Best LTE antenna and booster for the boat

For almost two years I have been testing, re-testing, and re-wiring my setup on Grace in an effort to find the best LTE antenna configuration. I don’t remember another project I worked on that took so much time and effort to gather data. We use the Internet all of the time while on board, and I want it to be reliable, fast, and easy to use no matter where we are. The search for a good antenna system led to some surprising choices.

While much of the information in this article is still relevant, some of the hardware choices have changed. Please see Best Boat Internet Systems for up-to-date choices.

January 2020

The goal was to find a setup that allowed for the following:

  • In good signal areas, provide high bandwidth and low latency allowing for multiple streaming devices and normal network operations
  • Leverage diversity antenna configuration on Peplink for more bandwidth and LTE-A features
  • In poor signal areas, improve the signal to allow for basic network operations – WiFi cell phone calling, sending emails, etc.

Why do I want to do this? Well, there are a few reasons:

Crew expect internet speeds on the boat to be the same as home. In reality, this is unlikely because LTE/cellular is still a bit behind the broadband internet market. However, to a crew member, a wireless network looks the same on a boat as at home. Even explaining it to them doesn’t mean they change their habits. So I need a fast network when we’re near civilization.

Marina WiFi is hard – I even wrote a whole article about it – and most of the marinas we visit are no exception. While we can get a WiFi signal from them, I find that in the majority of cases, it is actually better to use a cellular connection as it is more reliable and consistent. Again, having a fast network here will help out.

When we are far away from normal signals, being able to amplify what signal is available is important for safety and planning. I use a bunch of internet based tools to plan voyages and look at weather, and having access to those helps the quality and safety of the trip. Also, being able to place a phone call in the event of an emergency is also very helpful, although not required.

And of course, my boat network is significant, and I would like to have it connected via a quality connection all the time. SignalK, AIS dispatcher, Victron, FloatHub and many other devices transmit data from the boat out to various cloud and private services. In addition, with my redundant internet configuration, I wanted to ensure it was always connected not only for outbound data, but when I VPN in from remote locations to check on things.

Base Configuration

My base network includes:

What I am attempting to test and improve is the two red items in the diagram above – the LTE internet connectivity and antennas. The Peplink has two stock cellular antennas that connect directly to the connectors and extend about 6 inches, a primary and one for diversity.

The Peplink has one WAN port connected to the MikroTik which can be used to grab remote WiFi signals. The MikroTik is mounted high up outside on the stern radar pole, while the Peplink is mounted inside in the Internet Alcove.

The LAN port of the Peplink is connected to the StarTech switch where all other cabled devices connect.

The Peplink has two SIM card slots, and I have both an AT&T and T-Mobile SIM active and under test. I also did some testing for a few weeks with a Verizon SIM card.

The goal was to see if connecting things directly to the antenna ports on the Peplink, or using the stock antennas along with a booster, would give the best result.

External Antennas Tested

There are hundreds of antennas on the market, so choosing a starting point is sometimes overwhelming. Besides the antennas below, I have had over 20 other types on the boat in the last 5 years which I’ve used in various settings. I chose the ones below because they met all of my requirements, and came more highly recommended.

Configurations Tested

Test Setup & Methodology

Every time I performed testing, I attempted to gather as much data as possible about the environment, and test multiple antennas or configurations to rule out any problems with cabling, gear, and the like. All of this data was recorded in a big massive Google Sheets spreadsheet and analyzed later.

Test Setup

  • Peplink MAX Transit routers – both LTE and LTE-A versions
  • MacBook Pro 2016 connected via wireless
  • Raspberry Pi Linux system connected via Ethernet
  • T-Mobile & AT&T SIM cards
  • No other random devices (cell phones, chart plotters, etc.) connected

Test Locations

  • Elliott Bay Marina (home marina)
  • Elliott Bay and general area
  • Blake Island, Bremerton, Poulsbo, Port Orchard and all areas around Bainbridge and Vashon Islands
  • Elliott Bay to Friday Harbor to Roche Harbor, with stops in various places along the way (Port Townsend, etc.) and in the San Juan Islands – two separate trips in summer of 2017.
  • South Puget Sound trip in 2016 with stops in Tacoma, Olympia, Eagle Island, Longbranch, Jerrell Cove, and many other places.
  • Many other random day trips and areas in the central sound

Methodology

Here’s a typical test run:

  1. Reboot all associated equipment
  2. Wait for everything to “settle” after reboot, minimum 5 minutes
  3. Record signal strength from Peplink dashboard
  4. Run speedtest on Mac from beta.speedtest.net 5x times, record min/max/average
  5. Run speedtest-cli on Linux machine 5x times, record min/max/average
  6. Record signal strength from Peplink dashboard
  7. Repeat steps 4-5 at least 3 times

Besides the test runs outlined above, we used all of the antennas and configurations in various combinations for real-world use over the last year. This included trips all around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, as well as at home or familiar marinas for longer periods of time. In all cases, there was a mix of real-world traffic from cell phones, laptops, tablets, Grace’s huge network, and the on board Roku.

General Observations

External antennas help a lot

This probably won’t surprise you, but an external antenna mounted high on the boat provided the best overall result. The higher the better, and away from other items that cause interference. The best antennas were the largest – physically – of the bunch.

Cable length & quality matter

I was surprised at the crappy cable included with some of the antennas. Having a single run with no extenders, converters or the like is critical to realizing the gains from your antenna. Bad cabling can essentially cancel out or actually contribute to a negative signal compared to no antenna!

The best cable included in my testing was from WirEng.

Boosters are worth the investment

I had both an in-line and standard booster, sometimes called an amplifier, and in both cases it improved the overall signal. The in-line booster provided less of a benefit, and I wouldn’t really recommend them because of the power draw compared to the gains. Standard boosters that have a second antenna that “rebroadcasts” the signal worked extremely well.

Multi-element antennas not worth the investment

I tested both the Panorama and the SinglePoint antennas, and saw very little benefit in either configuration. Initially I was attracted to the idea of a single antenna pre-cabled for multiple connections, simplifying the install. In reality, it made for a heck of a lot of cables all getting caught up, and poor antenna performance overall.

It’s better to spend money on two larger LTE antennas than one single antenna if you absolutely need it, which I don’t think most people would.

The multi-element antennas had dual LTE antennas, a GPS antenna and some combo of WiFi antennas, and are generally used on vehicles. They also often require a ground plane, which is hard to do on a boat.

Antenna Observations

Wilson

The Wilson Electronics 4G Wide Band Omni Marine Antenna was the most marine-ized and came with good cable and mounting options, including a standard marine sized stainless steel pole.

The BoatAnt antenna did slightly better in signal coverage areas, but it is not marinized and has some other drawbacks.

This Wilson antenna did extremely well, and is my first choice for a good antenna.

Panorama

3GStore – Panorama 5-cable roof antenna

This was one of two multi-element antennas I tested, both primarily made for vehicles. I was attracted to the Panorama after having read about the company antenna history, and was intrigued with having a single antenna with elements for 2x LTE antennas, 2x WiFi (5/2Ghz), and GPS. The antenna itself is round in shape with a fin box through the middle, about the size of a small saucer plate.

The cabling looked to be good quality, although slightly thinner than I would like, and was around 16′ long, which was a good length to get it connected to the Peplink directly.

This antenna had an individual connector for each antenna, so they could be directly connected to the Peplink’s ports and replace the stock antennas. The bigger challenge was managing 5 different cables, all 16′ long, which became a rats nest of crazy cabling while trying to run things. I ended up zip tying everything together, but it was still a bit of a bear to manage.

Unfortunately the gains I saw from the antenna did not exceed using the stock antennas on the Peplink, or at least not much of the time. Even after adding a ground plane and doing other tweaks, I just didn’t see enough of a signal increase to warrant the expense and cables. I suspect this may have been affected by the lower quality of the cable.

I did see some increases in overall throughput due to the fact that both primary and diversity antennas were given dedicated elements in the antenna. However, those gains were only where good signal existed to begin with.

Overall, I would not recommend it.

SinglePoint

I found out about the SinglePoint roof mount antenna from friends on Safe Harbour and Airship of Slowboat.com. They used various configs of this antenna on their epic Flotilla to Alaska in 2017. It is similar to the Panorama in that it has cabling and elements for 2x LTE antennas, 1x WiFi, and GPS. I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t have 2x WiFi which would have made it a direct comparison to the Panorama, but I was trying to set things up for LTE anyhow, not WiFi.

The cabling looked less shielded than the Panorama, and was quite short – only about 10′ which was very limiting. Adding extenders would almost negate the benefits from the antennas gain. I ended up having to do this for some testing because my Peplink unit was about 15′ away.

As above with the Panorama, the gains I saw from the antenna did not exceed using the stock antennas on the Peplink. The only benefit I saw was increased download/upload speeds sometimes – this was almost assuredly because of the diversity antenna configuration. To make matters worse, the SinglePoint had shorter cable with lower quality which meant either relocating everything, or extending it and actually seeing a negative gain compared to the stock antennas!

SureCall

I’ve had this antenna for almost a year and a half, having purchased it as part of my initial internet setup on Grace. It was not meant for marine environments, and it has not weathered well. It has given decent performance in the last year and a half, but was one of the main reasons I started searching for a better antenna. In areas where the signal is lower, the SureCall simply didn’t perform.

The mounting hardware is not marine grade at all, so beware – mine started corroding within months.

WirEng BoatAnt

I found out about the WirEng BoatAnt while chatting with Chris Dunphy over at the Mobile Internet Resource Center. Most of their site is focused on RV’ers, but they have gotten into boating in the last couple of years as well. They had used WirEng products on their RV and found it very good quality.

It is the largest of all of the antennas, beating out the Wilson by almost an inch. It is also very hefty and feels well made. The cabling that came with it is absolutely fantastic – the thickest provided, and with quality ends provided by WirEng.

In all of my tests, this antenna outperformed every other one I used. The specs claim a whopping 10dBi gain which is double several of the other antennas, and at least 3dBi more than the best specs.

Strangely I don’t see the ability to buy direct from WirEng anymore – only a contact form to fill out for details. It does appear you can get them on Amazon, but check the seller and make sure it is WirEng.

I would highly recommend this antenna.

I no longer recommend any BoatAnt products due to massive quality issues, lack of response from the company, and jacked up prices (2-3x!) for all of their products.

Booster Observations

Wilson in-line

I have had the Wilson in-line booster amp for a couple of years, and looking at the newest version online, it hasn’t changed much from what I can tell. It cites a 15db gain, which I saw consistently when it was connected.

In terms of overall upload/download performance, it didn’t seem to improve things unless we were in a place with terrible signal coverage. In almost all cases, two external antennas gave a better result even in low signal areas.

The bigger issue is that it only has one output port, so only one of the two LTE connectors on the Peplink could be connected. This meant that the secondary diversity antenna would be un-amplified, and using the stock antenna inside the boat.

weBoost RV kit

Wilson also owns the weBoost product lines, and they came out with the weBoost Drive 4G-X booster which included the amplifier, external antenna, internal antenna, and cabling for all components. I didn’t care for their provided antenna, and while I did test it, it didn’t really impress me.

What I did like was the amplifier and internal antenna. This booster ended up providing the best overall performance no matter where we were. The internal antenna is mounted only a few inches away from the stock Peplink antennas, and the outdoor antenna was a mix of all of the above antennas.

With the boosters internal antenna near the Peplink, that meant that both the primary and diversity antennas on the Peplink could use the boosted signal, which resulted in not only better signal strength, but faster download speeds.

I would recommend this booster.

Best Configuration

Updated March 2019

The best configuration I have tested is as follows:

This gave the best signal in hard-to-reach areas, increased overall bandwidth in decent coverage areas, and has performed well in marine conditions.

I originally started out hoping to only have an external antenna, directly connected to the Peplink – no booster or amplifier. But I found in places with very poor signal, an external antenna alone was not enough. A booster adds more power usage and complexity, but as important as the Internet is for the crew and all of my network, I would rather have a quality signal everywhere at the cost of more power usage.

I also have a coupler taped near the amplifier, where the outside antenna meets the inside antenna cable. Worst case scenario, I can join the two together, bypassing the amplifier, and remove the inside antenna and connect the cable directly to the Peplink. Or, worst case scenario, simply turn off the amplifier and use the stock antennas on the Peplink without any external antenna.

Performance

I have been using this configuration now for 6+ months and have been very happy with both the coverage in bad signal areas, and overall performance when in better areas.

At my home marina, I regularly get about a 25ms ping time, 20-40Mbps download, and 10-20Mbps upload on T-Mobile. That’s pretty good for an LTE connection.  AT&T shows a 25-35ms ping time, 20Mbps download and 20Mbps upload.

Crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the San Juan Islands, we usually lose signal somewhere around Smith Island, and gain it back a while later. With this configuration, we had signal almost all the way across, albeit very slow 3G for a time.

This is exactly the outcome I had been hoping for – something that is super fast and able to handle multiple streaming devices when near civilization, and coverage when in the boonies enough to do the basics.

Parts List

It is important to note that you don’t need all of these to improve your connection. If you don’t have a Peplink device, you can still add the outdoor Wilson antenna and weBoost amplifier and gain considerable coverage and improve your throughput. Whatever you’re using now, if it has an LTE radio in it, it will need to be close to the indoor antenna. Many people also simply use the indoor antenna with their cell phones, although you do need to be relatively close for this to work reliably.

All of the things in the diagram above:

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115 thoughts on “Best LTE antenna and booster for the boat”

  1. Great article, and thanks for the mentioning the Mobile Internet Resource Center.

    FYI – we have an article about MIMO antenna technology that explains some of the geekiness behind the scenes, and why boosters and MIMO often conflict with each other.

    Sometimes – turning on a booster can actually cut your speeds in half!

    When you have your booster on, you are essentially eliminating the capability of the aux/diversity antenna to pick up a differentiated signal since everything is going through the funnel of the booster.

    In strong signal area – this will result in a performance drop since the 2x speed mode benefit of MIMO gets eliminated. But as you’ve seen, in weak signal areas a booster can come in extremely handy. The improvements can be especially dramatic for upload performance.

    Here’s the article – though the bulk is member content:
    https://www.rvmobileinternet.com/resources/understanding-mimo-multiple-input-multiple-output-lte-speed-cell-booster-implications/

    Cheers,
    – Chris

    Reply
    • Thanks Chris – that is great info to have. I remember reading about this on your site, and I have seen it myself while testing/using my setup. Hopefully someone will make a solution that can provide both without futzing with things constantly!

      Reply
  2. Very helpful report, thank you.
    For a setup with a MIMO capable router, without booster: would you recommend a single BoatAnt antenna, or twin conventional antennas for best performance?
    Cheers
    Wolf

    Reply
    • It depends on what you mean by “best performance”. If you’re specifically talking about signal coverage across the board, even in hard to get signal areas, two antennas really wouldn’t matter vs. one. If you’re talking about overall throughput performance, then MIMO comes into play.

      I did test two BoatAnt antennas with my Peplink MAX Transit, which is definitely MIMO capable. I did see a benefit in having two antennas over only having one in both upload and download performance, but it did require double the cabling, mounting, and antenna expense. The difference ranged from small to moderate – I did not see quadrupling of bandwidth or throughput with the second antenna, but MIMO testing gets very location specific.

      If you are in areas with decent signal most of the time, you could likely get away by having one BoatAnt external, and the second diversity antenna on your router act as it should to help with better performance. The ultimate config for this of course would be two external antennas, though.

      I’d suggest ordering one BoatAnt and test to see how much benefit it gives over the stock antennas, with one of those acting as your diversity antenna.

      Reply
    • Hi Greg,

      I have never used this particular product, but at first glance, here are a few notes:

      Antenna gain is only 2-3dBi which is really low. Bad cabling or interference alone could remove that gain. The WirEng BoatAnt I tested had a max published gain of 10dBi which is considerably more. Even the Wilson antenna I tested had more than this.

      Their amplifier stats show a similar gain to the weBoost of 50dB, which is good.

      The other few things that might concern me:

      30 feet of cable from the antenna to the splitter – that is double what I have, and most antennas seem consistent that 15 feet is the max before you see significant drops.

      Splitter – this has to add some loss.

      Single antenna for multiple purposes – all of my testing showed that any multi-element antennas performed the worst out of everything tested. This setup has HDTV, WiFi, and Cellular all in one, extra long cable, and a splitter adding more loss. This has a similar configuration.

      Cost – $1300 is a lot, and for that money you could buy best-of-breed components like the WirEng, weBoost, and even more, and know that each component is the best there is.

      Reviews – I can’t find hardly any reviews for this product, which is concerning.

      So far I have yet to see an all-in-one solution for LTE and WiFi perform better than standalone. That doesn’t even include HDTV. I would be wary of anyone selling one until there are published reviews and more data gathered on the subject.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Hi Stee,

        Thank you very much for your response. Small gain of antenna concerns me too, however i can see only 1 benefit – single antenna.

        Regarding 30 ft cable i have another question.
        I want to put the antennas on a mast spreaders. Putting them on radar pole gives me only about 10-12 Ft from the water level, which is not a lot. So if i put them on spreaders, i would need about 60 ft cable. for wiring (30 ft from spreaders and another 30 ft inside of the boat. So 60 ft wire will significantly decrease the gain. I would like to know your thoughts – spreaders or radar pole?

        BTW i found this ( https://www.vyacht.net/spec… ) wifi router. May be you already saw it, though I found the idea is quite interesting (implementation could be bit better though)

        Best regards

        Greg

        Reply
        • Hi Greg,

          I think the best choice is the radar pole. The spreaders would only be 20-30 feet (at most) higher, and you’re not going to get huge gains from that. In fact, because you have to use double the cable length (60 feet) you might actually have less gain overall, even though the antennas are higher.

          I have seen marketing information on the vyacht.net router before. It seems like a great idea, but I don’t have much info beyond that unfortunately. I tried contacting them a year ago but never heard back.

          Reply
  3. Thanks to Chris at technomadia.com who sent me your link. I really enjoyed your article because it is well detailed. I also like to see OTA (Over The Air) testing like this and all the install/cable/radios involved. I design and mfg antennas including the 4G items 700-2700MHz plus enjoy testing many off the market models. About 5 years ago we settled on a design which is very popular now. The aprox 2.3″ diameter and 7 to 11″ length for the 4G omni. All of this type are basic wide dipoles however very well tuned with careful control of diameters and lengths of the radiators. I knew, and later confirmed that the laws of physics always win, when playing against marketing and sales departments. All of these, size and bandwidth will always be in the 1.5-3 dBi (at the horizon where its wanted) even if the sales guys call it 10 dBi. A big factor as you already well know is the cable. Just a week ago a client company was testing my marine antenna and others on a boat, using the included 15 to 20 FT thin and “easy to install” RG-58 type cables. They found minor improvement with that Vs. the blade antennas on top of the modem itself. However, I later provided an update version with a short 24″ cable just to get in the hull, then connect an LMR-400 cable for the rest of a 20 FT run and there was a real improvement. The original cables can loose 3 dB or a full 50% of the signal either TX or RX. Ive included a picture of an early test unit “fat dipole” which Chris calls a beer can. Im using that name now too! This was a marine and RV version done last year.

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by Raul, and glad Chris sent you this way! Your antenna build looks pretty darn cool – I wish I had the chops to do stuff like that.

      Marketing departments are definitely the bane of much of technology nowadays. New terms are invented, claims are made, and it becomes industry standard very quickly. Those of us who test things and actually use them and publish results are where consumers can hopefully find useful information and make informed decisions.

      Cabling made the difference in almost all of my setups – the cable included in some of the multi-element antennas was so small it was shocking. I had never seen cable for any of this industry that small, but when you have to pull 5-6 cables for one antenna through a hole in something, I understand why they did it from a technical perspective. From a signal perspective, one of those antennas actually offered a negative benefit as a result.

      Reply
  4. Steve,

    I was pointed to your blog by Sam and Kevin from Slowboat – great information! We are doing some extensive cruising in B.C. and Alaska this summer where there is very limited cell coverage and people in our group using the Weboost 4g-x boosters are able to pull in LTE or 3G signals where we are seeing none so I am likely going to purchase one of these boosters and the WebAnt antenna that you recommend.

    How I integrate it to my current setup is where I have questions. I did a fair amount of research and ended up with a WiriePro with the LTE modem built in after reading reviews on Panbo and other sources. On paper it is a great idea with an all in one piece of hardware for boosting Wi-Fi and using cellular data. My success with using it has been less than satisfactory so far however. It works great to boost weak Wi-Fi signals, but the LTE/4G/3G connection has been problematic. I can often see a decent LTE connection on an iPhone inside out boat where the externally mounted WiriePro wont see the cellular network at all or will see it and not work well. I even purchased the external cellular antenna that they market for it (http://www.thewirie.com/the-wirie-products/marine-lte-antenna-details/), which did not seem to help much if at all.

    One other thing I don’t like about the Wirie router is that it doesn’t allow me to assign a static IP address that my Furuno electronics want to see to allow me to connect to them remotely with an iOS app without having to create their own Wi-Fi network. That is something that I could deal with though if I am able to get a better cellular connection.

    So finally to my question: What do you think about using the Weboost 4G-X booster with the WebAnt external antenna, but rather than locating the internal antenna inside my boat, mounting it close to the external 6dB gain Wirie antenna? I have the Wirie mounted to the false stack on a Nordhavn 40 just aft of the pilothouse, so I would be able to mount the internal antenna Weboost antenna almost next to the external WiriePro antenna but in a dry location separated by a layer of fiberglass.

    Maybe I am trying too hard to salvage the usability of my almost new WiriePro device (which was not exactly cheap) but I am curious to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Dougal,
      Thanks for stopping by! Sounds like you are part of the Slowboat flotilla heading north into Alaska! Sounds fun.

      Getting LTE/4G/3G right is actually pretty hard. I have used tons of different solutions, including the WiriePro, and I’ve never found a better solution than Peplink. CradlePoint has some good solutions, but their company has a lot of other issues, and is more focused on commercial business. Building something that can work with all of the different cellular providers, has robust features to switch back and forth between different SIM cards, switching between WiFi and LTE, and also dealing with all of the crazy situations that LTE radios can have is a big challenge.

      I used the original Wirie for a long time, and it was great – they essentially took off the shelf hardware (mostly Alfa at the time) and put custom software/firmware on it to make it simpler for the marine world. Over time I found that the performance was less than what I wanted, and they lacked any LTE support. I bought stand alone components that were similar to what Wirie did, and they performed quite a bit better, and at 1/2 to 1/4 of the price. Of course, I had to put them all together, and manage it, which is what you pay the premium for from Wirie.

      I was not impressed with their Pro product, in particular some of the limited LTE radio chipsets, and the logic/software limitations between LTE and WiFi. It felt like there were some gaps in what it really should have done – perhaps that has changed since I evaluated it a year or two ago.

      I think adding a booster would definitely help your configuration. You could also look at an in-line booster, which weBoost/Wilson make as well, but aren’t quite as powerful as the standard ones. An in-line booster would actually replace the antenna on the WiriePro and there would be a cable directly connecting its antenna port to the amplifier. The downside to that configuration is that in-line boosters are limited in power because they’re in-line, but since they are connected directly, the overall effect can be close. In addition, if you decide to replace the WiriePro, an in-line booster might not work with whatever you replace it with.

      If you go for the tried and true 4G-X and mount an antenna near your Wirie’s antenna as you mentioned, it should provide the best solution. The only issue you might have is that if the cell signal is very strong nearby, because both are outside and have less interference, the Wirie might flip back and forth between using the booster antenna and the real antenna, or the booster will drop its signal (on purpose, by design) to prevent loops and then you’re back to using the WiriePro outside antenna. In that case, it probably won’t matter as it will work fine because the signal is high.

      You could move the WiriePro further inside too if you wanted to, but there’s likely no reason, as you can still use the remote WiFi grabbing features having it outside.

      I think your approach is pretty good – at least it should get you a better signal overall in bad areas, and longer term if you want to replace the WiriePro, you have a good booster as a base.

      I do agree on their router though. I seem to remember an advanced option somewhere that might have allowed you to do static addresses, but perhaps that is gone. Can you not change the range of DHCP/automatic addresses they hand out? Then you could at least limit it to say 100-200, and then manually setup addresses below that.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Steve,

        Thanks for the detailed reply to my comment. I am in the process of upgrading my system to get cellular data on board and just installed a 4G-X booster connected to the “high gain” (allegedly 6dB) optional Wirie antenna. I attached the cheap little 3 inch magnetic external antenna that are with the booster to the antenna connector on the Wirie device and ran that inside my pilothouse next to the internal antenna.

        So far it measurable improves the signal seems to have improved performance but not as much as I would expect. I am seeing a 3G (HSPA+) connection on the wire device where we are docked for the night in Kassaan while my phone is picking up an LTE signal. I am guessing the external antenna is the bottleneck.

        I tried to order the WebAnt antenna that you recommend when I both the booster but after placing an order with Amazon I got an email that the order couldn’t be filled and contacted Wireng directly. Turns out they are discontinuing and sold out of the original WebAnt and now in early production and selling a new BoatAnt-Plus device. On paper it looks good but they are asking close to $500 for it so I definitely want to understand the claims before spending that kind of money for an antenna.

        Have you heard about this new product by chance or could you comment based on the spec sheet? There is a page 2 with mechanical drawings and another graphic but I could only upload he first page to your site.

        Thanks!

        Reply
        • Dougal,

          Sorry that things are still not working out with the Wirie! I do have a few ideas/questions/notes.

          First, I would not pay $500 for an antenna for this particular application. I have heard of this new one, and have not been able to get definitive information from WirEng on why they aren’t making the old one anymore, and what is driving this insanely high price on the new one. I’m actually a bit frustrated having recommended their product to have it be unavailable to people and will likely be changing my article to reflect that.

          Second, I would consider using the included outdoor antenna that you got with the 4G-X booster to see how that does compared to the Wirie antenna. Without knowing much about the Wirie antenna, I would be worried that it does not support the frequencies you are needing for the area you’re traveling in.

          I just did a side to side comparison of what Wirie says their LTE modem supports versus a bunch of other industry standards, and it looks like they don’t support Band 12 nor any of the new LTE-A bands (B25, B26, B29, B30, B41). The latter are less important, but Band 12 might be affecting your ability to get LTE. And this is based on what I could find about current Wirie devices – they could have had less supported LTE bands in the past.

          The fact that you can get LTE on your phone and are not seeing it with the Wirie lends credence to this being a potential problem. Most cell phones, if they are recent versions, have support for all of the new LTE frequencies or bands, and will switch to whichever are available and more powerful. Devices like the Wirie and even Peplink, Cradlepoint and others have more difficulties keeping up with all of the bands since they change so frequently. I’m beginning to suspect the Wirie doesn’t support the bands you need in the areas you are traveling.

          What cellular carriers are you seeing on your phone / Wirie? What year / model phone do you have? With this info we might be able to figure out if LTE bands are actually causing an additional issue, besides the signal strength one!

          Reply
          • Unfortunately I didn’t get an antenna other than the little 3 inch magnetic one with the booster package that I bought because I was planning on purchasing a separate antenna. I can find the old BoatAnt antenna on eBay but not cheap – I saw one for $374 which is almost as much as the new one! I’m tempted to purchase the Wilson model that you lost as being second best on performance to the BoatAnt as it’s roughly $100. If the BoatAnt will allow me to pull in distant signals while we travel I would consider it a decent investment by don’t want to waste money on something with very incremental performance gains.

            The issue with LTE bands is something more troubling and I wish I’d known more about all the s before I’d spent he money on the Wirie. It seems to be a one man show and they are relatively quick to respond to tech support issues but always seem a little to eager to defend the product and blame problems on things outside their control. I don’t want to bash the product on a public forum but there is a long thread on the cruisers Sailing forum brining up issues with the device.

            I am actually getting LTE both on my phone and the Wirie now I’m soitheast Alaska north of Ketchikan. Below is copied from a reply on a troubleshooting ticket from Wirie a month or so ago:

            These are the bands supported by The Wirie pro:

            LTE (optional) B1/B2/B3/B4/B5/B7/B8/B13/B17/B20
            HSPA+/UMTS (3/4G) 850 (B5), 900 (B8), AWS (B4), 1900(B2), 2100 (B1)
            GSM/GPRS/EDGE (2G) 850, 900, 1800, 1900
            Band 30 is not supported at this time.

            It does not seem like they offer hardware upgrades or very frequent firmware updates.

            I’ve got AT&T service on the iPhones and an AT&T sim from the 4G Antenna Shop and curiously with this sim even with roaming turned on I only once picked up a network in Canada where our phones would pick up roaming signals in a lot of places.

            After we leave the Northwest we plan to cruise down into Mexico so trying to plan for the future as far as what we are able to pick up down there with both hardware and cell plans.

          • Dougal, Ive been following parts of your thread here as I work a few hours today at the office. I wrote some info about antennas before because I design and make antennas (since 1991).
            Just a reminder that “4G” antennas are having to work at a huge band width covering 700-2700MHz. And on a mobile station that means omni-directional. That massive bandwidth results in fairly low gain. That gain is “directivity in a wanted direction” needed at the horizon, plus or minus 10 degrees on a boat.
            If you could know that for example you could get by with a dual band antenna such as the older 3G 850/1900 MHz bands, it would be double or more gain thatn the 4G antenna. If you knew you needed only 1 band like 700 LTE or 1900 GSM etc then double that again. (assuming a well designed antenna).
            Cable loss: Sometimes the “stick” antenna that comes with the modem device performs as good as an outdoor antenna. The cable losses can quickly eat all the increase in performance obtained at the new outdoor antenna. The net amount of signal at the device connector could end up the same or lower. Note however, the outside antenna may be doing 2.5 dBi across 7 bands, the little stick on the device will never do that. The device maker may KNOW that the device will be on 850MHz 90% of the time then they provide e the antenna that best performs at 850. The other bands may be quite quite poor. Finally, be wary of any omni-dir 4G antenna claiming over 3 dBi. At the popular prices and size being sold, anthing over 2.5 to 3.0 dBi AVG is phyisically impossible. OK excuse the long text, have a good week.

          • Raul,

            Thanks so much for the feedback. I feel like I have hijacked the comments section of Steve’s excellent review but I won’t pass up the free advice. I’m a mechanical engineer by training and RF stuff seems like black magic in a way to me so I am trying to soak up knowledge.

            I am wondering if antenna placement on a mobile application like moving boat is equally important as the antenna design? There is a lot of lot of metal rigging above deck on our boat and a fairly packed array of Antennas for other devices.

            The cellular antenna the my booster is currently connected to is the little white cylinder that I circled in red in the photo. I am wondering if moving whatever antenna that I end up using higher up on a pole or extension might increase reception in remote areas…?

          • Dougal,

            No problems on continuing conversations on this post – you’re not hijacking anything! I want conversation and collaboration – its the only way we can all learn and benefit from it.

            Antenna placement is definitely important. It looks like yours is up high and out of the weeds, but there is a big metal mast right behind it that could be causing some issues.

            You could easily test by using another antenna and the wire that came with the booster to test things out. I think you were considering the Wilson – that is definitely a great antenna, and it might be a good way to rule other things out.

          • Dougal,
            I see your picture. Its real crowded there for sure. The cell antenna needs to be higher by a few inches than the dome that blocks the view of the antennas lower 1 to 3 inches.
            Whats really killing signal is the apparent short distance to the large diameter tube that might be a sailing mast. Thats probably metal. The antenna needs to be 18 inches away from such a metallic diameter to avoid a shadow in that direction.
            As it is now not only is there a large shadow behind the mast but the signal is probably not close to being within 1 dB of omni directional in all the other directions. It might be very oval or distorted.

  5. Hi Steve,

    This is great information! Thank you for taking the time to put it together!

    I’m curious what you think would perform better – two external antennas each with their own in-line booster going directly to the Pepwave or a single external antenna going to a 4G-X which would then transmit to the stock Pepwave antennas? In terms of “performance” I have two use cases – one near shore where MIMO is a factor and the other where there is very little signal.

    Reply
    • Hi Zac,

      I have the latter – one antenna going to the 4G-X with the internal antenna near the stock antennas of the Pepwave. I have no issue picking up remote signals out and about that normally I would not be able to snag because of how weak they are. I don’t necessarily upload/download speeds get super fast (indicating diversity or LTE-A) where signal strength is already high. Chris posted a link earlier in the comments about how boosters can actually interfere with dual antennas and diversity.

      I think two boosters would be overkill personally. If you’re trying to get diversity or LTE-A to work via that method, I think you would still have the same problem as a single booster, in that the two internal antennas on the Pepwave would not “see” two ways to get to the tower and be able to enable that functionality.

      Another alternative would be to not use rebroadcasting boosters, and use in-line ones. You could remove the antennas from the Pepwave, and the inline booster would be directly connected. You could use two of those with two external antennas. Separating or even orienting the outdoor antennas differently, you could achieve both a diversity configuration with a boosted one. However, in-line boosters aren’t as common, and you are committing yourself to boosters being on all the time. If you turned them off, the Pepwave would not have any antennas to fall back on.

      I know there are some new boosters either just entering the market or being talked about that could help more with this, and especially with LTE-A and 5G, there are going to be more challenges with boosting things appropriately without losing some aspect of the signal. Hopefully in the next year or so we will see some updates on this technology.

      Reply
      • Hi Steve,

        Thanks for the detailed reply and your time! Yes, I was asking about using 2 in-line boosters directly on the Pepwave versus a single rebroadcast booster next to the Pepwave. 2 rebroadcast boosters seems like it would be problematic. I would be using external antennas like: https://www.altelix.com/Alt… since the BoatEng is discontinued.

        The in-line booster I was looking at is: http://clearrf.com/index.ph… (was recommended by a Peplink employee on their forums) – which has a unique passive bypass mode where the in-line amplifier is bypassed if power is lost or if amplification isn’t required. The plan would be to cut power to the boosters when near shore, if it doesn’t automatically turn itself off, in order to avoid issues like Chris mentioned. This booster doesn’t support band 12 though which is potentially an issue. No in-line boosters I’ve found support all/most LTE-A bands so the lifetime on these solutions is limited anyways.

        My concern is that even with using 2 in-line boosters that I won’t get as far as reach in low signal conditions as with a single rebroadcast booster because the in-line booster gain is only 15db whereas the rebroadcast gain is 50db. You mentioned the in-line amplifier provided less benefit, but I wasn’t sure if this was solely because the setup you tested lacked antenna diversity that rebroadcast booster provided or it was due to the booster power themselves.

        Reply
        • Hi Zac,
          I would still recommend the Wilson antenna based on my experience with it. I have seen few antennas with claims of high gain actually work out besides the BoatAnt, and it seems to be impossible to get now. The Wilson has a more reasonable gain, and works with lots of marine mounting options.

          The in-line booster you linked to looks interesting. How would the Peplink work out though when it was off? If you direct wired everything, one would assume the “antenna” when the booster is off would be the wiring between the Peplink and the booster? Might not work that well when off, but I haven’t tested that myself.

          You’re correct about band support for boosters. I primarily use T-Mobile in the Seattle area, and have an LTE-A version of the Peplink MAX Transit. When the booster is at play, I rarely see LTE-A and usually get flipped onto one of the older bands. Band 12 support is going to be very important to keep the high download/upload speeds specifically on T-Mobile since that is how they are rolling out their newer services.

          The in-line booster that I tested was only a single unit, so yes I had issues with diversity at some times, while during other testing I had better results. It is true that the in-line boosters only provide 15db, which is much less than the potential 50db from a standard booster, but there is a bunch more loss with the standard one. First, you’re spitting it back out an antenna internally, which adds some loss, and you’re having to pick it back up from another antenna. I can’t say that it would be 35db of loss but there definitely is some.

          Folks that I know who do longer term cruising in more remote areas of the West and East coasts of the United States all seem to prefer the standard booster because it does amplify things more. And in a pinch you can shut it off, revert to the stock antennas, or even put your cell phone near the internal antenna and get a benefit.

          If you do go the in-line route, and get one of those boosters, I’d love to hear more about its performance.

          Reply
  6. Great stuff,

    The Groove, Halo, and Bullet are all good.

    Im considering a Shakespeare WebWatch antenna, WCT-1 This includes WIFI (w/firewall & VPN), Cellular (GSM only), and TV (which i plan to connect to an HD HomeRun Connect box). The antenna is supposed to use WIFI until signal is lost then switch to Cellular, includes a wireless WIFI and wired network output. This keeps it simple I hope. Any thoughts, insights or corrections is appreciated.

    Tim Welch
    Planning for our Great Loop trip.

    Reply
    • Hi Tim,

      My experience with all-in-one antennas is that they don’t perform as well as purpose built, specific ones. I have not used the Shakespeare one, but they are not known for their cellular expertise – I would be worried about features/functionality around that area. In particular, it does not look like they support a ton of LTE bands, and the information in general on the cellular side is pretty light.

      Given that it is an all in one, I bet that it won’t perform as well, but if you are looking for something simpler, it might be a good choice.

      Reply
  7. Hi Steve, Im also in Elliot bay marina and exploring both wifi and cell service antenna setups and determining which route to go. couple of questions. Reading the NMEA guidance on antenna placement, it seems there are distinct implications of placing certain antennas within a certain distance of other antennas. – especially VHF. have you investigated any challenges with placing your cell and Wifi antennas too close to other antennas? I am trying to fit two VHF antennas, wifi, cellular, Radar, Satellite, and GPS pucks within a short amount of space…

    in Seattle, (I’m T mobile customer currently) but when looking at pay as you go short term data sim cards I have a choice, would you go T mobile for the data sim?) if so, would you still recommend the peplink max transit and specifically the LTE-A model?

    happy to provide beers and talk in the marina if easier and more fun! 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Gavin,
      Antenna placement is definitely something to consider. It sounds like you have a lot to put all close together, but that is not unusual on boats.

      The rule of thumb is to separate everything by 3 feet, and not put similar type antennas or services next to each other. So for two VHF antennas, I would space them apart as far as possible given they are going to be using the same frequencies, on opposite sides of the boat if at all possible. Everything else can be relatively close as long as they are disparate services or frequencies, such as WiFi and GPS. Without knowing more about the space you’re trying to stick everything, and the type of radar that you’re using, I couldn’t be more specific than that.

      I use T-Mobile as my primary provider both for all of my phones and tablets, as well as the boat. Their T-Mobile One plan is what I use for all of those devices, with the T-Mobile One Plus International plan for the data card in my Peplink. That allows for full LTE speeds and roaming in Canada.

      I definitely recommend any of the Peplink products if you are willing to pay for them. They are more expensive than some of the other setups, but you get what you pay for in terms of advanced and more polished features, such as switching from LTE to WiFi more or less seamlessly. In addition, the Peplink MAX Transit has two SIM slots, so you can switch between T-Mobile and another provider (or two T-Mobile SIMs for more overall monthly data) and many other features.

      If I were buying anything right now, I would make sure it is compatible with LTE-A as that is rolling out everywhere, and you don’t want to buy something that doesn’t have support for the higher speeds.

      Always open to a local chat!

      Reply
  8. Great article- thank you so much! We currently have a Coastal Marine WiFi antenna (ubiquiti bullet) with a 3g/4G Wilson amplifier, both connected to a Pepwave Surf Soho router. The Wilson amp has a USB modem in between it and the router that accepts sim cards and it is connected to an external Wilson marine-grade antenna. We are in Mexico on our sailboat. We have been happy with set up for the most part but are in the process of changing it. We’re removing the Wilson 3g amplifier and putting in a WeBoost Drive 4G-X instead. We are thinking that boosting the cell signal coming into the boat for all devices will be more beneficial than running it to one sim card and having to keep recharging it. My question is the placement of the external antenna. We have about 10 feet of low loss cable coming into the boat from the antenna going to the Drive 4G-x but it limits the placement of the internal antenna to the length of the cord of it and it is in the very back of the boat. It would be more ideal to place the internal antenna in a more central location, however that would require adding another 10 feet of low-loss cable from the antenna to the WeBoost Drive 4G-x. What are your thoughts? Will we lose a lot of gain by extending it further into the boat?

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa,
      You would lose a significant amount of gain if you just added an extension with connectors. If you replace the 10′ cable with a 20′ piece with proper ends without joints in the middle, you will be much better off. You’ll still have some loss, but if you want to move the antenna that’s one way to do it.

      Keep in mind the indoor antennas do not broadcast the signal in a wide area. You will need to be very close to the antenna for it to have any benefit to your devices.

      Reply
  9. Hi Steve,

    This was super helpful as we are setting up our sailboat for extended cruising on the west coast as well. I just had one question… would it be safe to say you use the coupler as a booster bypass for when you are in strong signal areas? Essentially a manual workaround for the potential booster attenuating effects?

    Thanks,
    Chris

    Reply
    • Hi Chris,
      I may actually disconnect the booster in those situations. Boosters have features in them that prevent them from getting into situations similar to what you’re describing, and I have never had to cut it out or bypass it when in high signal areas. What I believe happens is that the booster no longer provides a signal to the boosted device, and the device goes directly to the tower. However, having a bypass would allow you to control that more granularly. The other way I do it is by simply powering off the booster since it is not directly wired to the Peplink, but rather using an antenna nearby.

      Reply
      • That is great to know, Steve. We are going to order your #2 recommended antenna (Wilson) since we can’t get the BoatAnt anymore. Thanks for sharing your hard-won experiences onboard, it makes all of our lives so much easier.

        I am also thinking of following Lisa’s advice (I connected with them through their sailing blog). We’ll keep the wifi and cellular data systems separate. As they pointed out we could run into a situation where our laptops are syncing to the Cloud using cellular data without us knowing through the automated router. We have a 15 gig cap for hot spotting with AT&T, even on our unlimited plan. This way if we can’t get wifi, we can just put one of our phones beside the internal antenna to hot spot to. Not as elegant but we’ll always be aware of how much data we are using. Does that make sense to you?

        Reply
  10. I am also loving this blog thread… I am also choking on the $500 antenna… But I am in love with the dam technology + design of it… Maybe WirEng just made a strategic choice— Hey– we could be charging more for this…. lol… And re-packaged the same dang thing… ? Its not far fetched to believe here in the states as it is done all of the time to fool the gullible American public in thinking it is a NEW product…

    Cheers,

    Thomas
    SY EXPLORAR CONMIGO

    Reply
      • So if Cost did NOT play a huge factor here– from a quality perspective, you would still go with the BoatAnt (now called BoatAnt-Plus)– correct?

        Reply
        • I think I would still choose the Wilson. They’re a more well known company, and their antenna seems to be weathering the marine environment better. I also have a big problem with a company that jacks their prices up a ton, removes the product entirely, and doesn’t respond to requests for information, which I’ve made a number of times.

          I love the BoatAnt for its performance, but you’re only getting a small increase for such a risk.

          Reply
          • Great! I bought the weBoost Drive 4G-X 470510 Cell Phone Signal Booster and will get the Wilson antenna today– you mentioned the WirEng Cable being superior– would you recommend the ULL400 Ultra Low Coax cable w/N-Mail connector to connect both of these products? I was also thinking of getting the Lightening Pro since I am planning on installing @ the Top of my Mizzen mast, since my main mast is 55 feet high…. thoughts?

          • Hi Explorar,

            I called WeBoost yesterday and was told to order the 470410, not the 470510. The 410 has a more powerful internal antenna because it was designed for RVs while the 510 was designed for cars apparently. It just means you have to get closer to the 510 antenna. so probably not a big deal.

          • Well hi there fellow Instagrammer … Did you complete this installation with the ULL400? What was your experience? We are commissioning right now and this very, very useful article has answered several questions, but I am looking for the best possible cabling solution to reduce loss. Let me know if you have any input, thanks!

  11. Hello all.
    I wrote some notes here a few months ago. I wont repeat those thoughts now. I dont know what antenna is being discussed now but I can take a guess and comment. Any wide band (4G cell 700-2700MHz) Omni directional cannot be over aprox 3dBi across all your bands. Its probably the “beer can” size 12 or 16 oz can like the Wilson or AirWave Marine or Digital conehead. Ive tested them all or consulted or designed some of them. Been working with antennas for 40 yrs and run a lab. I know. And dont pay over $120. Did I see mention of $500?

    Reply
    • Raul,
      Thanks for your additional insight. I completely agree with you – when I bought the BoatAnt antenna, it was $120 or $150, and close enough to the Wilson that it didn’t matter. The difference in performance between the two was very small, but the BoatAnt was better. Having a slightly better antenna when in the middle of nowhere can make a big difference. Is it worth $500? No.

      Reply
  12. Hi Explorar,

    I called WeBoost yesterday and was told to order the 470410, not the 470510. The 410 has a more powerful internal antenna because it was designed for RVs while the 510 was designed for cars apparently. It just means you have to get closer to the 510 antenna. so probably not a big deal.

    Reply
  13. I am in the process of installing a system almost exactly following your advise. I am however using a Peplink Max BR1 mini router. I was hoping to add the Max BR1 to my Verizon plan by just adding another device, but I found out that they do not offer unlimited data plans for this router and that the cost is much greater ($80 for 10 MG for the BR1 vs $45 for unlimited data on all other cellular devices. I am wondering if this is true for other carriers as well. I am also planning to sail to the Bahamas and was hoping to install a local SIM in the BR1, but I am not wondering if this will be possible. I guess I am not understanding how the Max BR1 is different from any other cellular device or hotspot and why it is treated differently by Verizon.

    I am also reading on some discussion board that the BR1 uses a lot of data when I phones or I pads are being used since they think they are connected to WIFI and start using data (other app and cloud backup) for some unknown background usage. Have you experienced this? Do you know of a way to manage this?

    Here is a link to one of the discussions: https://forum.peplink.com/t/br1-bandwidth-usage/7278
    Any input would be appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Christoph

    Reply
    • Hi Christoph,
      Unlimited data plans aren’t really unlimited anymore. I use T-Mobile’s Unlimited One + International plan, and at around 30GB of monthly usage, they slow it down considerably to the point where it is almost not useful. So just be aware that none of them are really, truly unlimited.

      That being said, getting non-phone device activated on a provider can be a bit more challenging. For T-Mobile, they treat it like a tablet and allowed me to add the International option so that I could travel to Canada and not be charged roaming charges. Other providers may not even know the device, and refuse to activate a SIM the first time around. Verizon is notorious for having very close control over the devices on their network, so that may be why they are confused.

      To resolve this, I would look at others on Peplink’s forums and how they may have activated it, or check out @radven:disqus ‘s site at https://www.rvmobileinternet.com/ which has a lot more current detail on the various plans and providers.

      In terms of data usage – Apple devices are notoriously bad on using lots of data. I have the same problem on my boat, and it is not specific to Peplink at all. One of the worst features is iCloud backups and Photos sync. After the crew is out and about exploring an anchorage, when we arrive back at the boat, the Internet is almost unusable because our iPhones and Android phones are uploading all of the fun photos to the cloud.

      If you have an iPad or Mac, and they also sync to those devices, as soon as the phones are done sending the photos up to the cloud, they start downloading to the iPad and Mac! More data usage.

      There are ways to disable these services so that you don’t have these issues. You can read about them in Apple’s forums. I agree, it would be nice for Peplink to provide some sort of filter to block these services, but it is quite hard to identify the traffic, and Apple changes things constantly.

      Windows actually has a nice feature that allows you to flag a WiFi network as being “limited bandwidth” (I mention it in my article on the Surface Pro https://sailbits.com/surface-pro-4-great-boat-computer/) so that it does not do software updates or sync things and eat up your bandwidth. We’ve all been hoping for something like that from Apple….

      Reply
  14. Great article, and great site! Very inspiring, I’ve been looking for someone like me in the middle of the geek / sailor venn diagram. Much appreciated.

    I was wondering, we’re finalizing the outfitting of our new catamaran, where we have a couple of options regarding position of the antennas – on the roof, up the mast, in the top or the spreaders. This cheezy product photo shows the options rather well: https://www.catamarans-fountaine-pajot.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/lucia-40-ban-12.jpg

    Any thoughts on the best place to mount them? We also have a radar that’ll be mounted somewhere in the mast, not sure where precisely.

    Thanks again for your articles!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your kind words Peter Blom!

      The height of the antenna is not really going to matter as much because of the type of signals you’re trying to capture. In fact, it would be worse to run an LTE antenna up the mast as you’d lose the benefit of the antenna from the signal loss from the length of the cable. I would put the LTE antenna on the roof as long as it is not too close to a radar, and not in the way of any sailing hardware.

      The WiFi antenna could benefit from being up away from other interference sources, so putting that on the spreaders would definitely be nice, since it is cabled via CAT-5 back to your router, and signal loss is not that big of a deal.

      Hope that helps! That is a beautiful boat!!

      Reply
  15. Thank you very much for this great article. Is there an automatic solution for switching to Marina Wi-Fi from LTE when you get the signal?

    Reply
    • With MikroTik, you can configure different settings to switch between the two if connectivity is seen, but it is a bit more complicated. That also assumes you have been to the marina before, or have already input the WiFi credentials.

      Peplink and other commercial vendors make this much easier with their software.

      Reply
  16. Steve I installed almost the exact setup. I’m using the pepwave br1. Everthing else is the same . My issue is getting the mikrotik to talk to the pepwave. How are you accomplishing that? I talked with a Mikrotik service provider and after a lot of programming we have a signal that I can see, actually sometimes multiple signals, if I plug the ethernet cable from the Mikrotik into a laptop, then using winbox, I can select which WAN I want to use, enter security user passwords, unplug from my laptop and replug into the pepwave. Needless to say that is a pain. Is there anyway I can do this using the pepwave web admin page or incontrol2 ? I would like to use the Mikrotik WAN connection similiar to the way I use the wifi wan built into the pepwave . The pepwave can pickup external WAN and rebroadcast as my boat wifi and is very easy to use, however it uses small anteneas inside the boat, the Mikrotik seems to pick up more signals and they are stronger, it is mounted high on radar arch. I’m not very tech savy and sorry if I’m using incorrect terms here but hopefully you understand what Im doing. Please comment.

    Reply
    • Hi Walter,
      The reason I use the MikroTik is the same as you – the built in WiFi as WAN features in the Peplink not only are limited signal-wise, but will consume one of your WiFi radios as well, making the network you have on your boat 1/2 as powerful or with 1/2 the coverage.

      I would definitely recommend you read my follow on article if you haven’t already which covers how to configure the MikroTik Groove

      I have my MikroTik connected to my Peplink 24×7, and never connect it to a PC except for the initial setup. The key is to either put it lower in the priority list when you’re not connected to a WiFi network, or disable the health checks so that the Peplink does not show it as down/unavailable.

      Peplink uses a health check to test to see if there is internet connectivity, and right there you have a catch 22. If the MikroTik is not connected to a WiFi network, there’s no connectivity, so the Peplink disables that interface, and prevents you from being able to get into the MikroTik admin interface to do anything.

      The easiest is to disable the health check, but if you do that, and sail away from your WiFi network that you’re using with the MikroTik, it will never fail over to LTE or other methods. That’s OK with me, because prior to leaving, I usually drag the WiFi connection down to Priority 2 or 3, and the LTE up to Priority 1 so that I can test to make sure things are OK.

      I have asked Peplink to consider making their health check still fail if it can’t find the internet, but not taking the interface down so you can still admin the device beyond it.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Steve, that does help and I read your other article but I’m still a little confused. What web address are you going to,, to control and configure the Mikrotik. Does the Mikrotik have to be connected to a network or can it be offline and you can still see the available networks? I assume the pepwave needs to be connected to internet via cellular. I was using winbox and had to connect to the laptop to acess the mikrotik. How do I get to the web based control panel with the mikrotik connected to the pepwave?

        Reply
        • Hi Walter, probably best to move this discussion to email if possible. Feel free to contact me on my Contact page. It sounds like there are some fundamentals we might need to go over. The MikroTik is not a very user friendly device, and you’re trying to use it in a config that is moderately complex. Look forward to hearing from you!

          Reply
  17. Hi Steve,

    For the Groove 52ac that you recommend, what antenna have you screwed into the top of the unit?

    Thanks,
    Roger

    Reply
    • Hi Roger,
      The antenna is the standard one they ship with the unit. I forget if there are specs on it or a name. I have installed about 75 of these for various people and seen about 80% of the time the same antenna. Recently I saw a couple of newer looking, but basically identical size-wise, antennas. It is a standard mount connection, so if you wanted to, you could use a bigger one, or one tuned to 2.4Ghz/5Ghz in different ways, as long as you supported it appropriately if it gets too heavy.

      Reply
      • Thanks Steve. I asked because the one in the picture looked to have a longer whip. I really appreciate you taking the time to share all this valuable information with all of us who are trying to solve the same problems!

        Reply
        • Ah yes that is my wide angle lens. I can see now how that might be a bit misleading! It is the standard one that comes with it.

          I am purchasing a couple of new antennas here in a week or so that are supposed to be better for both WiFi frequencies – I have two MikroTiks that somehow I lost the antennas and need new ones. Interested how they perform, and will likely document that somewhere…

          Reply
          • Sounds good! I heard back from WirEng a few minutes ago, and they say that they will have BoatAnt available in limited quantities in the next week or so, but they don’t know the cost. Hmmm… I’ll keep you posted.

            What gets connected to the Diversity LTE on the Max Transit? Is it another antenna?

          • I had another friend who ordered an updated version of the WireEng and got a pretty crappy product. It was so bad they returned it. They also started selling a “new” antenna that was 2-3x the price which was not worth it – make sure you get the details before ordering!

            The Max Transit comes with 4x antennas – 2x for LTE and 2x for WiFi. I left all four connected in my case, and then put the booster amp internal antenna nearby. If you’re not going to use a booster amp, then just replace the primary cellular antenna with the cable leading to your outdoor antenna, and leave the secondary factory antenna on the diversity connector.

  18. I’m so glad I stumbled onto this article. I’ve been researching the issues for awhile before making any decisions.

    One thing that isn’t really mentioned is the software setup to get everything to work. For example, I checked out the Mikrotik software and it is extremely technical. I have used a Picostation and AirOS and I’m comfortable with setting those up, but the Mikrotik is clearly intended for use by another level of technical expert. I’ll have to check out your website for how to set one up, maybe it isn’t that complicated with your guidance.

    There are low-low-loss cables for LTE frequencies, http://www.panorama-antennas.com/ makes some of these. Their CS400 is only 2dB loss over 10 meters (but it is thick at 0.4″). I’m trying to figure out if I should mount the LTE antenna on my lowest spreader and run 10m down inside the boat to the Peplink. In the comments, there is mention that getting the LTE high isn’t that important, but my other option is mounting it to the cabintop or somewhere on the deck at the aft of the boat (out of the way of toes). If you had to choose between the deck and a shorter cable run and the spreader and a longer cable run, what would you recommend? Also, is an internal diversity antenna “good enough”? I’d rather not run two external antennas.

    Reply
    • Hi Ken Pimentel,
      You’ll find an article I wrote on how to setup the MikroTik. That’s part of the challenge with using some of this gear – it’s pretty technical and can be frustrating. I wish someone else had a WiFi booster that dealt with both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz WiFi frequencies, but so far the only ones I’ve seen are massively expensive commercial ones.

      I wasn’t that impressed with Panorama’s antennas, but their cable may be good. I would do some research for sure though.

      For sure with any antenna, the shorter the cable, the better off you are going to be signal wise. The longer the cable, the more the loss, even if the manufacturer says it is SuperCable. If it is running next to high amperage wires, or near some other kind of interference, you will lose more than they cite. I would put it as close as I could while getting it outside. You might want to experiment holding the antenna in both places by hand or with zip ties and using a short and long cable.

      I have no issues having the internal antenna as the diversity antenna. In fact, you want it to be far enough away and at a different antenna angle than the outside one for diversity to even work. However, everyone’s needs are different. If you must have massive upload bandwidth, you may wish to have two outdoor antennas to get the maximum out of diversity. I did some testing in this article, and didn’t see a huge difference.

      Reply
      • I think Ubiquiti’s Bullet AC does this? Maybe I don’t understand how the Bullet works, but it seems to be used in other solutions for this purpose. The AirOS is much easier to work with than Microtek and think the Bullet is roughly equivalent based on specs.

        Also, on the website for Wilson, it does talk about getting the antenna up high for best results. I understand that it is a compromise between cable losses and height. I will definitely have to experiment to see if the longer cable run pays off.

        I also found this cable loss calculator. That helped me understand expectations for my setup. Because my mast is deck-stepped, I will also have the loss of a connector interface (not sure how big that gets).

        Reply
        • Ah Ubiquiti finally came out with it! I was on their early release program and did not get an email, that’s strange. It does look like they finally have a product that might compete, although it does not come with an antenna or PoE adapter. So far I have found it for an average of $129 for the IP67 unit, and then you’d need an antenna which could run you $15 or more. So it is definitely more expensive, but likely has a better operating system. I use their stuff for WiFi networks everywhere. I’ll get one and do some testing…

          As high as possible is generally good as it gets around interference of other things. However, there are diminishing returns. I have seen good results with a single cable from the device to the antenna not exceeding 20 feet. Anything more than that seemed to start negating the benefits of the antenna.

          Any connector is a huge loss. If you can do it where there is no joint, that will save you a lot of heartache.

          Reply
          • Ken – actually, I have looked at the Ubiquiti AC line, and I would stay away from it. It will not work for our use case – it is a Point to Point product only, which requires another Ubiquiti device at the other end. Sad, as I thought they may have come out with something to compete with MikroTik!

    • Digital Yacht products are generally well designed and work well. I’ve never tested that particular product. However, I would be surprised if their product was better. Peplink builds and sells thousands of more devices than Digital Yacht would, and has better modems (compare their LTE bands) and better WiFi products since they have a much larger company focused only on that. Digital Yacht is likely using 3rd party components for all of those things, which is totally OK, but they aren’t experts at LTE/WiFi.

      However, their products are more focused on boating. Before purchasing theirs, you could also look at a number of other companies that sell marine-specific bundles or products. I’ve generally seen OK products from these vendors, but nothing has exceeded the performance, configurability, and options that the Peplink product provides.

      Reply
      • Thanks for replying. I was holding off purchasing until I heard from you! If I want to get NMEA 2000 signals accessible from WiFi, it does seem that Digital Yacht covers this “out of the box”, but not sure how easy it is with Peplink. I assume I’m on my own with figuring out how to do this and how to access the NMEA data. Any experience with that using Peplink?

        Reply
        • Ah I think some of those concepts are a bit unclear on their website. I think what you’re asking for is to be able to have mobile devices and maybe a PC get data from your NMEA 2000 network via WiFi? If so, any WiFi router with an ethernet port can help with that. What you need in addition to that is a device on the NMEA 2000 network that will allow you to connect to it to get that data.

          Some examples include SignalK (open source, uses Raspberry Pi), Vesper AIS devices with WiFi, many modern chart plotters, iKommunicate from Digital Yachts, and many others. They essentially sit on the NMEA 2000 network and send the data out onto your WiFi network via their own WiFi connection, or if they are plugged in using an ethernet cable to your router.

          I have extensive experience doing this 🙂 Most of my site talks about networking things together in this manner. You can search for things like Grace’s integrated network, SignalK, and NMEA 2000 to see examples on my site.

          Reply
  19. Steve! As a former software engineer I cannot explain how grateful I am for the meticulous research you have done. Thank You!

    We now run a decent YouTube channel and need internet at least twice a week as that is how we cover our costs. In many places (South Pacific) we often get E or 1 bar 3G. Some places (Vanuatu/Tonga) may not even broadcast LTE. Does your recommendation work just as well for E and 3G as it does for 4G/LTE?

    At the end of the day my main concern is just getting that video uploaded and pushing it out on social media. That’s how I make a living.

    Finally, how can we give back? What is the best way to help you?

    Thanks!

    Ben & Ash
    https://www.youtube.com/sailingnahoa

    Reply
    • Ben,

      Thank you so much for your kind words!

      The technology that I talk about should definitely work with 3G. E or EDGE may/may not depending on the type/flavor. Also, keep in mind that the products I discuss are US variants. International versions may be better in your situation as they support frequencies and bands that are not used in the US.

      The best way to determine this is to find the cellular provider(s) that you might be using, look at their capabilities and band list (they should have it somewhere on their website) and compare that to the antenna frequencies as well as the capabilities of a Peplink or other product, which list specific band support.

      Many people that I know who travel internationally use the international versions of things without too many problems, although there are some rare providers that have funky frequencies, and your performance may be poor or non-existent. The challenge also comes when you travel back to the US, as the International versions of some products won’t take advantage of some of the newer frequencies in use here. Just another way for companies to make money….

      The best way to help me is by commenting and sharing my content. I love having other people interact, contribute their stories or insights, and to expose more people to the content I’m creating!

      Thanks!

      Reply
  20. Hi Steve,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your articles and discussions. I had purchased that Wirie AP several years ago and was about to upgrade to the LTE router when the company went belly up last year. When I went to the boat last week to look at my electronics I discovered that the Wirie AP is no longer working and keeps blowing fuses.
    My thought is that rather than try to repair the obsolete until, to purchase a Pepwave BR1 mini and use that in place of the WiFi router components in the original Wirie housing. I always liked the Wirie idea of minimizing the antenna cable runs by putting the router as close as possible to the atnennas themselves. I’s also consider putting the whole BR1 mini together with antennas in a waterproof housing. Just not sure what the signal attenuation might be through the walls of the plastic box. Do you think I could get away with just using the BR1 WiFi antennas and omitting the Ubiquiti or MicroTik?
    I would very much appreciate your thoughts on the matter.
    Best regards,

    Dan

    Reply
    • Hi Dan,
      Are you thinking of putting the whole BR1 inside a plastic Pelican box, including both the WiFi and LTE antennas? I think you’d have better LTE signal coverage that way compared to putting it inside your boat, but not a huge amount. All depends on interference, your boat material, etc. but just guessing here. For WiFi, it would definitely affect things if you purchase the BR1 classic which only has a 2.4Ghz radio – no 5Ghz. Having it outside would limit its coverage, and as I’ve mentioned many times before, not having 5Ghz is a very big limiting factor since 2.4Ghz is saturated in most places.

      If you were to drill holes in the Pelican and use small 2-3″ extensions and then mount the existing antennas on the outside, you would have a much, much better solution. Just make sure the antennas are rated for outdoor use (I don’t believe the default ones that come with the BR1 are) or purchase some inexpensive ones, and you’d have a pretty good solution.

      Reply
      • Hi Steve,
        I’m at the point where “shopping for the project has become the project”…
        I’m having difficulty finding small waterproof LTE antennas. There are several high gain marine antennas such as the WirEng BoatAnt. But they are expensive, so if I were to use them directly to connect to the modem I would need 2. I realize your preferred configuration is to use a booster to send signal to the router, but I’m still hoping to maximize signal and minimize the noise.
        Here’s my latest thought re the installation: Two WirEng BoatAnts either side of the radar arch. BR1 in a pelican box under the radar mount so about 10ft between the ants and only 5ft cabling to the router. Do you think this is a waste of time and $$$?
        As a scientist (albeit a molecular biologist), I’m happy to do the experiment (and spend the $), if there’s a chnace we’ll learn something from this and perhaps get some improvement in signal.

        Reply
        • I think there are a few things to consider:

          First, the WiFi signal the BR1 will broadcast is going to be compromised if you put it outside. Depending on the size of your boat and the places you’ll be frequenting, the single 2.4Ghz WiFi radio in the BR1 isn’t going to be a great solution long-term. I think you should make sure if you are going to invest this sort of money that you have a router that offers both 5 and 2.4Ghz frequencies. And I would consider putting it inside near your devices or in a central point in the boat. Of course, all of this matters on the size of your boat, and where you would be using the WiFi networks the most.

          Second, I would avoid WirEng products. They have jacked their prices up, not responded to many inquiries both from me and many other people, and have produced some new “marine” antennas that are poorly made. If you are looking for my recommended antenna, it is the Wilson one linked further up in the article.

          Third, if you are going to buy two of these antennas, which is expensive, you might want to consider whether they will give you the benefit you require. I think there are some discussions in the comments about diversity antennas as well as the article, but you want to read up on whether having two antennas that close to eachother will even make a difference. It might be better to have one external antenna and cable to a Wilson LTE antenna, and leave the other one using the default provided antenna to give enough diversity for it to matter.

          Overall, I think your aims are good, but here are some of my observations:

          Why aren’t other providers creating solutions where the router is outdoors or closer to the cable ends? I think this is because it causes other problems, namely reducing the WiFi effectiveness. The amount of signal loss you’ll experience by having your WiFi radios outside vs inside is significant, while the amount of signal loss from another 5 feet of cable for an LTE radio is much less. LTE signals should penetrate boats far easier than WiFi frequencies.

          I would personally put the router inside as it makes not only working on it and maintaining it safer, but simplifies some things. Then run one cable outside to an LTE antenna, and have everything else factory. If you start with that, even just temporarily by putting the router inside on a table, and routing the LTE antenna cable outside, and see how things work, you might have a better idea of your solution.

          Reply
  21. Hi Steve,
    Through a process of elimination I’ve concluded that the short in my system is in the Ubiquiti antenna. I sent in a warranty replacement request only to be told that it was more than 1 year old. So now I’m faced with purchasing a new dual-band antenna as well (still cheaper overall than the Wirie setup). I see that you seem partial to the MikroTik. It seems to have an external signal strength indicator as opposed to the Ubiquiti which has nothing. Only way I was able to determine that it was the failure culprit was through successive disconnections…
    I’d appreciate your thoughts on the best antenna to buy!
    Thanks again…
    Dan

    Reply
    • Hi Dan,
      Is the short in the antenna attached to the Ubiquiti, or in the Ubiquiti itself?

      I prefer the MikroTik device because it is a dual band model, allowing me to grab 5GHz signals if possible, as those are going to be far better stability and bandwidth wise, and fall back to 2.4Ghz if that is all that is available. Ubiquiti only does the more congested, but longer distance, 2.4Ghz.

      If you’re just looking for an antenna, I don’t have any 2.4Ghz only ones I use since I am using a dual band device. However, I do really like the Altelix dual band 8db one I have been using for the last year or so: https://amzn.to/2Dmjslc

      Reply
      • Thanks for the ultraprompt response!
        I thought the Ubiquiti Titanium Bullet M2HP (I thinks is the full description), was a dual band antenna. In any case, I don’t like it because there’sno way to tell if it’s working other than it passing a signal! I will look at the Altelix. Thanks again!
        Dan

        Reply
          • Great to know!
            So what I’m contemplating thus far:
            Mikrotik groove with an appropriate antenna connected to the BR1 mini in a pelican case, with the antennas led outside via short pigtails.
            Any suggestions re weatherproof antennas for the BR1?

          • The MikroTik comes with its own antenna if you buy one of the ones I linked to above. You might be able to just cut a hole in the case and get the connector for that through without a pigtail.

            Depending on which BR1 you’re getting, there will likely be 4 antennas – two for WiFi and two for LTE. You might be able to get away not putting the WiFi antennas on the outside, and leave them inside if the box is big enough. Or you could get a multi-element antenna for $200-300 that has all four (and even GPS) in one antenna but has 4 connectors, although they will be 10-16 feet long. Alternatively you could just leave all of them inside, and see how it works that way.

  22. Thanks for the ultraprompt response!
    I thought the Ubiquiti Titanium Bullet M2HP (I thinks is the full description), was a dual band antenna. In any case, I don’t like it because there’sno way to tell if it’s working other than it passing a signal! I will look at the Altelix. Thanks again!
    Dan

    Reply
  23. Hi Steve,
    I just wanted to let you know that I’ve put together my system and bench tested it at home.
    You were right about the antennas!
    I bought the Wilson cellular antenna. The RSSI with the included 20ft RG58 cable is -80dBm, with a 20 ft LM400 cable (and SMA adapter), it’s a tiny bit better at -78 dBm (the cheaper adapter is probably hurting the signal), but with just the little antennas that comes with the Peplink its -74dBm!
    So I think I’m going to try your suggested configuration with the BR1 in the boat cabin and a Wilson booster using the Wilson cellular antenna.

    Thanks for all your suggestions!
    Best,

    Dan

    Reply
    • That is some great data to have about the antenna mix for sure. LM400 is what I use if I can and it is far superior to any of the included cabling with the exception of BoatEng’s cable. Glad you were able to find a good path for your install!

      Reply
  24. Hi,
    Great article, thank you for all the info.

    Approximately how far off shore – or what distance from a cell tower – can one expect the Wilson antenna and WeBoost to work, assuming ideal conditions? I tried in vain to get this info from the Wilson website… Thanks

    Reply
    • That is going to be a hard question to answer. I don’t even think cell phone companies publish or back up numbers for normal distance ratings from a cellular tower, even for perfect conditions. Wilson would have a tough time providing a number on top of that given that their product is only amplifying things. Are you trying to determine whether you can use this solution for offshore sailing?

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply.
        Yes. We’re planning to sail from Chesapeake Bay to Maine. There will be a few offshore segments so I am wondering what’s the best way to get last minute weather report if need be. Sirius XM weather only covers US/Canada and PR so it’s a $500 investment for just this sail north. As long as Wilson antenna works in the Caribbeans, booster system would be better investment…
        What do you think of the fact that Glomex boast of working 20 miles offshore ?
        Thanks
        Ruhl

        Reply
        • Not sure which Glomex product you’re citing, but they are likely relying on a booster or amplifier as well. 20 miles is not unreasonable considering perfect conditions and weather, nothing in your way, and a tower near the shoreline. Many people have debated and tested and argued for years that ranges from a cell tower are from 10 miles to 40 miles depending on the conditions, protocol, phone, antenna, and many other factors. So 20 miles doesn’t seem outrageous, but I suspect that would be in very specific conditions.

          If you are worried, you could invest in a booster, and then sail closer to shore for a while to get service and updates. The other alternative is satellite messengers. I use an Iridium messenger hotspot to download weather when nothing else works, but those can be expensive too.

          Reply
          • We have the in-Reach Explorer. We can get weather reports in text messages. We’ve just never used it so far.
            I think we’ll go with a booster system – the one you recommended.

            I’ll keep you posted. Thanks again

          • There is a newer version of the weBoost that just came out a month or so ago. It’s supposed to be even more powerful but I haven’t completed my testing with it yet. You may want to look at that one if you are buying a new system.

  25. Steve – to echo others here, thank you for the invaluable information in this article, and on the site in general. I have read through the comments and could not find anything to address my question:

    We are effectively implementing the solution described above. But it’s part of a larger package which includes a KVH v7 HTS. These run on Intelsat and SKY Perfect JSAT Ku-band satellites. This will ensure we have coverage even when there is no Wi-Fi or LTE to be found. My concern is with interference.

    Our boat has a hard top, and my plan is to have a custom SS bracket made that will hold the satellite dome, and the LTE and Wi-Fi antennae, all in one neat installation. We’re using the Wilson for LTE and the MikroTik for Wi-Fi. My question is, if we have the antennae on the same mount as the satellite dome (spaced so there is maybe a 5 inch gap between each antenna and the dome on either side) will the LTE/Wi-Fi/Ku-band satellite communications all generate interference with one another?

    One thing to note: I am not going to enable least cost routing on the entire system. The Wi-Fi/LTE will implement LCR, but the KVH will be manually enabled/disabled as I want more control over the $$$. So the typical use case will not see LTE/Wi-Fi/Sat working at the same time. I guess that kind of answers the question but I am still worried about having all the signals coming into devices placed in such close proximity (but would like to retain that close proximity of possible for practical and aesthetic purposes).

    Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

    Reply
    • Interesting question…. If you separate the WiFi and LTE antennas a bit they should be OK. I’ve done installs where there are a few feet apart and seem to perform just fine. Further apart is better, simply because you have metal/substances that get in the way, not necessarily because they share frequencies/bands that are similar or overlap that much.

      The KVH v7 HTS is a pretty big radome from what I remember. I would be more worried that it would physically block the antennas if they are only 5″ away. The other problem would be if you put the antennas high enough to be above the dome, they could potentially block the satellite inside the dome when it is in operation.

      Any way to have the antennas further away a bit?

      Reply
      • Thanks for the detailed response. That makes me feel better. We ended up rejecting the custom bracket because we found one that is perfect for our needs (I hope). Image below. The spreaders will be used to mount the LTE and Wi-Fi antennae. I think there is still a chance that the dome might block the signal, but this is the best solution I can think of. Will provide feedback if anyone is interested. Thanks Steve.

        Reply
        • Oh that is a much better solution. There might be some blockage, but not that much overall. And there are usually multiple satellites to choose from in most areas, so if one is pseudo-blocked, the KVH should hunt to the next one.

          Reply
          • Steve, could you shed some light:

            My install requires around 50 feet from the hard-top bimini to the nav station where my WeBoost will be mounted. I would like to run a continuous Wilson 400 ULL cable due to the distance, but can only find these in N-Male to N-Male configuration. Since (as you mention above) a connector is a huge loss, I don’t want to use an N-Male to SMA-Male connector for plugging into the WeBoost. I have searched online but cannot find a definitive answer to the question: is it possible to effectively crimp an SMA-Male connector onto the one end of the Wilson 400 cable? Thanks for your time!

          • I would consider a couple of things:

            50 feet is going to add some loss, maybe negating any gain from the antenna. The amp will still provide some gain, but it might not be as much. I always recommend that you use the minimum length of cable possible, and especially never exceed the length of the cable the manufacturer supplies.

            Could you put the amplifier somewhere mid-run, and use the provided internal antenna and length of cable that comes with? Thereby limiting the amount of joints and length of cable?

            You can buy and crimp your own SMA ends, of course. I have done this in rare situations where the cable size plus end would not fit through a passage. However, my crimps are not going to be as good as a “factory” crimp, so there will be some loss if you do it yourself and haven’t practiced a lot, etc.

          • Thanks Steve, I will see what can be done. I just want to be sure the SMA actually fits on the larger guage 400 cable. I will post an update for anyone interested. Thanks for the response.

          • Oh sorry, I missed the detail part about whether the SMA fits on the LMR. If the Wilson cable is LMR-400, which I seem to remember some of it being (sorry I have worked on too many things lately!) then you definitely can get ends and crimp them onto it. I usually get most of my random stuff from Mouser who show a ton of options for SMx on LMR: https://www.mouser.com/Connectors/RF-Interconnects/RF-Connectors-Coaxial-Connectors/_/N-89mcy?keyword=LMR-400&No=25

          • So KVH has advised against installing any other device within 30 feet of the dome (on the same plane) – they say electronics caught in the path of the signal will likely be fried! The dome is a bit of a beast (photo below) so I will defer to their recommendation.

            Mast mounting our LTE external receiver is not an option, so we are looking to mount the Wilson on the stern rail. Not ideal, but really no other choice that I can see.

            Yesterday I did a ‘dry run’ on the installation. I had the Wilson roaming around the deck at various locations (none of which were really possible installation points, I was just testing to see what would happen) and the WeBoost and Pepwave was hooked up. I had one point (6 feet above the companionway!) that gave me double the download speed and 8 times the upload speed compared to the Pepwave receiver on its own.

            Every other location showed a loss, whether using my LMR400 (which is what I will need to use because the run is close to 50 feet) or the WeBoost OEM cable (which I cannot use). Could this just be a quirk of our position (dockside, so we are not moving) in relation to the T-Mobile tower? I was using both a Google Fi and a T-Mobile prepaid sim card for testing. The Google Fi likely picked up from the same T-Mobile tower though.

            So I am starting to think the Wilson and WeBoost part of the setup may be useless with our specific situation. I will do some additional testing. I need to figure out the dB numbers (and what they mean) so I can do more ‘scientific’ testing, rather than just re-running a speed test at each position.

            Steve, 3 quick questions:

            1. I note from another post here you recommend the WeBoost be placed in the middle of the run. To me the cabling on the WeBoost from the booster to the internal antenna seems inferior. It’s much smaller and has 2 connectors at the end (for some weird reason?) which leads to significant loss. Would it not be better to keep this second run shorter if possible? Is there a way to replace or upgrade this cable in your experience?

            2. Related to the above, it seems odd to have one wireless path as part of the overall circuit. The internal boost antenna provides a wireless signal to the Pepwave antennae. Is there a way to hard wire the signal from the Wilson/booster into the Pepwave?

            3. How about a hard wire connection from the Wilson into the Pepwave directly? No booster but fewer connectors in the circuit, and no wireless component.

            Thanks for your time and advice, which is much appreciated as always.

          • Unfortunately for some reason my previous comment was lost. I will try to recreate:

            We’ve now installed the KVH dome which is for obvious reasons the primary consideration in our setup. KVH advised us not to mount anything with internal circuitry within 30 feet of the beam of the receiver as it will likely get fried. So our plan to use the spreaders of the KVH mount (as pictured above) for the Wilson and Microtik is no longer viable.

            I hooked up the LTE infrastructure with loose cabling to test possible positions for the Wilson. So we had:

            Wilson receiver
            LMR400 @ 75ft (but would cut to size, likely around 60 feet). We also tested with the 20ft cable received with the WeBoost even though we cannot practically use it, but we wanted to compare our results.
            WeBoost Drive 4G-X
            Pepwave Max Transit

            Tested with Google Fi and prepaid T-Mobile sim

            The results were discouraging. I tested several different points on the boat with both cables and found only one point (6 feet above my companionway entry, so not a likely candidate for a permanent installation at all) that yielded improved speed compared to simply using the Pepwave antennae.

            Questions are:

            1. Could it be because we are dockside, and therefore not moving and potentially just in a bad spot.
            2. It seems the cable from the WeBoost to their internal antenna is a) inferior and b) has two connectors on it, both of which will produce significant loss
            3. There was no difference in signal strength using the LMR400 (75ft) compared to the 20ft cable included with the WeBoost (which is good, I guess)
            4. Is there no way to hardwire the signal from the Wilson into the Pepwave? It seems the wireless portion of the circuit is the weakest link to me, no matter how close in proximity the internal antenna is to the Pepwave receivers.

            A little discouraged as to the amount of time and money invested in boosting LTE (which we hope to make our primary form of communication as it presents the best value for money) but it’s early days yet.

            Any thoughts on improvements/testing procedures?

            We will likely end up mounting the Wilson on the stern rail, and I am concerned that it will be too low down to have much effect, but there is no other viable mounting spot I can see.

            Image below to show progress made so far.

            Thanks as always for your time and interest!

          • Sorry for all of the challenges!

            I have heard KVH advise not having anything near their domes, but I didn’t realize it was that aggressive!

            I’m curious about your current location and actual levels being shown in the Peplink for signal strength. If you are close enough for a good signal without the weBoost, then it won’t really be a good spot for testing, as the weBoost may even get to the point of passing the signal through unamplified, which it is designed to do if the outdoor antenna + amplifier is boosting things “too much”. They have a good article on exactly how this works at https://support.weboost.com/hc/en-us/articles/206476247-How-much-separation-distance-is-required-between-the-tower-antenna-and-the-device-antenna-

            I’m going to guess it has to do with the quality (which is likely really good) of the signal from the tower you have now, and that the amplifier is actually not going to make that much of a difference in this particular location. I have the same issue at my dock, but there are tons of locations where the amplifier is the only reason I have signal at all when I am out and about. This year, I went on several trips deep in British Columbia where there was not supposed to be any signal, and the nearest towers (according to online maps) were 20+ miles away in mountainous conditions, yet I still had 1 or 2 bars thanks to the amp.

            The 4G-X and Reach amplifiers are not designed to be connected directly to an antenna port on a device. If you do this, you will likely fry the devices radio. There are in-line boosters that I have tested (further up in this article) which you can buy, but they are mandated to have much lower boost capabilities to ensure they don’t create the loops I mentioned above, among other things.

            So far in my testing, and I know several other groups who test as well and would agree, the in-line boosters just don’t perform as well. The 4G-X and Reach provide the signal to as many antennas as needed (2x on the Peplink) as well as cell phones and other devices, and seem to handle the situation better.

            As for the inside antenna – there a bunch of different variants you can try if you think there is signal loss happening from their cable or length. I have a short cable one that is more of a rectangle that I have had good results with which only has a few feet of cable and no converters. Make sure the inside antenna is also very close to the Peplink antennas – mine is about 2-4″ away. The factory antenna still provided an amazing amount of improvement when the amplifier was working properly, though.

            In terms of testing – I spent months trying different antennas at the dock, and realized that many of them weren’t even being used to their full potential given how close to towers I was. To make matters worse, cruise ships come and go 4 days a week right nearby my marina, so the towers and airwaves were going crazy on those days, messing up a lot of my testing. I would definitely look at how things perform at the dock, as I spend a lot of time there, but then I also recommend getting underway, and heading somewhere more rural and doing testing while floating around at anchor, which is far more realistic for my use case anyhow.

            Hope this helps!

          • Steve, that helps more than you know, and makes me feel better about the use case. I will test in different locations as time goes by, and record the data (base line, position and results) and share them here for anyone interested.

            Thanks!

  26. Great article. I am happy I stumbled upon it. And I now have your blog in my RSS feed so I don’t miss any of your future posts. Thanks.

    We are on a Tayana 37 and need to have access to the internet for work. This past season we volunteered on St. John with the Virgin Islands National Park. Multiple times a day, we climbed to the top of a mountain to pick up a signal from St. Thomas, fire up the cell hot-spot, and take care of some work (mainly email and up/down small files, no streaming). As another option, we could occasionally put the cell phone in a bag, hoist it up the mast, and get a slow signal. As we consider returning for another season at the park, we are looking for a solution that will give us internet access from the boat.

    In reading over your post and the comments, it seems like the weBoost Drive 4G-X and the Wilson Electronics 9.88-inch 4G Wide Band Omni-Directional Marine Antenna would be our best solution. Our spreaders are 25 feet off the deck (with at least another 15 foot run to where we could install the booster), which from your advice in the comments, sounds like too long of a run. Do you think rail mounting the antenna with a 10 to 20 foot run would provide enough of a gain for us to get internet under the conditions described in the previous paragraph?

    Thanks again for your great blog.

    Reply
    • Hi kosiorek – climbing up the mast daily sounds like quite a chore for internet access! You’re correct in terms of length – you definitely want to limit the run from the amplifier to the antenna. Mounting it on the rail with an amplifier will probably be good enough, unless you think that you’re so far from land / the tower that line of sight was the major issue? I don’t think it would be at that level.

      I would also look at the weBoost Drive Reach, which is the newest amplifier that Wilson has come out with a month or two ago, and I have been testing. It is newer, supports an additional band, and so far has performed better.

      Reply
      • In our situation, it actually was a line of sight issue. We’ll, it was a line of sight and distance issue. We were 2-3 miles from the nearest tower, but 10 miles from the nearest one we could see if we climbed the mountain or out the phone up the mast. Will the booster have an effect if we do not have line of sight? We might just be out of luck in that bay, which would be sad. Thanks for the reply.

        Reply
  27. Steve, great article and the research. Thank you ! I am sailing currently in the UK and planning to unstep my mast to do some rigging on my boat. I already have setup pepwave max br1 mk2 with LTEA-W modem and Wave Rogue Pro DB. I am planning to use Google FI while sailing Europe and hopefully in S. Americas after we cross. I have an opportunity now to install new antennas on my mast while the rigging being replaced. I already got just ONE Wilson 4G Wide Band antenna based on your research and I wonder if you would recommend two antennas. Second, question is about the placement and the length of the cable. My mast is 65 feet and I was originally thinking just installing just one Wilson antenna on my first spreaders. Is there a significant advantage to move to the top of the mast? What about the cable length and the gain? Would you install two antennas on the same height or spread them? What else would you advise doing while my mast is worked on?

    Thank you for your help!
    Sergei

    Reply
    • Hi Sergei,

      Two antennas help with diversity, which I know I’ve commented on before on this page or another. You can read more about general diversity at https://en.wikipedia.org/wi…, but specifically for LTE connections and the gear you’re using, it provides higher throughput, typically on upload, and doesn’t really play a role in overall signal strength in remote locations, etc. So depending on your goals, you could add a second antenna.

      Are you using an amplifier of any kind between the outdoor antenna and the Pepwave? If not, then running a cable more than 15-20 feet is not going to result in much of a benefit. 65 feet will be really bad as the overall length of that cable will almost assuredly negate any gains from the antenna, especially if the cable goes by other interference items such as power cables, etc.

      I would never run an LTE antenna cable more than 30′ total or you will be on the edge of negating any gain from an external antenna. At that point, it would likely be better to use the included antennas on the Peplink. If you’re using an amplifier, it might still make sense, but 65′ is quite long and you will likely have only a moderate increase in performance. Placing it on the top of the mast will make it even worse.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
      • Hi Steve, thank you for your reply!! I am not using an amplifier yet, I also guess I can add a bit later as will just plug into antenna and my Pepwave. I will plan to install just one antenna based on your comment as I am not planing a lot of uploads, Do you know by any chance of any amplifier that would work in Europe and the Americas? Thank you for the wiki article and your help!

        Reply
        • An amplifier may allow you to have a longer cable run – but it would need to be in the middle of the run. One end would be the cable from the external antenna to the amp, and the other would be the cable from the amp to the internal antenna. Not sure if you could make that work space/power wise.

          I recommend the weBoost line of amplifiers from Wilson. They make them that cover a wealth of bands/frequencies depending on where you will be.

          Reply
  28. Bin wirklich froh, auf diese Seite gestoßen zu sein.
    Habe Stunden im Internet verbracht und wurde nicht viel schlauer.
    Nun habe ich aber auf der Boot Düsseldorf den Neptulink gesehen und würde gerne deine Meinung dazu erfahren.
    Herzlichen Dank
    Kurt Imhof

    Reply
    • I have never used Neptulink, but here are some observations:

      The antenna gain is very low at only 2dBi, so I’m not sure if the way it succeeds at 20NM offshore is antenna gain or just placement?

      The WiFi router only has 2.4Ghz which is a non-starter for me. I would want both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz as 2.4Ghz is always busier and crowded. Of course, it wouldn’t be 20NM offshore, but you would want to be able to use this in-shore and at marinas, and without 5Ghz it would be pretty difficult to get it to work.

      It looks like a product developed for more commercial marine setups, although I am basing this only off of pictures on their website.

      It looks like a nice outdoor enclosure and well designed. I also can’t find any pricing info. I’ve seen many custom designs that are many thousands of dollars, and out of reach of the average recreational boater.

      If you have any other info let me know! Always happy to see and even review new technologies.

      Reply
  29. I’m planning to take my sailboat long-distance cruising, from California down through Mexico and eventually across the Pacific and onwards. Do you have any suggestions or pointers to resources for how to choose connectivity options that will maximize international compatibility? I don’t want to invest a lot of money in a system that ends up only working in the US and maybe Mexico.

    Reply
    • This is a hard one because getting something that works both well in the US across multiple providers and well internationally is very hard. Most folks use a combo of LTE and WiFi.

      The WiFi part is easy because you can get a MikroTik Groove that will work in the US and abroad well without spending a lot or having to replace anything. You may wish to look for the international version of the Groove if you think you’ll end up being even further abroad for longer. If not, the US one should work fine in Mexico and the US.

      For LTE, that gets a bit more tricky. It’s going to come down to the areas you are going to be in and the providers you think you might use. Based on the provider list, you can narrow down the bands and frequencies they use, and compare that to the available bands on an LTE router. I’m guessing that the international versions are going to be the safest, even if that does not give you the latest and greatest US band coverage. Smaller countries and islands are more likely to support the international versions and not the newest bands, but that can vary by country of course.

      I’ve seen two general paths for people traveling internationally – going for something on the top end like the Peplink MAX Transit International and having a lot of software options and power, and then the other end of the spectrum – a phone or hotspot device that they can throw away or even upgrade/change out as they move through countries that is paired with a good antenna. Most booster devices like the weBoost line are not internationally available, and are actually illegal in some countries.

      Hope that helps get you started!

      Reply

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