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Dear Brent,

November 7th, 2008

On 2008/10/25 at 12:11 PM, Brent wrote:

Hey guys,

Currently working my way through your all your postings. My wife and I are in the “can we really do this” stage of making the same change that you two have. Very much enjoying reading through your process.

Much like you two, we both work in technology and are somewhat dependent on the Internet. Add to that, the need for research / blogging / and potentially some work while traveling and connectivity gets to be one of our important decisions. So I’m curious, how are you feeling about the cell network decision versus satellite? Working out as you had planned?

Brent

Well, Brent, I’d have to say I don’t like any of the choices available. I’m pretty happy with the performance of EVDO, but I’m extremely upset with Sprint changing the contract midstream so that it no longer remotely resembles the class of service that we originally purchased. I have already ranted about this particular event once, so I’ll try and stay on subject…

For in-motion internet access, I don’t think you can beat EVDO in the US. EVDO also trumps satellite systems for setup times as there is no setup at all, or in our case, we roll up the television antenna to get a bit more height from the cellular antenna once we’re parked. There is no trying to make sure your dish has an unobscured line of sight, etc. EVDO is also superior to satellite internet in terms of bandwidth and latency. You just can’t get around the speed of light time lag when you’re acknowledging a packet… the further the physical distance, the longer it takes.

Now, satellite has a few nice things going for it as well. You don’t need to be near a cell tower for starters. You can also get a clear line of sight to the sky when mountains would otherwise block cell towers. If you have money to spare, then a motosat installation would take a lot of the headaches out of setting up your satellite dish. Just flip it on and let the machinery lock onto a bird.

If you’re going to be in really remote areas and can’t be without Internet access for extended periods, then satellite is pretty much your only choice. If you can handle being offline for the occasional two week period and hauling a laptop into town to look for wifi hotspots, then EVDO is a pretty good choice with a much lower startup cost and lower monthly fees (I think!).

In a perfect world, I’d opt for an EVDO router as well as a satellite system. I’d settle for a standard satellite system as I’d only be setting it up when we were going to be parked for a week or so without cellular access. However, in the real world, I’m not about to pay for two different kinds of internet service just in case.

Now, back to my favorite rant… metered bandwidth. You can’t get away from it. The satellite companies do it as well as all the EVDO carriers. 5GB seems to be the gold standard for EVDO currently. Yes, that’s slightly more than a 14.4kbps dialup circa 1990. I’m not sure what kind of bandwidth the satellite folks are being allowed to enjoy, but I haven’t heard of any satellite companies charging overage fees. The last I heard, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint are all charging overages on new contracts. To the best of my knowledge, they are all pretty exorbitant… just as with cellular minutes.

Ten years ago, it was the web hosting companies that charged exorbitant overage rates and sky high pricing for a trickle of storage and bandwidth. The ISPs of the day all charged a flat rate whether you checked your mail once a month or spent the entire time downloading movies. These days, server space and bandwidth cost pennies, but end-user ISPs are limiting bandwidth, connection time and even charging overages. Funny, huh?

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6 Responses to “Dear Brent,”

  1. Rene says:

    Johnny & Brent; as a HiTech Homeless follower I’m going to chime in on the cell versus internet sytstem setup. We opted for a Motosat F2 dish, and are overall pretty happy with it. It was expensive, but we got it thinking that we can put it on a future house if we ever settle down some day.

    We work on the road as well, and about 95 percent of the time, our dish works just fine for our needs. The other 5 percent is usually when we have trees in the way and can’t connect to our satellite, or when weather is really bad and our signal is too slow. There have been a couple of occasions where our dish has needed repairs that Jim couldn’t do, and those were a hassle. Our RV warranty covered them though.

    Jim and I both love to boondock in very remote places, in areas where we often don’t have cell service but can get online. We don’t use Skype with the dish though, due to the latency issues.

    I think EVDO would be fine if you don’t plan on getting too remote and can be near cell towers. But out here in the west, there are lots of places without towers, and we’ve been really grateful for our dish.

    Keep pursuing your dream to hit the road, Brent. Hope to see you soon!

  2. Brent says:

    Hey Johnny,

    Thanks for the response. My main drive towards satellite is concern over access in the west. We recently spent two weeks in Montana and access was spotty at best. Since we intend to spend a good bit of our time in that part of the country, it seemed that satellite would be the best choice, even if it does require extra time at work so that we can afford it.

    But…then i found out about the “Fair Access Policy”. It looks like you can have limits as low as 200mb download / day. With the penalty for going over the limit being that your connection is choked down to nothing for 24 hours! Looking at MotoSat’s website it appears as if the base $80 / month plan will get you 375 megs / day but I’m still a little worried.

    I guess you are correct, there are bandwidth limitations with either choice. Question is…which one can I live with 😀

    Rene: Thanks for your response. I have been browsing though your blog as well over the past few weeks and noticed that you had chosen to go with satellite. Thanks for the additional feedback and keep the posts coming!

    Brent

  3. johnny says:

    Brent,

    Keep in mind that 200MB/day is 6GB/month and 375MB is 11GB per month. EVDO is 5GB/month with every carrier I can think of. And of the two choices, I’d rather have my connection choked than to have overage fees start appearing on my bill at rates in the neighborhood of $500/GB!

  4. Brent says:

    True enough, its more the lack of ability to burst that bothers me. If either of us ends up doing any work in our existing expertise we’re likely to need big files down at some point. I suppose I could always find a free hot spot for that though. Either way, I think its the always there (minus tree cover) aspect of satellite that will sell me.

    Thanks.

  5. Chris Guld says:

    The Hughes 375 Mg/day FAP includes a FAP-free time of 3-6 am(eastern). So, if you can manage the big downloads and schedule them to occur during that time frame you’re home free. I’ve downloaded feature length movies during that time and had no bandwidth counted.

    Although it is painful when you get ‘FAPped’ it’s not as painful as being charged for overage. 1. it only lasts for 24 hours 2. during that 24 hours you do still have Internet access, too slow for any good stuff, but enough to get your email. I did a video about FAP you can watch at: Geeks on Tour just click on the link to Bandwidth Limitations (FAP) on Satellite Connections.

  6. Sean says:

    Just to clarify some points on satellite access:

    It’s not necessary to go through MotoSat as your HughesNet VAR just because you buy their dish. Quite a few VARs resell the MotoSat equipment and are more competitively priced on the HughesNet service than MotoSat. We go through a VAR who gives us a discount for annual pre-payment, and we end up paying $66.50 per month for a plan with a 500 MB/day FAP limit. (We also bought our ancient F1 dish used, for less than half price.)

    That translates to 15 gig per month, but only, of course, if you can throttle your usage such that you don’t accidentally exceed the rate threshold.

    Also, as noted, traffic is unlimited during a nightly window, which has recently been expanded to five hours, from 0200-0700 Eastern Time. A free download manager such as FlashGet will allow you to easily schedule your big downloads for this window.

    We’ve found that we generally have no trouble staying within the limit. That said, we did lock down our (formerly freely shared) Wi-Fi network after Hughes got more aggressive with the FAP policy. We discovered that our occasional neighbors had no concern for getting us FAPped 🙂

    Now we open our network on a MAC-by-MAC basis only when asked, and then only after the anti-FAP lecture. If you end up parked in our signal footprint, just ask.

    -Sean
    http://OurOdyssey.BlogSpot.com

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