Broadband Satellite Comes of Age

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In these parts, we need all the help we can get with our broadband connection. The pitiful speeds offered via the big players may be OK for the occasional download and checking of emails, but if you want to do big-boy stuff like watch iPlayer, download movies and maybe even upload data to websites, you’ll need something with more oooomph!

Luckily, there is a solution to this problem and it means that we don’t have to hang around for 4G to see if that delivers the speeds it promises.

Last year, after some really appalling customer service from my ISP, I finally dumped them AND the traditional copper-wire (where I was only able to get a snail-like 0.5-1.5 Mbits/s download speed) and headed off to Tooway Direct who provide Broadband by satellite. In the quest for a speedier connection, they offered a workable solution, even if it did mean having another Satellite dish on the house. I did my research and carefully considered the pros and cons of the satellite-route. In truth, there were some downsides. The one that everyone quotes is Latency (the time taken for the connection to make the trip from the PC to the satellite and back again). It’s much longer than either copper-wire or fibre-optic but that’s really only a problem if you play first person shoot-‘em ups, where the delay might cost you a life or ten. I’m not into the gaming scene, so it doesn’t bother me.

At the time, the only other downside was the price. Compared to BT, Sky, Virgin and the like, you would have been paying more – especially as you got into the higher speeds of 18 Mbit/s.

The OLD pricing strategy
Old Pricing Strategy

OK, that’s the downsides! and for me, the pros easily outweighed them. Here are the ones that attracted me:

Winking smile If you have a question, you get through to a human being based in the UK every time you call, there’s no hanging on for ages, and both the sales & support team are very knowledgeable. Compare that with the big players and you’re onto a winner already!

Winking smile The speed quoted is the speed you actually get, more or less ALL the time

Winking smile You can fit the kit yourself or get someone in to install it

..and if that’s not enough, Tooway just announced a major revamp of its packages – and it’s even better news for existing and new customers.

Speeds are UP – Now it’s possible to get 20Mbits/s (up from 18) – and that’s 20Mbits/s 99.9% of the time in my experience. Since the install, the speed’s rarely dropped more than a 1Mb from the advertised speed – whatever the time of day – so you  get what you’re paying for with none of this ‘theoretical maximum’ nonsense!

Data allowances are UP too.  As you’ll see above, on the OLD packages, usage was capped, and although that wasn’t an issue for most people, it was always a concern about using up your quota (actually, not quite the end-of-the-world as Tooway offers ‘bolt-ons’ that allow you to buy extra chunks of data to get you through). The revamped packages shown below now offer an unlimited option, (although you’ll need deep pockets if you want that facility 24/7). However, more realistically, they have now introduced unlimited downloads during off-peak (11pm-7am), which means that you can queue your stuff overnight and it won’t impact on your monthly allowance – sweet!

For me personally, it’s all good news. The  package  I was on (called ‘Tooway 18’ – 18Mbit/s) now gets a boost to  20Mbits/s, and, I get an increase in my monthly allowance from 26Gb to 30Gb, for a few extra ££s per month. If you don’t want to go crazy and spend quite as much as I have, there are cheaper packages – see below – but the real plus point is that they all (except the ‘S’) offer FAST connections of 20Mbit/s!!!

The NEW pricing strategy

 New Pricing Strategy

Speed results today

So, a very happy bunny this end – thanks Tooway!

Vital Statisitcs as at 1 February 2013

The Only Way is… Tooway

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OK, after years of constantly below-par broadband speeds here, I finally ‘bit the bullet’ and did something about it.

For as long as I can remember, it seemed like everyone else (apart from the rest of the neighbours in our immediate area) were getting faster connection speeds than us.

When the houses were built 20+ years ago, they made no provision for the ‘information super-highway’ and recently, the mighty Virgin confirmed they had no plans to change things – even though we occasionally get mailshots from them promising us Bolt-like speeds.

BT have been strangely quiet, and even Sky wouldn’t sell me their broadband package because of the (low) speed. 

The simple truth is that, for broadband-by-phone, we live too far away from the Exchange. On a good day, I might just get a 1.25 Mb/s download here, but as the work-day progresses, it just gets slower and slower – and many of our neighbours are languishing with speeds even slower than mine. Technology can put a robot on Mars, but it can’t get Tynan Close a 2 Mb/s broadband connection! It’s soooo sloooow that services like iPlayer and YouTube sometimes won’t run at all on our TV.

Currently it takes almost a day to download a 60 minute episode of Mad Men!!

Mad!!!!!

Prior to looking at alternative ways to receive broadband, I carried out a speed test. The result below, is the BEST I got over a six hour period from Demon Internet.

Download speed: 0.81 Mb/s

Upload speed 0.38 Mb/s

    

Preparing for Changeover
So, what did I do? Well, a quick Google search revealed a broadband service delivered by satellite. The company I chose is based in the UK (that’s  a bonus!), and is called Tooway. They offer a number of speed packages – I chose the 8Mb/s, as I’m pretty certain that will meet my business and personal needs. There are faster options available – right up to 18 Mb/s at the time of writing, and a slower one (2 Mb/s) if you’re on a budget. 

The process with Tooway was very straightforward. Call them, pay the upfront costs for: installation, hardware and your first month’s fee – and the ball is rolling. OK, unlike some other internet providers, you’re not going to get lots of add-on goodies like a free calls bundle and free access to wireless when out-and-about, but what you DO get, is a promise of a reliable and fast connection that doesn’t rely on where you live. Nice one!

A Few Day Later…
Having ordered the product over the phone (you can also order online), a few days later, two packages arrived containing all the hardware. A few days after that, an installation company called to arrange installation. You can do-it-yourself, but I’d recommend leaving it to the professionals. It’s not a difficult job in itself, but aligning satellite dishes is something most of us won’t have much experience in! Just remember that it means another dish on your property, and sometimes you might need permission. If your residence is restricted, Tooway do provide an option to receive your TV through their dish.

Not the prettiest of sites, but functional!

Installation Day
On the day of the installation, it all went pretty well. The Installers arrived slightly earlier than expected – and that turned out to be an advantage because it took them slightly longer to ‘point’ the dish. Depending on where your house is, you may be limited on suitable locations for this essential piece of metal – it has to be able to ‘see’ the satellite and there shouldn’t be any visible obstructions like trees or tall buildings in the line of sight.

A few hours later, everything was up and running. It’s worth remembering that the installers will only configure the modem to work and confirm your connection is working. It’s down to you to connect the modem to the router (which Tooway sell) and make any adjustments to the settings on your PC. In short, don’t expect the installers to touch your PC at all.

Any Good?
Oh yes! Everything is working as it should. I didn’t notice much difference with normal ‘surfing’, but downloading and/or streaming is a smooth and speedy process. Downloading Sky Movies is now a breeze, so is watching iPlayer – and I can even look at Facebook and Twitter on my TV – how sad is that!

As a quick test, I downloaded a 120 minute movie from Sky and it took just 23 minutes – and because of the faster download speed, Sky let’s you start watching it before the download is finished – in fact the film was viewable within about three minutes. Perfect for a film addict like me.

Here are the results of the BEST speed tests carried out over a two-hour period for the Tooway setup – remember I’m on an ‘8Mb/s down’ and ‘2 Mb/s up’ package.

Download speed: 8.4 Mb/s

Upload speed 1.9 Mb/s

Just compare these to the broadband-by-telephone results above

    

I’d say that was a fantastically good result – 10 times faster downloads than the previous setup.

Hats off to Tooway. The service has been excellent, there’s an efficient customer service team and the technical help and advice (not that you’ll need much) is spot on. It’s also nice to be able to talk to real people, rather than spend ages trying to get through to a faceless call-centre. Call Tom on 0844 874 0600 if you have the need for speed!

This has definitely been one of my better decisions of 2012!

PS. Only the satellite is connected to Tooway, I’m not a relation of any of the staff, nor part of their organisation – just a VERY satisfied customer!

Non-PC

Reading time: < 1 minute...I popped over to Julie T’s this afternoon after receiving a call from her yesterday. Her PC just wouldn’t complete the boot process. After taking it all apart and swapping out various hardware components, it looks like it’s a dead (or dying) hard disk, so there’s a bit of work to do before I can help get things back to normal.

That Syncing Feeling

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Syncing.NETMost of us have more than one PC these days – you’ve probably got one at home, and the other is your laptop or netbook. On each of those PCs you are probably using email at different times for different things. I’m the same, and the major frustration for me, is that some emails that I’m working on, or I’ve sent, are on the home pc, whilst some are on my Netbook.

Wouldn’t life be great, if I didn’t have to remember which email is where, because the two PCs stayed in ‘sync’ with each other? Step-forward then, a piece of software called syncing.NET. Install it on each PC, set-up an account, choose which folders within your email programs that you wish to keep in sync (inbox, drafts, sent items etc.) and after an initial copy of the raw data, everything then syncs beautifully, silently, quickly in the background without any further intervention from you.

If that’s not enough, in addition, the program also syncs files across PCs as well as your Contacts, Appointments and Tasks (if you want it to). Brilliant!

Posting problems

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For some reason none of my (holiday) blogs containing photographs can be posted whilst we’re away. It might be something to do with the extremely slooooow internet connection here, or, something more complex than that.

Anyway, it’s Wednesday, and normal (blogging) service will continue once we get back on Saturday, when I’ll hopefully post some nice photographs of Northern Ireland.
Steaming mad

Techy Day

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HTC Touch 2 A bit of a techy-day’ today. Great – I love days like this!

I spent the morning over at Julie’s helping her to add some apps to her new shiny new phone, the excellent Windows mobile OS  HTC Touch 2 and install the 16Gb micro SD card.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t help much with Tom’s new one as it runs on the Android operating system and I’m not too familiar with that (yet!)

Note to self: Find out about Android phones!


logo-dropbox Job done and it was back to mine to finish off the installation of Dropbox on all the PCs. About a month ago, I’d installed SugarSync, but the poor customer service and some ‘issues’ with my Netbook not connecting automatically to the service, forced me to find an alternative. I’m glad I did! Although Dropbox doesn’t quite have all the features, for me, it’s a bit more intuitive and some nice touches (like a free WinMo client, so I can manage my files from my phone and the fact it uses the LAN to synchronise local files), make it a no-brainer! Definitely one of my better decisions recently!!

What is Dropbox?
It’s software that allows you to keep various files/folders on one PC in ‘sync’ with any other PC. Say for instance, you are working on a file at home. On saving it, Dropbox kicks-in and copies that file to all your other nominated PCs (you control which ones and how many). So, when I jump on the train and fire-up my laptop, the file is there waiting for me to use – on the laptop. Better still, if I get to my destination, and I’ve left my laptop on the train (hardly likely, but go with the flow here!), I can log into my dedicated space on the ‘net and access all my synced files. If I then make changes to the file using the ‘net page, these are then copied back to all the other PCs.

Best news of all, is that there is a FREE version that gives you a 2Gb account – more than enough for most people. Another added feature, is that I can share files with other non-
Dropbox users who access and download the file via the ‘net – Far smarter than trying to email very large files to someone.

Test Blog using Zemanta plug-in beta for WLW 2010 Beta

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For those, who blog, or maybe are thinking of starting, I’d recommend a plugin for Windows Live Writer (and many other blogging platforms) called ZEMANTA. In short, this plugin will scour the text content of your blog and suggest (via a side panel) links to various related content from around the web-o-sphere. It even provided related photographs too. And, if that’s not enough, it’ll link to your Facebook and Flickr account for relevant content too!

Here we are then. I’ve installed the beta version of the Zemanta plug-in. The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t get the ‘this version of Zemanta is not compatible…’ when loading WLW 2010 beta   so that’s a good start.  Note however, the plug-in now doesn’t load at all when I launch the previous version of Live-Writer – WLW 2009 on the same PC.

So now I’m typing text and deliberately dropping in some keywords hoping that Zemanta will pick them up and offer some links in its side-panel.

It’s certainly picking up related articles automatically – see below

Biscuit and Bon Bon - November 2007Now, an opportunity for Zemanta to try and provide related links based on stuff specific to me. Here we go then: I’m adding in the names of our two cats, Biscuit and Bon-Bon to see if Zemanta finds the photographs stored in my Flickr account. Nope! That’s weird because it HAS selected a photograph from my Flickr account of Ann and me (not sure WHY though!) – no wait, the cat pics have just appeared, so maybe it’s because of my painfully sloooooooow internet connection. (about 0.5 Mb/s).

LUMIX G2Next, I’m going to add the name of my new camera here in the body text – Panasonic Lumix G2 – Well, that sort of worked, Zemanta has picked up on the Lumix part…but not found anything relating to G2.  I wonder if there is a way of linking the two words in the search – I’m going to try the refine button in Zemanta by typing in Lumix G2. Success! – Zemanta has found loads of photos specifically for the Lumix G2 – one is shown on the left

Finally, I’m going to try out the in-text link option of Zemanta. This is where the plug-in searches through all the text in your blog and offers related links to that word from across the Web. Interestingly, whilst it found links to Flickr, Zemanta, Lumix, photographs, WLW, beta version and body text,  it didn’t find any links for Panasonic – strange!  Ohh, wait a mo’ – I came back to the blog 10 minutes later and there’s a link to Panasonic. Once again, it must be my connection speed.

So, with the above results, all in all, I’d give the plugin beta the ‘thumbs-up’ –  it does do a superb job of making the most of your posts!