Portable satellite ISP
November 4, 2005 5:34 AM   Subscribe

Practicality/feasibility of using home satellite ISP as portable system at temporary locations. I want to have internet access at sites in rural areas, places where there is no availability of wifi, dsl or cable, (sometimes no phone too). The use at any one location may vary from a day or two to several weeks. I need email, streaming music content, web browsing, and possible voip. Related question After a look at reviews I am starting to wonder if there are any good satellite isp companies at all. What has been your experience?
posted by flummox to Technology (12 answers total)
Unless i've missed some fantastic recent development in home sat technology you usually can't send any data by the satellite. Instead you use a modem or something for outgoing traffic. It's all very funky.

I do seem to remember hearing something about a home sat service which doesn't require this, but I think the cost is a lot higher.
posted by alexst at 6:01 AM on November 4, 2005

Best answer: Try looking at forums for people with high-end RV's. They would seem to need a similar product.

A quick google search found this product: DATASTORM - A Mobile High-Speed Internet Satellite System.
posted by probablysteve at 6:15 AM on November 4, 2005

Best answer: Two-way internet access via satellite does exist. In the US, there's companies like Direcway and Starband; in Canada, there's NovaConnect and Infosat (disclosure: I work for NovaConnect).

Using a two-way VSAT system as a portable solution might be problematic...if you were using the one-way system alexst describes, you'd actually have an easier time (assuming dial-up access was available everywhere you went). The problem is with positioning the dish. When you're just receiving, you've got a reasonable margin of error to work with (which is why satellite television can be installed by the home user). With a two-way system, you have to send a beam back to the satellite 22,000 miles in space. This usually involves a spectrum analyzer and communication with the control centre.

There are portable solutions which involve auto-tracking dishes, but in Canada, these solutions run 10-20K.

As far as "good" satellite ISPs are concerned, it's pretty subjective. For Satellite ISPs to remain profitable, they have to keep the user to transponder ration fairly high, and as these systems are usually implement some sort of shared bandwitdth model, you'll find speeds tend to be variable. You can get dedicated bandwidth, but again, it'll cost you plenty.
posted by bachelor#3 at 6:26 AM on November 4, 2005

Alexst is right - the downloads come by satellite and the uploads go via modem.

For most websurfing, this is ok - small requests, big responses.

However, interactive things like VoIP would complete suck. The latency is terrible. Send, wait two seconds, get response. You can forget about things like SSH and the like.
posted by unixrat at 6:27 AM on November 4, 2005

Best answer: I have no personal experience with it, but Starband offers an "autopoint" service for mobile users, with hardware pricing between $1,600 and $6,000 or so plus their monthly fee.

A member of my family had Starband at their home for a couple of years. My understanding is it was a pain to configure their software, but once things were sorted out there were no major complaints.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:42 AM on November 4, 2005

Take a wok on the wild side.

It might work if you're ranging from an established basecamp.
posted by atchafalaya at 6:45 AM on November 4, 2005

I have Direcway and it is a 2 way system. Above post on Datastorm is right on. A new player is Wildblue.
posted by raildr at 6:54 AM on November 4, 2005

By the way, I don't know about other vendors, but Starband advertises their service as "two-way, always-on, high-speed satellite Internet service..."
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:55 AM on November 4, 2005

Just to hop on what SteveinMaine said, with Starband you will see latency of 400-500ms and will not be able to use the Internet nearly at all in inclement weather. You can browse the web okay, maintaining an ssh session is a headache but it can be done. As a company Starband was sort of "eh." They weren't very tech savvy, required Windows boxes even to get the software to work (this may no longer be true, but was a few years back) and basically assumed their customers would go elsewhere for super techie questions. This whole community sprang up to help people who weren't getting help from Starband which was sortof cool, and yet...
posted by jessamyn at 6:59 AM on November 4, 2005

Dear god, stay away from Starband. They are THE WORST company I have ever dealt with. My mother spent a thousand dollars setting up with them. Their hardware failed after fourteen or fifteen months, and they charged her ANOTHER $800 to fix it. After another 14 or 15 months, the hardware failed AGAIN.

So I came over and called in to try and get the problem resolved without another huge expense. The first call, I was on the phone an hour before being disconnected. The second time, it took another TWO HOURS to finally get through. Once I did, they said, "Sorry, you're a Dish Network customer, you have to call them."

So I called Dish. They answered promptly and courteously, and did their best to help me. But it was a hardware problem, so they told me that Starband had to help me. I sighed, and gave up for the night.

The next day, they accelerated the initial hangup. It only took a half hour before I was disconnected the first time. The second call was faster too... I was talking to a live human in just one hour! I tried to explain what was going on. The guy said "You have to talk to Dish", and I said "No, wait, you don't undersatnd, I DID talk to Dish, they say I have to talk to you." He said "You have to talk to Dish." and HUNG UP ON ME.

Don't get within fifty miles of those people. They're aggressively incompetent... even when their network is 'working' it's squirrely as hell. And a lot of the time, it flat doesn't work at all.

My mom switched to one of the cell phone data networks, and has been pretty happy with that. The coverage isn't quite as universal, but might that idea work for you?

Anything would be better than Starband.
posted by Malor at 7:27 AM on November 4, 2005

My personal experience with DirecWay (installing for a customer) was just... not horrendous. Lousy. The hardware was inappropriately expensive, the software half-ass and the performance cruddy.

If I were in your shoes I'd just use dialup.
posted by phearlez at 8:42 AM on November 4, 2005

My experience with Starband is different than Malor's. Their service has been very reliable for me (and a couple of friends who use Starband) and they've been responsive in a reasonable time on the few occasions when I've called support.

Starband is BI-directional, contrary to what unixrat says -- no phone line involved. Of course, that doubles the latency -- two round trips to space. Latency doesn't (much) affect the download rate for big files, which is not much different than DSL. Upload is slower. Forget gaming or VOIP

I'm a happy Starband customer and recommend their service over dialup or Dish. DSL is way better than satellite, but Starband is equally way better than dialup.
posted by anadem at 3:53 PM on November 4, 2005

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