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WildBlue Dish

Broadband Finally Comes to Saragossa

After all these years in an "electromagnetic shadow", prices for satellite internet access finally began dropping this year. They must be desperate; or, there's another technology in the wind.

In the past few years, I'd spent hours searching for information and customer comments relating to the two available services, sorting out the ones that appeared to have troubles caused by their own errors or trying to get the service to do something weird. I had many questions: are Macs fully supported? Is it easy to set up a home network with an internal LAN? Can I pick where the dish gets mounted? How close can the dish be to my existing DirecTV dish? Will my trees block the satellite line-of-sight (LOS)? What will it actually cost in the end? There were really no absolute answers available out there. This page should put to rest these questions, and more.

I chose WildBlue on recommendation of the owner/operator of our local (invisible to me...) wireless broadband provider. He simply said they had a better FAP (fair access policy) and better customer service.

On 11/4/08 I signed up online, choosing the entry-level ("Value") plan -- $99 activation, free installation, $49.95/mo. for 24 months minimum. By comparison, HughesNet was $20 more a month and had a bigger dish.

Within a day, I was notified that the WildBlue 29" dish and modem had shipped to me from DSI Systems, and that I was scheduled for an 11/15 installation. I then got a call from the Springfield, OR office of a subcontracting service company, Odyssey Communications, in which the dispatcher re-scheduled for 11/13. Cool -- earlier!

I received the dish and modem via UPS ground three days later, but resisted the temptation to open the packages.


Installation

On the 13th the installer/technician, "Matt", showed up around 12:30 PM. He was supposed to be there at eleven but our place is a little tough to find. From experience, I knew the trip from Eugene can take longer than you think.

Matt was friendly and competent, working quickly and neatly. Our site survey resulted in his recommending a pole mount, which would cost me $150 materials and labor. If I wanted him to do it. Well, at 64, I didn't feel much like doing it myself. OK, I realized I'd been expecting SOMETHING to come up like this that would result in me spending more money than I'd anticipated. But $150 was still cheaper than the equipment prices of $299 to $399 these companies historically charged for their gear. So, OK, Matt, plant the pole.

In another hour, he was finished, the concrete had set, and Matt began running the cable. The hole I pre-drilled in the North basement wall was just barely large enough for the double coax cable. We ended up stringing about 80 feet, because the dish had to go at the North end of the deck to clear the big oak tree, and my office is at the other end of the 60-foot first floor, near the kitchen. I'd also pre-drilled a 3/4-inch hole in the floor near my desk for the cable to come up.

In another thirty minutes, the cable was clipped to the basement ceiling, routed through the subfloor beams and terminated at both ends. Matt pointed the dish at the satellite and optimized the signals using a box with a couple of meters on it hanging around his neck, while he tweaked the dish mount with a wrench. He was thorough, so that took about fifteen minutes.

In another 15 minutes he had connected his old Windows2000-based Gateway laptop, activated my account, and set up my emails. He was finished.


Thrilled

I pulled my Mac G5's CAT5 cable out of my LAN hub and plugged it into the modem.

Holding my breath, I launched Firefox, typed "GoDaddy.com", and hit return. Within forty seconds, GoDaddy's slow ".aspx" home page had fully loaded (it takes almost five minutes on dialup.) I felt a thrill just like the one I'd had when I was ten years old and sweet Alice, the little brunette girl across the street, had given me my first on-the-lips kiss.


Home Network

I didn't have much info on the networking capabilities of the WildBlue modem. I knew it had DHCP but not how many addresses or what range of addresses it could provide.

It's obvious now, that you only get one address. So to enable a home LAN, you need a router. I chose to go with Linksys (now a subsidiary of Cisco) because I've had good luck with other equipment of theirs like the WAP I use for laptop access, and various PCMCIA cards.

My router is a BEFSR81 Cable/DSL unit with a web-based interface, configurable DHCP server and 8-port switch. Into the router I plugged CAT5s from my Mac G5, my existing Linksys WAP, my Micron Linux fileserver (my old LAN router and print server), a cable going into the basement for old PCs I work on down there, and our Minolta networked color laser printer. ("PLE" stands for power line ethernet)

The CD accompanying the router is only for Windows. Luckily, I had Windows running under VPC on my Macs. The procedure for setting up the network simply entails powering everything down, plugging in all the cables, then powering up in this order: the dish/modem, the router, then all the connected devices.

On power-up, the router requests an internet IP from the cable/DSL modem. It initializes itself on the LAN side with the first local-range IP address of 192.168.1.1. Now as you power up your LAN-connected devices, you can have them use DHCP to obtain local addresses, or set them manually. On Macs, this is accomplished in the System Preferences Network pane. The router defaults to assigning addresses in the 100 to 149 range. The first Mac or PC to request gets 192.168.1.100, the next ...101, and so on. Most network printers initialize to a fixed IP, usually a low number like 192.168.1.9, but if yours is higher you may have to connect without the router to set the address below 100. If you have any web or file servers on the LAN, it is best to also set them to fixed IP's, then make entries in your PC's "hosts" files equating the IPs to names. On Mac OS before 10.5, this is done via the Netinfo Manager utility app, by adding an entry in the "machines" directory. On Linux boxen, you make an entry in your /etc/hosts file. One line per host, in the format: ipaddresstabhostnamereturn.

If you want to look at the router interface, browse to 192.168.1.1 and login. The username is null (no user), password "admin" -- this can be changed via the interface. Changing the password is my only configuration change so far. Packet forwarding is automatically enabled of course, so no special port configuring is required to use FTP or chat (IM) or SSH out to remote hosts. Setting up incoming remote access to LAN services is beyond the scope of this article. That doesn't mean I don't know how; I just won't write about it here!

Here's the final network diagram:

(o) WB Dish
 |
 |
 |
 |
 |_____[WB Modem] 
           |
WAN---     |
           |
     [DSL Router]
       | | | | |____[ WAP ]....(PowerBooks and iMac)
LAN--  | | | |
       | | | |__
       | | |    \PLE\====\PLE\___[Minolta Magicolor]
       | | |
       | | |
       | | |_____________________[Micron File/Web Server]---[HP 855C]
       | |
       | |
       | |_______________________[Rik's G5]
       |
       |
       |
       |_________________________[Basement Switch]
                                     :  :  :
                                     :  :  :
                                     ..........(old Macs)


The Cost

What has WildBlue cost to get up and running?

Item Fee
Pole mount $150
Account activation $99
Equipment rental $99
1st Mo. Service $49.95
Total Startup $397.95

Other:
Router $99(incl shipping)


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