Thursday, May 8, 2008

Does Sunset Degrade Satellite Signals? Reflections on HughesNet, Part 1

Satellite Internet users are not a happy band, or so it would seem from a stroll through the forums of DSLreports, a long-running and very reputable source of info on all forms of broadband. Indeed, the front page recently highlighted HughesNet Satellite Broadband and here are some typical comments:

'Keep your dial-up you'll be happier.'
'Needs to be Reported to the FCC!'
'Use only as last resort alternative to dial up'

***I have my own comments, and they are quite extensive, so fair warning: this is a long post.***

If you think your ISP is bad, consider that Comcast cable scores 66% at DSLReports and Verizon DSL gets 65%. HughesNet is much worse, at just 51%, and even that is probably skewed in Hughes favor. Why? Because satellite is currently the only broadband option for a whole swath of the country, mainly rural areas. And that swath includes many people who are accustomed to "making the best of things." Frustrating as the HughesNet service can be, you find yourself putting up with it because there is no alternative. In reality, satellite Internet service, whether from Hughes or anyone else, is just not broadband and in the end, it's just not good enough.

Broadband implies the ability to watch streaming video, listen to streaming audio, perform software updates online, play multi-player action games online, do real-time equities trading, use voice-over-IP, and VPN to the corporate network. When you read the fine print in your satellite service contract you will find that none of these are fully supported. Some may be possible under some circumstances with a satellite connection, but they are not guaranteed, and definitely don't work well in many cases. The two main reasons for this are a. latency, and b. daily bandwidth limits. I will get to both of these in a moment.

But first, the Red Head. When you talk to HughesNet customers one thing that immediately makes them see red is "The Red Head on TV." This is how people are referring to the current HughesNet ad campaign on TV in which a preternaturally cheerful lady promises an end to nasty old dialup and the advent of broadband regardless of where you live (and apparently her hair is red--I'm color blind).

As a HughesNet customer your mind, familiar with the reality of what she is selling, rapidly discounts her promises even as she makes them. And then you get the kick in the teeth. She has the gall to end the ad with a jaunty: "You're welcome!" Like it's some kind of favor that HughesNet is doing me for $80 a month. I mean what Mad Men thought of that?

So what about the sunset? I will have to get to that in the next post.