Best LTE antenna and booster for the boat

For almost two years I have been testing, re-testing, and re-wiring my setup on Grace in an effort to find the best LTE antenna configuration. I don’t remember another project I worked on that took so much time and effort to gather data. We use the Internet all of the time while on board, and I want it to be reliable, fast, and easy to use no matter where we are. The search for a good antenna system led to some surprising choices.

The goal was to find a setup that allowed for the following:

  • In good signal areas, provide high bandwidth and low latency allowing for multiple streaming devices and normal network operations
  • Leverage diversity antenna configuration on Peplink for more bandwidth and LTE-A features
  • In poor signal areas, improve the signal to allow for basic network operations – WiFi cell phone calling, sending emails, etc.

Why do I want to do this? Well, there are a few reasons:

Crew expect internet speeds on the boat to be the same as home. In reality, this is unlikely because LTE/cellular is still a bit behind the broadband internet market. However, to a crew member, a wireless network looks the same on a boat as at home. Even explaining it to them doesn’t mean they change their habits. So I need a fast network when we’re near civilization.

Marina WiFi is hard – I even wrote a whole article about it – and most of the marinas we visit are no exception. While we can get a WiFi signal from them, I find that in the majority of cases, it is actually better to use a cellular connection as it is more reliable and consistent. Again, having a fast network here will help out.

When we are far away from normal signals, being able to amplify what signal is available is important for safety and planning. I use a bunch of internet based tools to plan voyages and look at weather, and having access to those helps the quality and safety of the trip. Also, being able to place a phone call in the event of an emergency is also very helpful, although not required.

And of course, my boat network is significant, and I would like to have it connected via a quality connection all the time. SignalK, AIS dispatcher, Victron, FloatHub and many other devices transmit data from the boat out to various cloud and private services. In addition, with my redundant internet configuration, I wanted to ensure it was always connected not only for outbound data, but when I VPN in from remote locations to check on things.

Base Configuration

My base network includes:

What I am attempting to test and improve is the two red items in the diagram above – the LTE internet connectivity and antennas. The Peplink has two stock cellular antennas that connect directly to the connectors and extend about 6 inches, a primary and one for diversity.

The Peplink has one WAN port connected to the MikroTik which can be used to grab remote WiFi signals. The MikroTik is mounted high up outside on the stern radar pole, while the Peplink is mounted inside in the Internet Alcove.

The LAN port of the Peplink is connected to the StarTech switch where all other cabled devices connect.

The Peplink has two SIM card slots, and I have both an AT&T and T-Mobile SIM active and under test. I also did some testing for a few weeks with a Verizon SIM card.

The goal was to see if connecting things directly to the antenna ports on the Peplink, or using the stock antennas along with a booster, would give the best result.

External Antennas Tested

There are hundreds of antennas on the market, so choosing a starting point is sometimes overwhelming. Besides the antennas below, I have had over 20 other types on the boat in the last 5 years which I’ve used in various settings. I chose the ones below because they met all of my requirements, and came more highly recommended.

Configurations Tested

Test Setup & Methodology

Every time I performed testing, I attempted to gather as much data as possible about the environment, and test multiple antennas or configurations to rule out any problems with cabling, gear, and the like. All of this data was recorded in a big massive Google Sheets spreadsheet and analyzed later.

Test Setup

  • Peplink MAX Transit routers – both LTE and LTE-A versions
  • MacBook Pro 2016 connected via wireless
  • Raspberry Pi Linux system connected via Ethernet
  • T-Mobile & AT&T SIM cards
  • No other random devices (cell phones, chart plotters, etc.) connected

Test Locations

  • Elliott Bay Marina (home marina)
  • Elliott Bay and general area
  • Blake Island, Bremerton, Poulsbo, Port Orchard and all areas around Bainbridge and Vashon Islands
  • Elliott Bay to Friday Harbor to Roche Harbor, with stops in various places along the way (Port Townsend, etc.) and in the San Juan Islands – two separate trips in summer of 2017.
  • South Puget Sound trip in 2016 with stops in Tacoma, Olympia, Eagle Island, Longbranch, Jerrell Cove, and many other places.
  • Many other random day trips and areas in the central sound

Methodology

Here’s a typical test run:

  1. Reboot all associated equipment
  2. Wait for everything to “settle” after reboot, minimum 5 minutes
  3. Record signal strength from Peplink dashboard
  4. Run speedtest on Mac from beta.speedtest.net 5x times, record min/max/average
  5. Run speedtest-cli on Linux machine 5x times, record min/max/average
  6. Record signal strength from Peplink dashboard
  7. Repeat steps 4-5 at least 3 times

Besides the test runs outlined above, we used all of the antennas and configurations in various combinations for real-world use over the last year. This included trips all around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, as well as at home or familiar marinas for longer periods of time. In all cases, there was a mix of real-world traffic from cell phones, laptops, tablets, Grace’s huge network, and the on board Roku.

General Observations

External antennas help a lot

This probably won’t surprise you, but an external antenna mounted high on the boat provided the best overall result. The higher the better, and away from other items that cause interference. The best antennas were the largest – physically – of the bunch.

Cable length & quality matter

I was surprised at the crappy cable included with some of the antennas. Having a single run with no extenders, converters or the like is critical to realizing the gains from your antenna. Bad cabling can essentially cancel out or actually contribute to a negative signal compared to no antenna!

The best cable included in my testing was from WirEng.

Boosters are worth the investment

I had both an in-line and standard booster, sometimes called an amplifier, and in both cases it improved the overall signal. The in-line booster provided less of a benefit, and I wouldn’t really recommend them because of the power draw compared to the gains. Standard boosters that have a second antenna that “rebroadcasts” the signal worked extremely well.

Multi-element antennas not worth the investment

I tested both the Panorama and the SinglePoint antennas, and saw very little benefit in either configuration. Initially I was attracted to the idea of a single antenna pre-cabled for multiple connections, simplifying the install. In reality, it made for a heck of a lot of cables all getting caught up, and poor antenna performance overall.

It’s better to spend money on two larger LTE antennas than one single antenna if you absolutely need it, which I don’t think most people would.

The multi-element antennas had dual LTE antennas, a GPS antenna and some combo of WiFi antennas, and are generally used on vehicles. They also often require a ground plane, which is hard to do on a boat.

Antenna Observations

Wilson

This antenna was the most marine-ized and came with good cable and mounting options, including a standard marine sized stainless steel pole. This antenna did well, and is my second choice for a good antenna.

Wilson Electronics 9.88-inch 4G Wide Band Omni-Directional Marine Antenna w/SMA Male Connector
  • Designed to be used as a boat antenna
  • High-performance, omni-directional 4G antennna
  • Threaded ferrule/post for side or bottom cable exit
  • Built-in ground plane
  • Weather resistent and easy installation

Panorama

3GStore – Panorama 5-cable roof antenna

This was one of two multi-element antennas I tested, both primarily made for vehicles. I was attracted to the Panorama after having read about the company antenna history, and was intrigued with having a single antenna with elements for 2x LTE antennas, 2x WiFi (5/2Ghz), and GPS. The antenna itself is round in shape with a fin box through the middle, about the size of a small saucer plate.

The cabling looked to be good quality, although slightly thinner than I would like, and was around 16′ long, which was a good length to get it connected to the Peplink directly.

This antenna had an individual connector for each antenna, so they could be directly connected to the Peplink’s ports and replace the stock antennas. The bigger challenge was managing 5 different cables, all 16′ long, which became a rats nest of crazy cabling while trying to run things. I ended up zip tying everything together, but it was still a bit of a bear to manage.

Unfortunately the gains I saw from the antenna did not exceed using the stock antennas on the Peplink, or at least not much of the time. Even after adding a ground plane and doing other tweaks, I just didn’t see enough of a signal increase to warrant the expense and cables. I suspect this may have been affected by the lower quality of the cable.

I did see some increases in overall throughput due to the fact that both primary and diversity antennas were given dedicated elements in the antenna. However, those gains were only where good signal existed to begin with.

Overall, I would not recommend it.

SinglePoint

I found out about the SinglePoint roof mount antenna from friends on Safe Harbour and Airship of Slowboat.com. They used various configs of this antenna on their epic Flotilla to Alaska in 2017.  It is similar to the Panorama in that it has cabling and elements for 2x LTE antennas, 1x WiFi, and GPS. I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t have 2x WiFi which would have made it a direct comparison to the Panorama, but I was trying to set things up for LTE anyhow, not WiFi.

The cabling looked less shielded than the Panorama, and was quite short – only about 10′ which was very limiting. Adding extenders would almost negate the benefits from the antennas gain. I ended up having to do this for some testing because my Peplink unit was about 15′ away.

As above with the Panorama, the gains I saw from the antenna did not exceed using the stock antennas on the Peplink. The only benefit I saw was increased download/upload speeds sometimes – this was almost assuredly because of the diversity antenna configuration. To make matters worse, the SinglePoint had shorter cable with lower quality which meant either relocating everything, or extending it and actually seeing a negative gain compared to the stock antennas!

SureCall

I’ve had this antenna for almost a year and a half, having purchased it as part of my initial internet setup on Grace. It was not meant for marine environments, and it has not weathered well. It has given decent performance in the last year and a half, but was one of the main reasons I started searching for a better antenna. In areas where the signal is lower, the SureCall simply didn’t perform.

The mounting hardware is not marine grade at all, so beware – mine started corroding within months.

WirEng BoatAnt

I found out about the WirEng BoatAnt while chatting with Chris Dunphy over at the Mobile Internet Resource Center. Most of their site is focused on RV’ers, but they have gotten into boating in the last couple of years as well. They had used WirEng products on their RV and found it very good quality.

It is the largest of all of the antennas, beating out the Wilson by almost an inch. It is also very hefty and feels well made. The cabling that came with it is absolutely fantastic – the thickest provided, and with quality ends provided by WirEng.

In all of my tests, this antenna outperformed every other one I used. The specs claim a whopping 10dBi gain which is double several of the other antennas, and at least 3dBi more than the best specs.

Strangely I don’t see the ability to buy direct from WirEng anymore – only a contact form to fill out for details. It does appear you can get them on Amazon, but check the seller and make sure it is WirEng.

I would highly recommend this antenna.

BoatAnt Antenna for weBoost Drive 4G-X 470510 Marine Fully Enclosed
  • The BoatAnt is a compact and efficient omnidirectional antenna especially suited for harsh environments, such as the marine environment. It is fully compatible with the weBoost Drive 4G-X 470510.
  • The BoatAnt is a fully omnidirectional antenna (doughnut/toroidal-shaped radiation pattern) and to avoid self-amplification we recommend to install it as high as possible.
  • The BoatAnt is a fully enclosed, all-weather, omnidirectional, ultra-linear, and is ideally suited for s boats, vessels, yachts, oil rigs, and other sea/marine environments. To protect yourself and your equipment from lightning strikes, WirEng's LightningPro (SKU LPRO-50-OHM) is highly recommended.
  • The BoatAnt operating frequency range is 700-3800 MHz with a peak gain of 10 dBi*, a horizontal aperture of 360° and a vertical aperture of 200°. The BoatAnt nominal impedance is 50 Ohm and the connector is N Female. This version of the BoatAnt has 50 Ohm impedance and is 100% compatible with the weBoost Drive 4G-X 470510 (SKU WBT-DRIVE-4G-X-470510-BTA). The BoatAnt is mainly recommended for marine/outdoors (pole) applications.
  • Gain in dBi values are averages increases obtained by comparing the standard/internal device antenna to a properly-installed BoatAnt located substantially higher than the device location. The BoatAnt measures 2.4 x 7.8 x 2.4 inches and weighs 1.2 lbs. Made in the USA with skilled craftsmanship. One year manufacturer warranty included.

Booster Observations

Wilson in-line

I have had this booster for a couple of years, and looking at the newest version online, it hasn’t changed much from what I can tell. It cites a 15db gain, which I saw consistently when it was connected.

In terms of overall upload/download performance, it didn’t seem to improve things unless we were in a place with terrible signal coverage. In almost all cases, two external antennas gave a better result even in low signal areas.

The bigger issue is that it only has one output port, so only one of the two LTE connectors on the Peplink could be connected. This meant that the secondary diversity antenna would be un-amplified, and using the stock antenna inside the boat.

WilsonPro Signal 4G Direct Connect In-Line Booster Amplifier AC/DC Kit for M2M (Model 460119)
  • Bi-directional signal booster amplifies signal up to 15 dB to and from cell site
  • Directly connects to 1 data modem/router and antenna using standard SMA connectors. DOES NOT BOOST RECEPTION FOR CELL PHONES
  • Kit includes Booster, AC/DC Power Supply, Mini-Mag Antenna, 3 ft RG174 Cable with SMA Male Connectors
  • Fast, easy installation - Small size fits any M2M application - Rugged metal enclosure
  • Compatible with all North American cellular providers (ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Bell, Rogers, Telus, etc) and all 3G and 4G/LTE modems

weBoost RV kit

Wilson also owns the weBoost product lines, and they came out with a newer kit this last year which included the amplifier, external antenna, internal antenna, and cabling for all components. I didn’t care for their provided antenna, and while I did test it, it didn’t really impress me.

What I did like was the amplifier and internal antenna. This booster ended up providing the best overall performance no matter where we were. The internal antenna is mounted only a few inches away from the stock Peplink antennas, and the outdoor antenna was a mix of all of the above antennas.

With the boosters internal antenna near the Peplink, that meant that both the primary and diversity antennas on the Peplink could use the boosted signal, which resulted in not only better signal strength, but faster download speeds.

I would recommend this booster.

weBoost Drive 4G-X RV 470410 Cell Phone Signal Booster for Your RV or Motorhome – Enhance Your Cell Phone Signal up to 32x
  • Designed for both in motion and stationary use - created to increase cellular signal in your recreational vehicle or motorhome, extends your cellular signal range for efficient indoor coverage.
  • Up to 32X better cellular coverage - this signal booster gives you improved indoor voice and data signal for fewer dropped calls, higher audio quality, and faster uploads and downloads.
  • Compatible with any American and Canadian carrier - the drive 4g-x RV works with all carriers - AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint*, Straight Talk, U.S. Cellular and many more. Connectors : SMA Female (inside antenna) | F-Female (outside antenna)
  • Extends battery life - this booster helps prolong your device's battery life by consuming only a small percentage of your phone's energy. Enjoy up to two hours of additional Talk time ; Power Required : 110-240 Volts AC, 50-60 Hz, 8 Watts
  • Supports multiple devices - experience the fastest network speed with this signal booster Device that extends your service range up to 60% farther than other mobile Boosters can!

Best Configuration

The best configuration I have tested is as follows:

1x WirEng BoatAnt antenna externally mounted high up using the WirEng provided cable connected directly to the weBoost amplifier. Internal weBoost antenna mounted within 2-3″ of the stock Peplink MAX Transit antennas.

Note: While I still recommend the WirEng BoatAnt antenna, it appears to be discontinued or unavailable. Don’t pay more than $225 for it online or you’re likely getting ripped off. The Wilson antenna above at around $110 is my recommended alternative.

The WirEng antennas claim a 10dB improvement, which I have observed on multiple bands with AT&T and T-Mobile.

The weBoost amp adds even more to that improvement, especially in low signal areas.

I originally started out hoping to only have an external antenna, directly connected to the Peplink – no booster or amplifier. But I found in places with very poor signal, an external antenna alone was not enough. A booster adds more power usage and complexity, but as important as the Internet is for the crew and all of my network, I would rather have a quality signal everywhere at the cost of more power usage.

I also have a coupler taped near the amplifier, where the outside antenna meets the inside antenna cable. Worst case scenario, I can join the two together, bypassing the amplifier, and remove the inside antenna and connect the cable directly to the Peplink. Or, worst case scenario, simply turn off the amplifier and use the stock antennas on the Peplink without any external antenna.

Performance

I have been using this configuration now for 6+ months and have been very happy with both the coverage in bad signal areas, and overall performance when in better areas.

At my home marina, I regularly get about a 25ms ping time, 20-40Mbps download, and 10-20Mbps upload on T-Mobile. That’s pretty good for an LTE connection.  AT&T shows a 25-35ms ping time, 20Mbps download and 20Mbps upload.

Crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the San Juan Islands, we usually lose signal somewhere around Smith Island, and gain it back a while later. With this configuration, we had signal almost all the way across, albeit very slow 3G for a time.

This is exactly the outcome I had been hoping for – something that is super fast and able to handle multiple streaming devices when near civilization, and coverage when in the boonies enough to do the basics.

Parts List

It is important to note that you don’t need all of these to improve your connection. If you don’t have a Peplink device, you can still add the outdoor WirEng BoatAnt antenna and weBoost amplifier and gain considerable coverage and improve your throughput. Whatever you’re using now, if it has an LTE radio in it, it will need to be close to the indoor antenna. Many people also simply use the indoor antenna with their cell phones, although you do need to be relatively close for this to work reliably.

All of the things in the diagram above:

BoatAnt Antenna for weBoost Drive 4G-X 470510 Marine Fully Enclosed
  • The BoatAnt is a compact and efficient omnidirectional antenna especially suited for harsh environments, such as the marine environment. It is fully compatible with the weBoost Drive 4G-X 470510.
  • The BoatAnt is a fully omnidirectional antenna (doughnut/toroidal-shaped radiation pattern) and to avoid self-amplification we recommend to install it as high as possible.
  • The BoatAnt is a fully enclosed, all-weather, omnidirectional, ultra-linear, and is ideally suited for s boats, vessels, yachts, oil rigs, and other sea/marine environments. To protect yourself and your equipment from lightning strikes, WirEng's LightningPro (SKU LPRO-50-OHM) is highly recommended.
  • The BoatAnt operating frequency range is 700-3800 MHz with a peak gain of 10 dBi*, a horizontal aperture of 360° and a vertical aperture of 200°. The BoatAnt nominal impedance is 50 Ohm and the connector is N Female. This version of the BoatAnt has 50 Ohm impedance and is 100% compatible with the weBoost Drive 4G-X 470510 (SKU WBT-DRIVE-4G-X-470510-BTA). The BoatAnt is mainly recommended for marine/outdoors (pole) applications.
  • Gain in dBi values are averages increases obtained by comparing the standard/internal device antenna to a properly-installed BoatAnt located substantially higher than the device location. The BoatAnt measures 2.4 x 7.8 x 2.4 inches and weighs 1.2 lbs. Made in the USA with skilled craftsmanship. One year manufacturer warranty included.
weBoost Drive 4G-X RV 470410 Cell Phone Signal Booster for Your RV or Motorhome – Enhance Your Cell Phone Signal up to 32x
  • Designed for both in motion and stationary use - created to increase cellular signal in your recreational vehicle or motorhome, extends your cellular signal range for efficient indoor coverage.
  • Up to 32X better cellular coverage - this signal booster gives you improved indoor voice and data signal for fewer dropped calls, higher audio quality, and faster uploads and downloads.
  • Compatible with any American and Canadian carrier - the drive 4g-x RV works with all carriers - AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint*, Straight Talk, U.S. Cellular and many more. Connectors : SMA Female (inside antenna) | F-Female (outside antenna)
  • Extends battery life - this booster helps prolong your device's battery life by consuming only a small percentage of your phone's energy. Enjoy up to two hours of additional Talk time ; Power Required : 110-240 Volts AC, 50-60 Hz, 8 Watts
  • Supports multiple devices - experience the fastest network speed with this signal booster Device that extends your service range up to 60% farther than other mobile Boosters can!
StarTech.com IES81GW Gigabit Ethernet Switch – 8 port – Wall Mount – Industrial – Gigabit Switch – Managed Switch – Network Switch
  • Connect up to 8 GbE devices using this IP30 industrial Ethernet switch with intelligent Layer 2 management
  • Expand your network with 8x RJ45 ports in one convenient Gigabit network switch (wall mountable with front access or DIN-rail mountable)
  • 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Switch features rugged IP30 industrial design with metal housing and extended temperature range (-40° to +75° C)
  • Layer 2 management capabilities provide improved network control, efficiency, and stability
  • Compatible with 10/100/1000 Mbps networks and provides redundant power design (terminal block/DC plug) / L2 Managed Network Switch / Gigabit Switch / 8 port Managed Switch / 8 port Switch / 8 port Gigabit switch / Gigabit network switch / 8 port network switch / L2 switch / industrial managed Ethernet switch / Ethernet switch gigabit
Groove A 52 ac
  • Mikrotik RBGrooveGA-52HPacn Outdoor CPE 802.11ac support, Weatherproof, durable and ready to use.
  • Mikrotik RBGrooveGA-52HPacn comes with Level 4 license and includes Dual Band 2.4/5GHz Omni directional antenna.
  • Wireless standards 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • GrooveGA 52HPacn Antenna 6dBi (2.4GHz) 8dBi (5GHz)
  • 720MHz RAM64MB Storage size 16MB RouterOS License level 4

 

Note: While I still recommend the WirEng BoatAnt antenna, it appears to be discontinued or unavailable. Don’t pay more than $225 for it online or you’re likely getting ripped off. The Wilson antenna above at around $110 is my recommended alternative.

28 thoughts on “Best LTE antenna and booster for the boat

  1. Great article, and thanks for the mentioning the Mobile Internet Resource Center.

    FYI – we have an article about MIMO antenna technology that explains some of the geekiness behind the scenes, and why boosters and MIMO often conflict with each other.

    Sometimes – turning on a booster can actually cut your speeds in half!

    When you have your booster on, you are essentially eliminating the capability of the aux/diversity antenna to pick up a differentiated signal since everything is going through the funnel of the booster.

    In strong signal area – this will result in a performance drop since the 2x speed mode benefit of MIMO gets eliminated. But as you’ve seen, in weak signal areas a booster can come in extremely handy. The improvements can be especially dramatic for upload performance.

    Here’s the article – though the bulk is member content:

    Understanding MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) – LTE Speed & Cell Booster Implications

    Cheers,
    – Chris

    • Thanks Chris – that is great info to have. I remember reading about this on your site, and I have seen it myself while testing/using my setup. Hopefully someone will make a solution that can provide both without futzing with things constantly!

  2. Very helpful report, thank you.
    For a setup with a MIMO capable router, without booster: would you recommend a single BoatAnt antenna, or twin conventional antennas for best performance?
    Cheers
    Wolf

    • It depends on what you mean by “best performance”. If you’re specifically talking about signal coverage across the board, even in hard to get signal areas, two antennas really wouldn’t matter vs. one. If you’re talking about overall throughput performance, then MIMO comes into play.

      I did test two BoatAnt antennas with my Peplink MAX Transit, which is definitely MIMO capable. I did see a benefit in having two antennas over only having one in both upload and download performance, but it did require double the cabling, mounting, and antenna expense. The difference ranged from small to moderate – I did not see quadrupling of bandwidth or throughput with the second antenna, but MIMO testing gets very location specific.

      If you are in areas with decent signal most of the time, you could likely get away by having one BoatAnt external, and the second diversity antenna on your router act as it should to help with better performance. The ultimate config for this of course would be two external antennas, though.

      I’d suggest ordering one BoatAnt and test to see how much benefit it gives over the stock antennas, with one of those acting as your diversity antenna.

    • Hi Greg,

      I have never used this particular product, but at first glance, here are a few notes:

      Antenna gain is only 2-3dBi which is really low. Bad cabling or interference alone could remove that gain. The WirEng BoatAnt I tested had a max published gain of 10dBi which is considerably more. Even the Wilson antenna I tested had more than this.

      Their amplifier stats show a similar gain to the weBoost of 50dB, which is good.

      The other few things that might concern me:

      30 feet of cable from the antenna to the splitter – that is double what I have, and most antennas seem consistent that 15 feet is the max before you see significant drops.

      Splitter – this has to add some loss.

      Single antenna for multiple purposes – all of my testing showed that any multi-element antennas performed the worst out of everything tested. This setup has HDTV, WiFi, and Cellular all in one, extra long cable, and a splitter adding more loss. This has a similar configuration.

      Cost – $1300 is a lot, and for that money you could buy best-of-breed components like the WirEng, weBoost, and even more, and know that each component is the best there is.

      Reviews – I can’t find hardly any reviews for this product, which is concerning.

      So far I have yet to see an all-in-one solution for LTE and WiFi perform better than standalone. That doesn’t even include HDTV. I would be wary of anyone selling one until there are published reviews and more data gathered on the subject.

      Hope that helps!

      • Hi Stee,

        Thank you very much for your response. Small gain of antenna concerns me too, however i can see only 1 benefit – single antenna.

        Regarding 30 ft cable i have another question.
        I want to put the antennas on a mast spreaders. Putting them on radar pole gives me only about 10-12 Ft from the water level, which is not a lot. So if i put them on spreaders, i would need about 60 ft cable. for wiring (30 ft from spreaders and another 30 ft inside of the boat. So 60 ft wire will significantly decrease the gain. I would like to know your thoughts – spreaders or radar pole?

        BTW i found this ( https://www.vyacht.net/specification#all-instruments ) wifi router. May be you already saw it, though I found the idea is quite interesting (implementation could be bit better though)

        Best regards

        Greg

        • Hi Greg,

          I think the best choice is the radar pole. The spreaders would only be 20-30 feet (at most) higher, and you’re not going to get huge gains from that. In fact, because you have to use double the cable length (60 feet) you might actually have less gain overall, even though the antennas are higher.

          I have seen marketing information on the vyacht.net router before. It seems like a great idea, but I don’t have much info beyond that unfortunately. I tried contacting them a year ago but never heard back.

  3. Thanks to Chris at technomadia.com who sent me your link. I really enjoyed your article because it is well detailed. I also like to see OTA (Over The Air) testing like this and all the install/cable/radios involved. I design and mfg antennas including the 4G items 700-2700MHz plus enjoy testing many off the market models. About 5 years ago we settled on a design which is very popular now. The aprox 2.3″ diameter and 7 to 11″ length for the 4G omni. All of this type are basic wide dipoles however very well tuned with careful control of diameters and lengths of the radiators. I knew, and later confirmed that the laws of physics always win, when playing against marketing and sales departments. All of these, size and bandwidth will always be in the 1.5-3 dBi (at the horizon where its wanted) even if the sales guys call it 10 dBi. A big factor as you already well know is the cable. Just a week ago a client company was testing my marine antenna and others on a boat, using the included 15 to 20 FT thin and “easy to install” RG-58 type cables. They found minor improvement with that Vs. the blade antennas on top of the modem itself. However, I later provided an update version with a short 24″ cable just to get in the hull, then connect an LMR-400 cable for the rest of a 20 FT run and there was a real improvement. The original cables can loose 3 dB or a full 50% of the signal either TX or RX. Ive included a picture of an early test unit “fat dipole” which Chris calls a beer can. Im using that name now too! This was a marine and RV version done last year.

    • Thanks for stopping by Raul, and glad Chris sent you this way! Your antenna build looks pretty darn cool – I wish I had the chops to do stuff like that.

      Marketing departments are definitely the bane of much of technology nowadays. New terms are invented, claims are made, and it becomes industry standard very quickly. Those of us who test things and actually use them and publish results are where consumers can hopefully find useful information and make informed decisions.

      Cabling made the difference in almost all of my setups – the cable included in some of the multi-element antennas was so small it was shocking. I had never seen cable for any of this industry that small, but when you have to pull 5-6 cables for one antenna through a hole in something, I understand why they did it from a technical perspective. From a signal perspective, one of those antennas actually offered a negative benefit as a result.

  4. Steve,

    I was pointed to your blog by Sam and Kevin from Slowboat – great information! We are doing some extensive cruising in B.C. and Alaska this summer where there is very limited cell coverage and people in our group using the Weboost 4g-x boosters are able to pull in LTE or 3G signals where we are seeing none so I am likely going to purchase one of these boosters and the WebAnt antenna that you recommend.

    How I integrate it to my current setup is where I have questions. I did a fair amount of research and ended up with a WiriePro with the LTE modem built in after reading reviews on Panbo and other sources. On paper it is a great idea with an all in one piece of hardware for boosting Wi-Fi and using cellular data. My success with using it has been less than satisfactory so far however. It works great to boost weak Wi-Fi signals, but the LTE/4G/3G connection has been problematic. I can often see a decent LTE connection on an iPhone inside out boat where the externally mounted WiriePro wont see the cellular network at all or will see it and not work well. I even purchased the external cellular antenna that they market for it (http://www.thewirie.com/the-wirie-products/marine-lte-antenna-details/), which did not seem to help much if at all.

    One other thing I don’t like about the Wirie router is that it doesn’t allow me to assign a static IP address that my Furuno electronics want to see to allow me to connect to them remotely with an iOS app without having to create their own Wi-Fi network. That is something that I could deal with though if I am able to get a better cellular connection.

    So finally to my question: What do you think about using the Weboost 4G-X booster with the WebAnt external antenna, but rather than locating the internal antenna inside my boat, mounting it close to the external 6dB gain Wirie antenna? I have the Wirie mounted to the false stack on a Nordhavn 40 just aft of the pilothouse, so I would be able to mount the internal antenna Weboost antenna almost next to the external WiriePro antenna but in a dry location separated by a layer of fiberglass.

    Maybe I am trying too hard to salvage the usability of my almost new WiriePro device (which was not exactly cheap) but I am curious to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks!

    • Dougal,
      Thanks for stopping by! Sounds like you are part of the Slowboat flotilla heading north into Alaska! Sounds fun.

      Getting LTE/4G/3G right is actually pretty hard. I have used tons of different solutions, including the WiriePro, and I’ve never found a better solution than Peplink. CradlePoint has some good solutions, but their company has a lot of other issues, and is more focused on commercial business. Building something that can work with all of the different cellular providers, has robust features to switch back and forth between different SIM cards, switching between WiFi and LTE, and also dealing with all of the crazy situations that LTE radios can have is a big challenge.

      I used the original Wirie for a long time, and it was great – they essentially took off the shelf hardware (mostly Alfa at the time) and put custom software/firmware on it to make it simpler for the marine world. Over time I found that the performance was less than what I wanted, and they lacked any LTE support. I bought stand alone components that were similar to what Wirie did, and they performed quite a bit better, and at 1/2 to 1/4 of the price. Of course, I had to put them all together, and manage it, which is what you pay the premium for from Wirie.

      I was not impressed with their Pro product, in particular some of the limited LTE radio chipsets, and the logic/software limitations between LTE and WiFi. It felt like there were some gaps in what it really should have done – perhaps that has changed since I evaluated it a year or two ago.

      I think adding a booster would definitely help your configuration. You could also look at an in-line booster, which weBoost/Wilson make as well, but aren’t quite as powerful as the standard ones. An in-line booster would actually replace the antenna on the WiriePro and there would be a cable directly connecting its antenna port to the amplifier. The downside to that configuration is that in-line boosters are limited in power because they’re in-line, but since they are connected directly, the overall effect can be close. In addition, if you decide to replace the WiriePro, an in-line booster might not work with whatever you replace it with.

      If you go for the tried and true 4G-X and mount an antenna near your Wirie’s antenna as you mentioned, it should provide the best solution. The only issue you might have is that if the cell signal is very strong nearby, because both are outside and have less interference, the Wirie might flip back and forth between using the booster antenna and the real antenna, or the booster will drop its signal (on purpose, by design) to prevent loops and then you’re back to using the WiriePro outside antenna. In that case, it probably won’t matter as it will work fine because the signal is high.

      You could move the WiriePro further inside too if you wanted to, but there’s likely no reason, as you can still use the remote WiFi grabbing features having it outside.

      I think your approach is pretty good – at least it should get you a better signal overall in bad areas, and longer term if you want to replace the WiriePro, you have a good booster as a base.

      I do agree on their router though. I seem to remember an advanced option somewhere that might have allowed you to do static addresses, but perhaps that is gone. Can you not change the range of DHCP/automatic addresses they hand out? Then you could at least limit it to say 100-200, and then manually setup addresses below that.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Steve,

    Thanks for the detailed reply to my comment. I am in the process of upgrading my system to get cellular data on board and just installed a 4G-X booster connected to the “high gain” (allegedly 6dB) optional Wirie antenna. I attached the cheap little 3 inch magnetic external antenna that are with the booster to the antenna connector on the Wirie device and ran that inside my pilothouse next to the internal antenna.

    So far it measurable improves the signal seems to have improved performance but not as much as I would expect. I am seeing a 3G (HSPA+) connection on the wire device where we are docked for the night in Kassaan while my phone is picking up an LTE signal. I am guessing the external antenna is the bottleneck.

    I tried to order the WebAnt antenna that you recommend when I both the booster but after placing an order with Amazon I got an email that the order couldn’t be filled and contacted Wireng directly. Turns out they are discontinuing and sold out of the original WebAnt and now in early production and selling a new BoatAnt-Plus device. On paper it looks good but they are asking close to $500 for it so I definitely want to understand the claims before spending that kind of money for an antenna.

    Have you heard about this new product by chance or could you comment based on the spec sheet? There is a page 2 with mechanical drawings and another graphic but I could only upload he first page to your site.

    Thanks!

    • Dougal,

      Sorry that things are still not working out with the Wirie! I do have a few ideas/questions/notes.

      First, I would not pay $500 for an antenna for this particular application. I have heard of this new one, and have not been able to get definitive information from WirEng on why they aren’t making the old one anymore, and what is driving this insanely high price on the new one. I’m actually a bit frustrated having recommended their product to have it be unavailable to people and will likely be changing my article to reflect that.

      Second, I would consider using the included outdoor antenna that you got with the 4G-X booster to see how that does compared to the Wirie antenna. Without knowing much about the Wirie antenna, I would be worried that it does not support the frequencies you are needing for the area you’re traveling in.

      I just did a side to side comparison of what Wirie says their LTE modem supports versus a bunch of other industry standards, and it looks like they don’t support Band 12 nor any of the new LTE-A bands (B25, B26, B29, B30, B41). The latter are less important, but Band 12 might be affecting your ability to get LTE. And this is based on what I could find about current Wirie devices – they could have had less supported LTE bands in the past.

      The fact that you can get LTE on your phone and are not seeing it with the Wirie lends credence to this being a potential problem. Most cell phones, if they are recent versions, have support for all of the new LTE frequencies or bands, and will switch to whichever are available and more powerful. Devices like the Wirie and even Peplink, Cradlepoint and others have more difficulties keeping up with all of the bands since they change so frequently. I’m beginning to suspect the Wirie doesn’t support the bands you need in the areas you are traveling.

      What cellular carriers are you seeing on your phone / Wirie? What year / model phone do you have? With this info we might be able to figure out if LTE bands are actually causing an additional issue, besides the signal strength one!

  6. Unfortunately I didn’t get an antenna other than the little 3 inch magnetic one with the booster package that I bought because I was planning on purchasing a separate antenna. I can find the old BoatAnt antenna on eBay but not cheap – I saw one for $374 which is almost as much as the new one! I’m tempted to purchase the Wilson model that you lost as being second best on performance to the BoatAnt as it’s roughly $100. If the BoatAnt will allow me to pull in distant signals while we travel I would consider it a decent investment by don’t want to waste money on something with very incremental performance gains.

    The issue with LTE bands is something more troubling and I wish I’d known more about all the s before I’d spent he money on the Wirie. It seems to be a one man show and they are relatively quick to respond to tech support issues but always seem a little to eager to defend the product and blame problems on things outside their control. I don’t want to bash the product on a public forum but there is a long thread on the cruisers Sailing forum brining up issues with the device.

    I am actually getting LTE both on my phone and the Wirie now I’m soitheast Alaska north of Ketchikan. Below is copied from a reply on a troubleshooting ticket from Wirie a month or so ago:

    These are the bands supported by The Wirie pro:

    LTE (optional) B1/B2/B3/B4/B5/B7/B8/B13/B17/B20
    HSPA+/UMTS (3/4G) 850 (B5), 900 (B8), AWS (B4), 1900(B2), 2100 (B1)
    GSM/GPRS/EDGE (2G) 850, 900, 1800, 1900
    Band 30 is not supported at this time.

    It does not seem like they offer hardware upgrades or very frequent firmware updates.

    I’ve got AT&T service on the iPhones and an AT&T sim from the 4G Antenna Shop and curiously with this sim even with roaming turned on I only once picked up a network in Canada where our phones would pick up roaming signals in a lot of places.

    After we leave the Northwest we plan to cruise down into Mexico so trying to plan for the future as far as what we are able to pick up down there with both hardware and cell plans.

  7. Dougal, Ive been following parts of your thread here as I work a few hours today at the office. I wrote some info about antennas before because I design and make antennas (since 1991).
    Just a reminder that “4G” antennas are having to work at a huge band width covering 700-2700MHz. And on a mobile station that means omni-directional. That massive bandwidth results in fairly low gain. That gain is “directivity in a wanted direction” needed at the horizon, plus or minus 10 degrees on a boat.
    If you could know that for example you could get by with a dual band antenna such as the older 3G 850/1900 MHz bands, it would be double or more gain thatn the 4G antenna. If you knew you needed only 1 band like 700 LTE or 1900 GSM etc then double that again. (assuming a well designed antenna).
    Cable loss: Sometimes the “stick” antenna that comes with the modem device performs as good as an outdoor antenna. The cable losses can quickly eat all the increase in performance obtained at the new outdoor antenna. The net amount of signal at the device connector could end up the same or lower. Note however, the outside antenna may be doing 2.5 dBi across 7 bands, the little stick on the device will never do that. The device maker may KNOW that the device will be on 850MHz 90% of the time then they provide e the antenna that best performs at 850. The other bands may be quite quite poor. Finally, be wary of any omni-dir 4G antenna claiming over 3 dBi. At the popular prices and size being sold, anthing over 2.5 to 3.0 dBi AVG is phyisically impossible. OK excuse the long text, have a good week.

  8. Raul,

    Thanks so much for the feedback. I feel like I have hijacked the comments section of Steve’s excellent review but I won’t pass up the free advice. I’m a mechanical engineer by training and RF stuff seems like black magic in a way to me so I am trying to soak up knowledge.

    I am wondering if antenna placement on a mobile application like moving boat is equally important as the antenna design? There is a lot of lot of metal rigging above deck on our boat and a fairly packed array of Antennas for other devices.

    The cellular antenna the my booster is currently connected to is the little white cylinder that I circled in red in the photo. I am wondering if moving whatever antenna that I end up using higher up on a pole or extension might increase reception in remote areas…?

    • Dougal,

      No problems on continuing conversations on this post – you’re not hijacking anything! I want conversation and collaboration – its the only way we can all learn and benefit from it.

      Antenna placement is definitely important. It looks like yours is up high and out of the weeds, but there is a big metal mast right behind it that could be causing some issues.

      You could easily test by using another antenna and the wire that came with the booster to test things out. I think you were considering the Wilson – that is definitely a great antenna, and it might be a good way to rule other things out.

  9. Dougal,
    I see your picture. Its real crowded there for sure. The cell antenna needs to be higher by a few inches than the dome that blocks the view of the antennas lower 1 to 3 inches.
    Whats really killing signal is the apparent short distance to the large diameter tube that might be a sailing mast. Thats probably metal. The antenna needs to be 18 inches away from such a metallic diameter to avoid a shadow in that direction.
    As it is now not only is there a large shadow behind the mast but the signal is probably not close to being within 1 dB of omni directional in all the other directions. It might be very oval or distorted.

  10. Hi Steve,

    This is great information! Thank you for taking the time to put it together!

    I’m curious what you think would perform better – two external antennas each with their own in-line booster going directly to the Pepwave or a single external antenna going to a 4G-X which would then transmit to the stock Pepwave antennas? In terms of “performance” I have two use cases – one near shore where MIMO is a factor and the other where there is very little signal.

    • Hi Zac,

      I have the latter – one antenna going to the 4G-X with the internal antenna near the stock antennas of the Pepwave. I have no issue picking up remote signals out and about that normally I would not be able to snag because of how weak they are. I don’t necessarily upload/download speeds get super fast (indicating diversity or LTE-A) where signal strength is already high. Chris posted a link earlier in the comments about how boosters can actually interfere with dual antennas and diversity.

      I think two boosters would be overkill personally. If you’re trying to get diversity or LTE-A to work via that method, I think you would still have the same problem as a single booster, in that the two internal antennas on the Pepwave would not “see” two ways to get to the tower and be able to enable that functionality.

      Another alternative would be to not use rebroadcasting boosters, and use in-line ones. You could remove the antennas from the Pepwave, and the inline booster would be directly connected. You could use two of those with two external antennas. Separating or even orienting the outdoor antennas differently, you could achieve both a diversity configuration with a boosted one. However, in-line boosters aren’t as common, and you are committing yourself to boosters being on all the time. If you turned them off, the Pepwave would not have any antennas to fall back on.

      I know there are some new boosters either just entering the market or being talked about that could help more with this, and especially with LTE-A and 5G, there are going to be more challenges with boosting things appropriately without losing some aspect of the signal. Hopefully in the next year or so we will see some updates on this technology.

      • Hi Steve,

        Thanks for the detailed reply and your time! Yes, I was asking about using 2 in-line boosters directly on the Pepwave versus a single rebroadcast booster next to the Pepwave. 2 rebroadcast boosters seems like it would be problematic. I would be using external antennas like: https://www.altelix.com/Altelix-3G-4G-LTE-High-Gain-Pro-Omni-Antenna-10dBi-p/au0727g10-pro.htm since the BoatEng is discontinued.

        The in-line booster I was looking at is: http://clearrf.com/index.php/products/wre5500-s/ (was recommended by a Peplink employee on their forums) – which has a unique passive bypass mode where the in-line amplifier is bypassed if power is lost or if amplification isn’t required. The plan would be to cut power to the boosters when near shore, if it doesn’t automatically turn itself off, in order to avoid issues like Chris mentioned. This booster doesn’t support band 12 though which is potentially an issue. No in-line boosters I’ve found support all/most LTE-A bands so the lifetime on these solutions is limited anyways.

        My concern is that even with using 2 in-line boosters that I won’t get as far as reach in low signal conditions as with a single rebroadcast booster because the in-line booster gain is only 15db whereas the rebroadcast gain is 50db. You mentioned the in-line amplifier provided less benefit, but I wasn’t sure if this was solely because the setup you tested lacked antenna diversity that rebroadcast booster provided or it was due to the booster power themselves.

        • Hi Zac,
          I would still recommend the Wilson antenna based on my experience with it. I have seen few antennas with claims of high gain actually work out besides the BoatAnt, and it seems to be impossible to get now. The Wilson has a more reasonable gain, and works with lots of marine mounting options.

          The in-line booster you linked to looks interesting. How would the Peplink work out though when it was off? If you direct wired everything, one would assume the “antenna” when the booster is off would be the wiring between the Peplink and the booster? Might not work that well when off, but I haven’t tested that myself.

          You’re correct about band support for boosters. I primarily use T-Mobile in the Seattle area, and have an LTE-A version of the Peplink MAX Transit. When the booster is at play, I rarely see LTE-A and usually get flipped onto one of the older bands. Band 12 support is going to be very important to keep the high download/upload speeds specifically on T-Mobile since that is how they are rolling out their newer services.

          The in-line booster that I tested was only a single unit, so yes I had issues with diversity at some times, while during other testing I had better results. It is true that the in-line boosters only provide 15db, which is much less than the potential 50db from a standard booster, but there is a bunch more loss with the standard one. First, you’re spitting it back out an antenna internally, which adds some loss, and you’re having to pick it back up from another antenna. I can’t say that it would be 35db of loss but there definitely is some.

          Folks that I know who do longer term cruising in more remote areas of the West and East coasts of the United States all seem to prefer the standard booster because it does amplify things more. And in a pinch you can shut it off, revert to the stock antennas, or even put your cell phone near the internal antenna and get a benefit.

          If you do go the in-line route, and get one of those boosters, I’d love to hear more about its performance.

  11. Great stuff,

    The Groove, Halo, and Bullet are all good.

    Im considering a Shakespeare WebWatch antenna, WCT-1 This includes WIFI (w/firewall & VPN), Cellular (GSM only), and TV (which i plan to connect to an HD HomeRun Connect box). The antenna is supposed to use WIFI until signal is lost then switch to Cellular, includes a wireless WIFI and wired network output. This keeps it simple I hope. Any thoughts, insights or corrections is appreciated.

    Tim Welch
    Planning for our Great Loop trip.

    • Hi Tim,

      My experience with all-in-one antennas is that they don’t perform as well as purpose built, specific ones. I have not used the Shakespeare one, but they are not known for their cellular expertise – I would be worried about features/functionality around that area. In particular, it does not look like they support a ton of LTE bands, and the information in general on the cellular side is pretty light.

      Given that it is an all in one, I bet that it won’t perform as well, but if you are looking for something simpler, it might be a good choice.

  12. Hi Steve, Im also in Elliot bay marina and exploring both wifi and cell service antenna setups and determining which route to go. couple of questions. Reading the NMEA guidance on antenna placement, it seems there are distinct implications of placing certain antennas within a certain distance of other antennas. – especially VHF. have you investigated any challenges with placing your cell and Wifi antennas too close to other antennas? I am trying to fit two VHF antennas, wifi, cellular, Radar, Satellite, and GPS pucks within a short amount of space…

    in Seattle, (I’m T mobile customer currently) but when looking at pay as you go short term data sim cards I have a choice, would you go T mobile for the data sim?) if so, would you still recommend the peplink max transit and specifically the LTE-A model?

    happy to provide beers and talk in the marina if easier and more fun! 🙂

    • Hi Gavin,
      Antenna placement is definitely something to consider. It sounds like you have a lot to put all close together, but that is not unusual on boats.

      The rule of thumb is to separate everything by 3 feet, and not put similar type antennas or services next to each other. So for two VHF antennas, I would space them apart as far as possible given they are going to be using the same frequencies, on opposite sides of the boat if at all possible. Everything else can be relatively close as long as they are disparate services or frequencies, such as WiFi and GPS. Without knowing more about the space you’re trying to stick everything, and the type of radar that you’re using, I couldn’t be more specific than that.

      I use T-Mobile as my primary provider both for all of my phones and tablets, as well as the boat. Their T-Mobile One plan is what I use for all of those devices, with the T-Mobile One Plus International plan for the data card in my Peplink. That allows for full LTE speeds and roaming in Canada.

      I definitely recommend any of the Peplink products if you are willing to pay for them. They are more expensive than some of the other setups, but you get what you pay for in terms of advanced and more polished features, such as switching from LTE to WiFi more or less seamlessly. In addition, the Peplink MAX Transit has two SIM slots, so you can switch between T-Mobile and another provider (or two T-Mobile SIMs for more overall monthly data) and many other features.

      If I were buying anything right now, I would make sure it is compatible with LTE-A as that is rolling out everywhere, and you don’t want to buy something that doesn’t have support for the higher speeds.

      Always open to a local chat!

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