GSM- GPRS-UMTS (Internet)
Motorola Phone Tools (Internet)
I bought a Motorola V220 Triband mobile phone that has a USB port that can connect to my laptop.
I needed to purchase Motorola Mobile Phone Tools software from Amazon.com that came with a CD and a cable for $0.85 and $5.00 shipping.
I use the same phone for voice calls in Europe and in the USA and when I am on the boat out of WiFi range I connect it to the laptop for Internet access.
To use the GPRS service for internet access, you usually need to sign up for this with the service provider. In Italy, for instance, the have an after hours web service called Maxi Web Time Recharge for €25 per month.Howard [ Just Imagine ] 22-Mar-2008
Vodafone Mobile Connect (Internet)
You can buy a PCMCIA card (PC card) complete with SIM card, that will fit onto a slot on your laptop and provide internet connectivity via the mobile phone GPRS General Packet Radio Service in most countries where GSM phone service is available.
This system works fine and requires minimum setup, but you are paying for an additional mobile phone service even though you most likely already have a GSM mobile phone that you use for voice calls.
A more cost effective solution might be to get a GSM mobile phone that can connect to your laptop via a USB cable and, with some interface software, be used in exactly the same way. The advantage is that you can use the same phone and SIM card and service for voice calls and for internet access.Howard [ Just Imagine ] 22-Mar-2008
WiMax (Future) (Internet)
WiMax is like WiFi on steroids providing link speeds up to 10 MBs with a 10 mile range.
It is currently only available in a few cities around the world, but will soon be available worldwide, like the GSM mobile phone system.
A company called Clearwire is begining to set up Wimax services in a few sample cities in USA and Europe.
Until it becomes a common consumer product, WiMax might be cost prohibitive for the average cruiser.
WiMax is available in Palma de Mallorca from a company called OmniAccess that caters mostly to superyachts, but they have lower budget services that might be suitable for small yachts that will be based in Palma on a monthly basis.
OmniAccess can be reached at +34 971221 979 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Howard [ Just Imagine ] 22-Mar-2008
WiFi Access (WiFi)
WiFi was never intended to provide wide area coverage to ports and marinas. It is intended for local conectivity in your home or small office. The fact that it works at all in these hotspot marinas is a miracle in itself.
The biggest problem with WiFi is interference from adjacent Wifi networks.
The frequency channels assigned to WiFi are actually overlapping, so if you have several WiFi systems in an area, they could all be interfering with each other to some degree. Channels 1, 6 and 11 are non-overlapping and generally the preferred channels to use. If you see other channels in use in your area, some systems will be degraded.
Howard [ Just Imagine ] 22-Mar-2008
Linksys WAP as High Gain Wifi Receiver (Internet)
Linksys WAP with DD-WRT software
The early Linksys Wireless access points (WAP) came out with Linux software, and Linux software is provided under the free GNU license
which means it can be distributed freely at no cost.
So, this allowed some clever people to make some modifications to the software that enables the WAP to be used in ways that were not first intended.
It can be used as a receiver(client) using external antennas or as a relay using a receive antenna and a transmit antenna. So you could have a high gain antenna panel receiving the distant signal and then a smaller antenna retransmitting to your laptop(s) on the boat. Or you can simply plug the ethernet or USB cable into the laptop.
The high gain antenna and the receiver (WRT54) could be installed several feet above the deck and an ethernet cable run down to your laptop.
There are several versions of Linksys Wireless Access points and some of the more recent ones do not have the memory capacity to run the special software. I believe the WRT-54L is the most recent version that is specially engineered with more memory for this purpose, but bear in mind that this is all very experimental and you could end up with a dead (the guru's call it "bricked") $60 WAP that cannot be revived.
There is a wealth of information out there on the internet and free software. Just search on DD-WRT and research it carefully. One link is www.dd-wrt.com
.Howard [ Just Imagine ] 22-Mar-2008
The Cantenna (Internet)
The Cantenna is a higher gain, directional Wifi antenna that one can construct out of the right shaped empty tin can with some high quality connectors and cables.
To use this you need to have a PCMCIA Wifi card that has an antenna connection, like the ORiNOCO or Buffalo cards.
You can find more information on constructing your own here
I purchased mine off the internet for about $20 complete with tripod and cable from eBay.
The cantenna certainly does seem to make a difference. My connection with the cantenna stayed up while others around me failed.
The cantenna is directional which means you have to point it directly at the source of WiFi access which makes it a little difficult to set up and a problem when swinging at anchor. If you are going to be stationary in a marina for a while, it is definite advantage especially when you are competing for bandwidth among other cruisers using the system, and if there are other WiFi systems on nearby frequencies conflicting.
I think that the biggest advantage of the Cantenna is that it cuts out interfering signals coming from other networks and boats around the marina.Howard [ Just Imagine ] 22-Mar-2008