Wave of the Future
Aigean Networks might just change the way you connect to the Internet from your boat.
Eeee urrrrr, chchchch, beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-boop. If you were one of the lucky ones, that was the sound you heard as your onboard computer strained to dial up to the Web, probably while your beeper buzzed violently at your hip. The life of the working yachtsman certainly has changed significantly (read: thankfully) in just the past two decades.
Connectivity comes in many forms today: Satellite technology, while still relatively expensive, has come down in cost to the point where it’s a viable solution for most serious cruisers, and cellular data now delivers Web access to a wide range of coastal cruisers. But perhaps the biggest advancement in online solutions is coming from a source you know and a company you probably don’t: Wi-Fi from Aigean Networks.
As marinas across the country move toward offering not just 2.4-gigahertz but much faster 5-gigahertz Wi-Fi, the AN7000 from Aigean Networks allows you to seamlessly connect to 2.4- and 5-gigahertz as easily as you would with a laptop in your home.
“A good example here in Florida is if you were to stay at the Bahia Mar in Ft. Lauderdale, the Wi-Fi network was put in by OnSpot, and it’s both 2.4 and 5 gigahertz. Five gigahertz is not only faster, but since it’s not used as much by microwave ovens and other devices, it tends to have a lot less noise, which helps your speed and connectivity,” explains Richard McLaughlin, cofounder of Aigean Networks and an expert in the field of marine Wi-Fi. “That means that if I’m staying there, my newish, two-year-old laptop won’t connect to it unless I have a system like the 7000.”
The increasing importance of marinas offering high-speed Wi-Fi to their customers is a trend that McLaughlin sees continuing for the foreseeable future.
“Contrary to my prediction of eight years ago, I wasn’t sure Wi-Fi was going to be where it was at with 5G data plans coming along. I was proven wrong. Cellular hasn’t rolled out the big speed increases they’ve been promising. They’re always a few years away,” he explains. “Even if you have a megayacht with DSAT or Fleet broadband and cellular, Wi-Fi gives you the advantage of free, or nearly free, Internet access. Wi-Fi is almost always faster than satellite and cellular data.”
And those cost savings add up quickly, especially when you compare the AN7000, which retails for around $2,745, to monthly satellite plans that can range anywhere from $800 to $6,000 per month. Don’t get me wrong, satphones are still an incredible tool for the active cruiser, just not when free 5-gigahertz Wi-Fi is also on the table. That cost for the AN7000 doesn’t include the fee for a dealer’s installation time; and though the system looks simple, what with one main unit, an Ethernet cord, and two to four antennas, it’s an install that you definitely want to leave to the professionals.
“The hardest part of the installation is terminating antenna cables. It’s absolutely crucial that those antennas are perfect to get the desired performance. And there’s a certain amount of network knowledge you need,” explains McLaughlin.
Once the installer gets you up and running, I can attest that the user experience is essentially foolproof. You simply connect to the Aigean homepage through your device and choose your connection. If there’s a 5-gigahertz connection available, it’ll be annotated with the number 5 next to the network name. From there it works just like your home Wi-Fi; your device remembers your preferences and will immediately connect your phone or laptop to the Internet as soon as you step aboard.
The Need for Speed
So for the most important question that people have when it comes to Wi-Fi: What kind of speeds can boaters expect with the AN7000? McLaughlin proudly reports that he and his team of dealers are seeing some Usain Bolt-like speeds.
“My record speed test recordings for the 7000 saw 48 megabytes-per-second download and 46 upload. A barebones DSL connection is good for like 2- to 3-megabytes per second. My Internet at home is rated for 16 gigabytes,” he says. “So here you are at the cove getting speeds nearly three times as fast as I get at my house. That’s really pretty good for the wireless on your boat.”
In layman’s terms, if your marina has a decent 5-gigahertz service, the AN7000 should allow you and your guests on board to stream ten Netflix movies on ten separate devices at any given time. Translation: That Skype call with the board of directors should come in as crisp and clear as it would in your office (or even better).
That flexibility offers a new world of cruising opportunities. “We’re hearing more and more about boaters who are out cruising but still trying to run a business,” he says. “Back in the olden days, when we were showing our Wi-Fi systems at a boat show, people would come up and say, ‘So what do I need this stuff for? What is this gonna do?’ It’ll give you an Internet connection on your boat. ‘I don’t want that! I get on my boat to get away from that crap!’”
“What they tell us nowadays is, ‘I run my business from my boat,’” he says. “‘And if I don’t have a decent Wi-Fi connection in places like the Bahamas, then I can’t go, because I need to be online all the time.’”
Boating has been, and will always be, one of the best ways to disconnect from the real world and reconnect with nature, friends, and family. That being said, if the AN7000 allows you to spend more of that precious commodity we call time out on the water instead of in an office, well now, that’s a tradeoff that’s hard to argue with.
Aigean Networks, 754-223-2240;
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.