When buying a mobile system, there are 4 major items to compare:
- 1. THE SYSTEM ITSELF: While there are other options available (mostly Ku-band or very expensive), I will focus on HughesNet Ka-band. Most of the things said here apply equally to all mobile satellite options. The service plan you select will affect the speed, monthly subscription fees, FAP levels and technology.
2. TRIPOD OR STAND: These vary in quality, durability, and ease of setup. Consider the materials, how the system works and get to understand what it will take to set your system up so that it won't fall over or blow over. Some systems are easy enough to set up for few minutes to check your email on a quick stop. Others are extremely laborious to set up and you're not going to want to go through the hassle unless you're planning on spending some time in one place. Some stands require that they be staked to the ground in order to remain upright, while others will stand on their own. Some can be set up with a plumb mast in a matter of minutes while others will require additional tools to help you aim the dish. You'll want to anticipate your needs - will you be setting up primarily on turf or concrete? Will you always have a level place to set up or will the surfaces vary in their angles? Does the system include everything necessary to hold it in place or will you have to improvise after you get it? Price alone does not determine a quality setup. There are some dealers on the net selling very minimal, poor quality tripod setups and asking top dollar for the system. If you're planning on making your own stand or if you're planning on mounting the dish to something semi-permanent, you may not even need this part of the system. If you want something that is fast and easy to set up, look extremely carefully at the various designs available and get to understand how they work.
3. AIMING TOOLS: These vary in quality and function. Good tools will make finding the satellite and fine-tuning your aim very easy and fast. On the low priced end, you can get by without a meter, by using the signal strength display on the modem's Status page. However, it makes the process more difficult and less accurate.
For HughesNet systems, an OPI (Outdoor Pointing Interface) used to be nearly indispensable. it worked with Ku-band systems. When the Spaceway Ka-band system came out, so did an upgrade of the OPI, called the DAPT (DiSqeC Antenna Pointing Tool). It worked with the Spaceway Ka-band systems and it also operated as an OPI.
Then when the Jupiter HughesNet Ka-band system went into service, the DAPT2 meter was released. As you probably guessed, It can work as an OPI, as a DAPT, and with the new Jupiter systems!
I expect the DAPT3 to be released along with the Jupiter 2 equipment.
In any case, the meter attaches at the dish on the receive line and will reflect what the computer is showing when you are on the pointing page - so you get the feedback on signal strength and whether or not you're on the correct satellite right at the dish while you're aiming. This is way easier than taking your laptop out to the dish when aiming. The OPI retailed for about $100 and the DAPT2 for $115.
4. SUPPORT: The dealer you purchase from will be your first line of support when you need help. In most case, the dealer will be your ONLY option for mobility related issues. From the documentation that dealers provide in describing their products prior to your purchase to the phone and/or email support that they provide you personally when you're working through your first setups and when issues crop up, this will be a critical item. Good dealers will provide extensive documentation and clear instructions and will be happy to help you over any bumps you run into.
In conclusion, item #1 is pretty cut and dry - decide what system you want and go for it. Item #2 can be a matter of taste and/or pocketbook but will determine how fast you can set up and will affect your frustration level immensely. Item #3 is pretty cut and dry - again, it is largely a matter of pocketbook, but is critical to your ease and speed of setup. Item #4 is critical to your overall satisfaction with your system. Make the wrong choice on the last item and you'll pay for it in frustration, dissatisfaction, and possibly dollars if you have to spend more to make up for an inadequate mobile kit.