Rupert Holmes looks at effective options for onboard internet from 4G to WiFi boosters

After the COVID-19 pandemic has made remote working so widely accepted, could working from your yacht be part of the future? It’s no longer an expensive option: in the past couple of years the price of mobile data has plummeted, with unlimited plans now less than £25 per month.

In the UK, 4G reception around much of the coast is dire and often requires better equipment than in some far-flung parts of the world, but sensibly priced equipment can significantly boost a wifi or 3G/4G mobile signal. Look for products with fully waterproof omni-directional external antennas.

Connecting to marina wifi from a laptop is invariably hit-and-miss. Signals often struggle to get through the forest of masts and many marina WiFi systems suffer from low bandwidth at popular times.

WiFi boosters can therefore be a big help. I’ve regularly used an inexpensive model over a 400m distance with success. A higher specification unit, such as MailaSail’s WiFi Bat, has potential to communicate over a few miles in optimal conditions, yet the antenna is only 59cm tall and weighs less than 700g.

Digital Yacht’s WL510 WiFi Access System has a larger antenna and can either be plugged directly to a laptop’s ethernet port, or used with a router to produce an onboard wifi network for multiple users.

Similar devices can be used to boost a weak mobile phone data signal. Digital Yacht’s 4G Connect Pro (pictured below) has twin external 48cm-high performance antennas, plus a WiFi router. Maximum range is up to around 20 miles from shore, although sheltered river valleys and anchorages under steep cliffs may not have coverage.

coronavirus-sailing-Digital-Yacht-4GCombined mobile data and wifi devices such as Aquamare’s Pepwave Max BR1-LTE Marine 4G Wifi combine twin 4G antennas with two wifi antennas and a GPS receiver. This type of product makes sense for a multi user ‘fit and forget’ system that maximises the boost to both wifi 3G/4G signals.

At the top end of the scale products combine WiFi, mobile internet and satellite data. This hardware is, however, many times the cost of terrestrial-only systems, while data costs can literally be sky high.

Prices

MailaSail Wifi Bat – from £359
Digital Yacht WL510 – from £594, Connect Pro £690
Aquamare Pepwave Max BR1-LTE Marine 4G Wifi – £971

First published in the July 2020 issue of Yachting World.




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