Five weeks ago, I cut the cable and went wireless. Not permanently, but that could happen. More of that later.

Continuous motion – narrowboat style

Narrowboat Heron
nb Heron

I have just spent 5 weeks on our narrowboat on the English canals, moving it from Cropredy in Oxfordshire  to Scholar Green in Cheshire.  Those of you who have any knowledge of canals and narrowboats may be wondering why that took me 5 weeks. Narrowboats can’t really do more than about 3 miles per hour, but even at that speed it should only have taken about 2 weeks. Well, I took the long way round, the journey was the important thing, not getting there. And if I was to run a decent cable cutting experiment, the longer the trip , the better.

I am very reliant on internet connectivity for, pretty much, everything I do. That applies for business and pleasure. I need internet connectivity and computing technology for communications, accounting, banking and entertainment. Perhaps “need” is a bit strong for entertainment, that depends on whether Netflix addiction counts.

I am always boring anyone who let’s me with tales of how a narrowboat can be stacked with all the mod cons (yes, that includes a fridge and a washing machine), that does not stretch to a copper cable carrying a high speed internet connection.

Huawei e5377 MiFi
Huawei e5377 MiFi

How to internet-enable a narrowboat

If I was going to remain connected, it would have to be wireless. Well, it turns out that this is completely possible. The technology is now readily available and, with the advent of widely available of 4G LTE connectivity, faster than the wired connection I have at home. The key piece of equipment you need is a 4G Wireless router or MiFi. For a completely mobile existence, you will want one that is battery powered, I chose the inexpensive, consumer-oriented Huawei E5377. As you charge it just like a mobile phone, it does not rely on the availability of continuous power, mains or DC.

Importantly, this device has twin connectors to attach an antenna. When a device like this is to be used inside a metal box, like a boat or car, it is important to connect an externally mounted antenna. LTE is a MIMO (multi input multi output) system, so the best type of antenna will have dual outputs, like the Poynting XPOL-1.

Poynting XPOL-0001
Poynting XPOL-0001 Cross Polarised LTE antenna

Insert a Mobile Broadband SIM from your preferred mobile network and it will automatically establish an internet connection over the fastest locally available connection. Then just like a standard WiFi router, it let’s multiple devices to connect and share that internet connection. I found a SIM-free unit for under £70 on Amazon.

Personally, I would recommend always purchasing mobile devices as SIM-free. You are not locked into a specific network. You can choose the best one for your needs. I favour Three for mobile broadband. Even on the canal network, which has not been the focus of network coverage efforts, I got a solid, multimegabit connection for all but 2 of my mooring locations. And a good 60% of those connections were 4G.

There are more rugged, industrial or business oriented mobile wifi routers. They are more expensive, but they are rated for harsh environments or 24/7 use. Consumer grade devices are not designed for this type of use and could fail when used continuously. You get what you pay for.

My boat network connected 2 laptops, a low cost wireless printer/scanner, a Windows tablet and 2 Android phones. During the 5 week trip, as well as the usual email and social networking, I set up two WordPress websites, updated one of them almost every day, undertook personal and business banking and finished the setup of my online accounting package. I even binged a little on Daredevil Season 2 on Netflix.

Data Caps – A Drawback

And that brings me to the only possible drawback. If you are used to unlimited data on your fixed line connection, you will not find an equivalent package for mobile broadband use. That makes you a bit more careful about data usage. You can turn down the bandwidth used by Netflix, but you will have to ration it. You will also rapidly find out the applications and services you use that consume a lot of data, and some of them will surprise you.

Can you completely cut the cable and run a business, wirelessly, on the move? Yes, but you have to keep any eye on data usage, unless you have bottomless pockets.

Can you do the same for your business or home? Yes, if you can handle the data usage restrictions. There are even some areas of the country where wireless LTE is being used to plug gaps in superfast broadband provision, like the part of Swindon where I live.

Quick, pass me the scissors.