The Sky's the Limit: Part 1

Stephen Yagielowicz

I read Karl LaFong's recent 'Access Angles' series with great interest: after all, Dawn and I will soon be moving to a cozy little place way back in the mountains, away from civilization, and the glories of cheap, high-speed Internet access. Would we really be stuck back on a 'dial-up' line? Isn't there yet a reasonable, "2-way" satellite option for folks without a CNN-sized budget? I had to investigate! Here's what I found:

The premise is simple: like many times in the past, I'll be stuck in the woods — off in some remote location, and wanting to download and upload files at more than a snail's pace (when I lived in the Islands, I would connect at only 11k on a good day, illustrating the senseless severity of the bandwidth envy that I've faced in the past). Having been spoiled by quality DSL in 'Vegas and Broadband Cable in Rye Beach, the thought of again listening to my modem constantly chirping while I waited for downloads was more than I could bear.

Beyond the downloading issues, not having a high-speed upload capability effectively prevents me from further productive experiments with the wonderful world of quality audio and video streaming technologies, something that holds great interest for me as well. And wouldn't it be really great to be able to park the Winnebago wherever I wanted, push a button, and be online at high speeds? There has to be a solution that doesn't cost thousands of dollars a month:

Looking Up
My first thoughts for this scenario go to wireless and satellite technologies. But wireless is an unfamiliar beast, and my experience with my cell phone (which doesn't even work on the seacoast where I live now), has left me dubious of technologies employing this sort of access (despite the cute PCS-surfing PCMCIA card that we saw at Computer City the other day). Satellite? When I had my old system, I would lose the picture on my TV whenever it rained, or the cloud cover was heavy, putting an end to my earlier satellite days: Wouldn't my data stream be similarly affected? I needed answers, so it was time to go shopping:

"Welcome to Best Buy!"
It had been quite awhile since I first checked out "DirecPC" - Hughes' old Internet access offering based on their "DirecTV" satellite television service. You can purchase DirecTV satellite television systems now at ridiculously low, commodity level prices: Best Buy is selling a system that lets you watch different channels in different rooms at the same time, that includes an 18" satellite dish, 2 receivers, and 2 remotes for $24.99! That's insane! I'd paid over $1,200 for my system with a 30" dish back in St. Thomas. I guess that progress is a good thing after all — maybe the home satellite Internet package had progressed as well:

Hughes DIRECWAY grabbed my attention and drew me like a moth to a candle glimmering in the darkness. This sweet little system was affordable, and offered 2-way data transfer! Heck, you could even also receive all of the DirecTV television programming on the same dish — I was in heaven! But what about the details?

The Devil is in The Details
The offer really made the option appealing: $99 for the 24" x 36" dish, $99 per month for the first year, and the current monthly rate (currently under $60 a month) thereafter. This is cheap, and all I needed was an unobstructed view of the southern sky! This was too good to be true; there had to be a catch, and of course, there was: While I'm not into gaming, the video streaming and NetMeeting limitations leave me looking for a better option...

I just now performed a speed test at DSL Reports, and this morning, my AT&T Broadband connection is humming along at between 465kbps - 548kbps download and 273 - 290kbps upload, with a 66.8KB/second transfer rate. Not too shabby for 10 am on an East Coast weekday. By comparison, the DIRECWAY system should deliver download speeds of up to 400kbps - but the upload speed (for the basic system configuration) is limited to "up to 60kbps." While the download speed should nicely accommodate a 300k video stream, that is one thing I will not be able to upload, eliminating this particular system as a viable generation point for this type of media content. But many options are available, so it was time to visit EarthLink, my dial up provider, to investigate their DIRECWAY service options.

According to their Web site: "The installation and directing of the transmit antenna is tightly controlled by the FCC, so a certified installation professional must do any installments or adjustments. Because constant adjustments would be needed on a non-stationary habitat, EarthLink Satellite service cannot currently support RVs, motor homes, or watercraft." Hmm. There goes that idea. But the service seems to be the only viable option to dial-up in the area we'll be living in, so what else would I be limited in?

Quoting again "Any signal you send from your computer via satellite has to travel over 44,000 miles to space and back again in order to deliver your information, and because of this, a certain lag occurs in real-time communications that you send to a friend or to an Internet site. (By contrast, Web pages, which you download, will arrive very quickly.) If you use NetMeeting, NetPhone, any application that connects to a virtual private network, or online games such as Quake, CounterStrike, Diablo, or EverQuest, please be aware that they are not recommended and not supported for use with EarthLink Satellite."

While I'm not into gaming, the video streaming and NetMeeting limitations leave me looking for a better option, and while I might "settle" for this amazing system since it is a superior option to dial-up, the hope of finding a more suitable system lingers.

The hunt continues: ~ Stephen