In praise of Tooway satellite broadband
I posted before about installing satellite broadband at a villa in rural Italy. Having had the opportunity to return seven months later, I can say that I’m really happy with the results.
We’ve been able to have multiple people browsing different websites, and used Skype and FaceTime successfully. I’ve developed a new website whilst out on this trip, and as a WordPress site it relies heavily on roundtripping data rather than developing locally then uploading. The latency is obviously more noticeable than conventional broadband, but it’s totally usable and less frustrating than 3G/4G in the UK which I’ve found tends to be very bursty even in good reception areas.
Internet TV is OK-ish. The Tooway satellite backhaul is routed back to their UK data centre, so wherever you are in Europe it appears that you’re in Manchester to the rest of the Internet. This means that BBC iPlayer, ITV player and Channel 4 all work fine. Buffering does happen, particularly at busy times (6-10pm UK time), and I’ve found that the best thing to do is start a programme playing then press pause and make a tea (or coffee, beer, wine, steak) so that it builds up a reasonable buffer. The apps are obviously tuned to work well over FTTC/FTTP broadband, and it wouldn’t take a great deal of programming to have them recognise a lower speed/higher latency satellite connection and buffer for 30 seconds at the beginning rather than repeatedly pausing, but I doubt that will happen any time soon. But the workaround I found worked well for catch-up TV. Sports viewing would be a different matter and probably pretty frustrating. I also tested it with NOW TV which worked similarly to BBC, and Apple iTunes movies – which didn’t work at all in the evenings.
What I’ve been very impressed with is the robustness of the connection. Having used many different home broadband ADSL/VDSL + WiFi combos, I now generally advocate replacing them with a proper router. The TooWay satellite modem is very similar to a classical cable modem – a single F connector and RJ45 on the rear, a web interface with no configuration options at all, and no built in NAT so it requires a separate router or access point. It also has a rather clever onboard transparent proxy/cache which speeds up web browsing considerably. I was expecting it to be relatively non-robust and was expecting to have to set up a watchdog system to power cycle the router regularly as has been the case with virtually all consumer equipment I’ve used.
After seven months, with several different groups using the venue, there’s been no issues at all. It seems to have its own on-board watchdog system, which I noticed reset the modem and TRIA (transceiver equivalent of an LNB) once during a 10 day period. It’s been hammered pretty hard during each stay, coming close to the 40GB limit each time. The only issue I have with it is a rather silly design where the ventilation holes in the top of the case reveal the delicate-looking SMD circuit board underneath, with no filter of any kind. Looking at the outside box we installed last time, there’s been a reasonable amount of dust and dirt accumulating, so some better filters will be needed for the box itself.
So, in summary, the TooWay solution is great for web browsing (you have to accept the latency, but it’s really not too bad), fine for VOIP, and usable for streaming TV with some caveats. It can get slow at peak times and iTunes movie rentals are obviously being throttled. The modem is technically robust but physically fragile. If you’re in the UK or Europe and too far away for conventional broadband, I think it’s well worth a look.