San Juan Island cell phone service

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DennisB1

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2015
Messages
222
Location
USA
Vessel Name
Water Music
Vessel Make
Grand Banks 49 classic
A question of cell phone service in the San Juan Islands Washington. What U.S company has the best cell service in the islands and if BC opens, in British Columbia when cruising coastal waters. I am thinking of changing from my current provider Verizon.
 
Verizon is best but they all are good. You can only really tell the difference when you are on the outer edge of the northern islands.
 
In the northern fringes, i.e. Provost Harbor, Eastsound, Sucia, you may find you are involuntarily "roaming" on a BC provider. If you have the Verizon (or AT&T) plan which includes BC and Mexico, this won't matter
 
T-mobile has great service for PNW cruising, WA and BC to Port McNeil. Works better in BC than WA.
 
With the exception of various small coves Verizon with the Canadian / Mexico plan works very well. I've had Verizon with the Canada plan add on for 15 years and for 99% of my use have good service from Seattle to Port Hardy on the inside waters and Neah Bay to Ucluelet on the outside waters.
 
Thanks for the replies. I have had some dead zones with my current verizon, ie. Deer Harbor, Rosario, West side of Orcas. Similar problems in Canada. I have just using my phone with no onboard signal enhancement. Sounds like its still worth staying with Verizon.
 
T-Mobile in the San Juans

Cruising the San Juan’s for ten years and have had AT&T, Verizon and currently T-Mobile. Too many dead zones with the first two and T-Mobile is consistently good. The rumor was that Craig McCaw (McCaw Cellular and NextLink) was a big PNW boater and instructed his engineers to have great service throughout the islands.
 
Thanks for the replies. I have had some dead zones with my current verizon, ie. Deer Harbor, Rosario, West side of Orcas. Similar problems in Canada. I have just using my phone with no onboard signal enhancement. Sounds like its still worth staying with Verizon.

Ask your provider which of the Canadian providers they partner with and check those coverage maps for areas they cover and which ones they miss. Then you can choose the provider that gets to the cruising grounds you want to visit.
 
I work for an MSP (Managed Service Provider) in the IT space. I actually have AT&T (work demo unit) and a T-mobile 5G hotspot on my boat. Connected to a VeloCloud SD-WAN device. We spent multiple weeks (7-10 day stretches) just bouncing around the islands last summer. All the way up into Succia and I had GREAT reception. I monitored both connections constantly to see how they were performing. AT&T was decent but Tmobile was pretty much everywhere!!!
If you look closely in the pics, you can see my speeds. Top 2 are
Tmobile -
~186M download
~6M upload
AT&T -
~10 download
~5M upload

In one of the other pics, I am on an all company video conference call. Regular "hard-wired" desk phone as well... My fiance is in the salon, also working and doing video conferences... NO ISSUES ANYWHERE!!! :)

***sidenote***
I am also using a commercial grade SD-WAN appliance that aggregates the 2 signals as well as improves the quality of those connects (forward error correction, jitter buffering, etc.).
Doesn't effect the actual signal strength, but does allow for a "cleaner more stable connection" for us to both be working REALLY remotely! :)

Also, if anyone would like some advice or like a similar setup, let me know, I'd be happy to help!!! :)
 

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Scott, you mention Succia. Do you recall which signal was strongest. I ask because across the line at Cabbage Island anchorage my Telus signal drops and picks up a US signal which I thought was AT&T
 
Scott,

I would love to hear more about your hardware.

I am NOT a tech guy, so please dumb-it-down if you can. We are presently using a T-mobile phone with hotspot (OnePlus) and it meets our connectivity needs. We plan do cruise the boat for its intended use in 2 years, and may improve our hardware before leaving. Feel free to PM if you don't want to jump on my thread drift (sorry).

Thanks!
 
We are on the T-Mobile 55 + plan, $60 a month for unlimited everything. We had great coverage all through the San Juans and the Broughton Islands unless we were in a deep cove with hills around us in which case no one would have been able to get a signal in there.
 
Soo-Valley-
it was on Tmobile. 5G is all over up there! :)
 

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We use Verizon and are happy with it. T-mobile had poor coverage in my work location (outside of Vancouver WA) and my house in Camas so I dropped T-Mobile for Verizon and the coverage is superior here at home.

As others have said, just make sure your plan includes free roaming in Canada. Because I have looked down at my phone in the San Juans and have found that I am inadvertently roaming on Canadian cell towers even though I have never left the US. That happens on the west side of San Juan Island and Roche Harbor when you get over close to Victoria or Sidney which are just a few miles across the strait.
 
I work for an MSP (Managed Service Provider) in the IT space. I actually have AT&T (work demo unit) and a T-mobile 5G hotspot on my boat. Connected to a VeloCloud SD-WAN device. We spent multiple weeks (7-10 day stretches) just bouncing around the islands last summer. All the way up into Succia and I had GREAT reception. I monitored both connections constantly to see how they were performing. AT&T was decent but Tmobile was pretty much everywhere!!!
If you look closely in the pics, you can see my speeds. Top 2 are
Tmobile -
~186M download
~6M upload
AT&T -
~10 download
~5M upload

In one of the other pics, I am on an all company video conference call. Regular "hard-wired" desk phone as well... My fiance is in the salon, also working and doing video conferences... NO ISSUES ANYWHERE!!! :)

***sidenote***
I am also using a commercial grade SD-WAN appliance that aggregates the 2 signals as well as improves the quality of those connects (forward error correction, jitter buffering, etc.).
Doesn't effect the actual signal strength, but does allow for a "cleaner more stable connection" for us to both be working REALLY remotely! :)

Also, if anyone would like some advice or like a similar setup, let me know, I'd be happy to help!!! :)


Ex-AT&T datacenter/server guy here and that is nice data. But I would be hesitant to run a surge suppressor with all that connected and on the same curcuit. Might want to look at ABYC and circuit protection with the load you have on that. Just an FYI.

VT
 
The standard answer used to be Verizon. I have T mobile and it seems to be pretty good there.
 
local knowledge

I live on SJI. I've had ATT in past (stinks). I now use T-Mobile with very good results. One of the best features, seamless coverage in Canada with no additional charge.
 
We just got back from two weeks in the San Juans. Both my wife and I have Verizon and it consistently had outages. We could occasionally get telephone connection by using a local WiFi (Deer Harbor, Rosario, Blakeley) but rarely could we make calls directly to Verizon. Several locals all told us that T-Mobile was the only consistent provider in the area. Several friends with T-Mobile all had fine connections but the rest of us with other services didn't!
 
I use Verizon between the US and Alaska with full Verizon Canada service I only carry seasonally. Passing the San Juans, I have no issues, but may be on Victoria or Vancouver towers. As long as I'm within 25 miles of a tower, I usually have no problem. No special antenna. I don't stop in the San Juans, too crowded for me.
 
We just got back from two weeks in the San Juans. Both my wife and I have Verizon and it consistently had outages. We could occasionally get telephone connection by using a local WiFi (Deer Harbor, Rosario, Blakeley) but rarely could we make calls directly to Verizon. Several locals all told us that T-Mobile was the only consistent provider in the area. Several friends with T-Mobile all had fine connections but the rest of us with other services didn't!


My wife experienced the same issues with our Verizon phones. We still have them but purchased at TMobile hotspot.

VT
 
I've spent probably 2/3rds of the last 20 years in the San Juan Islands, and in the last year, almost 90% of my time up there. I also test a whole bunch of different antennas, routers, and plans in the cellular world.

In general, as others have mentioned, T-Mobile has the best coverage mainly due to the amount of towers they have in the islands. In the last few years, Rock Island, the local internet provider in the islands, has partnered with T-Mobile to build out towers to deliver cell signal to homes on the islands that do not have wired connections. As a result, T-Mobile has a lot more towers that they can use for phones and other devices as well, although the original plan was not for that alone. Not all towers that are used for that service are also used for T-Mobile, but many are.

With the advent of Band 71, which is a newer type of frequency for T-Mobile to have which tends to travel further, it's also gotten much more usable for the existing towers they had. AT&T and Verizon only have one tower, both of which are on Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island. There are some ancillary towers shown on some maps, but generally those are not usable. There are a number of towers on the mainland in Ferndale and Anacortes that you can also get service from if you are near Cypress Island or on that side of the rest of the islands.

I have good performance from AT&T and Verizon as well as long as I am not in some of the trouble spots: Reid Harbor (too deep - outer area is fine), Prevost (all roaming almost always to Canada), Jones north side mooring balls. Echo and Ewing bays at Sucia will work OK as long as you're not too deep in them. Same with Fossil. Shallow Bay is almost 100% roaming unless you are lucky, and Fox Cove is hit or miss depending on where you are.

The best rule of thumb is to have an outdoor, quality antenna with quality cabling. Connect that to a hotspot with external ports, a full fledged mobile router, or (last resort - more problems than they're worth) a booster. If you have that, you'll be able to find signal most anywhere.

Most customers I work with want redundant connections (two LTE radios) with high quality antennas/cabling or a dome. That combined with a WiFi extender to grab WiFi at various marinas, plus various redundancy features that allow for basically unbreakable connectivity have resulted in very happy folks able to work just about anywhere...

I've been doing it myself for many years....
 
T-Mobile

there is no contest here. T-mobile is the way to go, I've had them all. One reason being the CEO of t-mobile is a big boater and he made sure he was able to have connectivity throughout the island.
 
I attended a webinar two months ago on the best cellular and WiFi equipment for use on boats in WA (San Juan's), BC and AK, as well as the best cellular service providers in these areas. The speaker worked for a communications company and was well versed in cellular routers, WiFi extenders, etc.; and he is an experienced cruiser in the PNW. He found that T-Mobile has the best service in the San Juan's and Canada, while AT&T has the best service in AK. There is a website (www.cellmapper.net) that shows you where the cell towers are in these areas for the best coverage.
 
I attended a webinar two months ago on the best cellular and WiFi equipment for use on boats in WA (San Juan's), BC and AK, as well as the best cellular service providers in these areas. The speaker worked for a communications company and was well versed in cellular routers, WiFi extenders, etc.; and he is an experienced cruiser in the PNW. He found that T-Mobile has the best service in the San Juan's and Canada, while AT&T has the best service in AK. There is a website (www.cellmapper.net) that shows you where the cell towers are in these areas for the best coverage.

That was most likely me, given the cellmapper.net reference :) It most likely was for Seattle Boat Show Live, and you can find a replay of it at here.

Doug Miller of Milltech Marine also did one a bit earlier in the year.
 
T moble is what we the "locals" finds works best in the islands
 
That was most likely me, given the cellmapper.net reference :) It most likely was for Seattle Boat Show Live, and you can find a replay of it at here.

Doug Miller of Milltech Marine also did one a bit earlier in the year.

Yes, it was you Steve. Didn't want to put you out there unless you said so.:thumb: Thanks for chiming in.
 
Just to clarify, I don't think that cellmapper.net actually shows where cell towers are but collects data and "guesses" where the towers are. I was in Echo Bay on Sucia over the weekend and I can testify that in the southwest corner of the bay I was only getting 1 bar of T-Mobile 4G service (occasionally), but in the northwest corner I had 2 bars of 5G from T-Mobile. If there is a tower on that island where shown it is well hidden as well as the power source for it since there is no power on the island. Also, I didn't see a tower in 300 plus feet of water between Sucia and Matia.

Interesting website though...
 
Just spent 3 days in Reid Harbor and T-Mobile worked fine. Including the hotspot for watching Youtube, Netflix, etc. Also worked fine for TimeZero and TZT3 cloud link.

Cheers,
 
Note that for extended cruising if you watch media - you probably care not only about signal strength, but amount of data as well. You use about 1GB/hour when watching Netflix/Hulu, and about 0.5GB/hour watching Youtube.



T-Mobile's "unlimited" data plans have 50GB of data on the device but only 14GB of data if you share your data via hotspot (to smart TV or iPad). After that your speed is throttled to about 3Mbs, which is NOT enough to watch Netflix/Hulu, but OK for Youtube.


Visible (Visible Wireless | Unlimited Data, Talk & Text Cell Phone Plans) which runs on Verizon network offers unlimited 5Mbs via hotspot, which should give you unlimited Netflix/Hulu. Visible SIMs cannot be used in the routers/modems and doesn't work in Canada



Google Fi (runs on T-Mobile) only gives 22GB of data and throttles to 256KB after that, but works in Canada
 
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