By Ben Ellison
What the Heck is Navtex?
I cruise a classic
80-footer up and down the East Coast. What is the best way to have Internet
onboard without it costing a small fortune? G.V.S. via e-mail
The big sat systems from SeaTel and Inmarsat providers like KVH are certainly becoming capable; check out the videophone in the new-product review on this page. But the SeaTel 4003 service that has the speed to support the videophone costs $35,000 for hardware and $2,500 a month for unlimited service, which might fit your definition of a “small fortune,” and the four-foot-high dome might compromise your boat’s appearance. An interesting alternative is KVH’s TracNet2, which would cover your cruising range and only needs a small Globalstar antenna (for the uplink) and a relatively small TracVision TV antenna (for the downlink), which the boat may already have. However, the gear is about $6,000 and service starts at $190 a month—TV costs not included.
WiFi is sort of a wild card. TeleSea has a WiFi-based technology and network that supposedly provides super-fast service up to 30 miles offshore along some of the East Coast. The hardware is inconspicuous but costs $7,500, and I’m not sure how well the company’s network expansion plans are going. Meanwhile regular WiFi hardware is only about $50, tiny and very fast—and “hot spots” are popping up all over, including a growing number of marinas. Sometimes access is even free, but regular WiFi range is very short.
I suspect that cellular will be the eventual solution for most coastal cruisers, but it’s a little shaky right now. GSM, the European standard with its GPRS data protocol, seems like a winner, and there are several GSM/GPRS products coming out for boats, where power is much more important than size. The new Skyewave Marine Wireless Terminal highlighted on page 56 is one.
AT&T and T-Mobile are among the GPRS service providers, and Verizon and Sprint also have “fast” data links using other protocols. All offer Internet speeds around 56k, but coverage is a real issue. So far these services are oriented to urban professionals, whose geography is about the opposite of cruisers. For instance, there is still no fast cell data here on the Maine coast, and the Chesapeake looks spotty (even if the coverage maps are truthful).
Sorry I can’t be more definitive, but I can confidently predict that the situation will get better.
Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. e-mail: PMYElectronics@primediamags.com. No phone calls please.
This article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.