Recommended Internet Systems & Cellular Plans

Below are some of the current systems / hardware / plans I recommend. These are constantly changing, so check back often.

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Cellular Plans

T-Mobile

T-Mobile has a pre-paid plan for $50/month that provides 100GB of data, international roaming, and other features – a great deal. I wrote about it below.

Verizon

There are no current pre-paid or other high data plans available through Verizon directly. Visible is a good 3rd party to consider. They offer an “unlimited” plan which can be used in a router, but is limited to 5Mbps.

AT&T

None currently recommended. AT&T does not have any pre-paid or 3rd party plans that don't have significant limits or cost a lot. If you must have AT&T coverage, then you might consider their RV Plans, but they are very expensive. A 100GB plan similar to the T-Mobile one above costs $300/month.

Finding a Plan

Make sure to check out my article on Finding a cellular data plan for the boat for recommendations on the types of plans, how to set up the plan, and details behind 3rd party vendors, among other things.

Cellular Systems

There are a lot of choices for systems, so many that this could be a very exhaustive list. I've only listed the most popular ones I've recommended or installed in three tiers – good, better, and best.

Good

Netgear Hotspot

My favorite hotspot right now is the Netgear Nighthawk M1 which is a very powerful hotspot that also includes an ethernet port. It has great battery life and is very easy to use.

I highly recommend getting the Netgear MIMO antenna with it – it plugs in to small ports on the side of the router and will really help increase your signal and performance.

Teltonika RUTX11

The Teltonika RUTX11 is a single cellular radio router with 2.4/5Ghz local WiFi, multiple LAN and WAN ports, and other great features. You can read my review on it below.

Why this is in the “Good” category and not the “Better” category is that it does not have as many easy-to-use features as the Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2 below. It's a very powerful router, and has a similar CAT6 modem, and for those looking for a good option, this is a great choice.

Better

Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2 Category 6 router

The BR1 series was what launched Pepwave into the market and has been popular with boaters for years, and the BR1 MK2 is the latest version of that line. It has a single category 6 cellular radio, runs off of DC power, has a LAN and WAN ethernet port, and creates a local 2.4/5Ghz WiFi network.

I don't recommend it as much as some of the other Peplink products because of two main reasons. First, it is a category 6 modem which is quite old and does not support the newer bands that many providers are using in longer reach situations, which is where you'll be with a boat. Second, it is a single radio system which means that you have no redundancy and cannot use features like SpeedFusion to provide better performance and redundancy when working remote.

However, it is still a major upgrade from a hotspot or other system, and especially on power limited boats it can be a great system.

If you need better connectivity than a hotspot, and do not need redundancy, the BR1 MK2 is a good choice. Pair it with a Peplink Puma 221 LTE + WIFI + GPS antenna that is mounted outside, and you have a very powerful setup.

Best

Pepwave MAX Transit series

There are two flavors to choose from – the MAX Transit CAT18 and the MAX Transit DUO.

Both MAX Transit products create a powerful local 2.4/5Ghz WiFi network, have a WAN port that can be used to connect to a WiFi extender or other device, a LAN port to connect to a computer or a switch, run off of DC power, and have a wealth of software features that are too much to go into detail here.

MAX Transit DUO CAT12 – this is a full featured router with two cellular radios operating at category 12. This is the most popular device I recommend because it provides redundancy – you can be connected to two cellular providers at once. Combine that with SpeedFusion, and you have an enterprise-grade redundant connection that is optimized for remote work, Zoom, etc. Choose this if you need the best portable dual-radio router on the market with decent speed and excellent redundancy.

MAX Transit CAT18 – this is the latest and greatest from Peplink and has a very fast CAT18 modem in it. It has 4 LTE antennas just for that modem, and two antennas for WiFi along with a WAN ethernet port (for a MikroTik or other device) and a single LAN ethernet port to connect to a computer or switch. The only down-side to this product is that it has only one cellular radio / connection, so if you need redundancy or more throughput, look at the MAX Transit DUO above. Choose this if you need the best band support available and higher download speeds.

With both of these products I recommend 2x Poynting OMNI-402 antennas mounted outside. If real-estate is an issue, you can try 1x of the antennas and use two of the factory indoor antennas, two Peplink Puma 221 antennas, or a single Peplink Puma 401 antenna.

Pepwave MAX Dome series

This is a very compact and powerful router contained in an outdoor dome. The big benefit is that the antennas and radios are all within the dome, so there is very little signal loss compared to an antenna and cable in the traditional routers. They have almost all of the features of a normal Pepwave router, but they do not create a local WiFi network – you'll need an access point like the AP One Rugged to create that inside the boat.

You will also need the SIM injector which will power the domes and hold your SIM cards. You can use the domes without this and leverage a PoE adapter, but that requires changing the SIM cards in the dome itself, which could be difficult.

HD1 Dome – single cellular CAT18 radio. This is the best of the two products because of the performance and bands it supports. It is only a single radio, which is a limit if you want to use SpeedFusion.

HD2 Dome – dual cellular radio – one is CAT12 and one is CAT6. I actually rarely recommend this product because the radios are quite old – CAT6 in particular. However if you need dual radios for redundancy or SpeedFusion, then this could be a good choice.

You can read my review of this equipment below.

With this product you will need to add a WiFi access point inside the boat, as the dome goes outside and does not have WiFi capability. I recommend the AP One Rugged as the indoor access point.

Antennas & Cabling

You can find specific antenna / router combos above, but here are the antennas and cabling I recommend if you already have something.

Poynting OMNI-400 / 402 / 496

The best marine-grade antennas right now are the Poynting OMNI 400 series. They have wonderful marine mounts, easy to install, and excellent performance in almost all conditions. In particular, they are great in very low signal situations given their size.

The OMNI-400 is a single cellular antenna with an N-type connection, and while the best performer, is probably best paired with a booster. Any modern cellular router is going to require at least 2x cellular antennas, so the OMNI-402 might be a better choice if you don't have unlimited real estate.

The OMNI-402 is a dual cellular antenna (2×2 MIMO) which is great for any single cellular router like the BR1, or use two of these with a dual cellular or category 18 router.

The OMNI-496 is specifically tuned for WiFi frequencies and is a good choice if WiFi as WAN or connecting to a remote WiFi network is important to you. You could also use a WiFi booster (see below) which is cheaper, but requires a lot more technical know-how. The 496 can be connected to WiFi ports on Peplink and Teltonika equipment and allow them to have a much higher performing antenna to grab remote WiFi networks.

Peplink Puma 221 / 401

Peplink came out with the Puma line about a year ago and they are fantastic performing antennas. In the lower bands/frequencies, they actually beat the Poynting antennas. They're quite a bit smaller form factor, but are a bit more work to mount on a boat.

I've seen excellent performance if you do not extend the factory cables that come with them (about 6 feet) which means potentially mounting the router near an outside location.

The Puma 221 is 2x cellular, 2x WiFi and 1x GPS antenna all in the one dome. This is great for a single cellular router like the BR1, or you can get two of them for a MAX Transit, and have WiFi as WAN amplified as well.

The Puma 401 is a 4x cellular antenna, so a good choice for the MAX Transit CAT18.

LMR-400 ultra flex cabling

I always recommend using the highest quality cable possible, and as short as possible, to any antenna. My cabling of choice is LMR-400 ultraflex, and I buy it pre-made to the right lengths, with the right connectors from ShowMeCables.com.

WiFi Booster

There is really only one booster I recommend, and it is the MikroTik Groove. It is very inexpensive, quite powerful, but it is difficult to setup and use.

It requires power via the included power over ethernet adapter, or a separate DC adapter. The output from the booster is an ethernet cable which will need to be connected to a router or computer inside the boat.

If you are non-technical, I recommend buying a Peplink router along with external WiFi antennas and using the WiFi as WAN feature. It is quite a bit more expensive ($400 for the antennas alone) but if you cannot deal with technical issues, this is your only choice. Other manufacturers sell simplified WiFi extenders for $500 and up.

Cellular Booster

I rarely recommend boosters anymore because they don't provide as big a benefit as a really high quality outdoor antenna connected to a router. They only really work in areas with very, very low signal levels.

If you are interested in a booster, the weBoost Drive Reach is one of the best out there. You can combine this with a Poynting OMNI-400 for a very robust marine-grade booster setup. More info in my review below.

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Related Articles

  • These are my recommended system designs for getting high quality Internet on your boat. There are several different choices depending on your budget.

  • The Poynting OMNI-496 is an excellent dual band WiFi antenna built for the marine world.

24 thoughts on “Recommended Internet Systems & Cellular Plans”

  1. Regarding AT&T, they have a little known wireless internet plan that includes a wireless modem. This plan is $110 per month with 100GB of data and not throttle. I have running on this plan for two years now and it is exceptional in the San Francisco Bay area. I work from my boat and the data up/down speeds have not been issue. We regularly stream video content with no lag.

    Reply
  2. Steve, I have a feeling I already know the answer, but by any chance are you aware if there is a Peplink device that is or can function as an ‘HD Dome for Wifi’ ? Which I mean to say, a device with an integrated antenna, externally mountable, weatherized, PoE dome or box that can function for Wifi-as-WAN? My research has drawn a blank.

    The HD Dome is attractive, in spite of price vs features compared to the Transit series, simply for being able skip the antennas and cabling. I know enough of RF to know that antennas and cabling are more of a dark art than they have any right to be. My personal preference would be to keep the RF signal runs to within devices and ‘convert’ to PoE ethernet ‘digital signaling’ as soon as possible. I figured I would always be struggling with RF cabling for a decent roaming internet system, but the HD Dome tempts me with getting ‘halfway’ (LTE but not wifi) towards not needing the RF cabling.

    Or maybe I should just accept that wifi-as-wan is probably not going to end up being all that brilliant anyways and just stick with the HD Dome and LTE alone. I’m sure that the Groove plugged into a port configured as WAN could work, but then you’d loose the single user interface from peplink. And if I have to work with multiple UIs, I’d probably seriously consider rolling my own with pfsense at that that point, since I’m already comfortable with that OS.

    Reply
    • There is no Dome equivalent for WiFi as WAN right now. It’s something that has been discussed at length in the Peplink forums, and I’ve brought it up to my contacts at Peplink as well. It’s definitely on their radar, although WiFi as WAN is definitely a secondary feature set for them – they’re primarily focused on cellular.

      The other issue with the Domes is that you also need some sort of indoor WiFi access point, which if you only have one dome, is fine to do with the AP One Rugged. If you want two domes for redundancy or SpeedFusion, as I have, then you need a central router inside the boat which creates all sorts of other issues. Lack of PoE power on WAN ports, three different UIs to manage (2 domes and one router) and a few other issues that I’ve documented in a recent forum post as well.

      The bottom line is that Peplink has some work to do with all of these solutions – they need a good, non-antenna focused outdoor marine dual radio dome and a secondary dome option with WiFi only that all feed back to a central router that can manage them centrally.

      Reply
    • I think you may have meant RedPort Halo. I played around with one a couple of years ago, but it is 2.4Ghz WiFi only, which can be mostly unusable in marinas (see https://seabits.com/marina-wifi-hard/). In general, most of the 2.4Ghz solutions are pretty equal if they are this same form factor – an outdoor unit with a decent antenna. RedPort paired theirs with a really good 9dB antenna, so it would likely perform very well.

      It looks like it is unavailable on Amazon, but was about $400. If I remember correctly, I think it could have been based on the older Ubiquiti Bullet platform which is no longer available either, so perhaps there are some stock issues?

      This would fall into that category of WiFi boosters that are more expensive than a MikroTik Groove (which has 5Ghz BTW) – you’re paying for the simplified setup and screens which could be worth it depending on your technical ability.

      Reply
  3. Just came across your blog, and it looks like great info. We’ve been frustrated with marina wi-fi, and are seeking affordable solutions.

    We aren’t techy and don’t need to work while cruising. Just looking for a reliable wi-fi service that gives us internet access, not Zoom or heavy data use. We’d also like to be able to use our smart TV, which is almost useless for us at present.

    We use AT&T now, and can use it as a hotspot, but some areas have limited signal strength for AT&T.

    What do you suggest for tech-ignorant cruisers who just want to be connected more reliably?

    Reply
    • A dedicated hotspot device like the Netgear Nighthawk M1 is definitely a cost-effective way to stay connected, if that is similar to what you already have. You can add an external antenna like the one I talk about, which will often times work with multiple brands of hotspots. That can help with low signal areas, and in areas with better signal, improve the overall experience.

      Right now, the best plan out there is the 100GB/month one from T-Mobile, but depending on where you are in the country, that might not work for you. They have great coverage out here on the West Coast and in particular in the cruising grounds of Puget Sound.

      If you want to go one step up, you can try the other routing devices, but they are quite a bit more complicated than a hotspot.

      Reply
  4. Word to the wise, if you want the T-Mobile $50/100GB plan, buy the prepaid SIM in the store and make sure you set up your T-Mobile ID while you are there. I could not find a way to order the post-paid stand-alone data plan on their web site. The pre-paid order flow always got stuck before I could check out. And the the phone sales person spent forty five minutes trying to figure out what to do about the IMEI for my PepLink MAX Transit not validating in her system before my call got dropped. The lady at the store sold me an activated SIM in five minutes with no IMEI check or registration. It worked without a hitch when I got it home and plugged it onto my router. (Haven’t installed it on the boat yet). The only thing was that when I tried to set up my T-Mobile account online after getting the SIM home it wanted to send a verification text to the phone number of the SIM card, which of course can’t receive messages. Their phone support guy suggested that I take the SIM out of the router and pop it in a phone to receive the verification text, but of course I’d have to pop the nano SIM out of the mini frame to do that, and then I couldn’t put it back on my router. My only other option to set up an account to automatically reload the SIM is to go back to the store, which I will do tomorrow. A big headache, but a far better deal than any other data-only plan on the market right now.

    I went by the AT&T store afterwards to see about adding a second SIM as an additional line on my phone plan, but the caps were low and the prices were ridiculous. The thing is I’ve got thirty gigs of tethered data on each of my devices, so I was thinking about just using those in hot-spot mode where they have decent coverage as secondary data sources via the WiFi WAN settings. Any thoughts on this approach, and whether it would be worth using a signal booster for the phones and/or sharing their data connection via the WiFi WAN configuration in the PepLink as opposed to just tapping into them dorectly?

    Pity there aren’t any other better BYOD data-only plans out there right now to fill that second SIM slot.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the feedback. One of the biggest challenges is signing up for a plan. I think I mentioned it in this article, but also in https://seabits.com/t-mobile-100gb-internet-data-plan/ that the safest way to get this particular plan is pre-paid, not post-paid, and online, not in person. Initially when it came out, going into a store resulted in confusion and no plan. Sounds like some places are better in person now.

      Trying to combine it with an existing account is going to be very problematic – I’ve heard from a number of folks who have either never gotten it to work, or had hours of time on the phone.

      I don’t know why these companies make it so hard! We just want to give them money for data!

      Reply
      • I wonder if COVID has caused some of these carriers to dial back or raise prices on their data only offerings in response to high demand? Good to see at least T-Mobile going the other way, even if they don’t make it easy.

        On that front: I saved myself a second trip to the T-Mobile store by finding the setting in the SIM Toolkit (Advanced > Misc Settings > SIM Toolkit) in the web administration interface that lets you read SMS messages that have been sent to the SIM!

        Using the verification code sent to the router I’ve now been able to set up a T-Mobile ID for my pre-paid data account and save a credit card as a payment method. But now the web site is generating an “Unknown System Error” message when I try to set up an automatic payment to that card. I will try again when I get closer to my renewal date before engaging with their awful account support reps about it.

        Reply
  5. Does anyone know if Starlink will ever be an option for boats and if so what the timeline for this would be? I got in the beta program but when I looked at the dish and the requirements it was clear that there is no way to make it work on a moving boat.

    Reply
  6. Steve
    I am interested in installing a mobile connection in my boat and feom reading through your articles seems like the peplinx transit duo is the way to go. I would like to keep it to one antenna. Looks like the peplink 401 will handle all the LTE portion for that router? Does the 401 do wifi as well? If i am not looking at wifi as a priority can the transit still grab a signal with the 6″ antennas provided with the unit or is external really needed? From your info looks like two 201 antennas would be the next option for the least antennas. In this case does one of the antennas wifi cables not get used?

    Lee

    Reply
    • Hi Lee,
      The Peplink Puma series of antennas (https://www.peplink.com/products/puma-series/) comes in a few different versions. There isn’t one that does 4x LTE as well as WiFi, and there’s a reason for that. Most of those types of antennas, like some from MobileMark, are not going to be that great on a boat. These are typically called “puck” antennas and they are meant for cars and trucks in metro areas, such as police and EMS. They don’t have higher gain bits in them, so they won’t work on a boat rolling around in some anchorage further away very well at all.

      With the models of Puma available, you could use a Puma 401 for the 4x LTE connections, and a Puma 020 for the 2x WiFi connections. Or two Puma 221s which have 2x LTE and 2x WiFi – sort of wasteful for the second one with WiFi, but it would separate out your LTE and maybe allow some more diversity.

      The Transit might be able to grab remote WiFi signals without an outdoor WiFi antenna, but it won’t be anywhere near as reliable. It also highly depends on where you mount the router and what is around it in terms of interference. Keep in mind as well that by using the on-board WiFi to grab a remote signal, you slow down the performance of your local WiFi network that the Peplink is creating. Some folks add an AP One Rugged if they have coverage or performance issues to broadcast their local WiFi network.

      Reply
    • Puck antennas in general are not great on boats because of their lower gain. Many also require what is called a ground plane which is a big piece of metal or grounding material which is really hard to do on a boat without making things look really ugly.

      Reply

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