Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Satellite Odds and Ends

Before I finish the general topic of the history of mobile satellite Internet, there are a few miscellaneous items that should be mentioned:

  • StarBand's "official" mobility program
  • Rooftop systems - automatic and manual
  • TV attachments - BOWs

The StarBand Manual Mobility Program (MMP) - aka Manual Flyer

Sometime in 2004, Old Scout became the exclusive dealer for the Beta test of a tripod-based mobility program StarBand was going to offer, the Manual Flyer program. (Ah, ha! We now knew why he finally sent us to HughesNet installer certification training!) 

The program was released to other dealers in 2005, but with zero options, other than the choice of StarBand service. You could only sell the "official" package, which included among other things a wooden tripod that succumbed to the elements within about a year and a very expensive satellite meter that was overkill!  The offset adapter was a perfect copy of the ones pretty much everyone was using by this time. But, because it was made of steel instead aluminum, it got pretty rusty in no time! And, this wonderful package was only about $1800!

StarBand Manual Flyer outside equipment
Outdoor StarBand Manual Flyer Equipment

StarBand required all mobile users to take and pass an online installer certification exam, as well as receive hands-on training on the proper way to set up. Mobile users were also required to call the automated alignment checking system after every move, to make sure their systems weren't causing interference.

Thank goodness StarBand later discontinued their mobility kit and allowed mobile dealers to put together their own. This enabled dealers to sell a higher quality setup for considerably less ... it also gave the ability for customers to customize their setups.

The requirement for installer certification and alignment checks continues to this day.

Rooftop Systems - Automatic and Manual

Prior to the StarBand Manual Flyer program, the ONLY approved mobile satellite Internet systems were automatic rooftop systems, mainly the Motosat Direcway/HughesNet. We now now that this is a support issue, more than anything else. When Motosat got permission to sell the automatic rooftop systems, they had to agree to handle all support issues that came up for their customers. Of course, they charged $10 a month for this service.

Motosat System at Night

Shown above is the familiar "Blue Light Special" of Motosat. They were easy to spot at night in an RV park.

The Canadian-made iNetVu was the first automatic rooftop option available with StarBand, though later there was at least one dealer who was able to get StarBand to work with a Motosat Datastorm setup. And, I know of one retired airline pilot who approached the problem as an engineer and created what he called "StarStorm" ... a StarBand Datastorm!

StarBand iNetVu rooftop system
StarBand iNetVu System

You can probably tell by looking at the Starband iNetVu system above, that the dish and arm folds flat for travel. Incidentally, this setup was called the "Auto Flyer".

Custom Datastorm system
Bill's Custom StarStorm System

There were also some homegrown manual rooftop setups. One really nice one was called a Neary Mount, after the designer. Shown below is another custom rooftop solution. The biggest downside to manual rooftop mounts is that you have to get up on the roof twice, every time you move ... once to stow it for travel and once to point it for use at the new location.

Custom manual rooftop mount
Custom Manual Rooftop Mount

Other custom mounting solutions have been devised by customers. Here is where you can see a couple more of them (bottom of the page): 

TV Attachments (BOWs)

When mobile satellite Internet was just starting to happen, Direcway/HughesNet was associated with DirecTV. StarBand was associated with Dish Network. Because of this, both satellite providers offered an attachment that would allow the customer to get TV on the same dish as their Internet.  The attachment was called a "Bird of the Wire" or BOW. 

StarBand had a dual-LNB to bring in 110 W and 119 W, which Dish Network used. It could be mounted on either side of the Internet arm, so it worked for both primary satellites StarBand used.

Dish Network attachment for StarBand feed arm
Dish Network Attachment for StarBand Feed Arm

HughesNet had a special "lipstick" LNB that brought in DirecTV at 101 W for customers who were assigned to 99 W. There was also a universal LNB that could bring in a DirecTV signal on a dish with an Internet assignment anywhere from 6 to 20 degrees away from 101 W. This pretty well covered the rest of the satellites HughesNet used for Internet.

DirecTV universal attachment for TV
DirecTV Universal BOW

DirecTV attachment for 2 degree offset
DirecTV "Lipstick" LNB

Of course, things got a bit more complicated, when HDTV started to happen, because now you needed to bring in the TV signals from THREE satellites instead of only one!

Most RVers either just worried about the channels on the primary satellite when they traveled or they took a second dish for TV. A few adventuresome HughesNet customers found that they could get all three satellites (101 W, 110 W, 119 W) if they were assigned to either 99 W or 117 W for their Internet. A lipstick LNB combined with two universal LNBs would bring in all the channels.

Direcway dish with HDTV attachments
Direcway Dish with HDTV Attachments

So, now we've pretty well covered the history of mobile satellite Internet and how it developed. I hope it has been both interesting and informative.

Next, I'll start talking about more current topics ... like setup and troubleshooting techniques.

As always, suggestions for topics are very welcome! 

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