is 20+ times more power than a typical laptop.
Signal strength LED meter for antenna alignment.
Integrated N-type Male Jack connector for the antenna and RJ45 connection to the laptop or router. Robust weatherproof design
Power input from 12-24 volts DC so it happily runs on ships 12volt system.
Hyperlink HG2415U-PRO 15dbi Omni-Directional antenna from Microm
About $100 (0ther cheaper options abound)
Integral N-type Female connector connector
Pros: Best quality and performance.
Cons: 40" tall and heavy at 3.3 pounds
A 12dbi would be fine for most.
Power Over Ethernet (POE) Injector from Retailers.
Alfa Wall Mount Passive Power Over Ethernet PoE Adapter
Provides power wireless radio from ships 12 volt system.
Cat5 Ethernet cables (outdoor rated)
Antenna to POE Ethernet Cable. (Length up to 300')
POE to Wireless Router (typical 3' patch cable)

Wireless Router
Cisco-Linksys WRT54GL Wireless-G Broadband Router
About $50 new or $20 used online from various retailers.
We use an old Linksys WRT 54G running DD-WRT firmware. You might have one already laying around the house and the older Linksys wireless routers are still a good choice.

Antenna and wireless radio MountStill working on a good solution and will post pictures here mounted.

Someone to Hook it all up and configure router.

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