Kass then turned to the subject of marine antennas, explaining that his testing revealed that antennas rated at 9- and even 15-dB gain do not perform as well as those rated at only 3 dB. "The Shakespeare 5412-P is just the ticket," he advised. "And use the good wire, RG-8, with soldered Shakespeare connectors."
Just a few days later my care package arrived. The M900 looks like an oversized handset, but you don't hold it to your ear. It's fix-mounted and hands-free and has big buttons that are easy to use, even on a rocking boat. It comes with the optional privacy handset on a 14-foot cord and a five-foot "octopus" cable that branches into connectors for power, speaker, microphone, and data. It installed easily, as did the M-Tec dual-band amplifier (which is also marketed as the Shakespeare CA-819). The soldered connectors that Kass recommended did take longer to install than Shakespeare's solderless Centerpin coax connectors. (I installed the antenna well away from my VHF antennas to avoid interference.)
But what about my current provider and phone number? All GSM cellphones contain a SIM card, a tiny memory card that carries your phone number and phone book, which can be removed and installed in another phone. You usually have to remove the phone battery to reach the card, but after that, it's a simple matter of pulling it out and sliding it into another. (Unfortunately, only GSM phones currently have SIM cards.)
This time when I turned on my new setup, the M900 searched for a moment, then displayed bars. Lots of bars. Then I went through a two-minute reading procedure, which taught the phone to recognize my voice, after which the voice-activated features worked flawlessly. Enter a number, record a name, and you're set to simply touch the white bar atop the phone and say something like, "Call Jill."
"Jill, I'm calling you from the boat. How do I sound?"
"I can hear you! How's the view from the flying bridge today?"
"I'm sitting at the helm, talking on my new speakerphone."
"You sound like you are in the next room."
Victory at last! But there's more. Data. The M900 includes a USB cable and software that let your computer use it as a modem to go online wherever GPRS or higher-speed Edge data services are available. For Cingular, which took over my AT&T account, that means most of the U.S. coasts and some of the Caribbean. You do need a data plan in addition to your voice, but this extra service starts at about $20 for 5MB of data per month, and prices seem to be dropping all the time. The Motorola PC software also lets you manage the phone-for example, keyboarding in name and number information-which is handy.
How well does it all work? While the system, which cost about $1,500 total, cannot create cellphone towers where they don't exist, I now get great connections in some places where I used to get nothing, sometimes where the tower is 30 miles away. In fact, the reception on the water is often better than at the dock only a mile or so away, as the open space provides a clear shot to a distant antenna tower. Even with the engine running, the noise blanking provided by the M900 phone makes formerly impossible conversations a breeze. In the end, the right equipment makes all the difference.
Now can you hear me?
After logging more than 5,000 offshore delivery miles, Pete Dubler bases his boat in New Bern, North Carolina. He and his wife Jill plan extensive cruising after their three daughters enter college over the next few years.
Marine Technologies (866) 262-8357. www.marinetechnologies.net.
Shakespeare Marine (800) 845-7750. www.shakespearemarine.com.
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