Monday 31 October 2011

ViaSat 1 Launch and Impact on Algoma District

Based on the public information available together with some insider leaks , I don’t anticipate the recently launched ViaSat1 will have a major impact on satellite service in the Algoma District although I do expect there will some reduction in congestion as the customer base using the current satellites shrinks.
I first discussed the new generation of satellites in July 2010. ViaSat1 was on the books as the first of the High Throughput Satellites (HTS) to serve North America. After about a six month delay due to a potential issue with the solar array used to provide the power in space, International Launch Services (ILS) lifted the ViaSat1 satellite into orbit on 19 Oct 11. A technology overview of the satellite operation can be found at this link.
The new satellite uses a newer version of the spot-beam concept used in the Canadian Anik F2 satellite. According to data released by ViaSat through various media resources, there are 72 spot-beams; 63 in the U.S. and nine over Canada. The spot-beams are “steerable” to a certain degree so the actual footprints are yet to be finalized. The maps below show the rough estimates of the ViaSat1 spot-beams covering parts of Canada as well coverage provided by the Anik F2 spot-beams 

Fig 1. ViaSat1 Canadian Spot Beams* Fig 2. AnikF2 Spot Beams
* The number of spot-beams shown is greater than nine as some US spot-beams project into Canada.
The Canadian spot-beams are owned by satellite operator Telesat and will be used by Xplornet Communications Inc to service to consumers in rural Canada. The satellite is designed to deliver service for 15 years or more.
The new satellite uses acceleration software called AcceleNet®. As explained on theNetworkProductssite, this software addresses some of the problems associated with satellite usage such as preservation of enterprise security policies—such as SSL VPN compatibility and acceleration of secure file transfers (signed SMB) and web applications (HTTPS)—and bandwidth management for VoIP calls.
Even with the new software, the issue of latency will remain and impact applications that require low ping times to run efficiently or indeed run at all. Gaming and video-conferencing could remain a problem. On the other, user should notice a marked improvement in the web surfing and message exchange experience.
The whole concept of ViaSat1 is that it will concentrate its beams in the areas of relatively high population density. As can be seen on this unofficial map, whole swathes of North America are left uncovered and will need to rely on existing space platforms to provide coverage which may be beefed up.

Xplornet has yet to publish details about how it will use the new capability of ViaSat1. From various sources it appears Xplornet will not use a ViaSat1 spot beam to cover the Algoma District. It seems the plan is to use the capacity freed up by the transfer of customers in other parts of the province and country to ViaSat1 to provide better service to the Algoma District users by reducing the congestion on the existing network.
There has been some discussion as to what the ViaSat1 based price structure could look like.
The following speculation appeared in an ITWorldCanada article: When ViaSat-1 comes online later this year, they’ll be able to pay $55 a month for” 1.5 Mbps downlink service “ the same speed (plus a $249 up front charge), which includes 10 Gb of data. More importantly, there will be packages with speeds of up to 10 Mbps, twice the maximum that some subscribers can get now.” Indications from other sources indicate additional GBs will cost around $2.50 per GB.
The exact impact on the pricing and service conditions for legacy users on the Hughes and Anik systems is unknown except that Xplornet insists the current users will notice a marked improvement in service quality as some of the new network control features, especially the terrestrial aspects, will be available to the existing network.
Another issue worthy of consideration is terminology and the oft misunderstood term 4G. I discussed the definition for a 4G telecommunications service as a moving target in this blog. Most of the publicity associated with the ViaSat1 launch and subsequent service calls it “4G”. This could easily be confused with the cellular networks’ “4G” service in terms of speed. In reality ViaSat1 4G usually refers to a fourth generation of communications satellites and associated electronics. The only similarity is that the cellular networks and the satellite networks are changing over to their respective generations coincidentally.
It has become part of the ICT culture to bad mouth satellite service with complaints about, speed, reliability, data cap limits, price and a myriad of other features. In many cases this is justified. On the other hand, satellites offer a substantial improvement in throughput over dial-up. They provide a needed access on a universal basis, where terrestrial systems are not available.
I used satellite service for over 7 years. It definitely filled a need.
Was I glad to be able to switch to a terrestrial based system when Rogers and Tbaytel introduced service in my area? Absolutely.
Would I recommend a satellite service as a viable option for use as a system of last resort? Absolutely.

Monday 24 October 2011

Rogers Data Hub Excessive Usage Price Cap

Update Notification:  The information in this entry was reviewed on 23 Nov 2012. There may have been changes to the amount and manner in which Rogers is now applying the price caps. Readers  should review the comment and reply section at the end of the main entry for details. Hermes

The information in this blog supplements information published in this blog concerning Flex Plan data rates costs.

The subject of whether or not the Rogers data hub Flex Rate Plan has a $50.00 excess usage price cap came up during a recent discussion.

The following is the exchange of correspondence between myself and Rogers that took place on 24 Oct 11.
I wrote to Rogers:
This is the cost of service as printed on my monthly bill: “Your services
include: Rocket Hub Internet Flex Rate Data Tiers $35 up to 3GB $45 up to 5GB $60 up to 10GB Data usage exceeding 10GB will be billed in increments of $10.00/GB. This additional charge will be added to the monthly fee.”

I have heard from other users that the maximum overage charge per month is $50.00 regardless of the number of GB’s. This link is often cited as the source of this information.

Can you please confirm whether or not the $50.00 maximum cited in the reference applies to the Rocket Hub data plan? If so, does this mean that in theory the maximum I would have to pay per month is $110.00 plus fees and taxes?
Thank you
Rogers Wireless Customer Service wrote in reply:

Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for taking the time to write us, we strive to provide you with the highest level of customer support, and we appreciate your use of our online customer service.

I can certainly assist you with this; at this time we do have a $50 overage cap for the data flex rate plan. If you were to exceed the 10GB of usage you would be billed the $60 for the top tier of the data flex rate plan along with the $50 overage cap and applicable taxes.

Please note Rogers will monitor for excessive usage and you will be notified by a letter if your usage becomes excessive.

While this reply addresses my 3 tier plan , I assume the $50.00 cap would apply to the 4 tier plan as well.
If anyone has verifiable information as to whether Bell or Tbaytel have a similar price cap, please let me know so I can share the knowledge.

Thursday 13 October 2011

My Canopy Installation in Goulais River

This blob entry is a bit of a personal indulgent with maybe some lessons learned.

After seven plus years of satellite service, I finally had Canopy fixed wireless broadband (high speed) Internet installed on 06 Nov 11. It took four site visits; signal strength test on three different days spread over a 5 month period; a lot of extra work and determination by the installer and his assistant to make it work; creativity and initiative to get the antenna and head unit high enough in the air to get the required signal; and a lot of message exchanges and telephone calls with various Tbaytel personnel to get the necessary paper work issued.

I made the initial service request in Apr 2011 when I received mistaken information about the Goulais (buttermilk) site being operational, During site visits in Jun 2011 and Jul 2011, the installer was able to get a signal from both the Goulais (Buttermilk) and Heyden sites, although not at the minimum signal strength needed for installation. There was no signal from Bellevue and the Heyden signal was weaker than Goulais (Buttermilk).

After a technical adjustment by Tbaytel at the Goulais (Buttermilk) site, the installer conducted a third test in Sep 2011. After an initial failure, the installer’s assistance suggested another test with the head unit as high in the air as they could get. Once the head unit got above some nearby trees, the signal came booming in! The installer was confident the system would work but he needed a new installation order from Tbaytel to proceed. It took considerable effort to get Tbaytel to issue a new work order.

There was a classic case of the theory not agreeing with the reality. Apparently the theory, the formulae and the software being used in Thunder Bay did not correspond to the reality of the signal strength in Goulais. It seems a little local knowledge is considered a bad thing. In any case, persistence paid off and Tbaytel issued a new work order.

The problem the installer faced was getting the head unit high enough in the air. After discussing the cost of a few options, we went cheap and decided to use a couple of metal fence poles from Home Depot. Each pole cost $14.00.

As you may discern in the picture, an old Direcway satellite dish mount served as the bottom support and an old TV antenna pole mount stabilized the Canopy pole at the roof line. The Canopy head unit is at the top and a cellular 800 MHz Yagi is the antenna just above the roof peak. Since the installation there have been some strong winds in the area and the antenna has held rock steady.


It is obvious to me, that foliage has a far greater impact on the reception of the signal strength than anticipated.. The roof level Canopy signal coverage is not what was projected and there are a large number of users that cannot receive the signal. This is very unfortunate.

At one time, Tbaytel was offering a pop-up tower option which would have got the head unit above the tree line in a lot of areas. Unfortunately, this option is no longer available from Tbaytel. In my case I have a two storey house which gave me a bit of an advantage but I still needed an extension.

For those unable to get the Canopy service, the 3G HSPA data hub seems to have better signal distribution. I also have a NetComm Data Hub and am able to get a speed of 1.5 - 2.5 Mbps downloads using the built-in antenna with the unit sitting on my desk beside my router. When I use my cellular repeater to connect, the speed jumps to the 3.5 – 4.5 Mbps range. Since the data hub is a shared service, as is Canopy, the actual speeds obtained vary with the time of day and the number of users on the network at any one time.

This is a sample of my Canopy speed. It has remained very constant.  

Data Hub Information Updated 26 Oct 11

There has been a rash of recent activity affecting the deployment, operations and cost of using a 3G HSPA data hub in the Algoma District.  
Tbaytel confirmed that their hub can only be used when connected to a Tbaytel cell site. They recently corrected a software glitch that allowed their unit to connect to Rogers sites as well. This is no longer possible.  I understand that Tbaytel is allowing persons who acquired the units for use in non-Tbaytel service to return the units for no or minimal cost.  It is best to check with agent where you purchased the unit.  As of this date, Roger data hubs can still connect to Tbaytel cell sites as well as the parent Rogers sites. 
There appears to be an associated issue with the data hub in the North Sault and East Algoma areas due to the proximity of US carriers. The current model of data hubs used by Rogers and Tbaytel can operate in the 2G GSM mode as well as the 3G HSPA. This means they connect to a 2G cell site either directly or as a fall-back if the 3G HSPA site fails.  There are reports that under some limited circumstances in the immediate border areas the hubs are locking on to AT&T 2G sites from the Michigan Upper Peninsula. This has been reported from the south-west  part of St. Joseph Island and the west shore of the Goulais Peninsula  Not only does this drastically reduce the data speed but there is a chance that the user may incur  huge roaming charges. 
The NetComm 3G10WVR2 (Black) has a separate indicator light for 3G and 2G.  The  NetComm  3G10WR (White) and the Ericsson W35 have a single light that changes its display to indicate either 3G or 2G connectivity.  Users in the identified areas may want to monitor the indicators to see what mode they are using. If the 2G indicator activates than they should check the units status on the software interface to see what network they are connected  to and if it is a the US AT&T network than they should disconnect.  I have heard reports that there were  similar situations along the border in the Fort Frances area.
The Bell NetGear and Ericsson data hub specifications do not identify the capability to operate in the 2G mode and I have not heard of any problems with their hubs in this regard. That does not mean there may not be a problem, just that I have not heard reports. Some users reported problems when the new site at Echo Bay came on line as the antenna on the Laird site needed to be adjusted.  This was partially due to the potential of interference from the US sites.  I believe most of these issues have now been resolved. In an associated issue, Bell is adding 1900MHz capability to existing 800MHZ capability on the HSPA only Desbarats site this week.  This should provide some relief to the congestion problem at this site.
As noted in this blog entry, Tbaytel introduced a 4th tier of Flex Data Plan pricing. Rogers has now added a tier but they have also increased their rates to match Bell’s equivalent rates.  As of today’s date, there is no indication of a 4th tier on the Bell site nor have I heard anything from other sources . Here a summary of prices as of 13  Oct 11
Data Cap Bell  Rogers Tbaytel
Flex Rate Per GB Flex Rate Per GB Flex Rate  Per GB 
3 GB
5 GB
$ 55.00
10 GB 
15 GB


20 GB 


See this link  for additional information on a price cap for Rogers service.