Hardware

WildBlue two-way satellite Internet offers speed and reliability to remote locations

The Job

Our business is located on a ranch with no available cable or DSL high-speed options. In addition, we needed secure and highly-reliable service which doesn’t depend on telephone or cable providers’ reliability. The solution must also support remote Internet access and a separate secure workgroup network. Our options were a two-way satellite link or wireless Internet service (only available in limited areas).

The Tool

After carefully considering our available options, we went with a two-way satellite system from WildBlue.

Click here to see our gallery of John's WildBlue installation.

WildBlue offers several subscription options based on bandwidth usage, including special enterprise business packages for more than 10 sites. We choose the Value Pak with provides download speeds to 512Kbps and upload speeds to 128Kbps for $50 a month.

A WildBlue modem is required to connect one or more customer PCs to the WildBlue network. WildBlue uses standardized modem technology based on the DOCSIS cable modem standards to offer a low-cost, small satellite modem. WildBlue provides professional installation of the WildBlue equipment which will take 2-3 hours. Wildblue offers a limited warranty on equipment.

Putting it to the test

A week after checking out a local demo installation and placing the

order, a local installer arrived to install the WildBlue satellite

dish, run cable to our cable closet, and install the high-speed modem. This took about two hours total. My installer team included a close neighbor, but other users report their installer traveling 100 miles or more at no extra cost to the customer.

Since the system is entirely self-contained, you only need to connect a PC to the modem for configuration – no software or hardware is installed on your computer. For convenience we used a tablet PC then connected a wireless switch/router in its place but setup could have been done through the wireless network so the dish and modem don’t even need to be hardwired into your building.

The dish is larger than satellite TV dishes, measuring 28-inches by 26-inches. We have mission critical businesses so the modem was connected to an inexpensive UPS. Total power consumption for the modem, which also powers the 30GHz. dish transmitter, is 85 watts. Since we have a remote location a 802.11g network can be secured easily and we use a Linksys wireless switch/router.

We immediately achieved about 450Kbps downlink speed and about 100Kbps uplink speeds across our network. This has varied somewhat during use but has never been as slow as dialup and is above 300Kbps downlink speed virtually all the time with uplink speeds averaging about 80Kbps. We contracted for 500Kbps downlink speeds and you can upgrade to 1Mbps or 1.5Mbps simply by paying the higher rate, no service visit is involved.

The dish was conveniently mounted on a storage building but could have been mounted on our main building. The only consideration is a view of the south-west sky (from the east coast) and a certain minimum height because the dish is a powerful microwave transmitter and has to be mounted where no one can reach it accidentally. The installer had to add extra bracing inside the wooden building which he did quickly and professionally at no extra cost. He also ran the cable, although we buried it (our choice, he was prepared to do so.) The 1.4 lb modem/power supply (9-inches high, 8.5-inches deep, 2-inches wide) is connected to the dish by two supplied cables and output is 10/100 Ethernet via a standard RJ-45 connector.

Right tool for the job?

After several months use which included high winds (gusts to 65MPH), snow, sleet, and rain storms, we have only experienced a few minutes of weather-degraded performance. Peak performance wind rating is listed as 45 MPH; the maximum operating wind speed is supposed to be 60 MPH; and dish survival is specified as 100 MPH wind speed. We are in a very high wind area and selected the mount location so we could easily add a small windbreak for the dish but haven’t found that necessary.

Once or twice a month the link has gone down for no apparent reason – it usually reinitializes in a few minutes, but always restarted immediately when the system was cycled through a cold restart (powered our UPS off for a few seconds, then back on.) System configuration is stored in non-volatile memory and reboot requires no user intervention.

WildBlue is a shared-bandwidth service with no fixed bandwidth guarantee, but we have only experienced a few minor slowdowns which were definitely related to satellite or ground station overload, a few other problems were almost certainly due to problems on our local wireless network – they disappeared too quickly to be able to test. Just to see if I experienced unusually good service, I researched WildBlue at http://www.dslreports.com/ and found that virtually all the comments were positive.

WildBlue did experience some growth problems at the end of 2005 and they temporarily halted new installations until they could increase capacity to keep up with surging demand. Contacting customer care was easy and got a fast response, although I had no real problems so I couldn’t fully judge the quality of the service. Overall I give WildBlue a 9 (out of 10) Service and 5 (out of 10) Price. Among the solutions many positives, the system provide a fast, reliable installation, easy speed upgrade if desired, we own the equipment, the service and hardware are guaranteed, the system can be run off a small UPS, and no PC is required for installation. On the downside, WildBlue is the cheapest of the two-way satellite services I explored, but is considerably more expensive than wired options such as cable and DSL.

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