Are there any good satellite Internet options for travelers?
January 5, 2009 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Are their any satellite Internet options for the budget traveler?

Browsing Google for satellite Internet options doesn't reveal much in the way of options that cost less than the price of a car; everything out there seems stale, like it's been around since late 90s.

Are there any solutions for satellite Internet for the backpacker/independent traveler? Something that can either be rented our purchased cheaply, with a monthly fee? Say, less than $1,000 for the hardware, and less than ~$100 a month?

Something that could, you know, fit in a backpack.

Speed isn't quite an issue -- I know Internet via satellite is mostly slow, and I'm OK with that.

Personal anecdotes welcome!
posted by nitsuj to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Something that could, you know, fit in a backpack.

Your dish will be 18" with an arm that sticks out about a foot, and it isn't lightweight. They do seem to have managed to make the transceiver smaller than it used to be and you might be able to rig it to run off a battery, so the dish is probably going to be the sticking point. Among other things, it would be a giant pain to mount and align the dish each time you moved to a different location. You're going to need a steel pipe to mount the dish on, a level to make sure it's vertical, a wrench to tighten the dish down, a length of coaxial cable... if you're traveling by car I don't see a big problem lugging this all around, but backpacking? Naw.
posted by kindall at 7:15 AM on January 5, 2009

As an alternative you might look into cellular broadband cards. Won't help you if you're hiking in the mountains but if you just do a lot of travelling from one city to another a card will pick up most places you would get a cell phone signal. Cost is ~$60/mo and can be taken anywhere in the U.S. We used to have satellite at the house and switched to Verizon Broadband because the speed of satellite was killing us. We live outside of town where broadband is not available and the card picks up 2-3 bars signal without any antenna, full 4 bars with trucker antenna. Side effect of this option: internet is fast, way faster than satellite, but this depends on what type of card you get and what signal you get in various locations.

Like I said, won't help you if you're travelling where no cell phone signal exists or if you're not in the U.S. (not sure what international options there are, must be something) but maybe this type of option fits your bill and certainly fits in the laptop (heck, many times they're the size of a USB flash drive).
posted by genial at 7:23 AM on January 5, 2009

Response by poster: Your dish will be 18" with an arm that sticks out about a foot, and it isn't lightweight.

FWIW, they do make small, portable satellites that don't have the traditional dish. See here. But they're, like, $3,000.
posted by nitsuj at 7:29 AM on January 5, 2009

I don't think there is anything that exists down in that price range. A couple of years ago we found the cheapest/best for data was a Thrane & Thrane explorer 500 (see here for a quick snippet of video showing the size). It worked really well, and it was very cool being able to download at decent speeds even in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately they are pricey, probably almost USD $1000 a month to rent one, or somewhere near USD $4000 to buy one.
On preview, you've already seen something similar - but I don't think you will get much cheaper than that, sorry!
posted by samj at 7:35 AM on January 5, 2009

How about Globalstar? 9.6kbps is extremely slow but looks like this is at least an affordable option.
posted by aeighty at 11:00 AM on January 5, 2009

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