Note: I/we are not sponsored by any companies mentioned in this article. We cruise full time on our test bed, SV Confianza, and we enjoy sharing our tests and opinions to give back to the community.
If you've read our previous post, "Our Marine Internet Setup, Why We're Not Using Starlink, and What I Would Change," you'll remember that we decided to forgo adding Starlink to our arsenal. Why? Because we are full time WFB'ers (Work from Boaters), and consistent access to high quality, video capable internet is of paramount importance.
Well, we're back with V2 of Connie's marine internet system, and it does include Starlink, as well as a couple of other key upgrades.
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For the impatient, let's dive right to...
Our Internet Setup Today and What was Changed
Added 1x Peplink Max BR1 Pro 5G (upgraded from Peplink Max Transit Cat 18)
Added 1x Starlink Flat High Performance Dish (with power supply but NOT Starlink Router)
Added 1x Peplink AP One AX
2x Poynting Omni 402 (unchanged)
1x Poynting Omni 496 (unchanged)
Eliminated - 1x Netgear Nighthawk MR5100
Eliminated - 1x Netgear Omnidirectional MIMO Antenna
Foregoing Starlink in V1
With most Starlink-toting boaters knowingly skirting the rules (circa 2022), and Starlink constantly changing said rules, I deemed it too risky for us to rely on. Try explaining to a group of important clients, employees, board members, whatever, why your video is dropping — you're anchored in Pamlico Sound and Starlink just excluded it from your plan? I don't think so.
We went through great lengths instead to have multiple cellular options and various ways to combine them together with a Peplink Router. Yet, the setup had some of its own issues.
Mainly, in more remote areas, we found that even with a SpeedFusion VPN set to Smoothing (please see previous article for an explanation of SpeeedFusion), we still were left wanting for stable connections.
Why It's the Right Time for Starlink
Starlink has largely stabilized its rules—mostly, anyway.
They are clear that if you're using Starlink on land, or close to it, in a supported region, there are plans that will give you fairly good internet most of the time.
Today, we have Starlink plans that are officially sanctioned to be used while mobile, to travel across regions, and even take to other countries with us — a far cry from just a year ago.
If you want to run offshore, you'll need to switch to their Mobile Priority data and pay $2/gb (at this time of this writing). But at least now you have the convenience of simply flipping on that Mobile Priority data when you need it.
One annoyance, though, at the time of this writing: you can't be out of range before you turn mobile priority on.
Still Some Downsides to Starlink
Unless I'm missing something, you need access to internet to access the mobile priority toggle. So, if you find that you've sailed out of range, Starlink cuts you off, and you're not able to turn mobile priority on.
If anyone has figured this one out, please drop a comment!
The other downside at the moment is that Starlink seems to continue to change the coverage for the mobile plan. According to the Starlink map, Starlink has tightened up coverage closer to the coast. We did experience getting out of range a few times during our latest passage from NJ to NC, so it seems that the map is correct.
They have also started removing coverage for areas like the Pamlico Sound, the Chesapeake, the Long Island Sound, etc.
Then we have the random drops in speed. With the high power dish, we see less in the total outages. Just as disruptive, though, are the speed drops all the way down to 3mbps or below. This is enough to interrupt the quality of a video call, especially if you're running more than one at a time.
It's still slow in densely populated areas as well while using the mobile plan. We are currently in Miami, and have just turned the Starlink dish off. These types of issues are why we must have a more robust system that includes cellular data.
Ditching the Starlink Router
We decided to forgo the Starlink Router, since the dish's power supply can plug directly into the Peplink's WAN port. The Peplink is the heart and brains of our system, and there really is no reason to be wasting precious power on the Starlink Router.
It baffles me a bit that Starlink doesn't publish the power consumption specifications for their router. We do know that folks claim around 20-25 watts consumption when the dish is in "sleep" mode. So, I can assume that the router is probably consuming most of that.
Add the losses from going from DC to AC back to DC, and you're probably consuming close to 3 amps at 12 volts (72AH per day) just on the router.
We got rid of our router already, so I would be much obliged if a reader with Starlink could test the consumption on just their router. I will happily update this post with the exact data.
But, how does one access the Dishy features and settings without the Router? Cue the new Peplink firmware.
Peplink 8.4 Starlink Integration
Accessing the Dishy was a bit of an issue at first. Before I was able to figure it out properly, Peplink had great timing with dropping the 8.4 firmware release that includes a Starlink Integration.
On the previous firmware, I was actually having difficulty getting the Starlink app to connect to the dish, even after following some various instructions out there on the YouTubes and forums.
After the firmware upgrade, the Starlink App worked fully right away, giving us access to all of the dish's settings, features, and statistics. The integration also gives us better indications of Starlink connectivity as well as logging of Starlink status updates right in the Peplink's event log.
Please note, the Starlink integration is currently only available for newer Peplink devices, like our new Max BR1 Pro 5g. It would not be available for our older Max Transit.
Peplink Firmware 8.4 Also Adds Esim Support
Peplink InControl now supports adding esims to your router. This is really a helpful feature for those of us that experiment with different cellular plans while traveling.
Previously, if I wanted to test out a new plan, I'd have to wait until I had access to a mailing address to receive a SIM card (assuming I did not already have a compatible one laying around). Now, we can just get a digital esim and activate it right in InControl.
Changes to Our Peplink Configuration
Adding Starlink required a re-think on how we take advantage of multiple internet sources. Starlink has random speed drops throughout the day — mostly just for a second or so, but enough to interrupt a video call.
Previously we were just using a separate SSID for Speedfusion. If we wanted to take advantage of Speedfusion's smoothing across internet sources, we would just switch wireless networks to a dedicated one the routed through Speedfusion.
Now, we need to account for the Starlink drops for all video calls. So we have found it best to use the "Route by Cloud Application" feature, and funnel all Zoom and MS Teams traffic through Speedfusion automatically.
Getting Rid of the Netgear Nighthawk M5
I toyed with the idea of keeping the Nighthawk so we could connect a third internet source as a backup as well as intermixed with SpeedFusion. However, we had become unhappy with the performance of the Nighthawk.
It would seemingly have more and more connectivity issues the longer it was online. Rebooting the device would help for a few days (or sometimes only a few hours). I did not get a chance to fully troubleshoot, but adding Starlink seemed reason enough to retire the device.
I can assume that these types of mobile hotspot devices (even a flagship model like the M5) are not really meant for 24/7/365 kind of operation, so I was not all that surprised.
Adding Peplink AP One AX
This guy is still in the box, but will be added shortly to enhance our wireless connectivity on Connie.
Since our router is located all the way in the stern to keep the wire runs to the antennas as short as possible, signal strength is not great in the forward cabin or up on the bow.
Metals of all kinds are the mortal enemy of WiFi signal, and boats tend to have lots of metal things in the way to cross the whole boat.
I will be reviewing this access point separately after we do some testing.
What is Next on the List of Upgrades?
Switching to DC Power for Starlink
It does seem quite silly to have all of the losses of inverting DC into AC, then back to DC for the Starlink power supply. Creating the 48v poe from the DC source is well documented. Then we would only have the losses of stepping up from 12v to 48v.
Since the Starlink is such a power hog, and we like to run it 18 hours a day, there should be considerable gains here.
Testing Antenna Placement and New Antennas
We have not been totally satisfied with quality of our signal from our cellular data. If we are 15 miles offshore, our Peplink + Ponyting Antennas often give us more than adequate, usable internet, while our phones are completely useless.
However, inshore, our phones and iPad can be superior (to my somewhat irrational annoyance).
There are a bunch of possible variables, which make determining the cause quite tricky. Our Verizon plans on our iPhones promise priority data, and our current hotspot only plan is a lower level priority. It's also an AT&T plan, while our iPad and phones are Verizon, so, tough to draw conclusions there.
Then we have the signal loss in the wire between the router and the antenna. Phone's won't have to deal with that. Plus, the Poynting antennas themselves are optimized for some bands over others.
To boot, we've made antenna reception worse by adding a solar arch to Connie that obstruct the antennas. Cell signal hates metal. We basically gave our antennas the equivalent of aluminum foil hats!
However, when I attempt to compare the signal between phones and Peplink, I mostly see that the Peplink is getting better signal strength (lower is better):
I checked these at the same time while I was getting significantly slower speeds from the Peplink. But, again, there's just too many variables for this to mean much.
Quick tip: if you have an iPhone, there's a hidden menu to check your signal strength and many other stats. Head to your phone app, and type *3001#12345#* and hit the call button. This will open up a hidden cellular stats app!
A good future test will be to move the antennas to the outer stern rail, and see if we have an increase in signal strength and/or speeds (signal strength and speeds are not necessarily related).
I'd also like to do some testing with the new Peplink Maritime antennas as well as the new antenna offerings from Poynting for some comparisons to our current 402s. The Peplink 20Gs do boast better reception for a larger spectrum of bands than the 402s, and it would be interesting to see how that plays out in the real world.
Thanks for reading! As always, if you have any questions or comments, please sound off below. Would love to hear about your setup and how it is working for you.