Re: Mobile communications - 4G, WiFi

Ryan Meador

I decided to build my own system.  I think it was lower cost, and it's great knowing that I can troubleshoot and repair every aspect of it.  I've been meaning to do a full writeup on how I did it for my blog for some time, but I haven't gotten around to it... I'll give you the unpolished version:

  1. I bought a Mikrotik hAP AC Lite router.  This supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi, it has Ethernet, it has USB, and it can be easily powered from our onboard 24VDC power system (just cut the end off the wall adapter, taking care to match the polarity when you connect to the onboard wiring).  This is the "indoor" router that acts as my access point.  I mounted it above the bookshelf next to the nav station.
  2. I bought a Mikrotik GrooveA 52 with antenna (more on the antenna later).  This is powered via Power-over-Ethernet, has a single Ethernet port, is compatible without 24VDC power system, and it's weatherproof.  This is the "outdoor" station that connects to the marina's free WiFi network (2.4GHz or 5GHz).
  3. I installed the GrooveA on the main backstay with the included zip ties, then ran outdoor-rated Ethernet cable down the backstay and inside the boat (I had a hole at the base of the mizzen already from an old radar installation that was on the backstay).  This cable plugs into the uplink port on the hAP router and a PoE injector (included with the GrooveA, I believe).  You may want to consider putting it on the mizzen mast instead (see below re: antenna).
  4. I configured the GrooveA, which is very user friendly. You just put it in CPE mode and it's ready to scan for and connect to WiFi networks, so that's basically done.
  5. The hAP was a little trickier.  This is why I've been holding off on writing it up for my blog... I need to make sure I'm not missing any steps.  If you're good with networking, you can probably figure it out just like I did.  Things I remember:
    1. You need to give them different IP addresses so you can connect to both of them for configuration.  I believe you have to do the hAP first.
    2. You need to configure the hAP firewall to allow packets through (there's some setting like "forward")
  6. At this point, you have functioning WiFi!  Yay!  And when you get to a new marina, you just pop open your browser, connect to the GrooveA's IP address, and select the new network.
  7. But you also want LTE.  Remember that USB port on the hAP?  You can buy a USB dongle that goes in there.  There are a ton of supported models on the Mikrotik website, but I went with the Huawei E3372.  Take care to get one that matches the LTE bands in use in the region(s) you're going to be.  Some of them even support external antennas (mine does not).
  8. I use Google Fi as my phone provider, so it was a simple matter of requesting an extra data SIM card from them to put into the LTE dongle, then plugging that into the hAP.  You'll want to ensure you only plug in either the LTE dongle or the GrooveA, not both at the same time, unless you like running your data bill up.  It's possible to set them up to automatically switch back and forth, but I'm not going to go into that detail.
This setup has worked very well for over a year.  There is one small flaw... the antenna included with the GrooveA has high gain and is quite polarized, so the signal comes out in a thin plane perpendicular to the antenna (I believe there was a related discussion on this list about VHF antennas recently).  This is normally a good thing, if it's lined up with the access point in the marina or on shore.  Problem is, I mounted it on the backstay, which is slanted.  So it's easy for the signal to miss the access point.  I partially solved this by buying a lower gain antenna, which has a wider signal pattern.  A better way to solve it would be to mount it vertically, likely on the mizzen mast.  I was going to put it up on the mizzen spreader, but that's too high to use in our home marina -- the marina access points are only about 6' off the ground -- so my signal would go right over them.  If you're always going to be at anchor, it would probably work wonders up there.

I hope that brain dump wasn't too much.  If I get that written up for my blog soon, I'll drop you a link to that.

Ryan and Kelly
SM 233 Iteration
Boston, MA, USA

On Tue, Jan 21, 2020 at 2:26 PM David Crisp <david@...> wrote:
Hi Everyone,

I'm going to be cruising the Mediterranean for the next few years. For internet/email access my primary channel will be mobile/4G although I'll use WiFi when available. Consequently I'm looking to install a good antenna/router system for 4G and WiFi.  I see there's one or two ready assembled products available from people like Digital Yacht or I could buy my own components and maybe get more bang for my Euro plus get even more job self-satisfaction!

Does anyone have any experience they can share?

David Crisp
SV Wilna Grace

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