Winmag.com Read the neater Web version of the Broadband Report online! http://www.winmag.com/columns/broadband/ IN THIS ISSUE * One-Year Anniversary * Road Test: StarBand Two-Way Satellite Service * Network Know-How – (sm)C Wireless Access Point Review * Product Beat – Eval Units Rolling In! * Broadband Q&A – Cable Modem and TV * Reader-to-Reader * Link of the Week – Bandwidthplace.com * Subscribe, Unsubscribe, or Change Your Address. Get up to speed on broadband data-transfer rates: http://www.winmag.com/columns/broadband/2000/03a.htm THE BROADBAND REPORT’S ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY —————————————————————– Congratulations to us. This issue marks the one-year anniversary of the Broadband Report. For those of you who keep track of such things, Broadband Report began as a section in my Windows Insider newsletter. It quickly gained in popularity and size, and Windows Insider was getting so long (imagine that) that I asked Insider subscribers to vote on whether Broadband Report should split off as its own newsletter. The results of the vote were so overwhelmingly in favor of two newsletters that I decided to push ahead with that plan, even though the newsletter industry says that splitting one newsletter into two is a bad idea. It wasn’t a completely smooth ride, but one year later both newsletters are doing well. Insider has continued to grow rapidly, and Broadband Report has held its own. At the same time I added HTML versions of the two newsletters, and those version have also done well. (Personally, I greatly prefer the HTML versions myself mostly because they make it easier to navigate the newsletters.) I hope you will permit me a shameless plug for this newsletter — something I don’t often do. If you like Broadband Report, would you please make a point to use your e-mail program’s Mail Forward command to send it a friend whom you think would also benefit from it? Please add your own brief recommendation or qualification. If your friend likes it, he or she can subscribe to the newsletter on this Web page: http://www.winmag.com/subscribe/ Thanks. STARBAND TWO-WAY SATELLITE FIRST IMPRESSION! —————————————————————– On January 2nd I took delivery of StarBand’s new USB-based two- way satellite service, which uses the StarBand 180 satellite modem. There were some problems, as expected, from the get-go. Because of the position of this satellite in its geosynchronous orbit (roughly, due south-southwest), my installer wasn’t able to find an ideal location for the dish without setting it up on the roof, something I decided not to do. Because this is a review, I opted for a temporary weighted “sled” arrangement in my side yard. It’s ugly, but fully functional, and easy to remove. The dish went up quickly and efficiently. The next step was running the twin coax lines from my attic (we ran the cable up the outside of my house and through an air vent) down through a wall to an outlet in my office. StarBand: http://www.starband.com/ My installer was first rate, and willing to listen to me — a rare quality indeed. He was so good in fact that after trying unsuccessfully for 1.5 hours to snake less than six feet of wall down from my attic, he didn’t just give up.
Even better, he listened to me when I proposed trying to angle the snake in at a different angle because I believed (based on messing around with my Zircon StudFinder) that the blockage in the wall only went part way across. This pretty much flies in the face of conventional wisdom about how houses are built. And we both knew it. But we tried again anyway, and luckily it worked.
The software installation went very quickly. We had trouble getting the modem configuration software to properly install its USB driver under Windows Me, but that took only a short while to figure out. The next 45 minutes were spent checking and rechecking that the StarBand 180 satellite modem was dead on arrival. A new box was ordered, and it arrived three days later.
We had the service up and running after only 30 minutes with the second box. One thing I didn’t like was that StarBand requires you to install Internet Explorer 5.5 SP1. There’s no option not to install it, and I think that’s a very large mistake. Because I was running Windows Me, which had already been upgraded to IE 5.5 SP1, I expected the installation to skip a reinstallation, but it didn’t do that. Not the way to handle software installation. My initial two hours with StarBand were impressive.
I was getting between 700-kbps and 800-kbps download times measured by a variety of bandwidth testers, including StarBand’s own test. I hadn’t expected that kind of performance and was very impressed. The stated performance levels are “up to 500-kpbs.” StarBand’s e- mail, newsgroup access, and TCP/IP configuration were all as easy as it gets. Most of it happens automatically. All you really have to do is choose an e-mail address. And the service levels are generous for a broadband provider. Like cable and DSL, StarBand is always on, and there’s no dial-up connection related to the service.
The StarBand USB modem configures like a network adapter. It’s even possible to share the connection on a network using a hub or switch and the newest version of WinProxy. It’s okay with StarBand if you share the connection, but they don’t support it. Later that first day, however, I started running into my first set of problems with StarBand. The system locked up requiring a hard reboot, and when I rebooted, I ran into a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) about mid way through Windows boot. I’ve since experienced that BSOD almost every time I’ve cold booted the system. A soft reboot (Ctrl-Alt-Delete) allowed me to boot normally.
But when I got back into Windows Me, I found that performance at almost any activity was terrible, and that the system had become unstable. I immediately uninstalled IE 5.5. That immediately brought system stability back, but I had lost satellite access. For the next several days I repeatedly installed and uninstalled the StarBand software until I finally coaxed both stability and satellite access into the same session.
I was still seeing BSODs on cold reboots. And a new problem reared its head. Whenever I leave my system on overnight it’s frozen in the morning. That can be caused by a number of things, but after a couple of weeks working with this problem, and frequent conversations with StarBand tech support, I believe that there’s either a conflict with the standard Windows screensaver and one of the several background apps that StarBand installs and launches at system startup, or there’s a memory leak in one or more of them.
StarBand’s tech support team is also working on the BSOD problem. They’ve apparently had similar reports from other users. I plan to switch the service over to a Win98SE machine in the near future, and I’ll report back on whether that makes a change. So far, these problems are the kinds of things I expect from a fledgling broadband company which has only been live for a few months with a consumer service. The USB 180 service is also only a few weeks old. But there’ve been other problems.
The StarBand network itself has given me some trouble. As I write this (on Friday morning) service has been completely dead for almost 24 hours, after having worked perfectly (if somewhat slowly for a few days). The green light on the StarBand “Mission Control” Windows System Tray applet winked out to black. And I just can’t connect at all. The modem’s lights all show that my connection is operational. I’ve power cycled the modem (per tech support’s directions) and also restarted Windows several times with no effect. I encountered similar problems on Monday of this week. Last Friday and over the weekend the service was working, but there was a severe reduction in performance that made the service only slightly faster than a 56-kbps modem. StarBand has acknowledged most, but not all, of these problems. Apparently the service is undergoing server upgrades and also has some maintenance issues today. What’s more, even when StarBand has been working fine, its performance erodes markedly every evening and also on weekends. Along about 6:00 PM Eastern time, download rates of 500-kbps or more may erode to 150-kpbs or 200-kbps. In my book that’s a huge difference. According to a lead StarBand engineer, the performance delta between peak times and non-peak times is expected to be in the realm of a 3x difference. So, roughly speaking, StarBand expects performance to vary between 150-kbps and 500-kbps. Personally, I don’t think that’s an acceptable difference. I think the company needs to find a way to add more bandwidth at peak times. My sense, based on my personal experience and not anything the company has said to me, is that it may wind up limiting the performance levels at the high end in order to help ensure a fairer split of bandwidth at the lower end. — Satellite Physics — StarBand is very forthcoming about an issue important to online gamers and video-conferencers: By its very nature satellite technology is not well suited to TCP/IP and other Internet protocols. What’s more, no matter how fast your satellite connection, there is going to be some latency. Broadband Report has explained this term — latency — before, but this is a good time for review. Simply put, latency is a time lag between the time something requests an Internet stream and the stream actually arrives. In the earlier days of mass-marketed turbo- driven auto engines, it wasn’t uncommon to experience a split- second delay between the time you pressed down the gas pedal and the engine kicked in the power. The same is true of broadband satellite transmission. Here’s why. The satellite is thousands of miles out in orbit. When you click something, a hyperlink, a file download, whatever, that signal has travel from your dish up to the satellite, then back down to StarBand’s main facility, then from there out onto the Internet through the company’s high-speed ISP connection to the Internet, to the server on the Internet you were sending the request, and then the stream you requested has to make that entire trip back before you’ll start seeing activity on your computer. It’s a huge detour to send an Internet stream out into space and back again. Considering how far the signal travels, it happens remarkably fast. But StarBand openly notes that users can expect latency times measured at roughly half a second. In real world terms, that means that if you’re playing an online shoot-em-up game, your opponent could easily have moved out of your sites between the time that you pull the trigger, and the signal reaches him that you did. Any two-way live streamed media (something already not a great candidate for Internet delivery) will likely also suffer increased synchronization issues with not just StarBand’s, but any satellite-based broadband access to the Internet. Even if you don’t pursue the types of Internet activities that are clearly affected by satellite’s limitations, you may notice and be mildly annoyed by them.
The same latency issue can give you the sense that your satellite connection is alternating between rapid transmission and temporary hesitations or dead moments. If you click, click, click on things, they will be fed to you quickly. If you click, pause, click, pause, click, there will be a sometimes annoying delay to get started back up again after each click. StarBand employs a couple different types of Internet acceleration which require both server and client software components.
On the StarBand 180 I’m testing, the client is known as the Internet Page Accelerator, and it works in background, invisible to the user. StarBand also employs a proxy server mechanism with a very specific configuration — part of the reason, I believe, why the StarBand software installs IE 5.5 no matter what. Finally, there’s one other oddity about StarBand’s performance attributes.
Probably because of those acceleration tools, the service runs HTTP and FTP protocol connections much faster than other types of Internet protocols. Newsgroups, e- mail, instant messaging, and other activities I tried were a lot slower. I ran AOL 6.0 on it and was surprised that it was noticeably slower than my 348-kpbs DSL service — even though StarBand consistently tests faster than my DSL connection with a wide variety of bandwidth testers. Despite all these technical limitations, a properly working StarBand connection is far better than 56-kbps dial-up, ISDN, and probably a 144-kbps IDSL connection.
I have to continue testing to be sure, but conversely, unless something changes, virtually any type of ADSL, SDSL, or two-way cable modem service would be noticeably better than StarBand. That makes StarBand (and probably its competition) the “good enough” broadband solution that could make it a mainstay in rural America for years to come. — The Bottom Line — Depending on how you look at it, StarBand is either overpriced or one heck of a bargain. I can look at it either way. If you live in a remote area with no other option, the roughly $600 upfront cost and $70 monthly charge are well worth what you get in return.
The year 2001 is more likely to see an increase in broadband costs than reductions. So $70 a month might not seem so bad a year from now. For that monthly fee, a full complement of ISP services, including e-mail with up to 10 e-mail addresses (and Web mail is coming), a long list of newsgroups, online tech support, toll-free tech support, and online alerts and FAQs. StarBand does not offer a secondary analog modem dial-up service with nationwide points of presence as some other broadband ISPs do, but the Web e-mail will help there. I think the $600 setup charge — $399 for the satellite dish and the USB 180 satellite modem plus $199 for installation — is about $200 too high. There are realities to face, though, and I doubt StarBand is making a whole lot of money on the equipment or installation. The dish is a fairly large 24-inch by 36-inch elliptical affair. The modem is also pretty big, roughly small pizza box size, although the case has a strong, flat top on which you can stack most CRTs or other heavy items. The StarBand 180 also adds a fan noise to the background buzz that probably already accompanies your PC sessions. Once you get past the money, and I know many of you are going to pay whatever’s within reason since you have no other option, the big issue is availability. StarBand is a continental U.S. service, with service to Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico expected soon. A StarBand representative notes that Canada falls under the StarBand umbrella. Currently, StarBand has no announced plans to offer service in Canada. Gilat, StarBand’s parent company, is working on developing similar-to-StarBand services for other countries around the world. As yet, none of those projects is as far along as StarBand. Originally, StarBand was called Gilat-to- Home here and elsewhere. StarBand is quick to point out a big qualification to its continental U.S. availability, however. The company’s ability to install new subscribers in any given county or region is limited by the number of subcontracted installation companies and EchoStar dealers currently trained on installing the service. StarBand notes that there are over 23,000 Dish Network dealers in the U.S., but only about 2,000-2,500 capable of performing the installation. To find out if there’s one in your area, check Dish Network’s StarBand Retailer Locator: http://www.dishnetwork.com/content/promotions/starband/index.asp If you find an installer that way, you can still order via StarBand’s online order form, which also provides more information about terms and conditions, system requirements, and installation requirements. StarBand Service Description and Sign-up: http://www.starband.com/join/signup.html If you’re just ordering satellite Internet access, I recommend using the StarBand form. If you already have or are sure you want Dish Network’s satellite TV service, though, you’ll save money by ordering both services through Dish Network (EchoStar) instead of StarBand. Dish Network: http://www.dishnetwork.com/ One part of the dish setup process is a little touchy, and for proper installation, an oscilloscope-style device should be used to align the dish to the satellite. If you have a choice of installers (as I do in my area), I would ask those companies in advance what satellite-dish positioning method they use. Some companies may be using less than satisfactory methods, and that that could affect your performance levels. Steer clear of the Radio Shack store promotion for StarBand, which requires you to buy an entire PC to get StarBand. I’ve also heard one or two horror stories about Radio Shack StarBand installations. I’ll be testing StarBand for the next few months, and will surely write about it again. In the meantime, if you have StarBand and want to tell me about your experiences, or if you have questions about it, send me an e-mail: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=StarBand NETWORK KNOW-HOW — SMC WIRELESS ACCESS POINT REVIEW —————————————————————– Last issue I kicked off Broadband Report’s 802.11b wireless networking coverage with an introductory review of the Linksys WAP11 wireless access point. http://www.winmag.com/columns/broadband/2000/36.htm#wirenet I liked that $245 Linksys WAP11 a lot, and had little problem with it. This week I’m covering SMC’s SMC2652W ($265.95, Buy.com), another 11-Mbps wireless access point. SMC2652W: http://www.smc.com/smc/common/prodPreview.cfm?prod_code=SMC2652W I also had no significant trouble with the SMC version. There’s really very little surprise in this. Most 802.11b products are extremely similar from a functionality viewpoint. The chipsets are made by two companies, and they all adhere to a sound set of specs that makes them interoperable. They differ in small ways, such as packaging, software, and configuration methods. Like Linksys, SMC sent me PC Card end points, which worked exactly the way the Linksys cards did. The PC Cards from both manufacturers come with the identical Prism client software, distributed by Intersil, the chipset maker. SMC Home: http://www.smc.com/smc/pages_html/homef.html The functionality of the slightly more expensive SMC product is every bit the equal of the Linksys access point. Neither serves as either a broadband bridge/router product, and neither offers extra ports or switches. Instead, they’re designed to be an extension of your existing network which is how I predict most small businesses will want to deploy wireless networking. For the home market, a broadband router/hub product, like Lucent’s Orinoco (slated for an upcoming BB Report review), could be a better choice, but only if the home user doesn’t already have a router/hub product, such as the Broadband Report- recommended Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL Router. Like all 802.11b products, the SMC2652W uses 2.4GHz technology, the same used by some high-end wireless telephones. It is capable of 11-Mbps connectivity to your LAN and the Internet, and depending on signal strength, degrades in steps down to 1-Mbps connectivity. The maximum range is 1,500 feet, with line of site preferred (but not required). What sets the SMC apart from the Linksys and some others I’ve tested is a small footprint a simple features. The Linksys uses a USB connection for configuration. Its software has an excellent interface, but you’re limited by the length of the USB cable to the access point. The SMC uses an Ethernet connection for that same purpose. The software is a bit less refined, but it can be used to configure multiple access points on a given network, and that can be done from multiple PCs on the network. Both choices have their advantages. Overall, I prefer the SMC approach. Even though sometimes I had trouble getting the software to recognize the access point. Overall, I like the SMC product very much, as much or more than the Linksys WAP11. Either product is a good choice if you already have a router/hub/firewall product that connects to your broadband solution. PRODUCT BEAT – EVAL UNITS ROLLING IN! —————————————————————– It’s like Christmas in January around here. Suddenly, wireless access points and broadband router/hub products are showing up all over the place. Just today, the 4-port SMC Barricade Wireless Broadband Router arrived. It’s a cross between SMC’s Barricade router/hub/firewall product and the company’s SMC2652W wireless access point reviewed in this issue of Broadband Report. Earlier this week the 7-port Umax Ugate 3200P router/hub/firewall arrived. It also has a built-in print server. Several BB Report readers have requested a review of this one, so you can expect it shortly. I’m also expecting the 3Com Home Wireless Gateway, and I have the Lucent Orinoco. And there are others I can’t tell you about. So, in coming issues of Broadband Report expect to see reviews of the Umax Ugate 3200P, the 3Com Home Wireless Gateway, Lucent Orinoco, and many others. Although I can’t say exactly when it will be, here’s a reminder that Winmag.com contributor Neil Randall and I are co- authoring a Winmag.com feature story on 802.11b Wireless Networking that will go live probably in March. We’re researching the story now, and will give you a full lowdown on the 802.11b (sometimes called WiFi) as well as deliver test results on all the top products. Later this year, I intend to do a feature story on Broadband Security that will cover both hardware and software solutions. Does your company have a new or recently updated computer product or service of interest to broadband users? Submit it to the Broadband Report’s Product Beat mailbox: mailto:email@example.com?subject=Product_Beat BROADBAND Q&A – Cable Modem and TV —————————————————————– QUESTION: I received an LCD flat panel monitor for Christmas (this thing is really slick!) that has a built in TV tuner and CATV input. I can use the monitor as either a TV or a monitor and watch TV with picture-in-a-picture. The monitor actually has PC, V1, V2 and TV inputs. Is it possible to split the Road Runner cable coming into my computer room and hook it to the cable modem and monitor? If so, could you recommend an appropriate splitter for this use? Or would I have to pay Time Warner to come out and run another cable line to the room? –Kevin Burns, Texas ANSWER: This response is a blend of a thread of messages between Ken and me, and some of the information I’m about to relay came from him. The short answer is that in, my neck of the woods, you it’s not advisable for you to do this on your own with either of the main cable companies — both of whom require a converter box for each TV. While you can certainly introduce a coax splitter on your own, some cable companies mandate that a simple shielding device be installed on all the lines leading to the TVs. As I understand it, this device prevents upload transmissions from leaking into the cable TV signal, where they apparently disturb picture quality. I heard this from a field engineer, though, and haven’t researched it myself. If you can shine a far more informed light on this point, please send along the facts: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=cable_shield Splitting a cable line is easy. It does require an inexpensive coax crimping tool and unused coax cable male connectors. If you’ve never done this before, it may take some practice on an old piece of coax to hone your skill. And a badly created connection can reduce signal quality, which can reduce your bandwidth. If you’re at all in doubt, let a pro do it. You’ll find all kinds of coax cable splitters available at electronics stores, Radio Shack, Home Depot, discount houses, and their like. On one end there’s a single coax connector; on the other end there’ll be two, three, or four coax connectors. More connectors is not merrier, so get only the number you actually need. Before you buy a splitter, check with your cable company to find out what frequency range is needed. Ken wound up buying a good quality splitter rated from 40MHz to 2GHz. Later, Time Warner/Road Runner informed him he should have bought a 5MHz-to- 1GHz-rated splitter. Ken has excellent picture quality, but still, I recommend you do your homework first. Don’t buy a cheapo splitter. I’ve seen low-cost splitters destroy cable TV reception. And usually it happens six months later, which often means you wind up paying for a service call. Splitters cost in the $5 to $15 range. Go to an electronics store and get the best one you can find. Some related thoughts. Every time you split or splice a cable, you introduce potential loss of signal strength and other variables. Fewer connections are better. By all means, make a change to add something cool like a TV-tuner-monitor. But do it smartly. It’s possible your cable company may want to run a second line from wherever your cable is already split (usually where it enters your house or apartment) to your computer. I would let them make the determination on how the split should be done, even if it means paying extra. If possible, do not split your cable outside your house. Many cable companies do this routinely because it’s easier for them, but it’s much better if the split is protected from the elements. –S.F. READER-TO-READER —————————————————————– According to reader Robin Hubbard, there’s a problem with AOL 6.0 and the @Home cable modem service. Robin says that for a time, @Home had a warning up on the its Web site advising its customers to uninstall AOL 6.0. The symptoms are apparently sudden drop- offs from the service. Apparently, AOL 6.0 messes up the @Home networking setup. Another reader, Mark Winter, has a suggestion in reference to my comments (under “Common ICS Problems” about Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) not being able to terminate a dial-up connection setting when the dial-up is initiated by a client PC: http://www.winmag.com/columns/broadband/2000/36.htm#netknow Mark writes: “A company called Twiga offers a downloadable freeware utility called Remote Disconnection Utility (RDU) designed to let you remotely disconnect a modem connection from any computer. The best thing is that it is free.” Twiga: http://www.twiga.ltd.uk/ LINK OF THE WEEK – BANDWIDTHPLACE.COM —————————————————————– The Broadband Report Link of the Week is the Bandwidthplace.com. http://www.bandwidthplace.com/ This Web site, which is actually published by a Winmag.com sister publication, was suggested by my StarBand installer. And I have to admit that I didn’t even know it existed. But the more I look at it, the more I like it. It highlights news originated both from both my company and others. It has a wide variety of resources on broadband-oriented topics, as well as, you guessed it, another broadband speed testing site: http://www.bandwidthplace.com/speedtest/ While this place does seem to be about selling high-end business broadband to corporations, the information it provides is still quite good. There are even discussion areas that seem to be alive. What Web sites have you checked out that you liked? It could be broadband content, broadband tips or news, performance testing, utilities, you name it. Drop me a line. Please include the site’s URL and tell me briefly what you liked about it. Thanks! mailto:email@example.com?subject=Link_of_the_Week FINE PRINT —————————————————————– Check out the back issues of the Broadband Report on the Web: http://www.winmag.com/columns/broadband/backissu.htm If you like this newsletter, share it with friends and co- workers, and encourage them to sign up! It’s free, and you can unsubscribe at any time. TO SUBSCRIBE, UNSUBSCRIBE, OR CHANGE YOUR ADDRESS Use your browser to visit our Newsletter Subscription Center: http://www.winmag.com/subscribe/ http://www.winmag.com/unsubscribe/ http://www.winmag.com/changeaddress/ You may also unsubscribe by replying to this message using your e-mail program’s message-reply feature. Type the word “Unsubscribe” on the subject line. Be sure you’re sending the message from the e-mail account you originally subscribed with. NOTE: You cannot unsubscribe by sending e-mail directly to me. Please send comments, suggestions, or questions about this newsletter to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=1-19-2000. — T-H-E–B-R-O-A-D-B-A-N-D–R-E-P-O-R-T ———————— Copyright 2000 CMP Media Inc. A service of Winmag.com. http://www.winmag.com/ ————————————————————— Distributed by MessageMedia Inc. – http://www.messagemedia.com