Search the Community
Showing results for tags 'Internet phone and TV'.
Found 1 result
Improving onboard Mobile communications
KJT posted a topic in Boat EquipmentI thought I would share my experience trying to improve my internet and phone communications whilst out on the cut. For a number of reasons it is essential that I can have a reliable connection, especially internet wherever possible. As a CC for at least six months of the year the need for something more reliable than the standard ‘3’ Mi-Fi offering (as good as it is) quickly became apparent. The forums search facility will bring up many useful threads on the subject of improving both internet and phone communications. There are many ideas bandied about, some more worthy than others, such as dongles wrapped in plastic bags or yoghurt pots and dangling by bits of string from chimneys and such like. They work with varying degrees of success. I know, I’ve tried most of them at one time or another. Having experimented with different ideas over the past couple of years I have come to the inevitable conclusion that in order to have the best chance of receiving a reliable signal for both phone and internet you really need to invest in some serious equipment. Of course there are those that the ‘Heath Robinson’ approach is more than satisfactory and indeed may well give excellent results in the right location. But those who travel the system extensively and need reliable internet/phone connection for business say, will probably need something more ‘fit for purpose’. Internet I think it’s well recognised, and it’s also my experience, that the ‘3’ network has the most extensive and reliable coverage of the canal system. I had one of their standard Huawei ‘Mi-Fi’ units that didn’t have the external aerial socket and found that, although generally quite good, it did have limitations as to reception and performance. I then purchased via Amazon the Huawei E5332 which did have an external aerial socket (TS9 connection). I initially tried connecting that to a 12 inch magnetic mount aerial placed on the roof and that improved reception a great deal. But there were still many locations I found it gave no reliable signal reception. In those locations I found taping the mag aerial to the top of my boat hook raised vertically did indeed generally improve the reception. I did a lot more research and eventually decided on a demountable 2 metre mast with an aerial from Connex Technologies. http://www.connextech.co.uk/3g-external-high-gain-omni-antenna-bundle---600603-253-p.asp Their aerial comes fitted with 5 metres of cable and the TS9 pig tail required to connect to the Mi-Fi unit and costs about £120 This proved to be the ‘bees knees’ and with this aerial mounted atop the 2 metre mast I got reliable internet connection on ‘3’ just about everywhere we go. I installed this ‘enhanced’ system in the Spring of 2013 and has proved its worth during our extensive cruise last summer. As we try and use 12v wherever possible I also purchased an in car charger unit for the MI-Fi from Maplins which saves having to use the inverter. Although the Mi-Fi unit has about a 5 hour battery life, if we are moored up for a couple of days or so, using as much 12v equipment wherever possible is preferable in my opinion. We also have 530 watts of solar panels which provides all our electrical needs in the summer when not cruising. Recently we had a need for a second Mi-Fi unit and rather than go for another E5332, as good as it is, I thought technology may have improved and the latest offering from ‘3’ is the Huawei E5756. It is more expensive than their standard unit but it does have the external TS9 socket. Apparently this also has two internal aerials and is more sensitive to signal reception and can in fact use two cell masts at the same time if they are both in range. I gave it a try, first without the external aerial and alongside the E5332 and it is definitely faster opening identical pages on two identical laptop computers. Then I connected both to the external aerials (I now have two mast aerials, see later in this report) and again the E5756 was noticeably faster than the E5332 opening identical pages on identical laptops. Technology has definitely improved in the two years since I purchased the E5332. E5756 mifi with patch lead and 12v power lead Phone Although our requirement for phone communication is not as pressing as our need for internet, there are occasions when it is necessary. I have a contract with Vodafone which gives me loads of free minutes, but on the cut it has proved a pretty useless network. We also have a couple of cheap Nokia phones on ‘Pay-As-You-Go’, one on ‘3’ and the other on O2. Unsurprisingly the ‘3’ network is quite good, but for some unknown reason the ‘3’ telephone signal is usually weaker than the Mi-Fi signal. The O2 signal is also generally quite good, certainly better than Vodafone, but can be very patchy in coverage. It is quite irritating to have to move around the boat to find an area that has the best signal strength, often having to go outside to have any decent call quality. Even then, often speech communication can be quite difficult if not impossible. I did at one point invest in a mag aerial from Boaters Phone Co, with a Velcro, wrap around, ‘passive’ patch lead for my iPhone 4S and found it made absolutely no difference to my signal quality. The iPhone doesn’t have an external aerial socket. In fairness I have spoken to others who use that system with the Velcro and they say it does make an improvement. It just goes to show that everyone’s experience can be very different. Following on from the good performance of the Mi-Fi and the Connex aerial I decided to see if I could improve telephone performance by the same amount. Very few, if any, of the current offerings of handsets that I have come across have an external aerial socket. However on investigation I did learn that the Samsung S2, S3, S4, and quite possibly the new S5 do have an external aerial socket. However this is not generally publicised and is installed primarily for Samsung service technicians during maintenance. It is hidden away behind the battery cover and has its own small round plastic cover concealing the actual socket. On the S3 it’s marked by the code ‘W1’ next to it but, depending on model can also have a second one marked ‘W2’. Generally ‘W1’ should be used. The cover can be prised off using a very small screwdriver. Some models of Samsung the aerial cover is I believe also marked ‘R1’ and ‘R2’. But that’s where it got confusing, my eyes started glazing over and I lost interest! I was thinking of treating myself to a newer phone so opted to buy a used Samsung S3. So all reference is made to the S3. It only has just the one socket, hidden under the ‘W1’ cover. Pic of rear of Samsung S3 As far as I am aware, there is only one supplier of patch leads for the Samsung, they are Telco Antennas in Australia. www.telcoantennas.com.au They do cater for other phones so if you are thinking of modifying yours, it is worth checking their website to see if your phone might be suitable. Some patch leads they offer though, including for the iPhone, are of the ‘passive’ type. Although I have never used the ones from Telco, I personally have found that, in general, the performance of the passive type disappointing. That was based on an iPhone 4S and a basic Nokia and Samsung phone. I also tried the passive patch lead on my original Mi-Fi unit and found it made no discernable difference. I purchased a couple of patch leads from Telco and also a rear battery cover pre-drilled in the correct position for the socket. http://www.telcoantennas.com.au/site/samsung-galaxy-s3-patch-lead-and-back-cover-combo The plug and socket connection is very secure, but I would be wary of continually removing the patch lead from the phone as it seems a little fragile and might just damage either the plug or socket. I have decided to keep the Samsung just for the boat when we are aboard. Sort of like a home phone. The patch lead comes with an SMA female connector on one end and the Samsung plug on the other. Altogether it’s about A$65 (two patch leads and a back cover drilled to fit) plus A$32 shipping (in addition I was stung for £19 customs duty when it arrived in the UK!) Very impressed with Telco though, and DHL the shipper. It was in my hand just 36 hours after ordering it! Someone of course will now point out that there is a supplier of patch leads in Braunston and/or at the Crick show and they cost £5 each! Frankly, I don’t want to know! I wish to remain in blissful ignorance, thank you! Caution. If you try and use a DIY approach by pushing a thin wire into the centre hole of the aerial socket you could seriously damage its internal aerial which won’t work again without major and expensive surgery back at Samsung. It is important to use a purpose made patch lead. The connector supplied with the patch lead (SMA female) also fitted the connector on the Connex external aerial (SMA male) which I had been using for the Mi-Fi, and it worked perfectly. Inside the boat, before connection I was getting one or two bars of signal strength, occasionally losing signal altogether. Once connected, the signal jumped straight to a solid five bars. Call quality is superb! I have been operating this now for a couple of months and I am very pleased with the set up. I purchased a second dedicated aerial from Connex to use for the phone and that is also mounted atop the mast next to the Mi-Fi aerial. I did think about the possibility of running both the Mi-Fi and the phone from the same aerial, but that might affect the quality of the signal to both so thought better of it. The Mast I mount the mast, which is a 38mm diameter, 2 metre high stainless tube, in a couple of brackets fixed to the forward face of my roof top box, which also incorporates four 100 watt solar panels. The mast can be lifted in or out of the mounts in just a few seconds. It can be removed entirely for secure stowage inside the boat when left unattended. The cables run across the roof and in through a saloon hopper window to the various adjacent receivers. They can be unplugged or reconnected in just a couple of minutes when erecting or removing the mast for storage. mast mount on top box TV Having gone to the trouble and expense of fitting the mast, it seemed an ideal place to put my Avtex ‘figure of eight’ omni directional freeview TV aerial. http://www.midlandchandlers.co.uk/Catalogue/ProductDetail/aerial-avtex-12v-digital-sth1000?productID=a23362c3-cbf1-40b0-aca8-2eaf41aea332&catalogueLevelItemID=a4a42a16-1cad-4748-90d3-70ba5a71f73e It generally works very well most places we go. As we prefer to moor in out of the way places there are occasions when we can’t get a good signal for the TV. Last year, at the Crick show I bought a ‘Toura Plus’ antenna with a mount that can convert quickly from vertical to horizontal polarity, and has a built in amplifier powered by the TV’s 5v powered aerial socket. http://www.midlandchandlers.co.uk/Catalogue/ProductDetail/aerial-toura-plus-uhf-antenna-7db-22db-?productID=3ca5b2cb-8aee-4582-b250-b828c0978841&catalogueLevelItemID=a4a42a16-1cad-4748-90d3-70ba5a71f73e Most new TV’s have the 5v facility, usually buried away in the settings menu. I have found it a superb aerial and is allied to the excellent ‘Antenna Aligner’ app on my iPhone which points to the nearest transmitter. As the mast can be rotated easily, I just turn it until the TV aerial is pointing towards the transmitter. A few seconds and the jobs done! When not required, eg cruising, the mast lays in a couple of purpose made wooden blocks on the forward roof. The mast can be erected or removed in about 20 seconds! Great if it’s raining! As I have an interest in meteorology it seemed an obvious place to mount a small wireless weather station on the top. Interestingly, (and off topic, I know, - well it is my thread!) as a result of fitting the weather station, specifically its windspeed readout and historical data record over the last two years, it has become quite clear that mounting a wind generator, in our experience, would be a complete waste of time and money. The number of days that it would have produced any worthwhile power was in reality, very few. And several of those days were of the ‘bright and breezy’ type where our solar was performing well anyway. Of course there are those who swear by their windgens, but I think they are few and far between and must be moored in very exposed places Conclusion Prior to embarking on this little project it seemed that, in general, I got a good Mi-Fi signal about 25% of the time, a barely usable signal about another 25% of the time and the rest (50%) no useable signal when out on the cut. The mobile phone was not much better which is why I had three networks to try and get at least one useable signal. I guess, between the three networks, I was successful about 70% of the time. Since fitting this equipment I have improved the score on the Mi-Fi to I would say, well in excess of 80% although in practice I can’t think of anywhere that I haven’t got at least a useable signal. More usually, I get a good to excellent signal. Even in Braunston, a ‘black hole’ for me when it comes to phone signals, I can get a useable signal. On the phone network side, it seems a toss up between O2 and ‘3’ with the Samsung on the external aerial. The balance so far I think just favours ‘3’. The jury is still out on that, however signal reception is much better using the Connex aerial regardless of network. Vodafone still languishes in third place! Typical, as all my free minutes are on Vodafone! I won’t change contract though as when I travel abroad, which I do regularly, Vodafone is far superior! The waterways I’ve used them on so far are the River Thames, North/South Oxford, Grand Union Main Line and Leicester Line, Coventry, Ashby, River Soar, Erewash, T&M, River Trent and Bridgewater Canal. These are just my thoughts and experience with playing around with various items of equipment. I hope some may find them useful. Others may well think my ideas are ‘overkill’ and find the ‘plastic bag and yoghurt pot’ approach more than adequate for their needs. It’s ‘horses for courses’ at the end of the day. I required something more suited to my needs. Previously I have searched the forum for a ‘Bizzard’ solution but can’t seem to find one, which is truly surprising and disappointing! I would have been very interested in that, and may well have saved me a lot of effort to say nothing of a small fortune! Ken