Archive for April 2006

Rural Internet Connectivity

14th 2006f April 2006

It seems the further you move from the hubs of civilisation, the worse your connection to the Net becomes. We’ve moved from a busy seaside town where we were able to connect via 1Meg ADSL at 1Mb/s downstren, 250Kb/s upstream. Had we felt the need we could have got an 8Meg connection (actually about 7.2Mb/s, currently the maximum speed for copper based ADSL connections).

Now, here we are about 5Km from the coast and all we can get is a 56Kb/s modem connection. This means the phone line is constantly engaged during the day and all my Internet activity is reduced to a snails pace. You can forget about downloading Podcasts in iTunes or Internet video on Democracy Viewer.

We’ve tried petitioning our incumbent telco ‘Telefonica’ to install a DSLAM, along with around 40 other residents. We’ve also tried signing up to a new WiMax based Wireless ISP Avired but our terrain puts us out of their signal footprint.

As a last resort we’ve signed up to skyDSL, a satellite broadband service based in Germany. The system cuts cost by only downloading information through a normal digital satellite TV dish connected to a DBV receiver in your PC. All your uploads are sent through your modem line. So we now get 16Mb/s downstream and 56Kb/s upstream.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Twice the speed of the fastest available ADSL. Fixed monthly fees for unlimited traffic: 45€ for the skyDSL and 20€ for unlimited dial-up, works out expensive but when your business in web development, broadband is indispensable. We can now download large Podcast files at break neck speed. A 100MB file will come down the pipe in under a minute (depending on the web server).

The downside is the upstream bandwidth. When surfing the web you first have to request the page you want for example: http://www.apple.com, that request is sent up to the net via a proxy server on your PC which redirects it to a skyDSL server in Germany. skyDSL then resolve the DNS name into a web server address and download the actual page (or find it through their own proxy server). The data containing the Apple home page is tagged with my skyDSL subscriber number and waits for an uplink slot to be transmitted to a satellite (Eurobird 3), that bounces the data back down to the whole of south western Europe. My dish channels the signal into my PC, which recognises the tag and text an images begin appearing on my screen. If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is! Check out this visual.

The latency introduced by all this bouncing around and waiting for satellite time, means there’s a delay of up to 5 seconds between my requesting a page and the page actually beginning to download. This delay makes it impossible for us to use any Internet application that requires low latency (like Skype for making VoIP calls).

Another complication: I use a Mac, the skyDSL service is set up on a PC server connected to my LAN. I’m not sure if it’s just me but there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell MacOSX to use a proxy server for e-mail. That means all my e-mailing has to be done through web-mail services. The same with FTP. I have to disconnect the skyDSL and connect my Mac via the built-in modem to upload any changes to a website.

The upside to all this is that I’m seriously thinking about becoming a Wireless ISP for my area. I’ll let you know how that goes when it happens.

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