What is Bandwidth? How and Why Does It Matter on my Yacht?
Speed and Stability – great for yachting, great for the Internet
It is not a perfect world. The public Internet serves businesses, homes, and billions of mobile devices over the wire and over the air. The general concept for your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is “best-effort”, with no guarantees despite optimistic and sometimes misleading* claims about the two things we are most concerned with: speed, or the ability to move large amounts of data from a content producer or supply; and stability, or the ability to maintain that delivery without interruption.
Internet traffic is two-way, back-and-forth, and resembles an ancient semaphore system- a sailor waves a flag, the sailor on the other ship waves back “I see you”, the first sailor sends the message, and the second then waves “I got it”- so both speed and stability play important roles. If the transmission is not acknowledged, the transmitter tries again, and again, until the recipient responds. No acknowledgement, or too long a delay in acknowledgement, disrupts the conversation. This is especially tough with Internet over satellite for anything that relies on a quick and responsive handshake process, like VPN’s (Virtual Private Networks) or working in the cloud.
And some connections are shared, so the more people on a given circuit the more capacity it must have to maintain that speed and stability. Cable connections are especially sensitive to load, which is why your home connection slows down shortly after the local high school lets out for the day.
What does this have to do with you on your yacht? Your Internet connections probably include WiFi at the dock, cable or wired at the dock, and 4G or 5G cellular or satellite underway. At some point in your travels someone on board certainly said something like “What’s up with the Internet- I was watching Netflix and it just stopped?” Maybe you notice that at a certain marina everything seemed to work better. Since the devices and conditions on your yacht remained the same, what you are seeing is the difference in how you connect your yacht to the Internet- wired, wireless, satellite. In other words, bandwidth.
Maybe at one marina newly installed cable or fiber with solid weather-tight connections has plenty of capacity- until the marina fills up. Maybe at another marina a jumble of competing WiFi networks and dilapidated cable strung over the pilings delivers Internet- sometimes. Maybe your VSAT stays connected but is so slow most of what you want the Internet for seems painful- at great expense. So, the bandwidth you perceive at your device, or that 4K stream running perfectly, depends on everything from Netflix itself to the ISP to your connection (wired or wireless) to the onboard network to the device.
Maximizing what you can control (if Netflix has a bad day it is on them) through provider, equipment, and configuration delivers your best onboard performance. Marine Data Solutions and 4G/5G cellular data speed and stability advantages over satellite Internet, outside of the tremendous cost savings, start with the simple factor of distance- your yacht is always closer to a 4G/5G tower than to a satellite. That two-way handshake happens much more quickly, making everything from streaming to your VPN connection to your office network what we want-fast and stable. Your 4G or 5G connection to Marine Data Solutions Internet, whether you are in the USA, the Bahamas, Europe, the Caribbean, or South America (check our plans and coverage here), is not shared, is always unthrottled, and some plans include unlimited data. Marine Data Solutions delivers fast and stable Internet, creating the solid connection the first part of the journey from Netflix or Zoom to your screen demands.
Next, your onboard network will have at least one way of connecting to the Internet, probably more, including a 4G/5G modem that connects to Marine Data Solutions, possibly a satellite downlink, and a way to access the Internet dockside, probably a cable modem. You can then manually switch between providers or automate the selection with intelligent routers which seek out the best connection or even, if one of multiple services fails, switch automatically to the best source.
The next step distributes that Internet signal over your onboard wired and wireless network. The shielded cables used in wired connections protect the Internet signal from interference- much easier to be fast and stable with a wired connection. Interference, whether it’s from cellular phones, wireless phones, adjacent WiFi networks, or even a microwave oven play havoc with WiFi signals, so designing and configuring your yacht WiFi to get the most out of the Internet requires planning and technical skills. The proliferation of radios means properly configuring your WiFi access points- controlling how the signal propagates and keeping a consistent signal strength- gives each connected device the best possible bandwidth.
Bandwidth refers to a system of systems. Designing, configuring, and maintaining those systems so that your onboard screens stay free of spinning circles requires informed decisions based on expectations, use, locations, and budgets. The ability of your provider to pump Internet data to you, and then your yacht’s ability to satisfactorily pump the Internet everywhere onboard can bottleneck anywhere in the system- or work flawlessly with the right setup.
Marine Data Solutions engineers complete Internet service solutions for your vessel. Fast and stable 4G and 5G data starts the process for over 600 yachts at the time of this article, and MDS technicians specify, provide, and install each piece of onboard equipment to fit each use case. Netflix in the aft stateroom? A Zoom call from the engine room with the generator company visually inspecting their setup? All possible with the right bandwidth.
*For example, one company’s claims of “5G” when it’s really just 4G with a twist. But, that’s another story.