RealTime IT News

Deploying WLANs at Marinas

The marina segment is emerging as an important portion of the public wireless LAN hotspot market. There are estimates that 90 percent of all yachters use the Internet regularly while at home or in the office. Even though most boaters are on vacation, many of them still want access to the Internet while relaxing on their boats, especially when parked overnight at a marina.

Wireless LAN marina 802.11b hotspots are available at ports throughout the West and East coast, particularly California, New York, New England, and Florida. There are also many marina hotspots installed at large lakes, such as the Great Lakes and large lakes in Illinois and Wisconsin. Many other marinas are considering the deployment of wireless LANs.

Why Marinas WLANs Make Sense

Marina wireless LAN hotspots provide the following benefits for boaters and marina owners:

  • Easy access to the Internet. A wireless LAN maintains the same dependable communications at the marina and surrounding areas that they currently have in their home and/or office. In addition to providing access to dock patrons, the wireless LAN covers boats tied to buoys away from the dock area. Some hotspot systems even extend coverage at up to 30 miles out to sea. This enables users to easily check the news, sports scores, weather, stock performance, e-mail, or anything else they want to do while playing on their boat.
  • Connection to corporate systems. As with any other network connection, users can remotely connect to their workplace, giving them the ability to turn their boat into a floating office -- the idea is to mix pleasure with business. After all, some people are more productive within a relaxed environment. The ability to stay connected and work while on board lets users enjoy more time on their boat.
  • Increased reliability. Traditional phones lines and network cabling strung across marina docks is hit hard by weather, making these connections difficult to maintain and unreliable. A wireless LAN of course eliminates most of this cabling, which radically improves dependability of the network and makes users happier.
  • Marina differentiation. Internet access allows marina operators to add value and differentiate themselves from other marinas. Many boaters, especially those who are technologically savvy, will choose a marina with a pubic wireless LAN over others, leading to an increase in revenue (with limited investment) for the marina.
  • Fun applications. A marina having a wireless LAN hotspot creates a variety of new opportunities. For instance, a high speed gaming network can provide a new and fun form of amusement for patrons. This also provides a mechanism for boaters to meet other boaters.

What Boaters will Spend

Of course every boater needs a radio NIC card and client device to gain access to the hotspot. Boaters can use their own NIC or purchase one from a service provider. Thus, the radio card (average price of $60) is one possible expense for users that don't already use a wireless LAN somewhere else.

Once the user installs a radio card in their laptop or PDA, all they need to do is subscribe to a service provider. Subscriptions are usually offered in monthly, biannual, or annual terms. Different service providers charge varying amounts, but the average prices are usually around $70 per month or $500 per year.

Issues to Consider

There are some issues to deal with when deploying marina wireless LANs. One issue is weather. Heavy rain and humidity can cause significant attenuation. As a result, you must ensure that the coverage of the wireless LAN will tolerate varying attenuation levels. Be sure to incorporate this into the RF site survey.

Another potential problem is range requirements. In most cases, the access points mounted on the shoreline or dock will need to reach distances farther than most indoor facilities. Over water, there won't be as many obstructions as within buildings to cause attenuation, but multipath propagation could be a problem.

This means that you'll need to pay special attention to antenna selection to ensure appropriate degrees of gain and directivity. In most cases, you'll need to deploy semi-directional antennas. Also consider using a directional wireless LAN switch, offered by companies such as Vivato and Bandspeed.

There are also some issues that service providers have to deal with. The marinas in the North, particularly those in the New England area, are on seasonal schedules. Because of this, there is a large portion of the year where marinas have very few customers. As a result, Marinas may need to charge a bit more for wireless access to cover the lonely winter months.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers computer-based training focusing on wireless LANs.

Join Jim for discussions as he answers questions in the 802.11 Planet Forums.