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does anyone know what the best dongle is to use on a nb

Asked by: andy wakler  | 6.13pm, Tuesday 8 May

WW says:

This is a difficult question to answer; we cannot recommend specific devices and even the network depends on the locality.
If your boat is mostly used in a specific location, it is a good idea to ask other boaters to find the network that gives the best performance. As you move around the network some canals are better covered than others whilst some moorings have absolutely no mobile reception at all. So a system that works well at one mooring might not work at all in another location, with all variations in between.
The problem with narrowboats is that radio waves are stopped by steel and often the only way to get a dongle to work is to hang it by a window or to work outside or in the cratch.

Rupert Smedley  | 12.19PM, Thursday 10 May

Most people afloat now want to get online via mobile broadband, and the plug-in USB modem, or 'dongle' is still the most popular way. The thick steel of a typical narrowboat is an effective 'Faraday Cage', interfering with reception, so most boaters use a USB extension cable from the computer, leading the dongle to the window.
While there's little to choose between the equivalent models of each company, if possibly try to get one described as 'HSPA+'. This is the fastest currently available, and the most future-proof of all existing technologies, at least until the new superfast '4G' networks roll out in a couple of years.
The most practical solution is a mobile broadband wifi unit. There are three currently available: the Three MiFi, the T-Mobile Pointer and the Orange Novatel Wireless. You can put them against the window for maximum signal, and use the signal anywhere in the cabin on your wifi-enabled laptop or smartphone.
If you moor up where the signal is weak, then you might benefit from an external antenna. However, the T-Mobile Pointer is the only wifi device that currently supports it. The Boater's Phone Company (www.boatersphone.com or tel: 01535 669233) can advise.
However, perhaps better still is one of the latest generation of smartphones, such as the iPhone 4S, the Android-based Samsung Galaxy 3 or the HTC One X, or the new Nokia Windows Phone units. Not only are these superb pocket computers in their own right, but they offer their own 'personal wifi hotspot' features. Put them near the window and they will share their signal inside the boat. (You might have to pay extra on a contract for the hotspot feature).
You will probably find the contract costs and relative signal strengths of the networks far more important than the model of dongle. It's hard to say which network is best for waterways users, but industry regulator Ofcom has a list of maps showing coverage here: http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/mobile/index.html
Three and T-Mobile are doing 'all you can eat' (unlimited) packages if you get a contract, but these can be extremely slow in the middle of the day, when everyone is online. The more expensive offerings from O2, Orange and Vodafone can be faster simply because they are rationed by the amount of data you are allowed monthly. O2 currently has a flat rate of £10 per gb, and is the simplest to understand - though its data works out at fifteen times the cost of Three!
A handy negotiating tip: Try to sign up for a 'rolling 30-day contract' rather than a 'pay as you go' or a 24-month contract. Ring the company after a couple of months and say you are thinking of cancelling it because it doesn't offer enough. The salesman on the other end is then very likely to offer you a better deal if you stay with them.
This is risky, because they might try to trap you into a contract. Be sure to INSIST that you don't want to be tied to a new contract, and they will often give you ALL the benefits of the 24-month contract without tying you down to it! This way you can still be free to change to someone else (or get a new phone) with only 30 days notice. This has worked twice for me in two years!

Andrew Denny  | 5.11PM, Friday 11 May

Readers say:

Hello. As is pointed out above, the structure of narrow boats can make it difficult to get good mobile broadband reception inside. I've seen owners using dongles, extension cables and jerry-rigged waterproofing, with limited success. I would suggest taking a look at WiBE Marine, which is specifically designed to deliver high quality mobile broadband to boats. It's IP66 rated enclosure means it can be permanently mounted outside, while it's revolutionary, patented antennas mean WiBE Marine works were other 3G products will not.
More information can be found here - http://rgxd.at/wms1 or drop me an email at info@rangexd.com

Peter Ford  | 11.32AM, Sunday 7 December

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