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 product family is by far 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.
There are three MAX Transit models:
- Pepwave MAX Transit Category 18 LTE Router: This router has a single Category 18 LTE modem with two SIM slots. This router is fast and tends to have the fewest issues connecting to all cellular carrier networks.
- Pepwave MAX Transit 5G Router: This router has a single 5G modem that can also operate as a Category 20 LTE modem with two SIM slots. Peplink have also announced the Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro 5G Router which has similar functionality but features a faster processor and throughput. Since these are new devices, there may be issues connecting to some carrier networks although issues are being resolved when they are found. When close to a 5G tower with a supported data plan, these devices can offer the fastest speeds. [UPDATE 10/7/21: We are currently sold out of the MAX Transit 5G Router and do not have a date for future availability. We have also heard rumors that this product has been discontinued and will be replaced with the Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro 5G Router. We therefore recommend the Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro 5G Router if you want a router with the latest wireless technology, fastest throughput and 5G support.]
- 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 call.
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 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.
- All these routers include 4 cellular antennas, 2 Wi-Fi antennas and one GPS antenna. These 7 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.
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.
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.
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)
- Pepwave MAX Transit Category 18 LTE Router: *
- Pepwave MAX Transit Duo LTE Router: *
- Pepwave MAX BR1 Pro 5G Router: * (available mid-October)
Step Two: Choose your antenna system (one of the following)
- Use the bundled antennas: $0 (included with MAX Transit)
- Peplink Mobility 40G 4x4 MIMO LTE/GPS Antenna: $199
- Peplink Mobility 42G Combo LTE/WiFi/GPS Antenna: $249
Step Three: Select the appropriate antenna extension cables (as needed)
- No extension cables: $0 (using the bundled antennas or the six-foot Mobility antenna cables)
- Poynting Extension Cables for 5 in 1 Antennas: from $83 OR...
- Poynting Extension Cable for 7 in 1 Antennas: $102 OR...
- Poynting Twin HDF-195 Low Loss Antenna Cable with SMA(m)-SMA(f) Connectors: from $26.86 per pair
- Possibly SMA Male (Pin) to RP-SMA Female (Pin) Adapters (set of 2) if needed: $7 per pair
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
- Use the access point built into the MAX Transit router: $0 (included with MAX Transit)
- Pepwave AP One Rugged Wireless Access Point: $299
- Pepwave AP One AX Lite Wireless Access Point: $299
- Ethernet cable to connect the access point to the MAX Transit: depends on length
Step Six: Choose one or more cellular carrier data plans (not offered by Milltech Marine, some good examples of plans below)