Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The WiFi Perfect Storm

(1:21) We love spending time talking with marina owners, managers, and staff. It's always an interesting exchange of ideas and experiences as we help them better understand the needs and expectations of real cruisers and they help us understand the issues they face trying to meet those needs. Our hope is that marinas will improve and become more successful while cruisers (us included) have more and better choices.

(1:12) Beginning a couple of years ago we started hearing more and more unhappiness about marina WiFi. It came from marinas and boaters alike. Should marinas charge? Should streaming video be banned? Is it fast enough? What about security? It has been an important topic at 95% of the marinas we've spent time with over the past year. Seriously, 95%. It's likely an issue at your marina.

(1:03) This isn't surprising as we've seen a huge increase in the number of devices onboard and much higher connectivity expectations. Many marinas have older (only 3-5 year!) WiFi systems that are showing their age at a time when smart phones, iPads, and smart TV's are causing more demand for high speed internet. We're also at a point where there's an influx of cruisers that are more comfortable with all of these technologies. As these things come together, we find ourselves in the middle of a WiFi Perfect Storm.

(0:52) When we began cruising nearly 12 years ago, many boats had one laptop onboard that often ran a navigation program and might occasionally be used for email if you could get to a cafe or library. Early on we began accessing free WiFi most often from nearby homes or businesses. No one worried, or maybe understood, about security then. We were one of the first boats to have our own long range WiFi antenna allowing us to access signals from miles away. We had to build it ourselves from commercial parts.

(0:41) Fast forward to boaters in 2014 and you will find boats that have at least 2 laptops (and often more), one or more internet smartphones, tablets, and even a smart TV that all connect to WiFi. Many have off-the-shelf long range WiFi capabilities. Not only have the number of devices increased many times over, the connectivity speed needed for those devices has grown exponentially. It's no longer good enough to access email once a day. Boaters want (need?) access to news, weather radar, and online movies and Skype to visit with family. And the needs continue to expand with things like Facebook and eBoatCards providing new ways to stay in touch with others.

(0:27) Fast forward to marinas in 2014 and you have aging installations that are having increased problems meeting the demand. The systems installed appear to have little growth or scalability design to allow them to meet today's needs let alone next year's. And we know that demand is not going to decrease next year.

(0:19) Increasingly marinas have been turning to us for guidance. While ActiveCaptain keeps us busy more than full time, we believe this issue is critical and are working to find a solution. The full solutions will come from multiple directions: a) educating boaters on how to best use their equipment, b) finding companies capable of offering the right solutions, and c) helping marinas understand how they can readily afford it, if not save money over what they're doing today.

(0:09) WiFi is a genie out of the bottle. It won't go back in and is here to stay. But I believe I can help you understand how to manage the genie and bring you more business. Stay tuned for more minutes about thriving in this Perfect Storm.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.