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Satellite Broadband

I was recently asked to trial satellite broadband by a service provider.

In some ways I’m the ideal target for this because despite living in a rural area, I have broadband already – two broadband setups in fact, one is a fully-fledged version, unlimited use but limited in speed to around 6 Mbps download and around 500Kbps upload due to simple BT line limits – that’s pretty much the best we can get out here. I’m also IT-literate so I know what to look for.

Here’s a photo of SpeedTest.net results for my normal main landline broadband.

Landline tests with SPEEDTEST.NET

Not stunning – but that’s rural for you! So that’s my primary landline broadband. The second is from Orange and we only keep it because it is cheap (£5 a month) – it has download limits and so is only really useful as a backup. I use a Draytek 2380 series modem that makes that switchover happen automatically.

Yesterday, the satellite installers arrived at 2pm to fit the equipment – we discussed the best place to put it (flat roof – avoiding trees) and where to put the cable. As it happens I have a hole in my office outside wall for existing cabling so it was a case of maybe 40ft of coax cable from the dish to the receiver box, tidy the cable away – plug in mains power (separate and somewhat larger than normal adaptor) to the receiver and… that was pretty much it. They installed the dish on the roof, wired it up, rang their office for activation and were on their way by 2:40pm (i.e. 40 minutes from start to finish) which is not bad! The installation looked simple enough for anyone to do – the PC showed the signal level and as they adjusted the levels, the signal went up until the point where a large tick appeared on-screen indicating data was flowing both ways (no telephone line involved here)

The TOOWAY dish

The dish is about twice the size of a SKY TV dish and they mounted it on the flat end of the sloping roof part of the house – it’s not really in view unless you’re a helicopter or deliberately looking up.

So now, back in my office is a black Tooway modem about the size of a normal modem – it has nothing more than power, input (from the dish) and both RJ45 and USB connectors – one of each. I guess for many people there would then be a requirement for a wireless router – as it stands this particular box feeds one computer only, hardwired. They could have supplied a standard wireless router but I didn’t need it as I already have routers and switches (a fairly complex setup) and I didn’t really want any more hardware lying around.

As it happens, the main ADSL router I use is one of the better Drayteks and has a SECOND input from any internal network source. I simply disconnected the ORANGE (RJ45) input and connected the output from the new Tooway box. As the address allocation is dynamic I didn’t have to change anything else other than telling my router to prioritise satellite only for now – for testing. In short, it worked “out of the box”.

Initial tests simply confirmed what I knew already, the PING is awful – due to the physical distance the system has to travel. One of the installers said it might be over a second but in fact it’s around 750ms (i.e. 0.75 of a second) quite consistently. One could assume that this might be an issue when using conferencing as that’s a measurable delay.. but the speed overall is an improvement on my landline broadband – tests to date are showing up to 9Mbps download (with peaks far higher than that) and around 3Mbps upload – the latter being a great improvement on my main broadband. Multiple tests show a fair bit of variation from test to test.

So how does this work in practice?

Satellite tests with SPEEDTEST.NET

As you can see  apart from PING (signal goes from here to satellite – then back down to earth, then up to the satellite then back to me) the performance compares well with plain-vanilla broadband.

The first thing that came to mind was “will this affect Skype calls?” – it would appear not, because soon after installation, I made 2 Skype video calls that were perfectly good – indeed the increased upload speed will be like a breath of fresh air for Skype (think about it – you UPLOAD your sound and video to the other guy so that’s usually a bottleneck). A third Skype call was audio only to a telephone and I thought I detected a slight delay (which makes you more likely to interrupt the other person) – but nothing I could really complain about.

How about the BBC i-Player in HD?  No problem…  watching the data go through the router it peaks at over 9Mbps – and the iPlayer works a treat. YouTube in HD? No problem. The iPlayer requires 3.5Mbps for HD – here’s the test run…

BBC iPlayer tests

Downloading? A 100Meg file just took around a minute which actually beats the download speed quoted by SpeedTest.

Thinking about it, the most likely area for problems is modern high-speed network games, if someone is firing a gun at you, not finding out for nearly a second is likely to be an issue!! My grandson spent the afternoon on another machine playing World of Warcraft and never even noticed the switchover!

VPNs? Some folk use VPNs to access work data or perhaps to watch TV in foreign country… I’ve tested several and they all work well. Again I would expect this to compound delays but up to now that’s not really been noticeable.

Remote cameras?  Noticeably slower to administer, no doubt due to the simple coding inside them and the likelihood of very small packages going back and forth. I’d say interacting with them is 3-4 times slower than normal broadband. Speed of actually capturing frames seems unaffected.

Facebook, again probably because of large numbers of small packages of data going back and forth, runs more slowly than usual and seems the most affected up to now, but it’s still quite useable.

For me, at this point, the satellite installation generally works fine other than the slight delays. I would not wish to give up the landline but if I had no alternatives I’d be happy and the HD streaming ability is handy. I’ll put more information in here as I gain experience – I don’t know yet if I have a fixed IP address or not on this new service – I’m assuming I do (that might be important for, for example accessing information remotely). If the price is right this could be a good product.

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