Monday, April 21, 2014

The Early Years of Mobile Satellite Internet

Welcome to the Mobile Internet Satellite Blog!

Our web site redo is finally finished, so it's time to start posting regular blog entries. On that note, I'd like to mention that suggestions for future topics are always welcome. The only condition is that it be related to mobile satellite Internet in some way.

In this first blog entry, I thought it might be fun to start with the development of mobile satellite Internet ... so here we go ...

The Early Years of Mobile Satellite Internet

We got our first satellite system (HughesNet) in January 2002. We had been full-time RVers for three years then and had been searching for two-way satellite for most of that time. I even called HughesNet and was told it wasn't allowed, because non-professional setups could damage the satellite. (Absolutely, false! Though it is possible to create lots of interference on your satellite or a neighboring satellite, with a poor setup.)

When we finally found someone who would sell us a system (Ron, the guy who started it all), it was delivered on a piece of plywood, with a standard roof/wall mount attached to provide the mast. The photo below shows a roof/wall mount attached to a wall, which was its intended use:
Roof/wall mount on a wall

The dealer who started the mobile satellite Internet phase of full-time RV life was more of a salesman than a technical support engineer, so one of the first things he did was have one of his customers start a private (by invitation only) Yahoo group called RV2WaySat. 

The idea was that all of his customers could help each other, when problems arose ... and arise they did in the early days with mobile satellite Internet!

Not only were there lots of problems, but we were all pretty paranoid about getting caught by HughesNet and losing the incredible luxury of having an Internet connection in our rig! We hadn't yet figured  out that HughesNet actually knew we were all out there, but they didn't want to be responsible for supporting us, so they took our monthly fees and looked the other way. We called it the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. 

There were plenty of problems in the early  years and we did all help each other out via the Yahoo group. Many of the problems were related to issues on the HughesNet side or to sun spots, rain fade and other temporary atmospheric events. As such, they would eventually go away without any intervention needed. Because of this, one group member named Dean would always tell the rest of us to get a life and go do something else for awhile. This became known as the "Dean Rule".

Remember, this was a time when you had to drive to the library to plug into a slow modem connection. If you were lucky, the RV park would have a place to plug in, but you  had to "take turns" with anyone else wanting to use it. Neither cellular data nor Wi-Fi networks had happened yet.

The HughesNet system at the time was the DW4000!  (Actually, there was a DW3000, which used a satellite downlink, but a dial-up uplink.) The DW4000 consisted of two modems: a transmit modem and a receive modem (shown on the right, below). StarBand's equivalent technology was the StarBand 360 modem (shown on the left, below).

StarBand 360 Modem           

In both cases, you had to install software on your PC to talk to the modem. Microsoft Windows had the ability to share the connection on a local area network (LAN). But, getting networking to work with these devices was frustrating, at best!

Next time, I'll talk about some of the enhancements RVers have added to the mobile satellite Internet setups ... and more.

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