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What is our most popular Internet connectivity solution?

Posted by Doug Miller on 9/14/2021 to Products & Technology

[UPDATE: The latest version of this article is available on our new Onboard Wireless site here.]

We have had a lot of interest in the internet connectivity solutions we began selling last year. The good news is we have dozens of possible solutions and the bad news is we have dozens of solutions – making it difficult for customers to figure which set of solutions to buy.

This article looks at what we have found to be the most popular set of products for marine mobile connectivity that are both cost-effective and offer the most flexibility for getting connected.

Start with the cellular router

The Peplink MAX Transit and MAX BR1 product families have been our most popular set of routers. All the routers mentioned here feature high speed cellular access for connecting to the internet, Wi-Fi as WAN to allow you to also connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots, such as a marina Wi-Fi, as an alternative method for connecting to the internet and the ability to setup your own private Wi-Fi hotspot for your boat. There are a host of other features but those are the three main things people are looking for. UPDATE: Since originally writing this article, a lot has changed in product availability due to supply chain issues, Wi-Fi chipset shortages and more. As a result, this article has been updated to include products that are available and also some of our best sellers.

These are our three most popular router models that are currently available:

  • Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2 Category 6 LTE Router: We had originally included the Pepwave MAX Transit Category 18 LTE Router in our list however this product is no longer available. The Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2 Category 6 LTE Router is also very popular and has a single Category 6 LTE modem with two SIM slots. This router is still fast enough for most basic needs and tends to have the fewest issues connecting to all cellular carrier networks.
  • Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro 5G Router: In the past the MAX Transit 5G router had been our most popular 5G solution however this product is no longer available and the new Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro 5G Router has quickly taken its place as the 5G router of choice for customers who need the absolute fastest speeds. This router has a single 5G modem that can also operate as a Category 20 LTE modem with two SIM slots. This new model features a faster processor, faster throughput as well as WiFi6 support. This new router is already certified on T-Mobile and AT&T and while it works on Verizon, it has not yet been certified. When close to a 5G tower with a supported data plan, these devices can offer the fastest speeds. Currently T-Mobile has the best performance on this device with download speeds in the 400Mbps range. This is on par with the fastest speeds available from any cellular router device and given where we are with early deployment of 5G carrier infrastructure this is likely to keep improving over time.
  • Pepwave MAX Transit Duo LTE Router: This router has two Category 12 LTE modems and four SIM slots. Having two modems allows you to bind the two connections together for a single virtual connection that is fast and more reliable. This dual-modem solution has been very popular with customers needing a very consistent, reliable connection for Zoom or Teams calls.

All these routers share the following common features:

  • Multiple user-selectable SIM slots so that you can choose from more than one carrier which comes in handy if you are out of range of one carrier but close to another.
  • All models use global rated modems meaning they should work with any carrier in the world. They are typically certified on the big U.S. and Canadian carriers.
  • You have full control over using either cellular to access the internet or public Wi-Fi or possibly both and you can setup rules for when to use each.
  • All support simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi for both your private boat access point and for connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. The single set of Wi-Fi radios and antennas are used for both Wi-Fi as WAN and for your private Wi-Fi network.
  • All have an ethernet WAN port for connecting an alternate hardwired internet connection (such as satellite or a cable modem) and a LAN ethernet port for connecting a hard-wired client device such as a computer, printer or security camera.
  • These routers include 4 cellular antennas (2 for the MAX BR1 MK2), 2 Wi-Fi antennas and one GPS antenna. These small antennas are directly attached to the router are designed for use inside your cabin. They are removable and these same antenna ports can be used if you decide to connect to an external antenna. More in external antennas below.
  • These routers can be powered using 12-24vDC or 110-220vAC.

For some customers, this is all they need. This single device will allow you to connect to the internet via the cellular modem and / or the Wi-Fi as WAN system and will provide users who connect to your private Wi-Fi network multi-user access to the Internet.

External antennas

The bundled antennas work reasonably well in areas close to cell towers and if you can install the router somewhere reasonably high in the cabin and away from possible interference sources such as metal objects, varnished or wet wood, microwaves, radios etc.

But to get maximum range and speed you will want to use an external antenna. Fortunately, Peplink have built some combo antennas in a single housing specifically for these routers.

If your primary method of connecting to the internet is using LTE or 5G and you don’t care so much about connecting to public marina Wi-Fi, then we would recommend the Peplink Mobility 40G 4x4 MIMO LTE/GPS Antenna. This antenna includes 6 feet of cables for the four cellular elements and the one GPS antenna. Connect the four cellular cables and one GPS antenna cable attached to the Mobility antenna to the router’s cellular antenna ports. Note the GPS antenna is optional. It can be used for tracking purposes, but the router will work fine if you decide to not connect it. Use the bundled Wi-Fi antennas to provide Wi-Fi access inside the boat. The 40G antenna will provide excellent extended cellular range while leaving the Wi-Fi radios focused on providing a Wi-Fi access point inside the boat.

If however, you really want to have extended range for both the cellular connection and the public Wi-Fi as WAN connection then you should consider the Peplink Mobility 42G Combo LTE/WiFi/GPS Antenna. This antenna is similar to the 40G but adds two Wi-Fi antenna elements allowing you to get a better signal from your marina Wi-Fi while also bringing in that signal from a greater distance. The one downside of using this antenna is your Wi-Fi antennas are now outside the cabin so you may not have the best Wi-Fi signal for devices inside the cabin connecting to your onboard Wi-Fi network. Normally this is not an issue on a smaller, single-level, fiberglass boat. However, for maximum performance especially on larger boats you may want to consider a dedicated Wi-Fi access point for use inside the cabin.

If you are going with the Pepwave MAX BR1 MK2 Category 6 LTE Router then the most popular external antenna has been the Peplink Mobility 22G Combo LTE/WiFi/GPS Antenna which has two cellular antenna connections instead of four plus 2 Wi-Fi antennas and one GPS.

We also now offer the new Peplink Maritime cellular antennas which are proving to be a great solution for the longest range coverage while cruising. The Peplink Maritime 20G Antenna is a 2x2 MIMO cellular antenna which means to use this with the MAX Transit Duo or BR1 Pro 5G mentioned above (which require 4 LTE antenna connectors), you will need two of these or one of you go with the BR1 MK2. The new Peplink Maritime 40G Antenna with 4x4 MIMO cellular antenna capabilities will be available soon.

One other interesting antenna possibility with these routers is the new Poynting X-Polarized, High Gain, Uni-Directional 5G/LTE/WiFi Antenna. This antenna system has room in its enclosure to place the cellular router inside the waterproof enclosure. It has antenna connections for 4x4 cellular and 2x2 Wi-Fi. This allows a big leap in performance since the antennas are right beside the router so there is virtually no loss from long cable runs. I'll be provide more detailed information on this solution set in a later article.

External antenna cables extension options

If you decide to use an external antenna, the Mobility antennas have 6 feet of cables attached to them. That may not be long enough for the setup on your boat. You want to have the antenna mounted as high as possible and free and clear of other metal obstructions such as masts, backstays, radar poles etc. But you also need to be aware that the longer the antenna cable, the more loss you will experience to the point that a long cable may erase any gain you get from the external antenna. If you need to use a really long cable run, you will need higher grade cables such as LMR-400 and with up to 7 cables, that means a lot of space is needed in the cable chase. We recommend keep the cable run to less than 30 feet and ideally less than 20 feet. For example, if you are using the Mobility 42G and have a 15 foot total run, you could use our 3 meter Poynting Extension Cable for 7 in 1 Antennas attached to the 6 foot set of cables included with the Mobility antenna. Another option is to use a Poynting Twin HDF-195 Low Loss Antenna Cable with SMA(m)-SMA(f) Connectors for each pair of cables (e.g. two sets for cellular and one set for Wi-Fi for a total of six cables). These are available in 5- and 10-meter lengths. We also sell SMA Male (Pin) to RP-SMA Female (Pin) Adapters (set of 2) for adapting extension cables with SMA adapters for use with Wi-Fi antennas and ports that require RP-SMA connectors. We also have the Poynting Extension Cables for 5 in 1 Antennas which works with the MAX BR1 MK2.

External antenna mounting options

We offer the Peplink Premium Antenna Mounts to allow the Mobility antenna to be attached to a standard one inch 14TPI marine mounting system such as a bulkhead, rail or ratchet mount. We can also put together additional mounting solutions with longer poles using Morad mounting systems.

Dedicated Wi-Fi access point

If you have a larger boat and want to use the Peplink Mobility 42G Combo LTE/WiFi/GPS Antenna for maximum cellular and Wi-Fi as WAN range, you can opt to purchase and connect a dedicated Wi-Fi access point to your MAX Transit router. These devices are connected to each other using common CAT5E or better Ethernet cable. This allows you to dedicate the MAX Transit coupled with the 42G antenna for bringing in the internet signal via cellular and / or public Wi-Fi and then have a dedicated Wi-Fi access point inside cabin for hosting your private onboard Wi-Fi network. For much larger boats, you can use multiple access points and even configure them as a mesh network. The most popular access points we offer are the Pepwave AP One Rugged Wireless Access Point and the Pepwave AP One AX Lite Wireless Access Point. Both offer similar functions and both can be powered using 12vDC or even power over ethernet. The AP One Lite supports the latest Wi-Fi 6 protocols. Again, a dedicated Wi-Fi access point is not absolutely required but keep in mind if using the MAX Transit for both Wi-Fi as WAN and as your onboard access point, the Wi-Fi radios and antennas will be shared for both functions.

Build your shopping list

While there is a lot here to digest, there are lots of ways to customize your connectivity solution to your exact needs. In summary, here are the steps to building your shopping list.

Step One: Choose your router (one of the following)

* Login to your Milltech Marine account to see pricing. Our Peplink distribution agreement prevents us from publicly showing the price for these products.

Step Two: Choose your antenna system (one of the following)

Step Three: Select the appropriate antenna extension cables (as needed)

Step Four: Choose your antenna mounting system (as needed)

  • No mount needed: $0 (using the bundled antennas or the included Mobility antenna flush mounts or side mounts)
  • Peplink Premium Antenna Mounts (ACW-651): $99
  • Standard marine mount such as ones offered here: lots of options but be sure to allow for the multiple cable runs through the mount

Step Five: Choose your onboard access point solution

Step Six: Choose one or more cellular carrier data plans (not offered by Milltech Marine, some good examples of plans below)

  • T-Mobile: 50GB for $50 per month. All three Peplink router products are certified on T-Mobile. More information is here.
  • Verizon: 150GB for $80-110 per month. The Peplink MAX Transit router products are certified on Verizon. We are waiting for full certification of the MAX BR1 Pro 5G. More information is here.
  • AT&T: 100GB for $55 per month. All three Peplink router products are certified on AT&T. More information is here.
Other cell plans exist but at the time this article was published, these plans have been the most popular for our U.S. customers. TIP: Having more than one cell data plan from different carriers allows you to switch to the stronger cell signal as needed.

Conclusion

This article provides some guidance on how to approach building out an Internet connectivity solution for your boat while leaving the door open for customization based on your specific requirements. If you have questions or want to explore alternatives, be sure to contact us and we'll put together a package that meets your needs.

Safe Boating!
Doug Miller

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