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Living on the edge, where broadband doesn't reach

Kirk McElhearn | Feb. 12, 2014
If you live in a city, you take a lot for granted. Not just access to stores, culture and public transportation, but also access to Internet and cellphone networks. It's easy to get complacent when you have fast broadband access and 4G cell phone speeds. But what happens when you lose all that? I recently moved to a new place in the English countryside and, in the process, ran into problems getting basic access to the communication networks I use all the time. I eventually managed to solve those problems, but not without some money, time, and effort.

If you live in a city, you take a lot for granted. Not just access to stores, culture and public transportation, but also access to Internet and cellphone networks. It's easy to get complacent when you have fast broadband access and 4G cell phone speeds. But what happens when you lose all that? I recently moved to a new place in the English countryside and, in the process, ran into problems getting basic access to the communication networks I use all the time. I eventually managed to solve those problems, but not without some money, time, and effort.

Moving to the barn
My new home — a converted barn a few miles from Stratford-Upon-Avon — is on the edge of small village of about 600 people. On my first visit, I saw that the cellular service there from my provider — EE — was very poor. Some times, I'd get one bar of 3G service; at others, I was stuck with slower EDGE or GPRS. And at still others, I had no service at all.

As for Internet access, my new neighbors let me know that the best I could expect was about 2 Mbps. Compared to the 15 Mbps I'd had where I lived previously, this was a big step backwards. Given that my work often requires that I download large files (each of those OS X betas are over 4GB), I needed better speed than that.

Internet from the sky
While there are vague plans afoot to bring fiber to my new neighborhood, I needed fast Internet service now. So I looked at the only other viable option: satellite broadband from tooway. Much more expensive than standard DSL, satellite Internet service offers high speeds, but has many drawbacks.

Setup isn't complicated, but it does require a visit from a technician. The satellite provider sent an engineer to mount a satellite dish 72 centimeters in diameter and run a cable from it into my house. This cost £130 (or about $214). The co-axial cable from the satellite connects to a modem, which I, in turn, connect to an AirPort Extreme base station.

My satellite provider says it offers download speeds of up to 20 Mbps, with uploads of up to 6 Gbps. They weren't lying, at least not totally. I've seen speeds as high as 21.5 Mbps in the morning, but once the evening rolls around, speeds plummet. That's because with satellite internet, as with cable service, you're sharing a limited amount of bandwidth with many other people. At times, I see less than 2 Mbps in the evenings, which makes it difficult to use the satellite to watch movies. However, upload speeds are generally very quick.

 

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