Recently, several people have asked whether they should get satellite Internet service for their webcams. Most of these folk live in areas where they have no other apparent choice for high speed Internet. Currently, Direcway is the most popular satellite internet service available. There is a new player entering in to the field called WildBlue, see the bottom of this page for a viewer's comment on WildBlue.

I recently read an article in the June or July 2005 Consumer Reports, a non-profit group that reviews all kinds of things, covering user experiences with various Internet Service Providers. According to their member feedback, Direcway Satellite Internet service received the worst rating of all Internet Providers. In fact, they actually indicated that if Direcway is your only option for high speed Internet, get dial-up service instead.

Having now worked with several friends who have Direcway satellite, I have found that web browsing is generally excellent, when compared to dial-up. E-mail retrieval may be a bit flaky and can be slow. Outgoing e-mail, especially with attachments, can frequently have problems.

One point you should understand when dealing with satellite Internet connections is that when you ask for something such as a web page over the satellite (when you click the link), there is a delay of anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds before the server begins to feed the page back to you. This is partly due to the distance up to and back from the satellite, as well as some technical issues involved. Once you begin receiving the page, it will normally load much faster than dialup. While your dial-up service is slow to deliver, you will generally begin to receive the page almost immediately.

Uploading via satellite can be a problem. Trying to FTP (File Transfer Protocol) something up to a website has proven to be very problematic. This goes for uploading your webcam images as well as posting web pages to a website. One day I spent 2 frustrating hours trying to upload a small 27k page to my website with no success. The page was being divided into 2 packets and the second packet wasn't completing the trip. I finally went to the campground office where I was at, got on a dial up and had the page uploaded within a minute, including the time it took to make the connection.

During the summer of 2005, I had two webcams at the campground. I had these cameras uploading one 640x480 image (about 20-40k each) every 2 minutes to my server at home. I found that about every 5th to 8th image upload failed due to timeouts with the satellite connection. Trying to get an image to upload any faster than about once every minute or two proved impossible.

For general web browsing the satellite is definitely better than dial-up. Keep in mind that the satellite connection may not work when the signal has trouble getting through thick clouds, such as when you are experiencing overcast skies or a storm.

Another issue with Direcway is that it apparently only works with TCP/IP protocol. UDP is another communication language which some computer programs use instead of TCP/IP. If you have an application that requires UDP protocol the application will not function over Direcway. One example is the online payroll and employee management system that the US Department of Interior uses. One of my friends found this out only after he bought the equipment and service. He works from home managing the payroll of a number of departments and had to keep his dial up connection just for payroll.

Still another problem which I have discovered recently was with a friend who used an odd web hosting company for his business website. The only way to manage his account was through a special JavaApplet utility which timed out on first connection because of the delay over Direcway. He has to go over to a friends house and get on a dial up in order to manage his account.

As an alternative to satellite you might consider subscribing to a cell phone internet connection. All of the current major cell phone providers offer some kind of competitively priced high speed connection, either through your cell phone or through a PC card type modem.

While satellite internet is a good service if your primary purpose is web surfing, if you need significant uploading capacity you should consider other options.

Update: April 28, 2005
Today I received this from a viewer who subscribed to WildBlue satellite Internet in 2005. Thanks Brian.

I got WildBlue at the end of November, 2005, and it worked perfectly for a couple months. Their pro pack (1.5mbps download speed) worked very well, giving me downloads around 180 kilobytes per second. However, around the end of January and ever since then, the quality has been going way down. Upload speeds remain at the usual 15 kilobytes per second max, but download seems to be limited at a little over half the normal speed. A few bandwidth tests today revealed 755kbps download and 85kbps upload speeds, almost exactly half of what I am supposed to be paying for. On top of that, sometimes it will lose all signal for days, even in perfect weather. Sometimes I will be running a download and it goes from full speed to zero and back to full every 5 for 10 seconds.

There is also a monthly bandwidth limit of 17gb download (used to be 22) and I think 5gb upload (used to be 6) with the pro pack. They don't seem to be much of a problem.

Just like with your satellite experiences, sending and receiving email is sometimes painful, especially when dealing with attachments.

So, for the first few months, WildBlue was everything anyone could have asked for, but lately I guess there are too many users and the performance is suffering. All in all though, it is still the only alternative to dialup where I live and it still wins hands down.

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