Narwhal improves your Starlink Internet by SpaceX in multiple areas by enabling things you simply can’t do with Starlink alone. Narwhal enables guest Wi-Fi, port forwarding, per-client access controls, integration with additional Internet connections, automatic Internet/WAN switching, built-in VPN, content blocking, and more. These are all features included with Narwhal that work with Starlink as well as 4G/5G, Wi-Fi, VSAT, etc.
Consolidated Wi-Fi vs Wi-Fi Sprawl:
- Starlink is a single point Internet solution. The Starlink router supports just one Internet connection, the Starlink, and does not support integration with other types of connections such as cellular or Wi-Fi extenders. If you also need a cellular hotspot for times when you don’t want to use Starlink, or when it is not available, any devices you use will need to switch to a different Wi-Fi network each time.
- Narwhal creates one primary Wi-Fi network that provides access to the Internet through any available connection. Narwhal supports 4G/5G Cellular, remote Wi-Fi networks, Starlink, Dock-side fiber/cable Internet, and practically any other satellite or terrestrial Internet source. Narwhal automatically switches between the connections based on priority and availability and provides access to any devices on the boat. As the system switches between Marina Wi-Fi, Cellular, and Starlink connections, for example, the onboard Smart TV and chartplotter can continue to stream video and download charts and weather data without being reconfigured. If power consumption is critical for you, you can shut down Starlink to conserve power and use 5G cellular, and when you power the Starlink up later Narwhal will automatically redirect the onboard devices over Starlink without any manual intervention.
- Starlink’s satellite constellation uses Carrier-Grade NAT (cgnat) which does not allow for any inbound connections, i.e.: from the Internet into the boat. This breaks some apps, certain VPN clients, and makes it impossible to gain access to onboard devices (such as NAS, NVR (network video recorders for security cameras) as well as many onboard vessel/power/monitoring systems when you are not on the boat. This is true for traditional cellular connections and marina/harbor Wi-Fi as well.
- Narwhal systems include built-in VPN functionality that can be configured in any or all of 3 ways. Using the Dedicated VPN option, we can provide a VPN tunnel from the boat to a dedicated router located in the USA that also has a publicly routable and statically assigned IP address. Port forwarding and other inbound firewall rules can be configured to allow inbound connections from the Internet directly to specific devices on the boat network. The VPN works over any of the available Internet connections, not just Starlink, and will automatically route incoming connections via Starlink, 4G/5G, Wi-Fi, VSAT, etc. based on what’s available at any given time.
Bandwidth Consumption, Metered Plans, Cost Overruns:
- Starlink offers unlimited data plans for land and coastal use, however ocean coverage requires Mobile Priority data which is limited depending on the plan you choose. If you consume all the included Mobile Priority data before the end of the billing cycle, you lose priority in the network as well as ocean access. Opting in for extra Priority data is charged per-GB. KVH users have the same problem in combination with slower overall data speeds. Traditional VSAT users have unlimited data plans, but data speeds are limited. In addition, on-board devices can use ALOT of data if left unchecked. Most devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets assume that any Wi-Fi network they connect to is unlimited, and will perform background tasks such as photo sync, backups, and software updates automatically. A single backup or daily sync can be anywhere from a few hundred megabytes to 10s of gigabytes. Video Streaming also consumes many gigabytes of data by default but can be tuned to use less data when desired. There is no way for Starlink to control these types of tasks on its own.
- Narwhal systems include built-in Content Filtering features to block certain unnecessary connections for some or all users on the network. For example, Apple, Google, and Microsoft updates can be blocked on the network so that the devices are unable to perform those tasks while on the boat. Explicit content can also be filtered out as well as video streaming services if desired. Narwhal vessels can save tens or hundreds of GBs per month vs using Starlink’s standard equipment.
- In addition, NarwhalDS (Data Saver) is an optional add-on for Narwhal systems and specifically designed to provide even more control of data usage. NarwhalDS can even automatically tune bandwidth for Netflix and other video streaming services to save data. Uncontrolled HD video streaming can use up to 7GB per hour of video. With NarwhalDS we can limit the bandwidth usage of video streams without blocking them, reducing overall consumption by 75% or more. NarwhalDS also has more powerful content category controls vs Narwhal alone. NarwhalDS’s filtering and controls can be remotely managed just like the rest of the Narwhal solution.
Geographically Restricted Services block content as you travel:
- It is common for services that provide copyrighted content (video streaming, music, etc.) on the Internet to restrict access to specific content based on a user’s location. Common examples include local TV stations not being available when you travel away from your home network and certain TV shows or movies not being available when you travel outside of your country. With Starlink, 4G/5G and other connections the content providers “see” your general location using a combination of data but one main one is your public IP address which is used by the Internet provider and can change based on your location. For example, if you are roaming the US East Coast on Starlink, your IP address, as seen by the rest of the Internet may be in New Jersey, however your home is in San Francisco and your YouTube TV account won’t let you watch your favorite local channel 2 movie critic. You can use certain VPN services to make it look like you are in a different location than you really are but that doesn’t always work and only affects the one device you use the VPN on. Some bank websites also restrict access if you are out of country.
- One of Narwhal VPN’s 3 modes is Home-Relay. Home-Relay is a small device that is optional with NarwhalSX but included with NarwhalDX that establishes a VPN connection directly from the boat’s network to your home or office network. This allows your connections on the boat to be routed through your home Internet connection which can, among other things, allow you to watch your home local TV stations through streaming services like YouTube TV, DIRECTVstream, etc. no matter where your boat is. Home-Relay works over Wi-Fi, 4G/5G, Starlink, and VSAT and automatically uses whatever connections are available.
Starlink Intermittent connectivity and packet loss causes video call disruptions:
- Starlink is a dynamic satellite Internet network consisting of thousands of fast-moving satellites. There are millions of users and Starlink suffers from several congestion related issues including packet loss, jitter, slowness during peak times, and intermittent outages. Packet loss and jitter can cause short disruptions in audio and video calls and of course outages will drop the call entirely. Marina Wi-Fi networks can suffer from slowness as well, and cellular networks can also have issues from time to time. It is difficult to solve these problems when Starlink is the only Internet connection.
- Narwhal VPN has advanced features built-in that combines multiple Internet connections (one or more Starlink systems, one or more cellular connections, one or more shore Wi-Fi connection) into a single seamless connection. It then monitors the connections in real-time and can re-route your connection between any of the available connections so fast that the video/audio call is not disrupted when problems occur within a connection. Specifically combining Starlink with 5G cellular can provide a stable connection that leverages the high speed of Starlink with the more stable cellular. For those that need rock solid connections where cellular doesn’t work, combining TWO Starlink systems into one connection can use the two connections together to effectively cancel out the problems each one has individually. The result is Narwhal improves your video and audio calls regardless of your underlying Internet connection.
Guest Connectivity on-board
- Starlink routers don’t support any guest Wi-Fi functionality. This means you must give guests access to your main Wi-Fi network. Depending on your service plan, and your desire for network security this may not be desirable.
- Narwhal systems allow for multiple Wi-Fi networks with different access rules. Guest networks can be limited to free marina Wi-Fi, as an example, while regular users get access to Starlink, onboard NAS devices, cameras, etc., and an optional Business/Captain Wi-Fi can enable open access to more expensive satellite connections for passage planning and weather downloads without allowing crew and kids tablets to generate $10000 satellite bills.
Simply put, Narwhal Wi-Fi Onboard enhances SpaceX Starlink by adding additional Internet sources, fixing packet loss and jitter, enabling port forwarding and guest Wi-Fi, controlling your usage costs, and securely routing your data through a VPN.