Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mobile Internet Access aboard ‘Ladybird’

Old Vodafone Mobile Connect5 Card
My EEE PC 2G Surf mini Laptop

When I have written my blogs recording events of previous cruises, I’ve used two methods of getting online. The first system back in 2007 was with a Vodafone Mobile Connect 5 card working on 3G/GPRS. This plugged into my rather large laptop computer. Even if I did not use the card I was billed £11.75 a month and I was under a minimum contract of 12 months. I can’t remember the tariff per megabyte, but if I used more than the measly allowance it cost me dearly. The rates were extortionate, as I soon realized when I received my first invoice back in April, 2007 which amounted to £160.59!! I was green at the time, being ignorant of how the system worked. It was certainly in favour of Vodafone, but more often than not I could get online when I was aboard the yacht, because the coverage at sea around the South Coast of England was very good.

The second method I used was by gaining access to WIFI hotspots with my EEE PC Surf 2G laptop computer. This was virtually free, because I used to walk around the places where I put into port until I could find an open, unlocked WIFI point. Most of these were at McDonald’s where I would treat myself to a cup of hot chocolate. So for the price of a chocolate drink and the benefit of having exercise by walking, I was able to post my articles to my Blog. The disadvantage of using WIFI was that it was not accessible while at sea or even when at a marina, unless I paid for the local service.

Aerials designed for amplifying hotspot signals over distances of up to about 2 miles can be bought, but the hassle of having to hoist them up the mast and do the search for viable signals is hardly worth the effort. The answer or at least, I thought the answer was to buy a MIFI, but having recently acquired one from 3Store I found the signal where I live so poor that the device did not work. If you are unfamiliar with MIFI, let me explain how it functions. The device is similar to a modem that receives wireless signals, and then retransmits them over a short range to be received through the wireless facility of a computer.

In my case I was convinced MIFI would be the thing to use with my EEE PC 2G Surf, since the laptop was not compatible with wireless dongles designed for Windows and Mac computers. Theoretically, MIFI should work perfectly well with a Linux computer fitted with a wireless facility. Maybe the 3Store MIFI does work with the majority of wireless enabled Linux computers, but in my case, the signal was just not good enough where I live.

Because I would like to be able to post my blogs from my yacht, even while sailing, I shall have to resort to using a Windows based laptop with a dedicated Broadband dongle, most likely from T-Mobile, because they provide the cheapest service for intermittent users. T-Mobile does a £2 a day connection, or £7 a week, or £15 a month package, with nothing to pay if I don’t access the Internet outside of my payment periods. Their cheapest USB Stick/dongle costs £19.99, plus £10.00 top up. That will enable me to have unlimited surfing for the specific periods up to speeds of 3.6Mbps.

Now I am searching for an ultra mobile laptop similar to my EEE PC Surf 2G with a 7 or 8 inch screen, but instead of being Linux based, it must have a Windows or Mac operating system. I like my little computer Surf 2G, especially as the drives have no moving parts, being solid state which make it suitable for environments where there’s a lot of movement such as aboard my yacht ‘Ladybird’ or in my car.


WIFI Amplification Aerials

MIFI 3Store

T-Mobile Mobile Broadband

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