Oh my Internet

by Tim Gorter, AV/IT/Wi-Fi Virtual AVIT ETO (teletechnics.com)

Although our need to be “connected” over the past years has steadily been growing with an ever-increasing range of services demanding a connection to the Internet cloud, it seems the past 6 months has pushed it to our mental limits!

The social changes that has been driven through the virus scare has moved even more services online, and created greater demand for fast, responsive and always on internet connection. Not only that we now do more video calls (or conferencing) but online schooling, attending virtual conferences and a major increase in entertainment consumption.

So how have you fared in this domain, on a floating platform with no ability to connect to a fibre which every guest has taken for granted when in their home?!

I have touched on many aspects of this theme over the past month and I wanted to summarise some more here, so that when this season ends and you can come back into port to prepare for your next season, that you have a clear direction on how to improve your setup.

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Having recently acquired dealership for the Peplink (Pepwave) range of products has made me even more aware of the confusion out there in the understanding of what wireless connectivity really is.
Between my services in improving WIFI onboard vessels (and that is no less chaotic) and the internet connection I constantly come across in installations that simply have such basic mistakes in them that it is no wonder people constantly are under satisfied with the result.

So, let’s get one thing clear, A cellular connection works between 2 antennas both at the surface of the earth. As such these 2 antennas need to see each other to talk to each other. A simple calculation (search RF line of sight calculator on the internet) will give you that at 30m height of both antennas the maximum distance you can reach is around 25nm! Anything beyond that distance is magic done by making use of refraction, reflection and signal enhancement.

This magic equates to… increased height, decrease blockage, decrease interfering noise, enhancing antenna gain/performance.

With VSAT luckily the line of sight is less disturbed by the earth surface, as we are shooting straight into the sky at an object several 1000km above our heads. So, our only competing factors here are blockage, interfering noise and antenna performance.

But any service you will use also has spectrum contention. What does this mean… well we all share the same amount of spectrum to talk. Go to the pub, while its empty it is easy to understand what your neighbour says, but as the pub fills up the surrounding conversation makes it more difficult to compete for the same “audible” space. Where early in the morning you could easily call over to the other end of the bar and ask for your order, whilst when the bar is full you can no longer do this, and have to get either closer, louder or be patient for a “silent” moment! RF works exactly the same.

With available spectrum on satellites being a premium (and the associated costs of putting a metal box into the sky), VSAT will remain costly for the moment. Cellular (LTE/4G/mobile network) has become a great alternative as most of the time we float close to the shore, and the coverage along the shore has improved. Data SIM cards have also come down in price with unlimited options now available (call me and I will elaborate!!).

So if you are looking at improving that internet connection, think antenna height, think antenna quality, think reducing RF losses/decreasing RF noise (moving the modem closer to the antenna).
If you are looking at reducing costs, think better (multiple) SIM management. Think diversifying (take advantage of both local and international offers).
If you are looking at better network bandwidth management, think firewall and Internet gateway management.
In any case, you need to make sure that your installation is well done, of quality and performance tested. If it does not perform well onboard, the shore connection will suffer at every step.

This article was written by Tim Gorter, Virtual AVIT ETO, www.teletechnics.com. I provide support and training to crew assigned to look after their AV & IT system onboard. Making sure you understand how it works, and that you get the best out of it. Call for an AV & IT health check, more on teletechnics.com