Internet Access Onboard
If you have spent any time browsing this website I am sure you are aware that I make frequent if not continuous use of the Internet.  Most of this access is via WIFI, either that provided by marinas at which I berth Sarah, by commercial WIFI services, or by people who don't secure their WIFI routers.  I also use Wireless access provided by Verizon Wireless.  I have set up this page to provide documentation on the various services and hardware I use to gain access to the Internet from Sarah. Verizon Wireless Broadband
Upgraded Verizon Broadband
ALFA USB Adapters
Verizon Wireless Broadband Access
This is the high-price solution, using the Verizon Wireless network and their broadband service.  I started using this service in 2003, using a Sierra Wireless card, when I first moved onboard Sarah.  It was my principle Internet access until I departed for Europe in 2005.  During that period the service was hit and miss as this was a very early implementation of Internet Broadband access via cell phone technology.  On the way down the AICW in 2004 I discovered that there was no service in North Carolina.
When I returned to the states in 2007 I renewed this service with a newer generation PCMIA card as shown on the right.  This is a Pantech PC5750 card, and is much improved over the Sierra Wireless card.

Verizon Wireless PCMIA Cart

D-Link DIR-450 Router
One of the advantages of the Pantech card is that it is supported by the D-Link DIR450 router.  I can insert the card in the router shown on the left and it converts the Wireless Internet connection into a WIFI network onboard Sarah. With this router I can connect multiple computers to my single Verizon Wireless access.  The drawback to this router is that it is AC powered.  When I am away from shore power this router must be powered by an inverter.  The advantage for me, other than providing access for multiple computers, is that most new technology PCs do not have a PCMIA port.   So this router is the only way I can use my Verizon service with those computers.  The only option is to upgrade to a USB Wireless Modem,  which requires a 2-year contract or a hefty price.  This router allows me to continue to use Verizon Wireless Broadband service with my Dell XPS-16 computer, which does not have a PCMIA port. 
In 2007 this was an expensive($60/month), and limited (5GByte/month) service, but at that time wireless access was more widely available when cruising the US East Coast than WIFI.  One advantage is I can shut down this service when berthed for an extended time in a marina with WIFI, and then restore the service when needed.
Verizon Broadband Upgraded
In July, 2012 I broke down and signed up with Verizon for another 2-year contract.  The purpose  of the contract was to upgrade my service to 4G LTE.  The PCMIA card was not even 3G.
Below on the right is a picture of the Verizon JetPack, which replaces both the PCMIA card and the D-Link router.  There are a number of features with this device that motivated me to do the upgrade.
  1. It can be powered from 120VAC like the D-Link router, but also from 12VDC and the internal battery.  I lost the use of the D-Link router when I was away from the dock unless I hooked it up an inverter or started the generator.
  2. The faster speed of the 3G/4G service.  If you look closely at the picture you will see the JetPack is working at 3G.  My current location does not provide a strong enough signal for reliable 4G operation.  3G is still faster than the old service.
  3. Verizon offers several data plans for this device and allows user to change between the plans during the contract period.  Right now I am using the 10 GByte plan ($80/month), but during periods when I don't need that amount of data I can down grade the service to 5 or 3 GByte.  During the contract period the service can be suspended for up to 3 months, or just terminated and restarted once the contract period has been completed.

Verizon JetPack

After only a couple of weeks of use I've discovered several limitations, if not design flaws, in this product.

  1. The charger for the device cannot keep up with power usage when connected to the network.  This happens even when I am not actively sending or receiving large volumes of traffic over the Internet.  The reason for this appears to be the choice to use a USB charger.  The device appears to require more power than what can be delivered from a USB port.  This not a major problem,  I just have to remember to turn off my PC or put it in stand-by when not in use.  That allows the device to go into a true "Dormant" state (see below for the bogus "Dormant" state), and the battery does fully re-charge in a couple of hours.
  2. The device cannot support 4G operation with a weak signal (e.g., 2 bars) from the network.  That would be OK if the unit automatically switched to 3G and continued operations, but the firmware doesn't seem to be able to handle that and eventually goes into a bogus "Dormant" and does not pass traffic (although apparently still connected to the network).  I found the work around for this situation on the Verizon User Forum and have temporarily configured the device to not connect at 4G.  I have to remember to remove this configuration parameter when I am in a strong signal area and can work at 4G.

As of 2016 I still use this service.  The problems listed above have largely disappeared, probably because of improvements in the Verizon network. 

ALFA is a supplier of a wide range of WIFI-related products.  I first purchased an ALFA adapter in 2008 and used it that winter in the Abacos.  I have sinced purchased several more of these USB adapters.  They are not weather proof and fail quickly when left on deck in a rain shower.  I now put them in a zip-lock bag when they are exposed to the elements.  On the right is a picture of the ALFA AWUS036NH adapter with a 9db antenna.  The standard antenna supplied with the adapter is 5db.
On the left is the ALFA UBDo outdoor WIFI adapter.  This is a 12db antenna in a weather-proof case.  This antenna is directional, but not so much that normal boat motion will disturb the connection.  When Sarah is berthed at a marina with WIFI for an extended period of time, this is the WIFI antenna I use.  This antenna is particularly useful in a marina with the WIFI source at the marina office and Sarah is berthed in one of the remote transient berths.
The weather proofing on this antenna is very effective when mounted vertically as shown in the picture above.  I discovered that the cable access at the bottom of the case is not sealed.  In 2013 the unit failed while I was in the Bahamas because I got into the habit of just laying it on deck or on top of the dodger.  After a couple of rainstorms water got into the case and destroyed the electronics.  This could have easily been prevented by the application of sealant around the cable entry port.