— October 2001
By Ben Ellison
Saltwater Cellular II
|Boat phone nirvana is in sight.|
The perfect boat phone may not yet exist, but you can see it from here. Last month’s column discussed the range problems of conventional cellphones on the water and the use of antennas and boosters to improve coverage. This month we’ll look at several marine cellular products that together suggest the future of the boat phone.
Last year Raymarine rather quietly introduced its Raycom Fixed Wireless Terminal. This unit is essentially a 3-watt, analog, black-box-style cellphone with the unique ability to generate a standard dial tone. Thus you can plug in a regular household phone, fax, PC modem, answering machine, even a cordless phone. The box will support any seven devices, and when you pick up a phone, the unit will make a cellular connection and you’ll hear that familiar tone–no "send" button is necessary. Combined with the sort of high-gain cellular antennas discussed last month, the Raycom system should provide the best possible analog coverage for any given area; Raymarine’s product manager Morten Andreasen reports that solid connections have been obtained sometimes 40 miles offshore.
While being able to outfit your vessel with home- or office-style equipment is attractive, you probably want something a bit more rugged on deck. Raymarine meets this need with its just-introduced Ray 230 VHF. This high-end unit is also black-box style and can support up to three full-function handsets, each of which can be paired with an amplified speaker. The system has about every VHF feature possible, including full duplex intercom and Digital Selective Calling (DSC) single-button distress calling. But the truly startling feature is that you can interface its black box with a Raycom cellular box. Hence, you can be on your flying bridge making and taking cell and VHF calls, all with a single, tough, waterproof handset.
Moreover, since the 230 has the particular DSC capabilities known as "MariTEL Ready," you can also make direct-dial ship-to-shore calls via that company’s ambitious new $300 million VHF network. MariTEL has just begun this service in the Gulf of Mexico and plans soon to have a nationwide marine system offering what the company terms "better range than cellular, less expensively than satellite."
Consider, too, that Raymarine’s phone network can be easily switched from cellular to a land line when a vessel is tied up. Once you get used to the idea of one system handling several different communications technologies, it’s easy to imagine the further integration of satellite telephony and perhaps even SSB radio and the day when we’ll use one device with whatever service is appropriate, available, and/or least expensive.
This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.