Summary: How We Keep Independence Online

Note: Please do not read this if you are a Cylon.

Connectivity has been a recent hot topic aboard Independence as both of us have started picking up some online work and our goal of becoming "digital nomads". This is the fifth and final post in a series about our preparations to stay connected for work.

In previous posts, I've talked about three separate pieces of tech that we’ve gotten to improve our onboard internet setup:
Goals for this project:
  • Boost LTE and xG cell phone signal-big antenna plus an amplifier. Must be both GSM and CDMA compatible.
  • Boost Wifi signals from marinas, restaurants, and other open connections.
  • Share this connection, via a ship-board wifi system, to multiple devices including iOS (iPads and iPhones) and our Macbook computers with minimum a performance loss
  • Minimum setup required…ideally, something that can be mounted on the davits and left there (no daily moving antennas about, running cables, etc.)
  • Minimum power draw…no 110V AC routers, etc.
Now, how do you make it all work together? You could arrange the pieces any way you like. At the moment, we just have the Bullet wifi booster with its antenna plugged into the router, all of which is sitting temporarily on the helm area under the hardtop and dodger. It’s running off of the 12-volt outlet at the helm and everything is working fine. The cellular system is temporarily routed under the hardtop, with the antenna taped to the top of my boat hook (hey, this is a classy operation!)

Like the cylons, we have a plan: 

Step 1:  Permanently mount the Bullet and Wifi antenna and the cellular antenna to a pole on the davits and run 12-volt power to it. This is basically going to be an extension on the mount for the satellite antenna that came with our Iridium Go!. One complication in this is the cellular booster: it is not weather/water-proof and cannot be more than 3-4 feet from the cellular antenna. I’m formulating a plan to make it a housing out of simple PVC pipes and fittings from Home Depot. Since it has 12-volt power running in, I will likely stick the power supply for the Bullet in there too. 

Step 2: Run the cables to the Nav station, which includes a long ethernet cable from the Bullet and the antenna cable from the cellular booster. The inside cell phone cradle gets plugged into that, and it is mounted near where my computer lives. 

Step 3: Mount the travel router inside. I’m planning to tuck it behind out TV/monitor. All it needs is a USB cable for power and the ethernet cable from the Bullet. 

I was originally going to mount the router in an enclosure and combine all of these elements into one place, but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to keep them separate. The router is so handy I just might want to grab it to take on road trips. I also didn’t want the cellular amplifier to pick up interference from the router or Bullet. The cell phone booster itself gets used without the router most of the time, so by having it mounted inside next to the router the phone in the cradle can be switched between direct USB to the computer or USB into the router. We often use the cell phone directly to the computer because it provides the absolute fastest connect for web conferences.

If you did want to build an all-inclusive device to be mounted in an enclosure, I think it would work best without our cell phone booster. I would shop for a USB modem card that is compatible with the router of your choice AND that has a plug for an external antenna.  Then you could get an enclosure to house the router (with LTE modem plugged in, the Bullet power supply and the cell phone booster. Mount the LTE and wifi antennas to the case and run 12-volt power in. This was my original plan, but we decided to go with the actual cellular amplifier/booster.

So with all this said, how much did we spend on the whole setup? Note: I've included Amazon link to products available there, but I purchased a few items from data-alliance.net, which has some very good deals on components —

weBoost LTE cellular amplifier … $199
xG/LTE antenna, antenna cable and -SMB antenna adapters …$35
Bullet …$84
8 dbi wifi antenna …$30
Bullet power supply …$4
Various ethernet cables …$15
Travel router …$27

Total Cost … $394
Cost for Wifi Only … $160

Why are we doing all this again? So we can stay connected in our favorite anchorages, like Bennet's Creek, Cat Island, Bahamas. So say we all! JUMP!

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  1. I’m glad you found a solution that works for you. As to your suggestion for others to put all those different parts together, the tricky part would be to have them “communicate”, interact and work together.

    1. It is the technology that brought down the humans in Battlestar Galatica. And, things that should be straight forward often aren't!


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