Our PilotLink wireless NMEA server for connecting a Class A transponder to an iPad or other wireless device is proving very popular with commercial pilots and ship owners. PilotLink is the only wireless product in our range to feature an internal Wi-Fi antenna but its small ceramic chip antenna is very good and should have a range of 50m or more depending upon environmental conditions.
However, recently one of the Pilots who helped us in the original product testing reported that on some larger vessels, he was only seeing a 20m range. He also reported that if he held the PilotLink vertically and stuck it to the front window of the ship’s bridge that the range would suddenly increase and he could get reception from one side of the bridge to the other.
On checking the antenna data-sheet we confirmed that the antenna gave maximum gain when the Pilot Link was held vertically and also that if the PilotLink was laid flat on a metal surface, which is common when using it on a ship’s bridge, that the Wi-Fi range would be further reduced.
The drawing above attempts to illustrate how the Wi-Fi signals emanate from the center of the PilotLink – imagine a large doughnut approximately 100m in diameter with the PilotLink in the middle !
So after reviewing the Pilot’s feedback, backed up by the antenna datasheets, we recommend that anyone needing maximum Wi-Fi range from our PilotLink unit, should mount the PilotLink vertically, as far away from any large metallic objects as possible.
Whilst considering this issue, it occurred to us that a very good solution would be to use one of the many designs of mobile phone holders for cars. Although PilotLink is slightly thicker than your average mobile phone, most of these holders cope with a variety of different sizes and, as you can see from the photo at the start of this article, our PilotLink is held very securely by the spare holder we found in the office.
Mounting of the phone holder is easy, with the suction cup temporarily fixing to the front window of the bridge and, once adjusted for the PilotLink, it is held firmly in place. With these phone holders available from many online resellers and prices starting at just a few pounds, it is even worth considering one for smaller vessels, as a neat way to secure your PilotLink in rough conditions.