After completing the sit-stand workstation in the guest stateroom of our 47’ Nova Scotia pilothouse trawler, Two by Two, that I reported in a previous blog, I found I needed an internet connection with reasonable speed and reliability. While almost every marina will give you a password for their WiFi, the quality of most marina connections is unreliable and too slow to effectively work as a forensic engineering consultant. When I tried to download a simple photograph through any type of remote connection to the Irmo, SC office, I could go make a cup of coffee and come back before the download finished. To upload a group of photographs from my camera to the server back in the office was simply not practicable. The same was true for transferring large documents.
At first, I purchased a Verizon MiFi Mobile Hotspot with an unlimited data plan. The MiFi had two problems: once the battery was charged, a message on the MiFi recommended that you unplug the charger. The MiFi ran well unplugged, but later I would realize I had no internet connection because the MiFi battery needed a recharge. After 24 GB of data usage, the Verizon Unlimited Plan throttled to a speed so slow that no significant activity could be performed until the beginning of the next month.
To solve these problems, I began researching how to stay connected. I became a member of the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center and signed up for their Mobile Internet Interactive Video Course. It cost $65 to become a member and $129 to take the online video course. I found their course and published information very informative. The discounts they had arranged with the supplier of the router and cellular antenna I ultimately purchased almost paid for the course.
Because of my work with The Warren Group, I consider myself a serious mobile worker. I concluded that cellular was the most cost effective and reliable way to stay connected. I need to transfer file materials between the boat and the office. After I perform an accident scene site inspection, I upload photographs to The Warren Group’s server where they are stored and backed up. I also download large quantities of documents that clients send through Dropbox or similar services. I connect to the server to record my time, obtain documents from our company library and work with other engineers and our administrative coordinator to prepare and submit reports to clients. Finally, I need to send and receive emails.
In the boating world, we also download updated navigation charts and update software for our Garmin navigation equipment and our Coastal Explorer computer software. We also stream TV through our internet connection.
Having decided on cellular, I ordered and installed a Pepwave MAX Transit DUO Dual Modem LTE-Advance Mobile Router. The Transit DUO has a dual modem configuration allowing for two simultaneous cellular connections. The unit can connect with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. With simultaneous dual band WiFi, I can setup multiple networks for 2GHz (range) and 5GHz (speed) within the boat to optimize and load balance connected devices based on need. Thanks to automatic failover switching and multiple SIM card slots with multi-carrier support, this device allows me to always connect if cellular coverage is available. This router will allow 1 to 100 devices to connect to it. With two embedded modems we can utilize two cellular connections at the same time with immediate failover from one provider to another as well as the additional 2 SIM cards. With 4 SIM card slots total and two routers, I can load the router with SIM cards from multiple carriers and select which SIM/carrier is used. The signal from the cellular connection is re-broadcast wirelessly inside the boat using the unit’s high powered multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) antennas. I also can connect my laptop docking station with the wired ethernet port.
To extend cellular reception and performance, and provide excellent range to use a marina’s WiFi with the router’s WiFi-as-WAN feature, I installed an OMNI-296 Dual Band WiFi antenna on a 4 ft Shakespeare Style 4008-4 extension mast mounted to a dual axis ratchet mount on the pilothouse roof.
I purchased an AT&T unlimited data plan ($249.00 for the first month, $140/month thereafter) and installed the SIM card in Slot 1. This AT&T unlimited plan includes 1000 GB limit before bandwidth throttling will occur. This proved more than adequate for our usage. I put the MiFi SIM card in slot 2. As programmed, the router will use the AT&T plan first and only go to the Verizon card if the AT&T signal is poor. Should I need additional coverage I still have slots for two additional SIM cards from other carriers.
With the addition of the AT&T data plan, router, and antenna I have greatly improved access and reliability to internet access on my boat. While I enjoy cruising the waterways and taking in spectacular views with my wife, I welcome the opportunity to consult with you about your cases involving mechanical engineering, machine design, machine safeguarding, risk assessment or safety. Please give me a call.
Jeffery H. Warren, PhD, PE, CSP, is the chief engineer and CEO at Warren specializing in mechanical, machine design and safety. His deep expertise in machine design and safety analysis makes him a frequent presenter, trainer and expert witness. In addition to investigating more than 2000 claims involving property damage and injuries related to machinery and equipment since 1987, Jeff has an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from UNC Charlotte as well as a Master of Science and a Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University — both with machine design emphasis.