Internet in the Bahamas

by Jay 20. January 2011 11:40

While our Internet use doesn't approach anything we'd consider unhealthy, we do use it quite a bit.  I am dependent on it for work, and while I don't necessarily need it all the time, I'm not retired either, and therefore need regular access to high-bandwidth connections for this lifestyle to be possible.  We undertook this trip without knowing exactly what we'd find in terms of Internet availability and quality.  We were pleasantly surprised in the Abacos, but not so much in the Exumas.

There are two Wi-Fi Internet providers in the Abacos, Out Island Internet and Bahamas WiMax, and one or both can be accessed from most anchorages.  If anything, the problem was too much Wi-Fi as the signals were often very noisy due to the number of networks within range.  We found ourselves selecting an access point not only by signal strength, but also by how many others were on the same channel.  We also found it helpful not just to select a network (the Bahamas WiMax APs all use the same SSID), but also to lock to a particular AP’s MAC to prevent us from skipping around.  Rates are $35/week.  We generally favored Bahamas WiMax since we felt they had a better network, but they had fewer APs and sometimes we had to use OII.  On several occasions while in the Abacos we were able to watch movies streamed from Netflix.  

The only settlement we visited in Eleuthera is Spanish Wells.  It did not have any public Wi-Fi signals and the harbor was also not big enough for us to enter with the big boat.  We parked outside, but could not hear any signals from there because of the topograhy.  I eventually found an open network by putting around in the dinghy, which allowed me to at least send and receive email.

The northern Exumas are uninhabited until you get to Highborne Cay.  The Highborne Cay Marina has Internet for its guests, but we never got close enough to see the signal.  Norman’s Cay is next.  I heard that there was an open network that could be used inside Norman’s Pond, but we never went inside and did not find any open networks on the West side.  The first network we actually saw was at Warderick Wells.  It is $10/day and is limited to 100MB, but is only for boats on moorings.  We were not on a mooring, so did not use it.  Next was at Staniel Cay.  We were anchored at Big Majors and could not get a signal there, but took a laptop ashore on Staniel.  The Exumas WiFi network at Staniel was so bad that we couldn’t even log in.  The Staniel Cay Yacht Club also offers Wi-Fi for guests, but we were not.  Next was Black Point settlement on Great Guana Cay, where a couple restaurants and bars offer Wi-Fi.  We did use the Internet here, after going 12 days without, but it was difficult at best.

The Warderick Wells, Staniel, and Black Point networks we found were all satellite-based.  That means signals had to travel about 100,000 miles round-trip through space.  The laws of physics prevent this type of connection from ever being considered fast by general standards.  By comparison, for terrestrial networks the max roundtrip is about 25,000 miles, even if the computers are on opposite sides of the planet.

We were hoping the availability in George Town would be better, since more people live there.  It was better, but we were still disappointed.  There are only two public Wi-Fi access points, each on different networks, and on opposite sides of the harbor.  

Harbour Wi-Fi broadcasts from the town side, and offers unlimited access for $15/week or $50/month.  One must go to Exuma Pets and pay cash for a username/password.  The pet store is left from the Exuma Markets dock, past the intersection and on the left.  The other network is Gaviota Bay and they broadcast from somewhere near Hole #1 behind Volleyball Beach.  They are very careful about their bandwidth.  One must buy “tickets” at the St Francis Resort for $2.  Each ticket is good for 25MB or 80min (your choice), but you can only buy two tickets a day.

Quality of each network varies.  Usually one of them is barely decent at any given time.  With a booster and some luck, both networks can be used at either the Volleyball Beach or Kidd Cove anchorages.  The Gaviota network is better both for speed and signal strength, but the bandwidth limitations prevent this from being a single solution for us.  However, Gaviota internet is free (and unlimited) for boats on St. Francis moorings.  Mooring rates are $20/day or $300/month.

There are several businesses ashore that offer either free or paid Wi-Fi, but we did not try those since they did not meet our needs.  I want the Internet all day for work.  Tanya wants it at night after the kids are in bed.  For both of these cases, we want Internet access on the boat, not in a café.

We have a Ubiquiti Bullet with an omni-directional antenna to pull wi-fi signals into the boat.  The Bullet is connected to a Cradlepoint wi-fi router, which constitutes our onboard network.  The Cradlepoint router supports a USB cellular modem, so when 3G/4G cell networks are available we can use those seamlessly.  For our next cruise, we’ll carry a directional Yagi antenna to help pull in weaker wi-fi signals.

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Jay and Tanya bought Take Two, a 48' catamaran, to slowly go broke while teaching their children about the world and having a great time.

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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