Wave WiFi Rogue Reach Dual Band, excellent high-power marine WiFi
These days many coastwise cruisers rely on cellular for their internet needs, but there’s still a place for high power WiFi radios that can connect to harbor hotspots, at least on my boat. And Wave WiFi’s dual-band Rogue Reach model has been making me very happy in this department. The interface shown in part above makes it easy to find and stay locked onto even fairly distant access points, and often they’re in the 5GHz band that most marine WiFi systems can’t see.
To be more specific, the screen above shows some of the “Favorite” hotspots I identified around Camden Harbor last fall, none of which is rock solid from my boat (and some of which shan’t be revealed). But sometimes for weeks at a time, the Wave Wifi Rogue system kept two boat monitoring systems solidly online even if it had to automatically switch from one AP to another. It’s also been useful when cruising, especially beyond Verizon service. Let’s have a look.
The Rogue Reach DB is said to be Wave’s RV model, but unless you insist on the stainless beauty of the Rogue Pro DB, I think this design will hold up fine at less cost. The kit above still isn’t inexpensive, as I’ll get to below, but it does mount neatly on any standard 1″ – 14 threaded marine antenna base and the intermittent sleeve seen above and below makes that install fairly painless.
So the sleeve screws onto whatever 1-14 mount you want, and then you run the included 25 foot Ethernet cable through both, no twisting necessary, and secure the Reach itself with the set screw. It would arguably be better if you could also detach the cable from the antenna for easy temporary removal, but I like how thoroughly sealed this design is. (Incidentally, the Rogue Pro mount design does offer a detachable cable, but you must leave enough twisting slack if you don’t want to pull the cable completely.)
In Gizmo’s case, 25 feet wasn’t quite enough to reach the WiFi router in the pilothouse, but RJ45 couplers are plentiful — even waterproof designs — and one beauty of this all-in-one WiFi radio/antenna concept is that no signal strength is lost over Ethernet cable, unlike coax (which is especially hellacious on high WiFi frequencies).
In the kit photo you can see the splitter that let me send 12v Power over Ethernet (PoE) to the Reach while connecting its Ethernet data feed to an inexpensive WiFi router that also runs on 12v. This is the same general setup I’ve been using since testing the original Rogue Wave in 2010, and the Coastal Marine Wifi I’ve favored since 2015 includes a nifty dual POE injector (and can also be ordered with a $40 router already set up for your boat).
I think that the Rogue Reach — the one forward on the port antenna spreader — looks better than the more bulbous CMW design. And note that it was one of the last antennas I stripped off Gizmo last fall, because reliable WiFi was critical to getting alerts about the boat’s batteries, bilge pumps, and more via Victron VRM and FloatHub. In fact, right now the Reach is leaning against a pilothouse window still maintaining a monitoring connection while also inside a boatyard building in Rockland that’s entirely enclosed in steel.
For a decade high-power marine WiFi radios have been giving me much more access to shoreside hotspots than what’s possible directly with the WiFi radios built into PC’s, phones, tablets, monitoring hubs, etc. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much more is available when the much wider 5GHz WiFi band is also usable, even in a small town harbor like Camden.
And while 5GHz WiFi typically has less range than 2.4GHz, I’ve illustrated above how the Rogue Reach can connect to the relatively weak (but free) Camden Library AP a quarter of a mile away (with numerous masts often in between). I’ve rarely been able to use that Internet connection over 2.4GHz, and 5GHz to the same hotspot is often faster and more reliable.
I first saw wildly different WiFi band performance in a North Carolina marina (and tried to explain why). But I couldn’t see how many 5GHz hotspots were available to a high-power WiFi boat system until I installed the Rogue Reach. So far I’m quite impressed. Many solid hotspots located in marinas, restaurants, public facilities, and coastal homes seem to be dual band, if you can see both.
Before getting deeper into Wave WiFi’s easy software interface — perhaps the main reason to pay a premium for a true marine high-power WiFi system — let’s discuss the nuance of output power. It’s hard for anyone to know, but these devices can negatively affect lower power WiFi radios on nearby boats — especially if you’re all confined to the relatively narrow 2.4GHz band — and so I appreciated how the CMW interface automatically chooses the lowest output power necessary for a particular hotspot situation and then alerts you if and when performance indicates that more power is needed.
So I was hoping that the Rogue Reach could do the same, though I found the Output Power Settings language above unclear. Well, good news. Wave WiFi CEO Jeff Graham responded thusly: “I call it ‘Good neighbor’ and we should rename it as such. ‘Auto’ basically backs down (within reason) when it’s in that state and can.” (And while I think that we should all try to be good wireless neighbors, Jeff recommends using “Auto” mode only in “noisy” locations.)
Wave WiFi has developed an interface especially for what many boaters hope to do — cruise into new places and find a good WiFi connection to get online (perhaps these days to take the strain off their cell plan, or because their cell service is poor). That may seem obvious for a marine WiFi product, but it’s especially important when you realize that the underlying hardware is much less expensive in generic form.
In 2018 Ben Stein nicely compared generic and marine WiFi interfaces –Ubiquity, Wave WiFi, and Winegard — while Steve Mitchell nicely explained how to set up a MikroTik Groove dual-band high power WiFi that likely performs at least as well as the Rogue DBs at a fraction of the cost. I’m tempted by the MikroTik solution, and think I’m enough of a DIY geek to accomplish the initial setup and find the needed boat install bits (or get a Groove kit from Island PC).
But, dang, I’m put off by all the steps required to make each new WiFi connection with the Groove (which Steve thoroughly explains at the end of his how-to article). By contrast, Wave Wifi’s main Scan page — seen on PC, iPad, and smartphone browsers above and below — simply lists all available hotspots in both bands and then tests for AP connection, IP address, and actual Internet availability on one click (or two if a password is required).
The Rogue Reach can also easily use all APs in a same-name group — like the LMB Guest marina WiFi in the collage above (that I thought I knew the password to) — or let you choose just one if that works better. The MikroTik Groove can do the same, but you may need to consult Steve’s instructions more than once.
These screens show how I went from 91 “Available wireless networks” at my mooring in Camden to 4 in the steel boat shed, and since 3 of those are actually on board Gizmo, connecting to them would not put them online as desired. But then again, the “JEM-Guest” connection has enabled rock-solid remote monitoring and when I work on projects aboard, my phone — and sometimes iPad and/or laptop — log onto the “M/V Gizmo” WiFi router for a better Internet connection than what Verizon can provide inside what’s essentially a giant Faraday cage.
That’s not to say that the Wave WiFi system is perfect. For instance, the scan list sorting could be improved beyond the security vs signal strength choice, at least adding an alphanumeric name sort or search mode so you can quickly find a specific hotspot on a long list. And I’ve yet to find the left sidebar menu when I use the interface on my Pixel 2 XL phone browser.
But note how several of the interface screens are notifying me of a new firmware version available for download. They’re easy to install, and they indicate that Wave WiFi is regularly improving the interface and maybe even the radio performance.
The first screen above shows how poor the “JEM-Guest” signal is inside both Gizmo and the boat shed without the Rogue Reach power boost, Verizon too. It’s quite similar to what I see in some of my favorite Maine cruising spots, but with much duller scenery.
The rest of the screens illustrate some more arcane Rogue Reach settings features. There aren’t many compared to the generic high power WiFi interfaces that Ben (Stein) and Steve have discussed, but I don’t think that’s bad news for many of us. Actually the generic radios that can do what the Reach does seem to be versatile multipurpose devices designed to be set up by IT professionals but never meant to, say, check out half a dozen hotspots in one new harbor sitting.
In fact, there’s not even a common term for the Wave Rogue and other similarly designed marine high-power WiFi systems. You’ll see them called WiFi extenders, bridges, clients, Ethernet converters, or boosters — but a search on any one of those terms mostly turns up devices meant for other purposes. That’s partially why I’m not sure if there are any other marine (or RV) dual-band WiFi systems like Wave WiFi’s, so please speak up if you know of one.
And I guess that’s partially why the Rogue Reach DB retails for a rather stunning $645, though your installer/dealer may do better and you can find the whole band of Rogues discounted at online stores like Defender and Hodges Marine. It’s is a niche product and when you add in wide marine distribution and good customer support, Wave WiFi can not compete with generic hardware on price. Just don’t forget to realistically factor in your hotspot search time and technobabble tolerance.
Finally, let’s swing back to the Rogue Reach favorites list this entry began with, and why my phone is included. Sure, I’m envious of the sophisticated cell/wifi systems that Ben Stein and Steve Mitchell run on their boats, and I’d probably attempt to emulate them if I were living aboard more, or if there were better cell data choices where I now cruise.
But the funkier cell/wifi style I’ve been using for years, diagramed here, has merit. When Gizmo leaves the marina next spring, the Rogue Reach will automatically switch to my phone’s hotspot (if I remember to switch it on), all the devices connected to the boat router will stay online, and I won’t get billed for another cell connection. Works for me.