Anyone using a computer onboard should also explore the availability of a Wi-Fi connection (hotspot) at marinas and yacht clubs. Originally intended to provide very short-range (100+ feet) communication between computers and Internet access, this license-free communication system now offers increased range capability up to some hundreds of feet. Many marinas and yacht clubs are installing Internet gateways and the RF equipment that allow a boatï¿½s Wi-Fiï¿½equipped computer to access the Internet at wideband speeds and at very low cost per minute. Recent developments include the IEEE Standards Associationï¿½s Standards Board June 12, 2003, ratification of 802.11g, a new communication protocol. The 802.11g protocol is an extension of 802.11b, (Wi-Fi). The new standard is backward-compatible with 802.11b; however, when used with a g-configured base station, it will provide a data bandwidth of 54 MHz, while 11b is limited to about 11 MHz. Both 11b and 11g operate in a portion of the 2.4-GHz band.
The 802.11a standard, which is so far lightly used, operates in the less crowded 5-GHz band and provides additional channels with 54-MHz bandwidth. Regardless of the specific protocol used ï¿½ 802.11b, g or a ï¿½ it is quite likely that Web surfing at high speeds will be practical in many harbors. In most cases, users will have to subscribe to a service in order to obtain access; someone has to pay for the base-station equipment, installation and access to the ï¿½Net. Of course, some technically savvy boaters may engage in a new kind of trolling, sailing along close to shore while using their computers to look for existing and unencrypted hotspots through which to connect to the ï¿½Net. We hope their navigation skills match their computer skills, however; otherwise, we may see shoals decorated with grounded boats.