From December of 2007 through May of 2012 I had to deal with basically no internet out at my cabin at The Sandy Ranch. We have no cell signal there, so even checking email on an iPhone was impossible. The only option available was dial-up internet, and not even "good" dial-up. The best connection I could ever get was 24.4 which was painfully slow! I would literally fall asleep on the couch while waiting for web pages to load. It was terrible!

I knew that satellite internet (Wildblue & HughesNet) was my only option, but when I did the research I found that literally 100% of the people on the internet hated their satellite internet service. I mean *hated* it. All I could find were 1-star reviews everywhere, and people were saying that it was usually slower than dial-up and less reliable, and that the customer service at HughesNet and Wildblue was beyond awful. So, for 5 1/2 years I stayed away from it and just kept my cheap, but slow dial-up.



Well, things changed in late 2010 when Wildblue got bought out by ViaSat, and ViaSat's new Exede satellite went online. The Exede satellite promised to actually be good, and by good I mean very good - something like 10x better than the old crappy satellites. Good enough to do VoIP, and that was important to me because in order to justify the cost of a satellite connection I had to be able to cancel my Verizon phone line. Like I said, we have no cell reception out there, so I was paying $46/month for a landline which literally never got used - I placed maybe 5 phone calls a year on that thing, and it was really only used for the dial-up modem. But, if Excede could handle VoIP then I could nix Verizion and save $46/month. Plus, I'd could get rid of the $10/month dial-up service, so my total savings would be $56/month, and the Wildblue/ViaSat connection was only $50 + tax. So, for just a few bucks more I would get true broadband, and not have to use a USB modem connected to my laptop anymore - I could have WiFi throughout the cabin!

I decided to bite the bullet and give this new Exede service a chance. I had to pay something like $350 for the lifetime equipment lease + the stupid "account setup fee" (total B.S.). A guy from DirecTV came out to the ranch on May 15th and had it installed in about 2 hours. The dish was a bit larger than I had expected, but luckily its on the backside of the cabin, so you really don't ever see it:

Wildblue Satellite Dish Installation

When the cabin was built they pre-wired for satellite TV, so on the back of the house was a box with the coaxial cable that ran to a box in the attic. The laundry room is on the bottom floor just below the, so the installer only had to drill a hole thru the ceiling in the laundry room to run the line into there where he mounted the modem on the wall. I had to go out and buy my own WiFi router, but it conveniently rests on a shelf next to the modem.



I'm happy to report that the system works GREAT!!!! I've run numerous speed tests, and they all said I was getting about 13mbps upload and around .4 to 0.8mbps upload. Ping tests were about 750ms-900ms. That download speed is actually *more* than what ViaSat says is the "up to" speed - they claim "up to 12mbps", so I'm actually getting better than they claim, at least for now. The upload is a little slow compared with land-based broadband, but it's still very acceptable.

One of the first things I decided to try was to plug in my Vonage device that I brought from home. It connected and I called my girlfriend. The sound quality was perfect! The only issue was latency. When I would ask something, I usually didn't hear her response for about 1.5 to 2.0 seconds, which makes sense because the ping tests had pretty high latency - it's a satellite in space afterall. While this did make conversations a bit odd, I'm perfectly happy with it since this phone line almost never gets used - it's primarily for emergencies. What I decided to do was order a NetTalk Duo Wifi which is basically a cross between Vonage and Magic Jack. It'll let me use my existing phone number out there whilel only costing me around $35 per year instead of the $45 per MONTH that I was paying Verizon.

After the Vonage test, I decided to do a video conferencing test using FaceTime on my iPad. Much to my surprise it worked, and it worked great! I was able to FaceTime my girlfriend and her video looked excellent. She told me that my video on her end looked really good too. Oddly, the latency with the video chatting seemed to be much better than the latency with Vonage. However, the video chatting chews up the monthly bandwidth cap pretty quickly. I signed up for the 7.5gig/month limit plan which is $49.95. After about 30 minutes of video chatting I had used up about 3% of that. Not bad, really, but something to be careful of.



When my ViaSat was installed I brought my Vonage device from home to test it out. It worked great! There was some latency, but considering how infrequently I use the phone at the ranch this seemed better than paying Verizon $46 per month. Vonage is a great service, and I use it at home and in my office, but I still didn't want to pay $25/month for a phone I use once every other month, so I did some research and found NetTalk. They have a device called the NetTalk Duo WiFi which is just a small dongle that you plug your phone into, and it connects wirelessly to the internet. The problem with Vonage is that the Vonage device is big and has to be plugged directly into your home network via ethernet. The NetTalk Duo on the other hand is small and can be attached to any phone that's within WiFi range.


When I first got the NetTalk Duo up and running things were not looking too good. I could place calls and hear the other person ok, but they were having a very hard time understaning me. The voice quality was all choppy and garbled. Luckily, I contacted NetTalk's customer support and they remotely installed the latest firmware update on the device. That fixed it! For $30 per year, it's as good as Vonage! The latency is about 1.0-1.25 seconds, so talking to someone is a little like using a walkie-talkie. You kind have to get used to it. I wouldn't recommend this for someone's main phone line that they use every day, but for my cabin it's a perfect solution. It comes out to $2.50 per month: 1/10h the cose of Vonage, and 1/20th the cost of Verizon! The latency is tolerable for the handful of calls I'll make each year on this. My only beef with NetTalk was that it wouldn't let me port my existing phone # over for unknown reasons. So, instead, I had to get a new phone number. No big deal, but it would have been nice to have been able to keep the old one.



I've had my Wildblue / ViaSat / Exede service for about a month, and I can report that it is working brilliantly! Also, I had very good experiences whenever I was on the phone with Wildblue. Their support people are in the US and speak English (at least that's what it seemed), so you don't have to deal with some guy in India who doesn't know what you're saying, and they were very friendly and helpful. I was never on hold for more than about 20 seconds. It's still left to be determined how well this thing will work during bad weather or once there are thousands of other people using it, but at least during clear, normal times it works about as good as a cheap DSL plan. I'm very happy! I can honestly recommend Wildblue / ViaSat / Exede (not entirely sure what to call it).






©2011 Brian Greenstone