We have an ever increasing number of partners and customers installing Peplink routers and access points in things that float - from canal and house boats, rigid inflatables and pleasure yachts of all sizes (awesome through super to mega), to ferries, cruise ships and even one of the largest ships in the world (that transports other ships).
Like in most other areas of our lives it seems that even when afloat -whether for work or for pleasure, we all want a reliable internet connection.
Good Internet connectivity can provide enhanced navigational capabilities (nautical charts, weather reports - or the location of the nearest marina with the best showers), additional entertainment for the crew and guests (IP Radio/TV, news, social media) as well as secure corporate communications (voice and radio over IP as well as email and messaging). However getting reliable internet connectivity on a boat has a number of specific challenges particular to this environment.
I think you can sum up the challenges of Marine installations in three words Location, Location, Location. The Geographical location of the vessel, the location of the nearest sources of internet connectivity relative to the vessel and the location of the equipment and its installation within (and on) the vessel itself.
Geographical Location ChallengesBoats tend to move and big boats (like super yachts, cruise ships and oil tankers) move a lot. It is quite common for larger vessels to visit multiple continents regularly carrying cargo of every variety.
Communications standards across continents (and even between neighbouring countries) can vary as do internet service provider availability, tariffs, services and technologies. For example, even though your EE SIM card from the UK will roam in Japan - it’s unlikely that you’d want to use it for any heavy internet access since at £60($91USD) for 50MB when roaming it’s going to cost a lot to download that TV episode or powerpoint presentation.
So one of the biggest challenges for onboard internet connectivity - especially if it is for medium to heavy usage, is managing the cost of the internet access services you buy into and then how they are used.
Lowest Cost RoutingPeplink devices help here in two key ways. The first is our ability to use multiple mixed internet connection methods, allowing the combination of satellite, cellular, WiFi or any fixed line services if available (when alongside in a marina for example) into a single onboard internet connection service. We support the use of multiple (up to 13) internet WAN links of different types from different providers on a single device giving you every possible choice of the most commercially appropriate internet access technologies for your situation.
The second way we help is through the intelligent management and monitoring of the connected internet connections that allow you to always prioritise the use of the lowest cost connections first.
We do that in a number of ways.
Prioritised WAN usage based on availability. Only use more expensive Internet connectivity when cheaper options are unavailable.
Bandwidth monitoring and cut offs on metered connections that reduce the chances of overage charges - enabling the use of cheaper cellular and satellite tariffs with set bandwidth limits.
Scheduled control of WAN usage (since FW6.3) to make the best commerical use of services that have different tariffs at different times of the day or week (unmetered satellite connectivity in the evenings or at the weekends for example).
The ability to support multiple SIMs and USB dongles when using cellular connectivity so that local (cheaper) mobile operator networks are prioritised and can be used instead of roaming data from home mobile operators.
Bandwidth ManagementThe easiest way to reduce internet connectivity costs is to reduce the amount of bandwidth you use (and have to pay for). We offer the ability to filter and manage internet bandwidth usage, enabling blocking of high bandwidth sites and applications as well as controlling individual internet users bandwidth availability. Typically in a marine environment we will see usage caps for guests and staff with unmetered access for yacht owners, senior staff and critical onboard systems, but you can configure this control in whatever way suits your needs and users.
On Device Content CachingWith our MediaFast series of devices we also offer local content caching which reduces the amount of internet bandwidth required by caching a local copy of frequently accessed web content (web pages, images and videos) on the router so that it is only downloaded once but can be served to multiple users at the same time.
Local Location Connectivity ChallengesAs with deployments in any moving vehicle, staying connected to some form of internet connectivity is the first priority. The next is the intelligent use of the available connectivity so that cheaper higher bandwidth connections are used first with more expensive lower bandwidth connections reserved as a last resort balanced by the need for great user experience.
Peplink devices make this as easy as possible by being able to connect to multiple internet connections of different types at the same time whilst also being clever about how they are used, controlling internet application availability, restricting the available bandwidth to devices connected on the LAN and by controlling how and when LAN applications can connect.
In this example we are showing how a Peplink device configured with multiple internet connections can intelligently use this connectivity depending on their availability.
When close to shore or in a marina, the Peplink device has the ability to use all the possible internet connections. In this example we have satellite internet, multiple cellular connections and a ship to shore Wi-Fi as a WAN connection that registers with the marina wifi infrastructure.
As the vessel moves away from the shore it loses the ability to connect to the shore based WiFi network but still has cellular and satellite connectivity.
Then when at sea far from any shore the Peplink device relies on Satellite internet connectivity as its only connection.
Our devices ability to continually monitor the health of its available WAN connections means that the process of moving internet sessions from a WAN link that becomes unavailable to others that are still healthy is an automated process. The ability to use multiple WAN links of different types means that a vessel can stay connected no matter where it is.
How Lowest Cost routing worksThe decision about which WANs are used in which order is based on their assigned priority. Typically as in this example, the highest priority links will be the cheaper high bandwidth connections (Shore Wi-Fi and fixed lines, then Cellular) with the lowest priority link being the expensive satellite internet connection.
Within these priorities though, you can additionally identify the bandwidth allowances available on a WAN link. So you might have four LTE cellular connections all in priority 2 (so they only get used when WiFi as WAN and Fixed Line broadband which are set to Priority 1 are not available), and two of these might have a 20GB allowance a month and the other two might have 50GB allowances.
By adding the allowance information to the cellular WANs, traffic will be sent over all four LTE connections at the beginning of the month, but then only use the two with larger allowances when the two connections with the 20GB limit have been exhausted. Then when the billing cycle resets all four LTE connections are automatically brought back into active service. This reduces the chance of overage charges, whilst maintaining the best possible user experience.
Installation Location ChallengesAnother big challenge in marine deployments can be the physical space and locations available to install communications equipment onboard a vessel.
For smaller boats and pleasure yachts this isn’t too much of a problem.
In rigid inflatables and other small open boats for example, our partners have some neat solutions](http://www.grapevineconnect.co.uk/blog/portfolio/marine-wifi/) for weatherproofing our devices for use in exposed conditions.
In smaller sailing and motor yachts the biggest challenge can be finding a convenient location to install a router that has both access for power (we support 10-30V DC inputs on our cellular routers) and easy cable routes for antennas, although depending on the boat’s construction the included stick antennas that screw into the back of our routers can be enough.
For those yacht owners and captains of smaller pleasure vessels that need external antennas they normally know their boats well enough to find the cable routes they need and getting approval for making holes in the hull to run external antennas is fairly straightforward.
No the bigger challenge comes with bigger vessels, as frequently the places where they want to install their IT equipment (normally full sized comms cabinets where all the onboard voice and data services terminate to along with onboard entertainment and automation systems) is deep within the bowels of the yacht. In these cases, careful consideration is required around acceptable antenna cable lengths and routes through the vessel to reduce interference and disruption to Internet connectivity.
The diagram above shows two examples of Peplink router deployments. The first is a BR1 cellular router installed on a small sailing yacht, the second is an example of a HD4 installed in a medium sized motor yacht…
BR1 installation in small vesselsIn this case the router can be installed anywhere that’s convenient with access to power, and since most yachts of this type tend to be constructed using fiberglass or wood I am suggesting that internal antennas directly connected to the BR1 will be adequate.
Of course there is nothing to stop the use of external antennas in this case too, but the additional hassle of running low loss antenna cable up through the mast to marine grade masthead installed antennas is very rarely worth the extra money or effort. Instead I would tend to see a yacht owner improving coverage as and when needed by temporarily plugging in a directional or higher gain antenna when at anchor or in a marina to improve WiFi as WAN and/or cellular signal.
HD4 in medium sized VesselsWhen we look to deploy multi-wan technology into larger vessels the challenges become more apparent. In this example in a vessel with multiple decks and one primary location for onboard antennas (above the flybridge) the HD4’s location relative to the antennas is important. The maximum length of low loss antenna cable i would suggest is around 15m possibly less depending on the cable type and run, so the HD4 needs to be within that radius which in fact is much less as tidy cable runs through existing cable routes will be required.
On Board Access Points
The diagram also highlights an added capability of the HD4 to act as an access point controller for our range of WiFi access points and here I am suggesting an AP One Enterprise per deck, although you could add more since the HD4 supports up to 10 managed access points.
Wi-Fi as WAN
You’ll also note that I have put a wifi antenna on the bow of this vessel. This is for WiFi as WAN to enable the HD4 to connect to shore based WiFi infrastructures (like WiFi hotspots in marinas). I would suggest an Omnidirectional antenna on a vessel this size as it will likely spend time both at anchor and in marinas so an omni directional antenna will give the best chance of connecting without the need to manually adjust its direction as the vessel moves.
The HD4 supports up to two wired wans, so another approach would be to use an active WiFi antenna/access point combination instead, perhaps one on the bow and another on the stern. This would allow you to connect these back to the HD4 using ethernet data cables on longer runs that would be possible with standard RF antenna cable.
Balance 710 and BR1s in Very Large VesselsIf finding a suitable installation point near the antenna location for the Peplink multi-wan router is too difficult or if you are on a very large vessel and the IT equipment rack is distant from the antennas and you need support for more satellite and cellular WANs than the HD4 can provide, another option is to install one of our Enterprise Load Balancing Products in the central IT cabinet (wherever that might be) and connect to it ethernet cable alone from the antenna installation point.
To do this we can combine the Multi-WAN load balancing enterprise router (that just supports ethernet WAN connectivity) with smaller remote cellular, satellite and Wi-Fi routers on its WAN.
The remote routers are small enough to be installed within or on masts, or in dedicated watertight enclosures where there are needed which might be 100’s of meters away from the core load balancing Peplink router in the comms room.
Here is an example of a Large Ferry Installation using a Balance router and remote BR1 Cellular routers to provide load balanced internet access and ship wide WiFi services
There is a lot going on in this diagram so let’s talk through each element:
The Cellular connectivity is provided by four BR1 routers which are connected to the WAN ports on the Balance 710.
These are small devices in rugged metal enclosures and can be installed close to the antenna position or even within antenna masts themselves.
Connected to each is a marine grade MIMO LTE cellular antenna providing signal to the BR1 which can have two SIM cards installed in an active / standby configuration.
This provides a total of 8 possible SIM cards to use which can be from different providers in different countries.
Wi-Fi as WAN For Port Wifi Connectivity
One of the BR1s has an Omni Directional high gain marine grade antenna connected. This BR1 has its WAN priority set so that if the land based WiFi infrastructure is available it will connect via WiFi instead of using its inbuilt cellular modem.
There is a satellite internet broadband device onboard. This connects to the B710 WAN port over ethernet.
Balance 710 and Onboard Wi-FI
The Balance 710 is installed in an IT cabinet amidships along with a managed POE capable Switch.
The Balance 710 can act as an AP Controller for up to 250 connected APs (with multiple model options to suit the deployment requirements) that can be installed throughout the ferry with support for up to 16 SSIDS (using the AP One Enterprise APs as shown here).
Guest internet can be controlled using a Captive Portal on the B710 as well as options for Social logon to capture details about the passengers for later marketing activity.
Additional SSIDS can be provided for crew, 1st class passengers and other key activities (like Point of Sale Systems and CCTV).
Traffic on individual SSIDs can be completely isolated from each other.
Room for Growth
With 7 WANs available on the Balance Router additional internet connectivity can be added as and when required in the future. This might be additional cellular connectivity using more BR1s (or even HD2/HD4 Multi Cellular routers), or it might be additional WiFi as WAN links or Satellite Broadband routers.
The Marine Use Case for SpeedFusion VPN BondingSo far in these examples I have suggested that load balancing internet access is sufficient for these types of deployments - and in most cases this is true. However there are use cases where SpeedFusion Bonding and the resilience and reliability it enables can be very useful.
To provide resilience and reliability for real time traffic like VoiP and Video Calls.
To provide reliability and security for point of sale credit card machines and other important traffic such as management systems, CCTV etc.
To enable easy secure remote support of onboard systems. Using SpeedFusion VPN a remote engineer could connect to IT equipment, HVAC and Engine management systems - in fact any onboard device that has an IP connection for monitoring or fault finding.
Remote monitoring of onboard IP CCTV cameras and physical security systems when away from the vessel.
A surprisingly popular reason for using SpeedFusion VPN from yachts is to enable the streaming of IPTV from a home country to remote vessels, and perhaps less surprisingly, the ability to treat a superyacht as just another corporate WAN location and provide secure access to enterprise applications.
Extending the Enterprise WAN to boats, yachts and ships.To do this, a remote vessel creates a secure PepVPN connection to another Peplink appliance in a central datacenter, and if multiple WAN links are available these links can be aggregated using SpeedFusion to provide bandwidth aggregation and connection resilience between the vessel and the remote datacenter.
All or selected traffic types can then be sent over the secure VPN connection to the remote datacenter to either access datacenter based corporate resources or breakout to the internet using a public IP based in the host country where the datacenter is located.
In the diagram above there is a remote motor yacht (in the Bahamas) connected to the internet using multiple LTE cellular connections that has created a secure SpeedFusion VPN connection back to a FusionHub virtual appliance in a London datacenter.
With SpeedFusion, the yacht benefits from packet level failover on the traffic it chooses to send over the SpeedFusion VPN, so that if a WAN link fails in the middle of a VoIP call for example, the call is not affected as its traffic will move to the other active links.
This ability to provide a secure, resilient VPN from a vessel back to a home port / country and then onwards to other corporate locations also connected via VPN to the same datacenter, extends the corporate WAN to wherever the vessel happens to be.