Friday 20 August 2010

Narrow-Boat Internet Connection.

Well, time does seem to fly - This is my 100th posting into the narrow-boat blog - I started out with limited knowledge of boating issues (some might argue that nothings changed) However, I have found it to be quite a voyage of discovery. (excuse the pun) As I research the various issues I have tried to convert my notes and scribbling's into a much more readable and understandable format.

I first started the blog on  Friday, 27 November 2009. Here we are, the 20th of August some 264 days later. So there are still another 101 days to go to the narrow-boat blog first birthday and only 128 days until christmas!

Today's witterings are about getting broadband internet access to a boat.

Mobile Broadband refers to acessing the Internet using the mobile phone network. This is different from "wireless broadband" which you install on a fixed phone line in the home. A mobile broadband service can be used anywhere within the providers coverage area, just like your mobile phone. So you need to make sure you know what you're buying. Just like a mobile phone the broadband signal can get weak or even drop out as you travel between various locations.

In order to use mobile broadband you will need a modem and a SIM card. The card is similar to the one in your mobile phone. You can get both of these from your network operator, although it is worth noting many new laptops have 3G broadband modems built in. The most common modem is called the 'USB dongle'. In addition, it is possible to buy mobile broadband 'routers' which allow more than one person to share the same connection.
You can get mobile broadband services on a Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) or contract basis, just like ordinary mobile phones. You will find the PAYG and one-month contract services tend to have higher setup fees, whilst 12 month contract will sometimes offer free hardware.

  1. Use anywhere within coverage area, coverage varies so do check before buying!
  2. Get set up the same day.
  3. May be cheaper for 'occasional' users.


  1. Higher latency; not suitable for some games.
  2. Stricter download limits.
  3. Speed variations depending on your location.

Broadband service providers will often sell services based on how many gigabytes (GB) you want to download each month. This allows them to charge a higher price those using their connection more. A 'Fair Usage Policy' is a policy used by some service providers which tries to ensure that the majority of their users are not adversely affected by the bandwidth usage of a minority.
There are various packages which provide for different usage levels. Some include a very small amount of bundled traffic whilst others include lots, or may even suggest the service is unlimited. Make sure you understand your likely requirements, and whether you can change this within your contract period, and select the right option.
Do remember that there is no such thing as 'unlimited'. All mobile broadband service providers will include either a fixed allowance or implement some kind of 'fair usage policy' meaning that everyone gets a reasonable service.
How much will it cost if you exceed your inclusive usage allowance or fair usage policy limits? T-Mobile's terms and conditions indicate they won't charge you but they may restrict your connection depending on how often you exceed the allowance and by how much.

Vodafone's packages include a fair usage policy. Vodafone may "ask you to moderate your behaviour" and they may in extreme cases limit the speed, block your access or disconnect your service if you keep exceeding the fair usage limits.

O2 charge 20p/MB for any usage in excess of the bundle you subscribe to on monthly contracts. PAYG (Pay As You Go) customers will need to top up whenever they exceed their usage allowance.

Orange will charge between 1.96p to 4.9p/MB for "out of bundle" usage subject to a maximum of £30 a month

3 Mobile charge 10p/MB beyond your inclusive allowance for contract customers and 30p/MB to pay-as-you-go customers.

Virgin Mobile charges 1.46p/MB where you exceed the 3GB fair usage policy.

What would be a good deal for a boater.....

The cheap and cheerful option is the T-Mobile pre pay mobile broadband option. You can buy a daily (3gb) connection for just £2. The dongle cost is £24.95 This is a good option for the odd weekend boater. Available here. With no contract commitment.

Make sure you are aware of your mobile broadband usage and performance. All the network operators include software which connects you to the Internet that also allows you to keep track of how much you're downloading. However, you can use an independant monitoring tool to keep an eye on your data usage. Download the tbbMeter monitor tool to see how much bandwidth you use. Available here. tbbMeter is currently only available for Windows XP and Windows Vista (32 and 64-bit versions). It also requires .NET 2.0 or a later version of the .NET Framework to be installed to work.

There is an option with (3) for any continuous cruiser or live aboard boater. With a large data download (15gb) for £15 a month. Available here.
Choose from either a 24 month contract and £60 cashback and free dongle or an18 month contract and £40 cashback plus free dongle.

Vodaphone have an offer that includes a dongle for a one off payment of £25. This comes with £15 pre-paid for the first month. You will have to purchase a further £15 top-up each month thereafter. There is no carry-over of unused bandwidth into the next month. Available here. With no contract commitment.

As with all such offers - you must read the small print before committing - Do some research of the coverage in the areas that you anticipate using the device. If you find that your mobile operator promised good coverage in your area but you just can't get a signal, don't let them keep you in a contract. You should be able to argue that if they said you should get coverage, then you should be able to use the service. Do this sooner rather than later. Raise a support call with the provider (keep a note of the call reference for use later) and explain that you are having issues with the signal quality.

Tip: If you are thinking of having broadband at home, avoid "TalkTalk" like the plague. TalkTalk have also announced that they have signed a mobile virtual network operator agreement with Vodafone UK. This will allow TalkTalk to increase the amount of services available with the launch of SIM only voice and data tariffs expected later in the summer. I have only ever experienced problems with this company and would not recommend them to my worst enemy - or maybe on second thoughts I would.

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