Satellite Rallies – Fun & Informative

2003 Satellite Rally – The First Rally

In 2003, the first satellite rally was held in Gila Bend, AZ … at a truck stop parking area. The original mobile HughesNet dealer, Old Scout, operated out of this truck stop and he hosted the rally. He got permission from the owner of the land to take over the entire lot on one side of the road for RV parking … no big rigs allowed for this weekend! Below is a photo taken from an ultralight, by the UPS driver who delivered to the area and was also a mobile satellite installer.

Aerial shot of RVs at the first rallyAerial Shot of 2003 Satellite Rally

We had sessions about how to set up your satellite equipment and get online, how you could share that Internet connection so anyone in the RV could get online at the same time (WITHOUT having to shut down the modem, move the modem cable to another PC and boot the modem again), troubleshooting, and even satellite TV. The whole idea was to share ideas about things we learned, and help those new to mobile satellite have less frustration with their setups.

Folks attending an outdoor session at the first rally
Outdoor Session at the 2003 Satellite Rally

Terry demonstrating his setup, including the first offset adapter
Terry Demonstrating His Setup with the Offset Adapter Prototype

Note the size of the group in the group shot below, which was taken at the first rally … keep this one in mind, when you see the group shot for the last rally held in 2007. You’ll notice a lot more people in the photo.

Group shot at 2003 satellite rally
2003 Satellite Rally Group Shot

2004 Satellite Rally

The second rally was held in the same location and was very much like the first, except for a few more people. One member started the Red Hat Satellites chapter. So, of course, we had a Red Hat luncheon, as shown below.

Red Hat luncheon at the 2004 satellite rally
2004 Satellite Rally Red Hat Satellites Luncheon

The next photo shows me delivering one of my annual networking presentations. This was always a popular presentation, because it was a little more complicated then, to get a local area network working properly, in the RV.

Network session by Barb at the 2004 satellite rally
Barb Delivering a Network Session at the 2004 Satellite Rally

2005 Satellite Rally

At the end of the 2004 rally, we all decided to hold the next rally at Augie’s Quail Trail RV Park, down the road … they had a clubhouse, to get out of the weather, and we would all have full hookups for our RVs. I talked to the owner and he extended a special rally rate to us for the 2005 rally.

Augie's Quail Trail RV Park clubhouse
Augie’s Quail Trail RV Park clubhouse

We didn’t know it at the time, but this change also represented a parting of the ways, with Old Scout. During the 2004 Rally, Old Scout had finally agreed to sponsor us to attend installer training and become certified HughesNet installers. Little did we know until later in the year, that he was moving away from HughesNet entirely and was the exclusive dealer for the Beta test of the StarBand Mobile Satellite program.

We added a Chili Cookoff to the 2005 agenda and a pot luck dinner … it was sooooooo nice to be able to all get together without the wind and sometimes too-cool weather!

Judging the 2005 satellite rally chili cookoff
Judging the Chili Cookoff at the 2005 Satellite Rally

2006 Satellite Rally

The 2006 rally included all the things from the year before, but we again added more to the agenda. We were starting to get noticed and suddenly we had an offer from Beaudry RV to attend and serve appetizers one afternoon. We also had a welcome visit from the Gila Bend City Manager, the Chamber of Commerce, and, John, the owner of the RV park.

Owner of the RV park delivering the welcome message
Welcome Message from John “Augie” Augsberger

We also had panel discussions, along with the presentations. Glenn, one of the regular presenters and a very experienced installer, gave his talk in an FCC hat this year … Worrying about the FCC was now a standing joke. By this time we had learned that the FCC was much more concerned about the powerful equipment of the service providers.

Panel session at the 2006 satellite rally
One of Several Panel Discussion Groups

The Stanley Keeper inventor giving a presentation
Stan, the Inventor of the Stanley Keeper giving a presentation

Glenn giving his talk in an FCC hat
Glenn Giving His Talk in an FCC Hat

The results of the Chili Cookoff was enjoyed by all. We also started charging a small fee and giving away door prizes on the last afternoon.

Enjoying chili after the chili cookoff at the 2006 rally
Enjoying the Chili Cookoff Entries

Picking a winning ticket at the 2006 satellite rally
Drawing for the Big Prize at the 2006 Satellite Rally

2007 Satellite Rally – The Last Rally

At the last rally in 2007, the number of attendees topped 200 people and there were over 100 RVs! Not only did we again get visits from the City of Gila Bend and a welcome from the park owner, but we even had entertainment one afternoon. Of course, the number of volunteers needed to put it all together also grew.

The Volunteers for the 2007 satellite rally
Volunteers For the 2007 Satellite Rally

Attendees at a session at the 2007 satellite rally
2007 Satellite Rally Attendees at a Session

Entertainment at the 2007 satellite rally
Entertainment at the 2007 Satellite Rally

2007 satellite rally group photo
The 2007 Satellite Rally Group Photo

Notice how big the group had become by the 2007 Rally.

None of us realized this would be the last rally we held. The five rallies were a lot of things … they were a helpful exchange of information … they were an exercise in organization and planning … and they were a chance to get together with other RVers who wanted to take their Internet with them on the road!

But, perhaps most importantly, they were a fun time, with a camaraderie that led to longstanding friendships!

Dishes and Modems and Feed Arms, Oh, My!

Originally published on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Both StarBand and HughesNet improved their hardware and software. Life kept getting easier for the mobile users.

I should probably mention that all of the equipment discussed is Ku-band satellite equipment. Ku-band services have huge coverage areas, which is why you can move the equipment around (be mobile) and still get online. The newer Ka-band services were not be discussed when this blog was originally published, since they are spot-beamed and the equipment couldn’t be moved. However, very recently an authorized HughesNet Gen 5 mobile satellite Internet service was released and you can now move from beam to beam! More about this later.

Early StarBand Equipment

I mentioned that StarBand went from the StarBand 360 to the self-hosted StarBand 481/484 modems. The biggest and most welcome change was getting away from the need to install software on a PC. Not only did the communications software tend to cause problems on the PC, but it was also more difficult to network, especially for Macintosh or Linux computers. The modems all had ON/OFF switches.
All three of the modems used the same outdoor equipment, called Phase II. Note in the photo that the StarBand 481 modem has only one Ethernet port, whereas the 484 has four. The 484 had a built-in switch and the service it came with included four public IP addresses. (There were actually six IP addresses, but they only told you about four of them.) The earlier Starband equipment is shown below.
Early StarBand equipment

Last StarBand Equipment

The current equipment includes Phase III outdoor components and a StarBand Nova SkyEdge modem. There were two versions of the modem and neither had an ON/OFF switch. The newer version was slightly smaller and the serial port was an RJ-45 plug, like the LAN port. The older version had a standard DB-9 serial port (shown below).
The Phase III arm is longer than the Phase II arm and was square-shaped, rather than rounded. The longer arm resulted in a signal with lower cross-pol interference, but a weaker signal. The dish was slightly more elongated, which also contributed to the weaker signal. The equipment is shown below.
Current StarBand equipment
 Unfortunately, Spacenet, the parent company of StarBand was bought by another company interested in the Enterprise networking aspects of Spacenet, so StarBand died a slow death by starvation of resources and was shut down on September 30, 2015.

Early HughesNet Equipment

HughesNet went from the DW4000 to the DW6000, and then the DW7000. Like the StarBand 360, the DW4000 needed software installed on the PC; like the StarBand 481/484, the DW6000 and DW7000 did not. Once wireless routers became available and affordable, you could hook a router up directly to the modem.
There was a version of the DW4000, the DW4020, which included a router, so you could plug in multiple devices.
The tripod setup in the middle shows the white fiberglass dish and feed arm that came with the DW4000. Note that the transmitter is permanently connected to the feed arm.
The DW6000 and DW7000 came with a  gray Gen V fiberglass dish … and, the radio assembly on the Gen V feed arm could be changed. The fiberglass dishes are still used by mobile HughesNet users, because they are practically indestructible, as long as they don’t blow over in the wind! The newer metal dishes can become bent or warped and they will no longer function.
Early HughesNet equipment

Current HughesNet Equipment

The still current HughesNet Ku-band equipment uses the HNS7000S modem. Previous equipment all carried the name DirecWay, as the service was called, but with the last generation of the modem, HughesNet dropped the DirecWay designation and used the “HN” for HughesNet in the modem name. There were different metal dishes used, each with a unique feed arm. On the left is the Raven outdoor equipment, which was replaced by the Prodelin outdoor equipment. There have been more than one model of both Raven and Prodelin equipment.
Current HughesNet equipment
The HN7000S will probably be the last Ku-band modem that HughesNet sells. They have launched several of their own satellites, which use the higher-frequency Ka-band and they have outsourced the remaining Ku-band services to several VARs. Little by little, HughesNet is phasing out Ku-band services as the transponder leases HughesNet has on satellites owned by other companies expire.
However, as of 2017, there are still a few mobile users out there traveling with the HN7000S modem and Ku-band service. But, now that there is a blazingly fast Ka-band mobile service available, most of these users will start switching to the new Gen 5 Ka-band services.

HughesNet Gen 1 to Gen 5

Let’s do a quck review of what Hughes considers their different generations of satellite equipment and services:

  • Gen 1 – DirecPC: If you remember from earlier, this was a one-way satellite service that used a phone line for the uplink (called dial return). The maximum download speed was 400 Kbps and, of course, we know how slow the uplink was (56 Kbps).
  • Gen 2 – Direcway: Hughes calls everything from the DW4000 to the HN7000S to be Generation 2. It was all 2-way Ku-band services. At best, it provided a maximum of 1 1/2 Mbps down and 256 Kbps up.
  • Gen 3 – Spaceway 3: Hughes considers this their  3rd generation. It provided the first HughesNet Ka-band services and provided up to 5 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up.
Spaceway 3 Outdoor Equipment

Spaceway 3 Outdoor Equipment

Spaceway HN9000 Modem

Spaceway HN9000 Modem

  • Gen 4 – HughesNet Gen 4 services on the Jupiter 1 satellite (Echostar XVII) were sold until about a month ago.  Maximum download speeds were  15 Mbps, with 3 Mbps up. There was an HT1000 and an HT1100 Modem.
  • Gen 5 – Hughes launched Echostar XIX in December 2016 and The HughesNet Jupiter 2 Gen 5 services went live nationwide in March 2017 and the first authorized tripod-based satellite program was released through the VAR channel in April 2017!Jupiter 2 uses the same antenna, though there is a new smaller radio, which looks like the one used with Jupiter 1 services. Jupiter 1 will continue to provide Gen 4 services during the transition, but eventually will support Gen 5 services in it’s coverage area. The new modem is the HT2000W, with the “W” for the built-in wireless router! Speeds are up to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up!  But, initially, speeds are even faster!

Jupiter 1 & 2 Outdoor Equipment

HT1100 modem

HT2000W modem
To see a photo of the current tripod setup, click here…
That’s all for this entry. Next time, I’ll talk about the Satellite Rallies we held from 2003 through 2007.

Things Kept Improving in the Mobile Satellite Internet Market

I mentioned last time that our first HughesNet system was delivered on a piece of plywood. My husband, Joe, was geology major in college and, as such, he was very familiar with tripods. 

The Tripod

To him, mounting the dish on top of a tripod seemed like a very logical thing to do, for several reasons:

  • It was a lot easier to transport and set up.
  • It gave one the flexibility of setting up on uneven ground.
  • It allowed you to get the dish higher off the ground, while still keeping a wide base.

Unfortunately, using a tripod “as is” created a very unstable structure, because the weight of the feed arm on the dish wanted to pull the entire thing over frontwards.

Nonetheless, when we returned to the RV park where we had first tested the tripod idea several months later, we saw at least 3 other mobile satellite setups, all using the same design as our first tripod setup, as shown above. 

This told us two things:

  1. The basic idea of the tripod was a good one.
  2. There was starting to be competition in the mobile satellite Internet market.

Competition in the Mobile Satellite Internet Market

A couple (Glenn and Margo) began selling mobile satellite Internet under the name Maxwell Satellite. A very market-savy dealer (Scott) ran a company called Dustyfoot, and used a custom tripod that didn’t have the problem of wanting to fall forward. 

Here is a photo of that tripod:

Dustyfoot tripod by Truepoint

There were other dealers as well, but these two stood out from the crowd.

The Offset Adapter

Our now good friend Terry came up with the idea of offsetting the weight of the dish/feed arm assembly, such that the whole things was nicely balanced over the center of the tripod. 

Here is a photo of an offset adapter, which became a standard part of most tripod setups:

Some Custom Mounting Solutions

There were some “custom” solutions during this time, as well:


The Stanley Keeper & Hardware Set

Another item added to the standard setup was the Stanley Keeper, first thought of by Stanley, of course. Once the tripod and offset adapter became common, the two would be held together by various hardware, which tended to slide around, rather than Keeping everything nicely centered … hence the Stanley Keeper! 

Here is a photo of a typical hardware set, which includes, from top to bottom, a big knob (for easy adjustment of the azimuth), a mylar disc (so, the dish/offset adapter assembly would move smoothly through the azimuth), a Stanley Keeper and a big eyebolt (to hang a ballast strap and ballast):

Changes in the Satellite Equipment, too!

While all these improvements were happening in the mobile satellite Internet world, the satellite providers, StarBand and HughesNet, were making their own improvements. They both went from the older modems that required communications software on your PC, to a “self-hosted” modem that could connect directly to a wireless router and share the connection on the LAN. And, there was no software to install on your PC!

StarBand went from the StarBand 360 to the StarBand 481/486 and then to the StarBand Nova SkyEdge modem. HughesNet went from the DW4000 to the DW6000, then the DW7000, and finally to the HNS7000S modem. 

That’s all for this week. Next week, I’ll show you some photos of the Ku-band satellite equipment that StarBand and HughesNet have offered through the years.

As always, comments and suggestions for future blogs are always welcome! 🙂

The Early History

Welcome to the Blog!

I haven’t done any blog entries since we migrated to a new server and updated our forum software. So, I thought it might be fun to repost some old blogs, starting with a few blogs that document the history of mobile satellite Internet.

Suggestions for future topics are always welcome. 

The Early Years in the Mobile Satellite Internet Market

We got our first satellite system (HughesNet) in January 2002. We had been full-time RVers for three years then and had been searching for two-way satellite for most of that time. I even called HughesNet and was told it wasn’t allowed, because non-professional setups could damage the satellite. (Absolutely, false! Though it is possible to create lots of interference on your satellite or on a neighboring satellite, with a poor setup.)

When we finally found someone who would sell us a system (Ron, the guy who started it all), it was delivered on a piece of plywood, with a standard roof/wall mount attached to provide the mast. The photo below shows a roof/wall mount attached to a wall, which was its intended use:
Roof/wall mount on a wall
       Roof/Wall Mount on a Wall
 The dealer who started the mobile satellite Internet phase of full-time RV life was more of a salesman than a technical support engineer, so one of the first things he did was have one of his customers start a private (by invitation only) Yahoo group called RV2WaySat.
The idea was that all of his customers could help each other, when problems arose … and arise they did in the early days of mobile satellite Internet!
Not only were there lots of problems, but we were all pretty paranoid about getting caught by HughesNet and losing the incredible luxury of having an Internet connection in our rig … no matter where we were parked! We hadn’t yet figured  out that HughesNet actually knew we were all out there, but they didn’t want to be responsible for supporting us or held liable for any potential issue that might arise. We called it the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

There were plenty of problems in the early  years and we did all help each other out via the Yahoo group. Many of the problems were related to issues on the HughesNet side … some were related to sun spots, rain fade and other temporary atmospheric events. As such, they would eventually go away without any intervention needed. Because of this, one group member named Dean would always tell the rest of us to get a life and go do something else for awhile. This became known as the “Dean Rule”.

 Remember, this was a time when you had to drive to the library to plug into a slow modem connection. If you were lucky, the RV park would have a place to plug in, but you  had to “take turns” with anyone else wanting to use it. Neither cellular data nor Wi-Fi networks had happened yet.
The HughesNet system at the time was the DW4000!  (Actually, there was a DW3000, which used a satellite downlink, but a dial-up uplink.) The DW4000 consisted of two modems: a transmit modem and a receive modem (shown on the right, below). StarBand’s equivalent technology was the StarBand 360 modem (shown on the left, below).

HughesNet DW4000 Modems

StarBand 360 Modem

In both cases, you had to install software on your PC to talk to the modem. Microsoft Windows had the ability to share the connection on a local area network (LAN). But, getting networking to work with these devices was frustrating, at best!

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the enhancements RVers have added to the mobile satellite Internet setups … and more.