Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Can you hear me now?

Modern life is so simplified - providing one follows the ‘conforming’ ways.   As an example: want to make a phone call?  Back in the day with Land Life we just picked up the phone and dialed!  It always worked and call quality was always good.   As technology progressed an additional step was added:  one needed to FIND the ‘cordless’ phone.  Once found, providing the battery was not dead, we could make our calls. No Fuss, no Muss.

Progressing even further, the last few years Kristi and dropped our wired home phone line (POTS in the trade) and relied 100% on cell phones.  When we moved to the boat we added internet access to the phone service, and that worked well for several years.   Providing we stayed around major cities.

Relocating up to the Puget Sound area things got a bit more dicey.  Over the summer we mapped out where T-Mobile would, and would not, work.  This was needed primarily in support of my consulting contract – I make 2-5 hours of phone calls a week.  Plus sending and receiving Emails.  We made it work but felt rather restricted at times with planning around calls.  And to be honest, even in those areas where we could get some phone service, many of the places we liked to go had marginal phone service at best.  I might have had to sit up topside, or dinghy in and walk over the hill to a far shore…   I even started dialing in two cell phones to each call so I could quickly switch over if one dropped.

And then T-mobile decided to make some changes to our Plan with no grandfathering.  Even despite being very long term customers.  That was enough, connection quality was on the edge, costs were going up.  We needed to make a change.

Talking to cruisers up here everyone said Verizon.  Talking to folks who worked up here, many said Nextel (now Sprint).

We ended up doing both, and more.

We carry two cell phones:  Our ‘primary’ one is a pre-paid ‘Boost’ phone which is Sprint’s Prepaid service using the old Nextel (Motorola iDEN) network.  The 2nd one is a Verizon pre-paid phone.  On a quick run through the islands we found that when one of the services started to drop off, the other was still viable.  So, it is a good approach and the cost is very low for the limited times we actually use them.

Ways to connect to the outside world.
(Click on image to make larger)
For the bulk of our calls we use Skype on the computers.   We can connect to the internet either via our WiFi repeater, or using a Verizon MiFi service.  With only a month or so of testing throughout the islands it looks promising.  As a fall back, if the Verizon MiFi is not working the Boost (iDEN) service is there. (On a side note:  it appears the MiFi and the Verizon cell phone use the same network, unlike T-mobile which at times used different wireless network for voice and data - there were times when we could text/access the internet but not make a reliable call.  And vise versa.  So, I am thinking the ‘backup’ Verizon cell phone likely will get little use.)

All these options lead to a rather complex system which you can see in the attached chart.  Will comment that just this week I ordered the  cell amplifier and external antenna for the MiFi card.  Other than that, all the rest is in place and working well.

In future posts will put up the details of the WiFi repeater and the MiFi amplifier.  And will also document our experiences ‘out in the islands’ with this system.   Here in Friday Harbor we turned off the MiFi and are using a local WiFi provider (via the repeater).  We did the same last summer in Fisherman’s Bay where T-Mobile did not work.   Using internet based communication as our foundation gives us a lot of flexibility.  In fact, am looking into using this approach for trips into Canada.  Telus seems to have fair data access at least part of  the way up Vancouver Island.  And the external antenna / amplifier used on the MiFi card will also work with their service.  I picked up a low cost PCMIA adapter card for the laptop and will let you know how it all works out when we end up crossing the border.

Making a phone call.  Just one more example of how almost everything is more complex when living a boat which is actively cruising.

No comments:

Post a Comment