Digital Yacht WL510 & 4G Connect review
It’s been around 6 months since I set off on a digital nomad-style experience on a sailboat with the Digital Yacht 4GConnect and WL510, and I’m ready to give them some kind of initial review.
If you want to read some high-level details of this adventure, and other technical details of the boat, batteries, antennas and work, read the digital nomad boat experience post first.
Overall, they are 2 nice bits of kit, well-engineered and thought-through, but probably a bit expensive given the amount of use that I have managed to get out of them (less than I would have liked for a variety of reasons).
TLDR; If I were to start this trip again, I probably wouldn’t buy them again. However, for a different trip or situation, they might make more sense (cruising around the UK for example)
Both of the devices were easily wall mountable, and they come with all required cables and connectors, but I do wish that they both had switches included to turn them on and off, just in case you want to.
Due to the length of the antenna cables and the desire to put the antennas up our mizzen mast the positioning of the devices was not ideal, but at least we got the antennas up with a bit of height.
The Wifi antenna cable is also pretty thick, making usage of a rubber deck cable Gromit harder than we would have liked, as the cables also already have their ends attached and these are even thicker than the cables. (Of course, we could have made our own cables…)
Usage of the 4G Connect
The UI within the 4G connect is fine, fully featured and pretty easy to use. There isn’t much you need to do here if you are using the 4G Connect alone, but you’ll probably end up regularly changing things when using in conjunction with the WL510.
It’s nice having a large and high 4G antenna (part of the 4G Connect) to increase the chances of getting a 4G connection from your sim cards.
This has mostly been most useful for me while heading away from land or toward land at 5-20 nautical miles. I always get a connection on the 4G Connect before getting one on my phone and other devices. But in the grand scheme of things, this is not when most of my internet usage happens. It was a novelty being able to make a video call while in the middle of the sea, with the land only in distant sight, but not amazingly useful.
Another thing to note here is the antenna for the WiFi network that the 4G Connect creates doesn’t appear to create a very powerful network, and there is no option to increase the output of this. It is possible to get extension cables for this to put the antenna elsewhere, and this is what we had to do given the annoying placement of the device itself. (Don’t make your extension cable too long, or you’ll run into other issues)
4G Connect sim cards
The 4G Connect requires a physical sim card, which is slightly behind the times of modern technology (no option to have an ESim).
Changing the sim card is also not the easiest thing to do, as it requires dismantling the outer casing of the device.
Sim card decisions can be hard. I set off with a couple of global unlimited sim cards to try. (If you want to read about global unlimited sim card options check out my comparison).
But generally found that none of the physical sim card options did quite what I wanted.
Another thing to think about here is if you are buying physical sim cards, they are in this device and you want to go to shore for a day, you need to take apart the 4G connect if you want to take the sim car with you.
Usage of the WL510
In marinas, or places where you already know a wifi network exists, and you know the passcode then the WL510 is a great extender.
You log into the web interface, look at the list of networks available (always far more than you can see on a phone), type in the code, and connect.
Depending on your configuration with the 4G Connect (or another WiFi hotspot) you’ll then have an internet connection!
50% of marinas that have WiFi, have WiFi that already works aboard without the WiFi extender, and 50% of marinas that we seem to be visiting now appear to not have WiFi.
It’s sometimes possible to find other nearby WiFi networks and their wifi codes but it all ends up being quite a lot of effort.
The WL510 doesn’t play amazingly nicely with captive portals which most “free” WiFi networks now employ. Especially when connected through the 4G Connect with any sort of rules to decide when to use WiFi and when to use 4G. I normally have to go and unplug the 2 devices, plugging the WL510 directly into my laptop to try to negotiate with any captive portals that I find. Doing this from my phone over WiFi seems to work 1% of the time.
So, on the whole :(
I bought the 2 devices from Cactus Nav (the cheapest I could find new ones for in the UK), totaling £1.2k
The order and delivery went smoothly, no complaints there
If I were to buy the same 2 items today from Digital Yacht UK the WL510 would be £618 and the 4G Connect would be 4G Connect would be £774, totaling 1.4k, so prices have probably risen in the last 6 months.
Looking at this price, it’s too much. In hindsight, I would much rather have kept the money and spent it on more high-speed data on various sim cards where needed and a regular mobile wifi Hotspot such as the TP-Link 4G modem which I already own, or my Skyroam Solis hotspot.
To put this price comparison in real numbers, for £1.2k I would have bought 140 Solis unlimited global day passes, or more reasonably, 1 years worth of the Global Unlimited Solis subscription (with the current 50% discount available you could get 2 years).
Many boats are trying our Starlink RV for an internet connectivity option. I haven’t tried this out on Hannah, but I know of other boats that have a Starlink, and they quite like the solution (even though coverage isn’t global just yet).
In terms of cost, a Starlink would cost £500 to get delivered in the UK, and a year’s worth of RC service would be £1.1k, totaling £1.6k.
This total appears to be more than the Digital Yacht 4G Connect and WL510, but we need to remember with those devices the cost of sim cards and data for the 4G Connect are not included in that price. 1 year’s worth of the Global Unlimited Solis subscription with the current 50% discount would be roughly £500, bringing the Digital Yacht solution to £2k for the year, so cheaper than a Starlink? Maybe?
The monthly running costs of Starlink currently seem to be higher, even though the initial hardware costs less. However, in the future, this would come with truly global coverage, including (probably) the ability to page for GBs in the middle of oceans.
If you want to read more about Starlink on boats, go and join a Facebook group!
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