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April 15, 2007

Dollars or Cents – WiFi to the Rescue

Bvimapbrad32 Calling home from the Caribbean can be very expensive.  Somehow Cable & Wireless has managed to keep their monopoly from colonial days in many of the former British possessions.  Rates to call the US from pay phones two years ago – if you could find one working – were close to $2.00/minute (I don’t know current rates but wouldn’t bet on their being reasonable).

By prearrangement, your Verizon cellphone’ll work in the British Virgin Islands where I’m headed for some sailing.  Those rates are only $1.29/minute but apply whether you’re making or receiving calls – after all, you’re roaming.


Last time I sailed in Sir Francis Drake Channel (if the old pirate were alive today he’d have a phone monopoly), I saved on phone calls by renting a CDPD card (cellular wireless) for my PC for “just” $180 for the week.  I could do email – slowly – and surf sometimes even more slowly.  But the card did work almost everywhere in BVI.

There was a CDPD card on the list of optional equipment for the boat we’re renting this trip so I ordered it.  Unfortunately, the company wrote back, they no longer offer this. Hmm..  “Do you have a list of WiFi hotsposts?” I asked with mild desperation.

The next email had this very encouraging link http://angelinacat.com/Internetaccess.htm.  Seem to be hotspots in almost every anchorage and harbor.  Maybe WiFi, which is better and cheaper although with a smaller coverage area, is driving out CDPD. 

One of the sponsors of the hotspot lists is BVI Marine WiFi who offer service in many of the locations under one agreement - $69/week after ten dollar rebate for preordering.  Most interesting is what they say the service is used for “All locations are high bandwidth allowing for good signals for use with email, browsing and Skype, the service that lets you call the USA or anywhere else for less than 5 cents a minute.”  The cost per minute to call the US on Skype is €.021/minute.  Just an hour of calling on this hookup rather than Verizon saves me enough to pay for the week of WiFi and buy one drink.  Preordered, of course.

However, being a nerd, I already spent the savings and more.  The BVI Marine site had a nice primer on having enough transmit power to make WiFi work in an anchorage or a little way out to sea.  Seems that the WiFi built into out laptops transmits at 20 or 30 milliwatts; moreover, the antenna is built into the laptop so easily blocked and not very useful below decks.  Your laptop may see the hotspot but not be able to reach it with a transmission.  Not to worry, they recommend the 300 milliwatt card from Ubiquity (more powerful than most hotspots) and an external antenna.  Sold!  Now I have to talk for three hours to break even.

If this stuff doesn’t work, you’ll know it from an embarrassing lack of posts of Fractals of Change next week.

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