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WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 2 of 5

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

There are a few newsletter subjects that always generate a lot of emails, questions, arguments, and debates. WiFi is one of them. But last week's response of 400+ emails and comments was, well, a little too much love! It's our policy to respond to all questions and comments. If you've written to us before, you've seen a pretty quick response. But we're going to have to change that. You're welcome to write to tell us about your experiences with WiFi but please don't expect a response. With so many users, there's just no way we can respond to all of the comments.

Our goal is to give you the information you need to understand your options and make intelligent decisions about WiFi for your boat. Over the last 7 years, we've written about a variety of technology subjects.

Invariably, technology moves on and the wizbang product of today becomes old within a few months. So we're not going to talk about many specific products – there are too many of them. Please don't be offended if we don't mention your favorite product or company. This isn't about showing you exactly what you should buy.

There are a couple of companies that we think can provide you with help if you need to buy something now. These are companies that we have had direct experience with. They know what they're doing and can provide exceptional solutions. Those companies are:

Island Time PC – they're great at putting together pure WiFi solutions that are inexpensive and a little do-it-yourself. The WiFi solution on our boat is from Island Time PC:

Wave WiFi (Rogue Wave) – they modify other WiFi products to make them easier to use, adding some cost to the solution. If you have absolutely no idea what you should use and are completely non-technical, Wave WiFi has a solution for you.

These are not the only excellent companies out there. But they're the ones we've had contact with. We know that both companies provide fantastic support which is so important when you're installing anything on a boat.

So moving on to this week's subject…

After last week's segment, you should be convinced that you're going to need a router on your boat so you can have a real local area network onboard. Having that router will allow all devices to connect together, share information, and provide displays on many different screens. This is a much different environment from current marine electronics where few things were networked unless they are all from the same vendor.

What we're moving toward is a world where all of the information on your boat can be viewed on any screen. Add the internet and you can even view information from other boats in proximity – like the depths they're experiencing while avoiding a shoal (it's coming). WiFi is the common network interface needed to make that happen and a router on your boat is the first step to getting there.

One of the first things to consider with a router is the mechanism used to connect the router to the internet. If the router is connected, then all devices on your boat will be immediately connected to the internet too. Instead of having to connect your phone, tablet, laptop, and TV individually, you'll be connecting over WiFi to your router and your router will be connected to the internet once.

There are two main ways that we can connect the router to the internet today while onboard – cellular and WiFi. There are other exotic ways but they're too expensive or too rare to talk about. This newsletter segment is going to discuss WiFi connection to the internet. Cellular is just as important and will be covered in a future week.

If you look at the connections on the back of a router, there are often LAN connectors and one WAN jack. Some specialty devices also have USB connections to connect other devices. LAN jacks are for connecting other local devices to the router over Ethernet cables. As normal chartplotters start to add Ethernet networking, you'll be using the Ethernet LAN connections to bring your chartplotters into your boat's network. All of our Garmin equipment today connects over Ethernet and we have the capability of connecting one cable, hardwired from our pilothouse, into our router. Doing this all wirelessly is a much nicer solution since you don't need to run network wires and chartplotters of the future will certainly have WiFi. You'll see the advantages of wireless/WiFi devices when we talk about video cameras onboard.

The WAN connection is for a Wide Area Network. This means the internet.

One of the most common uses for that WAN jack is to connect it to a long-range WiFi radio with a larger antenna mounted outside your boat.

When that outside antenna connects to a marina or other hotspot, it will feed that internet connection down to your router and distribute it to all devices on your boat. This is the way that most long-range WiFi works and certainly the way we've been doing it for the last 5 years on our own boat. We connect that high power, outside WiFi radio to the hotspot once. Then every phone, tablet, laptop, and TV, along with other devices connected to our router have internet access. And because of the router, the different devices can also communicate with each other within the boat.

The key to having a great long-range WiFi radio is to select one that can be mounted outside with an omnidirectional stick antenna. The radio should output at least 500 mW to get good 4+ mile range when used with a larger antenna. Ubiquiti and Mikrotik are example manufacturers of these high gain radios. Other companies like Wave WiFi also use these radios in their products.

There is another device that is worth mentioning – Pepwave Surf On-The-Go. This is an interesting combination device that bundles a WiFi WAN radio with a router in one box.

Pepwave Surf On-The-Go is a $99 box allowing you to connect to a marina that feeds into its own integrated router within a device that fits in the palm of your hand. We have one onboard that we've been testing and it works pretty well within most marinas. It doesn't provide long range WiFi because it has a small built-in antenna, but it can be the perfect thing to distribute a marina WiFi connection to all devices on your boat. It also has cellular connectivity solutions which we'll discuss another time. Pepwave info can be found at:

There are multiple companies that have other long-range WiFi with router solutions too. Island Time PC and Wave WiFi would be starting places to learn more along with a good Google search.

One warning for cruising boaters – don't run out and get a router and long-range radio yet until you understand cellular connectivity issues.

Cellular internet has become the most important way to access the internet from your boat because it provides reliable connectivity in many locations while underway and even offshore (to 10 nm). Having a way to add cellular connectivity has to be considered today – so if you start looking for products and talking to companies now, make sure you understand how to connect cellular into your router.

….More on that in the next WiFi segment…

By Jeff Seigel

Guest Author & Founder of ActiveCaptain

ActiveCaptain

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WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 1 of 5

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

This is part 1 of a series we'll run through the summer with a segment every few weeks talking about WiFi devices that make sense on boats. We think that some of the segments will be about devices you've never heard about (like the SlingBox in a few weeks). Other segments, like this one, will have parts that are a little more basic so we can all be at the same level about capabilities, terminology, and basic WiFi use.

Today there are thousands of WiFi devices. The ones we describe are not the only ones in their class. Nor are they necessarily the best ones for you. We'll talk about devices we have direct experience with. We know that every class of device has alternatives. We're not trying to present a buyer's guide. We're trying to spark your imagination about the types of devices you might want and the capabilities possible that you might not know about.

The first, most basic WiFi device that every boat should have in 2014 is a router. When we're at a marina or in an anchorage, we notice that only about 20% of the boats have routers. You really need one to take part in the incredible devices available these days.

A router for your boat is just like one for your house. They are pretty inexpensive as stand-alone boxes. One of the things they do is allow a single incoming Internet connection to be distributed to all devices on your boat. Connect that Internet connection to a single hotspot and now you have your own hotspot on your boat. If you have iPads, tablets, phones, and other devices, especially below deck, they don't have to reach the marina hotspot. They only have to reach your router which is probably just a few dozen feet away.

But a router on your boat does more than that. A router also creates a local network on your boat itself. As we'll see in upcoming weeks, there are some fantastic devices that can add new capabilities to your boat by producing data and putting it out over your local WiFi network.

Having a router allows those devices to distribute their data to multiple displays, all wirelessly. The key to all of it is having that central router.

Selecting a router for your boat is not a simple decision. It depends a lot on how you'll connect to cellular providers when there is no Internet WiFi available to you. There are many confusing points. For example, isn't your MiFi device a router? Probably not.

MiFi is a cellular internet device that allows multiple devices to connect to the internet over a cellular provider. By doing that, it feels like a router since multiple devices are connected together at the same time. But many MiFi's (all?) do not actually provide the routing capability that allows different devices to communicate with each other. This limitation is likely to change in future years and there are probably some MiFi devices (apart from CradlePoint and Pepwave – for another week) that do full routing also. For now, just remember that the routing capability between devices on your boat is important for being able to use the other devices that you might not even know about yet.

When we were considering a central WiFi router for our boat, an important feature for us was 12 volt DC powering. Routers are generally very inexpensive because they are used in houses, offices, and are sold by the millions. However, because they are general devices, they almost always expect to be plugged into AC power with some type of brick power adapter. This creates power inefficiencies that we are not happy with.

It requires 1) starting with DC power from our house bank batteries;

2) converting to AC with an inverter; and 3) using the brick to convert back to DC. At a marina with shore power, it wouldn't typically matter.

But it is a double inefficiency at anchor and there is loss and waste with every inefficiency.

So we looked for a router that runs on 12 volts. But even that isn't good enough. Your battery voltage is rarely at 12 volts. In fact, a measurement of 12 volts means your batteries are quite discharged.

Typically your house bank is between 12.2 and 14 volts. If the router needs a regulated 12 volt supply, your alternators and battery chargers could easily fry it if you directly connected the house bank (through a

fuse) to the router. What you need instead is a router that can handle about 11-16 volts. A DC-DC converter will also do the trick but if you knew that, you probably don't even need to be reading this. Still, a DC-DC converter here would be a waste – just choose the right router instead. Here are three examples:

First, the D-Link N300Click on Specifications and scroll down to Power Input. It says, 5 V DC.

Nope, that one won't work without other boxes or converters. 5 volts isn't impossible and when we talk about video cameras, we'll come back to that. But for a router? Let this one go.

Next, the Linksys WRT54GL: Under Environmental/Power it says, 12VDC. That's closer but it's not giving a range so it's not going to work and might be dangerous to plug into your house bank. Let this one go too.

Finally, the MikroTik RB951Uu-2HnD (nice name, eh?): Under the specifications is PoE which specified 8-30V DC. Now that's looking good. PoE is "Power over Ethernet" which works well too and will be the topic of another segment.

There are hundreds of routers including others which will meet this requirement. This article isn't telling you which one to get, it's simply providing you with information about what to look for.

The important point is that if you don't have a router on board, you're going to need one to take advantage of all the other devices we'll be talking about next.

Next week we'll talk about strategies to combine cellular with WiFi as well as reasons to keep them apart. This will get you closer to figuring out which router is right for you.

 

By Jeff Seigel

Guest Author & Founder of ActiveCaptain

ActiveCaptain

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YouTube low bandwidth option…

Following on from my recent post “Watching UK TV abroad”, I thought readers may be interested in new YouTube developments too.

Now that I have become a liveaboard albeit in a UK Marina (!) I now realise how annoying a poor an internet connection can be. So ways of getting content on the web to display over low bandwidth connections is key.

YouTube have two new schemes that help improve the experience.

  • Firstly, low bandwidth  YouTube: This is for YouTube content itself there is the new “YouTube Feather” project. The "Feather" project is intended to serve YouTube video pages with the lowest latency possible. It achieves this by severely limiting the features available to the viewer and making use of advanced web techniques for reducing the total amount of bytes downloaded by the browser. It is a work in progress and may not work for all videos.
  • Secondly, YouTube Movies: YouTube have been redesigning how people who have “Channels” hosted by YouTube can improve the display of their content. Being more aware of the screen size limitations and bandwidth consideration of smartphones, tablets and so on. This is called the YouTube One Channel project. One of the best “Channels” that has launched using this new design is the YouTubeMovies Channel. That’s right. You can now watch full length Hollywood and Bollywood movies online, without any advertisements, for free on Youtube. Many movie studios have partnered with Youtube to stream their popular movies online via Youtube.

Happy surfing..

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Is it the year of the Watch?

During his Fall COMDEX 2002 keynote address, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates briefly unveiled the company’s Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) initiative, in which everyday devices such as alarm clocks, wristwatches, key chains, and even refrigerator magnets are made more intelligent through a new hardware and software platform that is small enough to scale down to the sizes required by such devices…it never caught on… and SPOT bit the dust in 2010. Since 2002, we have seen the records in small smart devices set by Apple – first with iPods then iPhones then iPads….but whatever happened to the humble wristwatch?

Recently WIMM Labs launched WIMM Wearable Platform – again aimed at very small devices – but they too seem to have gone quiet – their web site says “During the summer of 2012, WIMM Labs entered into an exclusive, confidential relationship for our technology and ceased sales of the Developer Preview Kit….”.

I though the smart wristwatch device would be made redundant by better and better smartphones – how many young people today even wear a watch?

Garmin_WatchNow along comes Garmin with the quatixtm.

It looks like Garmin are using their ANT technology to connect up this watch with other Garmin nav equipment – this is low power RF technology. The ANT protocol is designed and marketed by Dynastream Innovations Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of  Garmin.

The quatixtm is a high-sensitivity GPS navigator marine watch.

It’s the only GPS-enabled device that provides an incredible range of marine navigation features including automatic MOB detection, remote control of Garmin equipment, and streaming NMEA 2000® data to a navigating marine watch.

A highly accurate watch, it also includes sailing features never before combined into 1 watch, such as race countdown timer, virtual starting line, tack assist and tidal information.

It’s also equipped with an automatically calibrating altimeter and barometer, a 3-axis compass, temperature sensor and tide information.

Plus, it shares data wirelessly with other compatible Garmin apps.

  • Stream NMEA 2000 Data to Your WristWhen paired with a Garmin GNT™ 10 NMEA Transceiver (sold separately), you can wirelessly stream and view NMEA 2000 data, such as wind speed and direction, water depth, and more right on your wrist.
  • Specialized Sailing Features – The quatixtm combines advanced sail racing tools for unparalleled awareness and a competitive edge during a racing competition. quatixtm can easily set up a virtual starting line between 2 GPS waypoints. It then combines the starting line with the built-in countdown timer to calculate both distance to the line as well as desired speed and burn time available, which enables the vessel to cross the line at maximum speed at the exact starting time. Once the race has begun, the watch then switches to Tack Assist mode and indicates whether the vessel is getting headed or lifted based on the optimal tack angle provided and makes for a more efficient and controlled sailing experience.
  • Autopilot Remote Control Functions – This amazing watch also features built-in remote capabilities. It allows you to control a Garmin autopilot so you can move around on the boat while having information and control on your wrist.
  • Automatic Wireless MOB Activation – Should a crewmember wearing a quatixtm fall overboard, quatixtm will automatically send an MOB alert to the chart plotter (requires GNT™ 10 NMEA Transceiver sold separately).

Watch this space Smile

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WiFi..always use a VPN

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

This now marks the third year we're bringing the dangers of open WiFi to your attention at this time of year. If you connect to open WiFi routers at marinas or through long-distance "sharing" at anchor, please know the risks if you can connect without a password. You are putting your information and possibly your private email in danger of being seen and abused. The risks are real because it's easy to sniff open WiFi connections with software that any teenager knows how to get for free.

Here are the most common answers to questions about this that we receive:

– If you're using cellular connectivity only (MiFi, aircard, or phone) then you don't need a VPN. Cellular connectivity is encrypted and mostly safe.

We do not use our VPN's with cellular connections.

– If you have a centralized boat router that shares an incoming WiFi signal among multiple users and the router has WPA protection, you are not protected if the external WiFi is connecting to an open internet hotspot. You need a VPN in that situation. We always use a VPN in that situation.

In previous years we negotiated special discounts to a couple of VPN companies.

This year we're limiting it to a single company – Astrill. We still think that WiTopia is a quality company producing a great product. But they don't provide our users with a year-round discount. They will only give a 30 day discount and that's just not good enough.

If you have WiTopia, consider switching to Astrill. We have 2 Astrill accounts and it's all we've used for the last 4 months. The software is great for all platforms and we're still quite happy with their product after the 3rd year.

Astrill is providing a 10% discount for signing up. In order to get their discount, you must go through our web page so the proper discount is applied.

Our Astrill page is:

https://activecaptain.com/Astrill.php

To review the previous VPN articles, check out these past newsletters:

https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2010-11-17.php

https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2010-11-29.php

https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2010-12-08.php

https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2010-12-15.php

https://activecaptain.com/newsletters/2011-01-05.php

Don't use open WiFi without a VPN while cruising. Know the dangers.

 

By Jeff Seigel

Guest Author & Founder of ActiveCaptain

ActiveCaptain

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