Neil Langford, AV & IT Consultant and practising cruising sailor, has been long-range cruising with his wife Ley for over ten years. On their yacht Crystal Blues, they are currently in Malaysia. Here Neil gives his bird's eye view - a qualified one - on a new internet connection product ideal for cruising sailors, Rogue Wave:
Crystal Blues and her crew Neil and Ley Langford
Staying connected to the internet is important these days, and most cruising sailors have exactly the same needs as their land locked brothers. We all want web access and email, and then there are Facebook & Twitter, online shopping, video downloads, chart updates etc etc.
There is a new kid on the block - the Rogue Wave from Wave WiFi - and it is a significant improvement over previous technologies for those who live on boats (or RV's, camper vans, etc).
We learned about the unit on the great Panbo website, but have only recently purchased and installed, once we had committed to leaving Singapore.
Using this thing is a revolution - imagine turning on the wi-fi connection and finding more than 50 hotspots to chose from (thats not going to happen everywhere, but you get my drift ...). Or imagine connecting reliably to your favourite hotspot from more than 3 kilometres away ....while the boat is swinging at anchor, with no fancy directional antennas or complexity. Finally, think about one transceiver providing internet to all your on-board devices - from notebook PC's to iPads, smart phones and internet TV's. That's the promise, and (mostly) the reality delivered by the Rogue Wave.
Some people ask why we need good internet, on boat that is designed (destined?) to cross oceans. The answer of course is that most cruising folk spend most of their time in coastal waters and anchorages, and a minimum of time actually blue water sailing.
We all want internet onboard, specially when we're close to land. With our previous system we did have better than average wi-fi service available - we could connect to a good hotspot at more than a kilometre. However the old Senao hi-power transceiver used co-axial cable to feed signal from the external antenna to the transceiver, which was installed at the nav station and linked to our PC by a USB cable. In systems of this type the really big signal losses are in the co-axial cable and connectors. The need to link by USB to the computer also limits the distances involved.
Rogue Wave - where it all happens
The Wave WiFi product fixes all these problems by placing the complete transceiver (the radio) right underneath the antenna, in a weatherproof enclosure - so that no co-axial cable is required. It also solves the distance problem by using ethernet as the communications medium, meaning that anything up to around 90metres won't be a problem (our boat is not that big !). Sweeter still is that power to the transceiver is POE (Power Over Ethernet) so no separate power cable is needed - 12 volts is connected to the ethernet cable 'down below', using the supplied POE injector.
The ethernet cable from the Rogue Wave can be connected directly into your PC or notebook computer, and will work perfectly. However most users do as we have - they connect it to a wi-fi router that is installed inside the boat. The wi-fi router then effectively shares the internet service throughout the boat, with other devices connected by ethernet cable or by Wi-Fi.
Aboard Crystal Blues we have numerous appliances that share that solid internet service :
• Mobile phone(s)
• Apple iPad (for both Neil & Ley)
• Sony TV (this one has internet capability)
• AC Ryan PlayOn HD Media Player (also a 12volt device)
• Navigation PC
Of course the new world of marine navigational equipment can also use the service, so if you have a any new generation navigation system or tools with wi-fi or ethernet connectivity they can use the ethernet connection, network and router as well. Examples would be iNavX for iPad, Navionics mobile device applications and even the latest Fusion Marine Stereo system, which uses ethernet and NMEA 2000 to let you control the audio via your iPhone or iPad from anywhere on the boat.
Our recent visitors from Australia were able to connect to the internet, responding to email and updating their Facebook pages easily - you can decide who can connect by controlling password access. We're using a D.Link Wireless-N router, that runs happily on 12v DC from the boat supply, and draws minimal power.
Back to the Wave Wi-Fi unit..... and some technical notes. The Rogue Wave acts as a DHCP client and accepts an IP address provided by the onboard router, or a static address. You control the unit via web browser - it publishes a very simple web page that lists all available hot spots - and you choose which hot spot or site to connect with.
We purchased our unit from Land & Sea WiFi in the United States. They provide a complete product package with high gain antenna, rail mount, ethernet cable, and power supplies for both AC and DC situations. We spoke to them by telephone then placed an order on line, and had the equipment in Singapore seven days later. Customer support via telephone and email has been great with those guys.
Now for the slightly weird aspect of how we use the system - when we're away from a marina or local hotspot, my iPhone with a local 3G SIM card can share it's 3G internet service. We tell the Rogue Wave to connect to the iPhone, and then every device on the boat has internet, including the cabled devices. This approach often gives us faster and more solid connectivity than the closest marina Wi-Fi service.
OK, so what doesn't work ?
Not much ... the high-gain antenna works fine, but the chrome plated coating on the base has bubbled and degraded quite quickly - a little surprising for a 'marine' product. The rail mount supplied (pic at right) works with standard 25mm rail (and a little bigger), but does not fit larger diameter 40mm stainless railing. Both of these are pretty minor issues. The only other issue we've found is one public hotspot in Penang that did not support wireless bridging. The Rogue Wave IS a wireless bridge - it logs on to remote wi-fi access points and then bridges the signal across to its 'local owner'. It seems that some public access points can detect the bridging device and deny internet service - but we've only seen it once. This is not a problem with normal marina wifi services, nor with the great majority of public access hotspots.
If you need reliable and versatile access to public wi-fi hotspots, from a vessel in a marina or at anchor, this is the best product we've tested.
If you would like to follow the adventures of Crystal Blues and her crew Neil and Ley Langford, go to their http://svcrystalblues.blogspot.com.au/!website.