Saturday 22 September 2012

Narrow-Boat Internet Connection Update.

It's over two years since I first wrote about connecting to the internet from our boat. (Click Here) In that time things have moved on. Prices have changed, service contracts deals have changed, download limits, service providers have merged and coverage has generally improved. 

Our experiences have been in the main quite good. We have covered a great deal of the northern canal system in the intervening time. Coverage has been quite acceptable, we have not had a single time that we have not been able to receive a signal though at times quite weak. We have been using T-Mobile which in this time period as teamed up with Orange. The effect of this has been that we can now use both Orange and T-Mobile network connections.

I made a number of layout improvements. I first of all rigged up an external connection between the computer and the ZTE (T-Mobile) USB dongle which I located permanently on the roof of the boat. Recently that dongle has died and I have now replaced it with a new Huawei (T-Mobile) dongle that has an external antenna connection. 

It's early to make real judgement calls on the Huawei but - putting any USB dongle outside on the roof of the boat using a longer USB connecting cable will improve matters. Now using a high gain external antenna using a much thinner cable (15 foot long) that connects back to the dongle (CRC9 connector) has improved the reception of the needed signals.

Now our existing contract has come to an end and it is time to start looking around for a new contract. With technology getting better all the time there’s never been a better time for scouring the current crop of offers for the best dongle deals in the mobile broadband market.

Broadband dongles come in two flavours. With and without an external antenna connection. Both will work, but the dongle with an external antenna fitted will work better in marginal signal conditions. 

Often the broadband providers outlets are not the place to enquire about the dongles capabilities. By way of an example I wrote a bit about our new Huawei E3131 dongle in August. (Click Here)

Read the on-line documentation about any broadband dongle to see if it has external antenna connection available. Dongles can be unlocked and made to work with any mobile broadband service.

First there are the "pay as you go" deals if you don't want to take on a "fixed term contract." Some of the deals are broadly similar between both PAYG and Contract. Either option will allow you to access the internet from your laptop or similar device while you’re out and about on the move.

Most contracts deals offer a free dongle and with most PAYG deals the dongle is an extra one time charge. Once you have decided whether you are going PAYG or contact. You can then compare the key features, such as price, setup, contract duration, speed and download limits. It’s never been easier to pick through the many deals and packages. 

You might also want to consider mobile broadband Wi-Fi units. Mobile Wi-Fi, or MiFi, is the latest trend in mobile broadband and some pay as you go deals are already on the market. MiFi devices work in the same way as a dongle but instead of plugging in a dongle, the MiFi sits and transmits the mobile broadband signal in the same way Wi-Fi work with home broadband. While MiFi devices are definitely worth considering as they add a lot of flexibility to your mobile broadband package.

T-Mobile is one of the older mobile broadband operators. It is also the only mobile internet provider that doesn't charge people excess fees for going over their agreed mobile internet usage cap.


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