Switching from Satellite to Cellular Internet Service

By , August 3, 2015

As I mentioned in the last post (see Eviction Notice) Starband, our satellite Internet provider, will shut down at the end of September. Rather than continue to over pay for slow, often unreliable connectivity, we jumped ship.

We called our cell phone provider and arranged for Internet through their system. Transitioning from satellite to cell seems promising, but we will need to work out a few bugs.

The portable Wi=Fi hotspot, about the size of a smartphone (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

The portable Wi-Fi hotspot, about the size of a smartphone (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Cellular phone providers continually try to improve coverage, as we can tell from our own experience. When we first moved to the “homestead,” we had to circulate around the property, testing three or four “sweet spots” where our phones could get a signal. Any phone call required us to go outside and stand in the wind and weather, shielding our phones against wind noise without disrupting the signal.

Eventually, we found we could get a signal from the cabin’s front window. We had to use a cord mic/headphone to talk on the phone, sitting rigidly at one side of the love seat to place a call. When we got Bluetooth headsets, we felt very free.

We still keep the phones in the window, and generally get good service. Calls drop now and then; bars dwindle to nothing at times. In the summer, waves of tourists, all of whom seem to need to make calls constantly, overwhelm the systems for brief periods. Mostly, though, we manage our few phone chores without any extra equipment.

The Velocity, our new portable hotspot, appears to need more help. If everything comes together just right, we get good, fast Internet. Otherwise, the system hangs a lot.

We decided we needed to boost the system. We wanted to reduce the cost as much as possible, although we realized that the alternative, connecting with another satellite provider would have cost about the same as a booster, even using our existing dish.

We chose a vehicle booster, reasoning that we’ll need very little coverage area within the cabin, and such a booster would be powered by 12 volt DC. I wanted an area booster, to augment the phones, but then I realized that we so rarely use the Internet and phones at the same time. When necessary, we can easily switch the Velocity with whatever phone might need momentary boosting.

We had to order a booster, and it hasn’t arrived yet, so we can’t say how much it’ll help. We’re hopeful, though. The system includes a magnetic antenna, which apparently uses the surrounding metal to help boost signal. Since we have a metal roof, we should get plenty of help from that.

Changing the equipment will change the way we use the Internet somewhat. The satellite system allowed us 2 GB of data in a rolling week, with a “free” period of unmonitored usage between midnight and 6 a.m. local time. That bonus bandwidth, plus the time, when fewer users make for faster connections, led us to go online almost as soon as we get up every morning so that we can download whatever we want or need. We may still tend toward this in the future—our major downloading activity, audiobooks from the online library system, seems to bog down after about 8:00 a.m.—but we’ll be far less likely to log on first thing in the morning. That will improve our household culture, allowing us to attend to other wants and needs. I look forward to that!

Additionally, we can now use the Internet without turning on the inverter, reducing our power needs further. We won’t need to wait for the modem to initialize before connecting, a process that can sometimes take several minutes.

In short, we’ll enjoy more freedom, better flexibility, and lower power use. It all sounds very good to us after 8 years of mediocre to poor service.

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