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Internet in rural Jamaica?
December 7, 2008 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Is is possible to purchase commercial satellite internet service and equipment in the US to install and use in Jamaica?

My friends in JA say yes.

From what I hear, people regularly do this between Miami and JA with DirectTV.

The set-up I am proposing would be for a rural school—Brampton Primary, Trelawny Parrish—atop a small mountain where 1) I have brought/am bringing donated computers for a newly-constructed computer room, and 2) the nearest phone line is a mile away. Furthermore, there is no internet access anywhere within an hour's distance. When I was there, tap water flowed only about 50% of the time but power was on 90% of the time to give an idea of the local.

In time we may be able to have the phone line brought to us (we are working on it now), but in the meantime I want to bring real googling to the school of young students sooner than that.

We have used a 56k cel phone modem successfully but the lagtime is impractical for holding the attention of 5-12 year olds.

I looked through the previous satellite internet threads and the related suggestions contained therein, however much of the information is out of date. (Though this suggestion seems within the realm of possibility, and this suggestion perhaps even more so.)

Does anyone have any experience with this? Recommendations? Insights? Help?
posted by humannaire to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
Well, there's two aspects to this question. The first is whether or not you can get a good signal where you are. It's entirely possible but will depend on the kind of orbit your provider's satellite fleet occupies. If it's a geostationary satellite, almost certainly, but sub-orbital and polar satellites have a much narrower field of view, as they're orders of magnitude closer to the earth's surface. Do a little investigation before you sign up for a plan. Retail salescritters probably won't know the answer to this, but a little investigation should tell you want you need to know. For example, DirecTV's satellite fleet seems to be entirely geosynchronous, as is WildBlue, both of which may well have a good signal in Jamaica.

But the other issue is whether or not you can get a provider to agree to provide service in Jamaica. The question here is "Probably not," unless they're chartered to do business in Jamaica, which strikes me as unlikely. If this is the case, you might need to sign up for the plan with a US address and then just set up the equipment in Jamaica without telling your provider.
posted by valkyryn at 5:05 PM on December 7, 2008

^ Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my technical understanding that any consumer dish pointing out to space at a particular direction is pointing at a geosynchronous satellite and not just trying to catch whatever sat in the constellation is trucking by.

Also, a sub-orbital satellite doesn't seem like a cost-effective proposition.
posted by troy at 5:16 PM on December 7, 2008

Okay, I see three questions here. One about sat service and two about DIY connectivity.

Let me address the sat service first. US residential satellite internet does not work with only a satellite dish. It requires a working phone line too. The sat software on the computer uses both a dish and the phone line to work. Your uploads go through the phone line and your downloads go through the dish.

Considering you dont even have a real phone line then this might not work for you. Im not sure if these companies support cell phone uplinks. Even then you'll be doing a long distance call to the states for this to work.

Now, there is another flavor of sat called BGAN. This works without a phone. It just sends the signal up to the bird in the sky. Googling a bgan and jamaica brings up a couple different vendors. Perhaps you should give them a call. This vendor is in the states and covers the entire hemisphere but at 3 dollars a megabyte it will be cost prohibitive.

I dont see a cost effective sat solution for you unless you can get a phone line in there.

Now onto wireless. Okay, if you have a line of sight view to a building with internet you can bridge them with plain jane wireless-G equipment. There's a lot of info about this on the internet. Some people have gotten miles long links to work, but for an amateur even 200 or 300 feet is difficult. I think if you found someone experienced in wireless networking to help you with this you could get a wireless link between two buildings one mile apart. Note the aiming of the antennas is not easy and requires the use of a spectrum analyzer, directional antennas, and expertise. The advantage here is that there's a one time cost but from then on you can use this link. Of course the remote building you are connecting to must get internet from somewhere.

I dont have any experience with DSL. Not sure how feasible this is, but at the very least you'll need a dry pair from the telecom and your own dsl equipment. I'd think the wireless solution would beat that both on price and bandwidth, but if you dont have line of sight then you would need to go with a wired solution.

If you are forced to use a 56k phone line for a while then the best advice I can give you is: block ads and block flash. The web is surprisingly quick on 56k when you block this stuff. Ads and flash objects make for 60-90% of the data transmitted. Thats like having a 256k line with ads. At least for typical surfing. You can also configure the computers to use mobile sites instead of the full web site. Heck, you could have a remote computer somewhere doing image compression and other things to save bandwidth and then using that as a web proxy, but thats more difficult than simply blocking flash.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:20 PM on December 7, 2008

Correction: It looks like hughes doesnt require a phone for their sat service. Interesting. Im not familiar with this technology, but in theory it should portable (if sat service covers the entire hemisphere). It might be difficult to aim it without a hughes technician though. You would of course not tell them you are moving it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:23 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, turnkey http compressor here.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:07 PM on December 7, 2008

I think you guys are thinking about geostationary satellites, not geosynchronous ones ...
posted by evanm at 10:12 PM on December 7, 2008

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