Connectivity at sea is a necessity for yachts. 5G data is not a marine internet service you should consider. Find out why 4G is still the clear winner.
April 17, 2021
Internet at sea is a necessity for yachts with Captains and ETO’s carefully considering satellite and mobile data options. With a rise in the number of marine internet service providers touting "fast 5G internet at sea", we ask, is 5G internet really a technology the marine industry can embrace?
This article contains basic information about 4G and 5G technologies and is meant to give a general overview rather than specifications and in-depth analysis of the technology. The piece deliberately contains “internet at sea” in the title as yachts that are moored are more likely to be able to take advantage of the technology from nearby cell towers.
What is 5G internet?
There’s been a lot of hype about 5G technology from network operators and the race is on to upgrade existing infrastructure, as well as add new cell towers to networks. 5G technology is the successor to 4G, with the main advantage of faster speed. 5G internet speeds exceed 4G internet speeds by a factor of ten.
What speed is 5G internet?
The maximum speed of 5G internet is 10Gbps for download and 1Gbps for upload. In reality, unless you stood directly beneath a cell tower with no other device is connected, and the performance of the cell tower and network is optimal, it’s unlikely that you’ll reach these speeds.
How fast is 4G internet?
The maximum speed of 4G internet is 150Mbps (LTE) and 300Mbps (LTE-A) for download, and 50Mbps (LTE) and 150Mbps (LTE-A) for upload.
4G distance vs. 5G distance or why 5G yacht internet at sea doesn’t work
The main disadvantage of 5G technology is the range at which a signal can be broadcast when compared to 4G technology. 4G coverage is up to 40 times greater than 5G signals.
4G internet range/distance
The range of 4G signals depends on the frequency but is between 5 miles - 15miles. Although a 4G signal can be partially blocked by buildings and other obstructions, it’s still possible to gain access to a good signal in built-up areas.
4G internet range at sea
Whilst the range for 4G signals maxes out at around 15 miles, we have reports from customers that they are able to give a decent signal up to 40 miles offshore. The distance depends on a host of factors including where the vessel is located in comparison to the nearest cell tower, the frequency of the cell tower signal, and the mobile data router the vessel is using.
5G internet range/distance
To gain a good signal to the 5G network you’ll need to be within 250 - 500 meters of a cell tower. The small coverage footprint of 5G is why more cell towers are being constructed. In addition to the short distance, 5G signals cannot pass through solid objects such as buildings as easily as 4G.
5G internet range at sea
Whilst we’ve had no reports of 5G usage from our customers at sea, if we use our 4G internet range ratio, we can calculate an estimate. Assuming that the max signal is 2.6 times greater than the max (as in the case of 4G), we can estimate that a 5G signal will be available up to 0.8 miles offshore. That’s not very far offshore!
Now ask yourself, how often have you seen a cell tower within line of sight view of your yacht? Probably not very often. A 5G cellular connection is possible in places like Monaco when you’re moored, but almost impossible at sea.
4G pricing vs. 5G pricing
Generally, there’s no price difference or differentiation between a 4G or 5G connection. This is because you will (in most cases) purchase an allowance bundle of data and the provider doesn’t care how fast you use it. The one caveat here is that you may find yourself burning through data faster than usual on a 5G connection. That means that you may run into an over-usage / per GB rate quicker, or your connection may throttle (in the case of some providers).
4G vs 5G routers
At the time of writing, there’s only a handful of routers available with 5G capability. Coverage for 5G across coastal cell towers is also quite spotty right now so it’s unlikely that you’ll have 5G access unless you’re somewhere like Port Hercules in Monaco.
5G internet is for land-based usage. Based on the availability of 5G internet at sea, 4G routers are a much better fit for yachts at sea.
4G vs 5G - who’s the winner?
Here’s a quick overview of the technologies.
4G: 300 Mbps
5G: 10 Gbps
4G: 150 Mbps
5G: 1 Gbps
4G: 15 miles
5G: 500 metres
4G: 40 miles
5G: 0.8 miles
Same price: Draw
It’s not a fair fight. 5G technology is built for shoreside communications, with additional cell towers and mesh stations covering as much ground as possible. 5G speeds are available to users in built-up areas, but if you like in a rural area you likely won’t see this technology for many years.
With mobile data routers that allow for multiple SIM cards (such as Peplink), you gain a faster 4G internet speed and a more stable 4G connection that is available up to 40 times further out at sea.
Whilst 5G internet is available in some marinas, a good question to ask is how often you’ll be using 5G data when moored. As soon as you say goodbye to the shoreline, you can wave goodbye to a 5G signal. When distance offshore is a major factor for a marine internet service, 4G is the clear winner.
This article is an extract from the 10 secrets free ebook
We care about the industry that we serve. Part of our ethos is to educate yacht crew about the inner workings of the yacht data world and also the pitfalls of choosing the wrong data provider.