Moveable 2-Way
Internet Satellite System

Since beginning our full-time RV lifestyle, we have dreamed of having a mobile connection to the Internet. Wouldn't it be great to be able to travel and camp almost anywhere and work online at high, broadband speeds? We've made that dream come true. The photo above was taken just outside Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.
Up until recently, the best option we had was a DirecPC satellite - - a one-way satellite service requiring a phone connection to handle outgoing signal transmission to a service provider (EarthLink) and giving us Internet-down via our receive-only dish. Download speeds were relatively fast, but the landline phone yielded slower outgoing speeds. Moreover, the phone had to be connected for the entire Internet browse time. This system gave us Internet access anywhere that we could find an 'instant phone' connection to our campsite. We made do with this system for 2 1/2 years, but we kept looking for something better.
We found the solution at a Salt Lake City company called MotoSat. Before we explore the most effective solution, let's explore all the things we've tried.
MotoSat Entrance, Salt Lake City
Ineffective Internet Solutions
What we needed was high-speed wireless Internet access. In that vein, we had earlier explored three categories of technology: (1) cellular phone, (2) mobile email devices, and (3) satellite-based systems. In the first category, cellular phones, we found the range and speeds to be limited. We tried the Nokia cellular modem using a data-capable cell phone that was plugged into a cellular-capable modem, in this instance a PCMCIA type (credit-card size that fits into most laptops or internal PMCIA drive installed into desktop). Some phones can be purchased with a built-in modem and data cables that connect directly into a computer. We also tried a wireless modem from Sierra Wireless. Also quickly ruled out was satellite phone technology such as that provided by Globalstar. Here the equipment resembles a cell phone - - only larger. The problem here, was that after the initial equipment costs and monthly fees were met, the per-minute based surcharges were too exorbitant for our extended use.
In the second category we found the mobile email devices. Although mobile, these also did not support the type of rigorous Internet use that our occupations require. The most common application, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), are small handheld devices that can be used for mobile Internet access - - for example the Palm Mobile Internet. Some have an optional wireless modem that work on the existing cellular network. All face limitations and speed issues comparable to accessing the Net over a cell phone. This confines their usefulness largely to email. The viewing screens are too small and speeds too slow for surfing the Net.
Our technology search found that equipment costs, monthly service fees, and surcharges varied; but for us, the determining factors were that connection speeds to the Internet were too slow especially in the regions away from major metropolitan areas. Browsing web pages was largely out of the question. Part of the problem was in the linking of the Internet service provider to the wireless technology provider, whether it be cellular, satellite, etc. We did not find a feasible solution for our moderate to extended levels of use. We are often stay online, eight to ten, twelve or more hours a day. That left satellite technology with the most promising potential for high-speed connections plus portability.
Concept to Finished Component
Testing the Controller Board
Testing Sat-Dish & Upper Board
The Two-Way Satellite System Solution
Early in 2001, two companies, DirecPC (DirecWay) and Starband, began to market long-anticipated two-way satellite systems. In order for any satellite dish to both send and receive signals, the alignment between the dish and a satellite must be absolutely precise. Scott Whitney (Mobile Internet Access, November 2001) compared this process to "trying to aim a flashlight at an object the size of a Honda located 22,000 miles in the air" (p48). Because of this required precision, neither Starband or DirecPC have supported a mobile application of their dishes. Both insist that certified installers must bolt the purchased dish to a fixed structure. Before giving up on that avenue, we made contact with DirecPC and their two training centers for installers - - seeking to find if there was a feasible way that we could use this two-way technology in our lifestyle. Even if we could have been allowed to complete the one-day training and receive the FCC certification, the process is supported by a phone connection at the time of hookup. However since then, we have heard reports of at least two 'wildcatters' out there who are aiming and aligning these systems, one reported as using Starband and the other a DirecPC unit. No doubt there are a few others doing the same thing, but the extended setup times required and the risks of pointing and sending a signal to the wrong satellite are obvious.
The cost of these dishes range from $300-$650 dependent on choice of features and promotions. Their installation usually runs about $200. Users also are required to pay a monthly fee, around $50 for Internet. Inclusion of television programming into the system increases the monthly fee upwards to $90 or more. The service area covers the lower 48 states and beyond, including much of Canada and Mexico. As with any satellite system, rain, snow or even heavy cloud cover can affect satellite performance.
Assembly Line
The MotoSat Solution
What we were really looking for was a 'moveable' two-way satellite system. In other words, we weren't looking for a system that allowed wireless Internet connection as we moved down the highways. We wanted a system we could move anywhere our motorhome could go without a phone hookup.
This is the point where we learned about the development of the DataStorm 2-way satellite system from MotoSat of Salt Lake City, Utah. In August 2001, we discovered the MotoSat website. They were developing a dish for mobile applications. Since then they have built and are beta-testing a dish called DataStorm that currently uses the DirecPC system and will eventually be developed to also work with the Starband satellite. This moveable two-way satellite contains a motorized version of the DirecPC dish along with specialized positioning software.
In August, we jumped at the chance to apply to 'beta-test' the first version of the DataStorm system. By mid-October, we learned that we had been selected to join the Beta Test Group. In November, we were able to make the trip with our motorhome to Salt Lake City in order to have the system installed. And for about six months, we have been using the system to work online - - to browse and research via the Web, to frequently ftp files (upload) to our website, and send and receive our email communications. We use the system with our networked computers in the motorhome; the server is a Dell PC and we connect to a Macintosh workstation and Apple laptops. Speeds vary, determined by our service provider, but even at the slowest connection, they are faster than anything we ever had before. Our connection speeds measured at 'Bandwidth Tests / Speed Tests' from Bandwidth Place have ranged from as low as 253 Kbps to a blazing 1413 Kbps (faster than a T-1). We usually are in the four hundred to six hundred level.
Assembly Line
Our DataSorm unit includes a roof-mounted dish, upper and lower control units that include a global positioning system and an electronic compass . . . enabling the system to automatically seek and find the satellite and configure the system for continuous operation. The system is also configured to receive DirecTV satellite television programming at the same time we are online.
In our visit to Salt Lake City, we found MotoSat to be a dynamic, entrepreneurial company. We met and talked with everyone at the plant, from President to Software Engineers to Installers. Each shared their viewpoint and answered our many questions. Their team is working together to bring this dish to market in a few weeks.
The system is expensive but once the hardware and installation costs are absorbed, our monthly service fee is the internet access and DirectTV charges. For now, this is lowest-cost two-way satellite service authorized and supported for use in a mobile environment. Note that Tachyon does provide a very high-end, high-speed system that is currently used by Wells Fargo Bank. The equipment is expensive and also carries a high monthly service charge making it an unlikely option for most mobile applications. The future will likely bring other competitors like WildBlue (Due in 2003) or Teledesic.
Installation on Harvey's Roof

Oh yeah, now we can park the motorhome and do our online work almost anywhere - - that is if we don't park underneath trees! Of course, that wasn't a problem when sitting near the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area outside Grand Junction, Colorado. We managed to find a nice spot next to the Colorado River surrounded by beautiful mesas.

Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 1/02. Updated 5/02.