On the Road with the Web

When my husband Jim and I hit the road in 2007 to travel across North America, I continued to submit technology-centric guest columns to the Eureka Times-Standard Newspaper. This article discusses our mobile satellite capabilities that we purchased for our RV.

On the Road with the Web

With the proliferation of cell phone PDAs and WiFi hotspots, most of us have gotten used to the ability to check email and surf the web while traveling. Still, these systems have their limitations. But now, the relatively new technology behind portable satellite internet systems is allowing many people to travel like wandering gypsies into the remotest parts of the continent, while always staying connected to the Internet. And now, my husband and business partner are joining this group of mobile geeks.

By the time you read this article, the two of us and our dog Jerry will be on the road in a bio-diesel powered RV rig, embarking on a journey that will enable us to see as much of North America as we can in one year. But it won’t be all play. On this trip, we will be researching new locations and options for starting a new business. The key component that will allow us to do this will be our new Motosat Datastorm F2 satellite internet system which is now sitting on the roof of our 24 foot, 5th wheel trailer.

For a long time, the two of us knew that we wanted to eventually sell our business and take some time off to travel with our dog. Yet, as compulsive work-a-holics, we just couldn’t envision being completely dependent on RV park wi-fi setups, or internet cafes in larger towns. We wanted connectivity, all the time. We had heard about satellite internet, but knew very little about it.

However, in a twist of fate while shopping online for pet supplies, we discovered that one of the foremost experts on satellite Internet technology lives right here in Humboldt. Don Bradner, who also owns the long-time bricks and mortar store, Arcata Pet Supplies, is that expert. Don and his wife are avid RV-ers who spend much of the year traveling around in their magnificent motor coach bus—all while continuing to run their store from their portable Datastorm Internet system.

When Don graciously allowed us to tour his RV and check out his system, we knew that we had to have satellite for our trip. Two days after picking up our 24′ Arctic Fox 5th wheel trailer in Portland, we headed to a top-notch installer recommended by Don, called Oregon RV Satellite Service, based in Eugene.

The owners, Don and Darren Marr, have been installing Motosat’s Datastorm system for just over 4 years, which is just about how long the technology has been around.

According to Don, the Datastorm system is now in its 3rd generation of portable satellite technology. The first two generations of this technology were extremely technical and only accessible to the biggest of geeks, but with this most recent web browser-based version, now even the average computer-using RVer can use it, with just a little instruction.

Despite the ease of use, there are a few things to keep in mind before getting a system. The first is the system cost, which varies from $5,000 to $11,000, depending on the speed you want. If your goal is to work on the road, which many of Oregon RV’s customers do, then it will soon pay for itself. The second consideration is the monthly connection fee, which ranges from $79 to $200. Lastly, the biggest thing to consider is how much roof space your vehicle has for the system, which weighs 135 pounds and measures 5′ long at the base, and almost a meter in diameter for the dish. Inside the RV, the router and controller for the dish take up a 10” x 15” space inside a cabinet.

We went with the mid-range system, the F2, because it provides speeds up to 2056Kbps/768Kbps, just a little slower than a fast DSL or cable connection. Considering that our data will travel about 88,000 miles from our campsite in the Utah desert to the satellite in the heavens and back again, this is pretty darn good. The F2 will keep us connected to a satellite that will provide coverage everywhere in the lower 48 states, except for some dark spots in Northern North Dakota and Vermont. Once we decide to head to Mexico and Canada, it only takes a phone call to switch satellites and receive coverage in those areas.

This is only a quick introduction to the possibilities that mobile satellite systems offer, but you can read more at the Datastorm User’s Group. To meet others who have experience with satellite Internet access, you can also attend a local Redwood Technology Consortium meeting. Visit www.RedwoodTech.org for the next meeting date and time.

Rene Agredano is co-founder of Agreda Communications, and a RTC Member since 1998. While traveling around North America for the next several months, she plans on sending occasional Tech Beat dispatches. Stay tuned to hear about her Motosat experiences.

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