This is a follow up to a post I wrote in February 2013, “Installing a WiFi booster antenna”
I wrote a post a few years back about how we purchased and installed a marine WiFi booster from Island Time PC. We’ve been asked many times by folks how it is working and if it solves the age-old issue of getting decent internet access in a marina. I never really knew how to answer the question because I honestly didn’t know if it was working or not. I think it was my misunderstanding of how it was supposed to work. This post isn’t going to go into the technical details of how these WiFi booster units work because, frankly, it’s a little over my head. I’m just going to give my thoughts on how I perceived it was supposed to work and how it is working for us now.
Back when we installed the WiFi booster, our marina had terrible internet service. It was always down, and when it was up it was terribly slow and intermittent. Frustrated with not being able to work at times and using up a lot of data, I was expecting to all of a sudden have great, blazing fast, always-connected internet access by using the newly installed booster. I didn’t understand that the booster is there to help with connectivity, not miraculously make the internet service provider better. If the marina WiFi is terribly slow or down all the time, there’s nothing there to boost. We were frustrated that we spent money on the WiFi booster antenna and didn’t really get the results we expected. As a result, we stopped using the booster and just went back to trying to connect directly to the marina. Basically, we just stopped using the booster all together.
Since I wrote that last post, Snook Bight has installed Comcast internet service which is a much better service and faster than our previous one. We still have some issues with getting that service connection out to the outer docks and many times folks on the outer docks complain about getting dropped all the time. We are now located on the face dock in the marina on the farthest outside slip possible. In the last couple of months, our dock has filled up with several large boats that are all full-time liveaboards. Since these new boats arrived, we noticed we had issues getting connected directly to the marina WiFi. Before we would always be able to connect, we might get dropped from the signal from time to time, but we could always connect and reconnect. With our dock filling up with the larger boats (one with a tuna tower) they were blocking us from the marina antenna on top of the building. This is where our WiFi booster has come handy. We recently started using the booster again to connect to the marina’s WiFi and are now able to pick up and connect a lot easier. I think the underlying misunderstanding many folks have of marine WiFi boosters is that they’re going to drastically improve the quality of the internet service, when they really facilitate in the connection to the signal. If you are on the outer docks or far away from the location of the marina WiFi signal, then they may come in handy.
The other misunderstanding I had about our WiFi booster was that I thought I was going to be able to pick up a lot of other hotspots in the area, while in the marina or at anchor. The reality is, these days it is very difficult to find and pick up unprotected (no password needed) WiFi hotspots. Most signals these days have password security so the only other option is local restaurant or coffee shops that offer free WiFi. If you live in a marina in the city, you might be able to pick up the local Starbucks WiFi, but if you are like us that live on a small barrier island, there aren’t many local spots that have free WiFi to pick up. This holds true while anchored out, it all depends on the location and accessibility to free hotspots in the area.
We have since upgraded our Ubiquiti Bullet 2HP unit to the Groove 52 HPn antenna from Island Time PC. While there are many settings and things that can be tweaked within the software we use to connect, they are little over my head and I haven’t had the chance to familiarize myself with them. With very basic settings, we can now connect to the marina signal from our spot on the face dock. We have decent service, sometimes blazingly fast and other times it can be sluggish (this all depends on Comcast) but for the most part, we are able to connect and stay connected. WiFi access while living aboard is never consistent, the best we can do is enhance our ability to get connected and always have a backup plan like cell phone data.