x Karen and Jeff Siegel Articles on mobile phone use aboard boats

iPhone for the Boat? Jeffrey Siegel of ActiveCaptain Says “Yes”

Editor’s Note — I recently talked with Jeff Siegel about some of the issues related to mobile phone service for coastal cruisers.  Jeff and his wife and business partner Karen are the founders of ActiveCaptain, a website we think very highly of and have written about.  They are also the authors of an extensive series of articles on the use of mobile phones (cell phones) aboard boats.  Recently, during some downtime on their annual pilgrimmage southward aboard their DeFever 53RPH named aCappella, they updated this award-winning series with the latest information on equipment and service.  You should take a look at that series, which I consider the definitive “go-to” for cell phone info.  One of the major updates is a new endorsement of the Apple iPhone, which until now the Siegels had serious reservations about.  I asked Jeff whether the data rates for the iPhone and others were really good enough to rely on for a typical coastal cruise such as theirs.  I think you’ll find his reply, as usual, not only informative, but definitive.

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DeFever 53 RPH aCappella Runs Offshore

DeFever 53 RPH aCappella Runs Offshore

“You raise a very interesting question – do the different networks provide good connectivity?  Or more importantly, do they provide good enough connectivity for boaters?

This is our third trip between Maine and Florida where we’ve had both AT&T and Verizon.  We’ve created a qualitative impression previously that both networks allow connectivity throughout the entire coastline.  There are some places where AT&T is better and some places where Verizon is better.  The nice thing is that each year, the speeds increase and both networks seem to be getting better for coastal use.

This year we’ve gotten more technical and quantitative because so many people tell us that they can’t use one network or another.  We thought it would be a good idea to start making speed measurements and putting it, of course, into ActiveCaptain.  There are a few web sites that can give you actual numeric bandwidth results from your connection:
http://www.dslreports.com/mspeed?jisok=1&more=1
http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest/

That’s how we obtain our numbers.  We hope that our start with this will prompt others to do the same thing because there is nothing like real numbers to show the full story.  And we’re sure the numbers will change for the better over time.

The results?  There are some places where AT&T is better and some places where Verizon is better.  Just as we sensed before.  For example, here’s an anchorage we stayed at near Northport, NY on the Long Island Sound:
http://www.activecaptain.com/OTW.php?lat=40.92259&lon=-73.35657&type=1&zoom=4

If you look at the details for the Asharoken anchorage, we wrote that AT&T had a 500 kb connection and Verizon had a 100 kb connection.

Another example – an anchorage in Atlantic City:
http://www.activecaptain.com/OTW.php?lat=39.3816483879913&lon=-74.4215154647827&zoom=3

Verizon and AT&T were pretty equivalent there – 400 kb vs 500 kb.  That’s not a big enough difference to be meaningful.

Finally, here’s where we were last weekend – off the Chesapeake on the Great Wicomico River at Rogue Pt:
http://www.activecaptain.com/OTW.php?lat=37.85215&lon=-76.33026&zoom=4

Verizon was much better than AT&T there – 800 kb vs 100 kb.

Here’s the best news though.  We haven’t been to a place yet where we lost all connectivity from either provider.  We’ve been able to get email from both systems every place we’ve been between Maine and Virginia.  We’ll keep tracking this on our way to Florida as well.  Downloading the 30 emails that are waiting with a 100 kb connection can take a minute but it’s still possible.  Getting current weather information and radar has all been possible at all of these connectivity speeds.

So I really don’t buy the idea that the iPhone should be ruled out because AT&T isn’t good enough.  That is probably true in some selected places just as I could find some selected places where Verizon connectivity isn’t good enough.  But for the east coast, I don’t think there’s much of an issue.  For all boats, we suggest having an amplifier (portable or built-in) to boost signal strength for either network at times.

It’s a good time to be using these digital services on a boat.  And it looks like it’ll only get better over time.”

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Posted by Tom in People, Technology