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Old 11-20-2021, 10:13 PM   #1
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Are Cell Boosters worth the install/price?

Planning to retire this spring and set out on our trawler. Access to internet is a really nice aid in making decisions as far as passages, pretty much a necessity really...

Looking for feedback as to whether these systems are worth the price and efforts involving in installing.

We will just be coastal with offshore passages when weather permits and even then not all that far, but do plan to anchor as much as possible.

Thanks for your input ...Click image for larger version

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Old 11-20-2021, 10:17 PM   #2
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From someone who tests hundreds of cellular devices, antennas, and plans, generally cellular boosters are less useful than really good outdoor antennas combined with a good router.

Boosters used to be one of the only solutions out there, and they still have their place when you have almost zero signal. Any time you have even a moderate signal, boosters make a mess of it. Anything more than that, and they actually make things worse or even can make it unusable.

If you are not that far offshore (no more than 20 miles off shore as an average) then good antennas, cabling, and a quality mobile router will do very well. There are also a number of offshore-focused cellular products that use high gain directional antennas, but they are quite expensive. Depending on your use case and budget, there are a number of options.
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Old 11-21-2021, 07:14 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by stevemitchell View Post
From someone who tests hundreds of cellular devices, antennas, and plans, generally cellular boosters are less useful than really good outdoor antennas combined with a good router.

Boosters used to be one of the only solutions out there, and they still have their place when you have almost zero signal. Any time you have even a moderate signal, boosters make a mess of it. Anything more than that, and they actually make things worse or even can make it unusable.

If you are not that far offshore (no more than 20 miles off shore as an average) then good antennas, cabling, and a quality mobile router will do very well. There are also a number of offshore-focused cellular products that use high gain directional antennas, but they are quite expensive. Depending on your use case and budget, there are a number of options.
Steve- a bit more meat on the bone here would be helpful. OP gave an outline of a use case - coastal cruising. Let's say within 25 nms of a US coastline. The Wilson boosters are in the $500 range so let's set that as a budget.

Do you have specific recommendations for configuration for a good antenna and a router? Guessing this sounds super simple to you, but my knowledge here is akin to a 4-year old child.

Peter
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Old 11-21-2021, 08:53 AM   #4
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We take everything via cellular.
Would be nice to have a strong reception.
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Old 11-21-2021, 11:16 AM   #5
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I had excellent reception with a Poynting Omni 402 MIMO outdoor antenna and a Netgear Nighthawk M1 Cellular Router on a T Mobile Hotspot plan.

Received fast downloads in areas that were previously 0 reception.

Ther are more expensive routers with more features out there like the Peplinks but the Nighthawk got the job done for us. Plus bought a used unlocked Nighthawk from a Forum member for $100.

We've used a variety of boosters and celluar antennas in the past. They do not work as well as the Poynting/Nighthawk combination, especially internet. There were feedback issues between indoor and outdoor antennas.
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Old 11-21-2021, 11:48 AM   #6
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I’ve been researching this issue, and following Steve’s thoughts carefully as he clearly is very thoughtful and has great expertise. (Indeed, I’ve been trying to hire him unsuccessfully as he’s so busy!)

There is clearly a tradeoff between performance and simplicity though.

Syjos gave a great recommendation for a simple cellular system. Perhaps one has an extra SIM card on another carrier for other locations. This doesn’t cover wifi at the marina though. There are inexpensive solutions for that.

Where Steve’s expertise really lies is how to create something closer to an enterprise grade solution which allows faster and more redundant data streams - but this solution is very expensive and requires network management skills.

For example, what if you want your router to pick the strongest signal among cellular or a marina wifi (called wifi as WAN)?

Or even better, take two or more cellular signals simultaneously and combine their data speeds (bonding) which requires some magic in the cloud (actually compatible equipment on both ends, which for example Peplink can do for a fee). Want to add wifi as WAN into that? Sat? All possible but the equipment isn’t really geared for this so it becomes more expensive and complex. Indeed, figure $10,000 to $15,000 of boxes.

Then you have the issue of running antenna cabling - and runs between the antenna and router should be as short as possible. At 20’ you’ve lost too much signal. There are solutions that combine the antenna and router together in a dome and use Ethernet to connect but not a perfect solution on the other end and it gets expensive as you need a sim injector ($1,500) to manage the sims if you don’t want them in your antenna on the mast. Want to add wifi as WAN - well that’s the problem as devices that support the bonding don’t have enough WAN ports and you need to get power up to the dome, and you etc etc.

Then the literal software management and settings is very complex and needs expertise.

So I’d keep it very simple or hire a pro and open up the checkbook and still be prepared for future complexity.
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Old 11-21-2021, 11:54 AM   #7
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Steve- a bit more meat on the bone here would be helpful. OP gave an outline of a use case - coastal cruising. Let's say within 25 nms of a US coastline. The Wilson boosters are in the $500 range so let's set that as a budget.

Do you have specific recommendations for configuration for a good antenna and a router? Guessing this sounds super simple to you, but my knowledge here is akin to a 4-year old child.

Peter
Here’s a write up from Steve’s site on his recommendations in increasing order.

https://seabits.com/recommended-systems-plans/
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Old 11-21-2021, 02:21 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by stevemitchell View Post
From someone who tests hundreds of cellular devices, antennas, and plans, generally cellular boosters are less useful than really good outdoor antennas combined with a good router.

Boosters used to be one of the only solutions out there, and they still have their place when you have almost zero signal. Any time you have even a moderate signal, boosters make a mess of it. Anything more than that, and they actually make things worse or even can make it unusable.

If you are not that far offshore (no more than 20 miles off shore as an average) then good antennas, cabling, and a quality mobile router will do very well. There are also a number of offshore-focused cellular products that use high gain directional antennas, but they are quite expensive. Depending on your use case and budget, there are a number of options.
Yep, I have a cradlepoint E300 router with a High Gain Poynting antenna.
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Old 11-21-2021, 02:26 PM   #9
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Iíve been researching this issue, and following Steveís thoughts carefully as he clearly is very thoughtful and has great expertise. (Indeed, Iíve been trying to hire him unsuccessfully as heís so busy!)

There is clearly a tradeoff between performance and simplicity though.

Syjos gave a great recommendation for a simple cellular system. Perhaps one has an extra SIM card on another carrier for other locations. This doesnít cover wifi at the marina though. There are inexpensive solutions for that.

Where Steveís expertise really lies is how to create something closer to an enterprise grade solution which allows faster and more redundant data streams - but this solution is very expensive and requires network management skills.

For example, what if you want your router to pick the strongest signal among cellular or a marina wifi (called wifi as WAN)?

Or even better, take two or more cellular signals simultaneously and combine their data speeds (bonding) which requires some magic in the cloud (actually compatible equipment on both ends, which for example Peplink can do for a fee). Want to add wifi as WAN into that? Sat? All possible but the equipment isnít really geared for this so it becomes more expensive and complex. Indeed, figure $10,000 to $15,000 of boxes.

Then you have the issue of running antenna cabling - and runs between the antenna and router should be as short as possible. At 20í youíve lost too much signal. There are solutions that combine the antenna and router together in a dome and use Ethernet to connect but not a perfect solution on the other end and it gets expensive as you need a sim injector ($1,500) to manage the sims if you donít want them in your antenna on the mast. Want to add wifi as WAN - well thatís the problem as devices that support the bonding donít have enough WAN ports and you need to get power up to the dome, and you etc etc.

Then the literal software management and settings is very complex and needs expertise.

So Iíd keep it very simple or hire a pro and open up the checkbook and still be prepared for future complexity.
Cradlepoint.com is one of probably several manufacturers of quality gear that does pretty much everything a person might need, and you do not need to be a network engineer to make it happen.

The big trick to connectivity is to prioritize your sources. I do this based on cost for the most part, choosing between two different carriers. If both of my carriers are unavailable then the router chooses the satellite, but it blocks all but the most important devices, and limits or blocks certain kinds of data, with a good example being streaming.
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Old 11-21-2021, 02:46 PM   #10
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Cradlepoint.com is one of probably several manufacturers of quality gear that does pretty much everything a person might need, and you do not need to be a network engineer to make it happen.

The big trick to connectivity is to prioritize your sources. I do this based on cost for the most part, choosing between two different carriers. If both of my carriers are unavailable then the router chooses the satellite, but it blocks all but the most important devices, and limits or blocks certain kinds of data, with a good example being streaming.
Yes, there is cradlepoint.

It’s not about prioritizing sources to me though. What I’m after is bonding several different data sources together to creat fail safe and higher speeds than any could do on their own. That adds complexity as well.
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Old 11-21-2021, 03:01 PM   #11
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Cradlepoint.com is one of probably several manufacturers of quality gear that does pretty much everything a person might need, and you do not need to be a network engineer to make it happen.

The big trick to connectivity is to prioritize your sources. I do this based on cost for the most part, choosing between two different carriers. If both of my carriers are unavailable then the router chooses the satellite, but it blocks all but the most important devices, and limits or blocks certain kinds of data, with a good example being streaming.
What is length of your antenna cable run, and was it problematic minimizing it? Do you have the antenna mounted up on your arch or somewhere closer to the cabin?

I’m looking for a dual radio system for T-Mobile and either Verizon or At&T and trying to determine if I want an integrated external dome system or an antenna and router combo.
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Old 11-21-2021, 03:26 PM   #12
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What is length of your antenna cable run, and was it problematic minimizing it? Do you have the antenna mounted up on your arch or somewhere closer to the cabin?

Iím looking for a dual radio system for T-Mobile and either Verizon or At&T and trying to determine if I want an integrated external dome system or an antenna and router combo.
The dual sim dome would be great but the peplink hd2 dome isnít as advanced as their single sim hd1. And using two hd1ís starts creating issues. Ugh.

The length of the antenna cable run isnít just length of course, itís how noisy the electronic environment is, and whether you need any connectors.

Maybe there is a protected area closer to place the router,,that doesnít have heat issues either.
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Old 11-21-2021, 03:29 PM   #13
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I need to upgrade. I currently have a 3G Wilson system. A shakespear omni directional antenna mounted on the arch.

It works OK. In SEAK AT&T is king in the small communities.
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Old 11-21-2021, 03:31 PM   #14
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Yes, there is cradlepoint.

It’s not about prioritizing sources to me though. What I’m after is bonding several different data sources together to creat fail safe and higher speeds than any could do on their own. That adds complexity as well.
Cradlepoint does bonding. you can bond together different connections, of differing mediums to form a larger aggregate total. It also does very fast switching between sources using rules you set up.

You have to remember though that No device can make a single application go faster than the single stream that connection is associated with.

Here is an example. Lets say fore example you are downloading a movie over a bonded connection. The movie is actually only being downloaded over the single connection that the router chooses, and is limited in it's rate to that connection. so... You do not see the benefit of a bonded connection for a single application.

Where you gain the benefit of a bonded connection is when lets say for example another person starts downloading a movie at the same time. In this case the router can chose a different connection.

Also be aware that bonding can have other challenges. Lets say that a connection is becoming marginal. As long as it's up, the router will send traffic over it based on the rules you set up. This can create some frustrating challenges troubleshooting.
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Old 11-21-2021, 03:44 PM   #15
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What is length of your antenna cable run, and was it problematic minimizing it? Do you have the antenna mounted up on your arch or somewhere closer to the cabin?

I’m looking for a dual radio system for T-Mobile and either Verizon or At&T and trying to determine if I want an integrated external dome system or an antenna and router combo.
As you know the length of the antenna cable and the number of connections means a lot in terms of losses.

Because of that I put the antenna on the pilothouse roof and the router in a place where the OEM 6' cable would reach.

Technology is changing though. Cradlepoint now offers outdoor or indoor rated adapters that put the radio receiver nearer the antenna specifically to minimize cable losses. For my boat I did not need to do that as I was able to move the whole router.
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Old 11-21-2021, 03:44 PM   #16
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My impression was that they created a single VPN tunnel from all the available data sources…and could switch amongst them if a packet gets slowed. Then reconnect them at the other end.

Am I misreading that the speed would be higher? At a minimum the effective speed should be higher.

“ Bandwidth bonding combines data at the packet level, enabling you to combine the speed of multiple connections. This is useful for situations where bandwidth is scarce, such as at a remote site, or in a moving vehicle. This technology also enables branch offices to connect to the head office at greater connection speeds.”

Or are they just suggesting that the effective speed is faster as there won’t be packet delays, though it won’t be higher than any one streams max, as you suggest.
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Old 11-21-2021, 03:58 PM   #17
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@ksanders

My impression was that they created a single VPN tunnel from all the available data sources…and could switch amongst them if a packet gets slowed. Then reconnect them at the other end.

Am I misreading that the speed would be higher? At a minimum the effective speed should be higher.

“ Bandwidth bonding combines data at the packet level, enabling you to combine the speed of multiple connections. This is useful for situations where bandwidth is scarce, such as at a remote site, or in a moving vehicle. This technology also enables branch offices to connect to the head office at greater connection speeds.”

Or are they just suggesting that the effective speed is faster as there won’t be packet delays, though it won’t be higher than any one streams max, as you suggest.
Unless you are working with a VPN provider that supports building a tunnel, then the part in bold above cannot work. You have to have two ends of any tunnel.

The reason you cannot get any faster single application traffic is that a single TCP connection only has a single next hop IP address out of the router. You cannot break up a connection into multiple streams. The Interior Gateway Routing Protocol will not work like that.

This is not just cradlepoint, it is any network. I have worked with for example CISCO enterprise class networks and we face the same challenges.
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Old 11-21-2021, 04:01 PM   #18
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Unless you are working with a VPN provider that supports building a tunnel, then the part in bold above cannot work. You have to have two ends of any tunnel.

The reason you cannot get any faster single application traffic is that a single TCP connection only has a single next hop IP address out of the router. You cannot break up a connection into multiple streams.

This is not just cradlepoint, it is any network. I have worked with for example CISCO enterprise class networks and we face the same challenges.
Yes, that’s what I was considering, two ends. Using Peplink’s SpeedFusion products on my end and their cloud service where they reconstruct the stream (unless I want to set up my own end point). I think I alluded to this in my first post.

They charge by the year for up to 200mbs with the annual cost tiered by plan for how much data passes through it.

At least that’s how I understand it, but you also are much more expert than I, so I’m willing to learn.
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Old 11-21-2021, 04:10 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by stevemitchell View Post
From someone who tests hundreds of cellular devices, antennas, and plans, generally cellular boosters are less useful than really good outdoor antennas combined with a good router.

Boosters used to be one of the only solutions out there, and they still have their place when you have almost zero signal. Any time you have even a moderate signal, boosters make a mess of it. Anything more than that, and they actually make things worse or even can make it unusable.

If you are not that far offshore (no more than 20 miles off shore as an average) then good antennas, cabling, and a quality mobile router will do very well. There are also a number of offshore-focused cellular products that use high gain directional antennas, but they are quite expensive. Depending on your use case and budget, there are a number of options.
Do you have any experience with Cel-Fi boosters? I just returned from a Montana road trip in my truck/camper where mostly it was little or no cell service, at least for Verizon. This last week I put in a Cel-Fi Go X system but haven't really given it a good trial. I have a 10 year old Wilson booster in the boat which is now obsolete.
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Old 11-21-2021, 04:23 PM   #20
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Yes, thatís what I was considering, two ends. Using Peplinkís SpeedFusion products on my end and their cloud service where they reconstruct the stream (unless I want to set up my own end point). I think I alluded to this in my first post.

They charge by the year for up to 200mbs with the annual cost tiered by plan for how much data passes through it.

At least thatís how I understand it, but you also are much more expert than I.
Based on Peplink offering a endpoint for the tunnel then all the other challenges go away. My apologies if i missed that in your post.

Personally I am hesitant to see the need, but Peplink is offering the service so why not use it.

I just did a speed test the other evening on my new ATT 5G service and got in the 160MBPS range, which is mighty fast.

What I like is the fail over features. That is something that is very useful in a moving boat.
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