Tech Talk

How are we able to live and work on the move? Verizon Wireless.

This isn’t a plug for the big V. Fact is, in many places the service sucks. Carson City, Nevada, for example always seems to be behind the times. The coverage isn’t very good where we stay, and there were a couple years that a certain 877 number I relied on wasn’t dialable. But, they are nearly everywhere. Rarely do we get off the beaten path and cannot get a signal. In some remote places, like the Virgin Valley of northern Nevada, there are no towers for 30 miles around. Nobody can get a signal. For those situations we started using a high gain antenna and cell signal booster. In the Virgin Valley, we could shoot 30 miles to the nearest tower and get one bar. That was enough.

Prior to Verizon Wireless, we relied on Hughes Satellite Internet. It was an excellent service at first in 2006 when we signed up and bought a portable dish. It usually took 20 minutes to set up and tune for speeds just under 1 Mbps down and 256k up. But, by 2008, the service slowed down and became unreliable. And, by then, Verizon’s service, though slow, was just about everywhere. We dumped the dish and bought a USB modem from Verizon. We’ve upgraded to faster modems and a WiFi hotspot over the years. We’re able to do all our work and keep up with the family across the country.

The service is expensive, with the amount of bandwidth we need for work, but it’s well worth it. It enables us to live and work the way we do. We can sit anywhere with a bar or two on the modem and work all day. In 2011, we had a work day at one of the prairie dog towns at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We worked and watched the residents for most of the day. It was both productive and entertaining. You can’t get much better than that with work.

When we have to really get out there, such as in the provinces of Canada–especially the northern province (Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories), we rent a BGAN terminal. Communications in the provinces, especially above the middle latitudes of BC, are microwaved from town to town. There are hundreds of miles between the very few communities up there; apparently it’s cheaper to beam than to lay out fiber or copper. Many of these communities are so small, they have only one cell tower that services the entire town. We’ve found in most towns we could get reliable 3G or at least 1X data service if there wasn’t Wi-Fi in the RV park we were in. So, once out of town, the only access to internet is from satellites, and BGAN offers the widest coverage at these latitudes. BGAN isn’t fast, but it’s accessible for the most part. However, at these latitudes, a moderately sized mountain might be in the way of your satellite. And, it’s best to know the general direction of the satellite before you leave an area where you have Internet, because smartphone-based satellite finders might need to access the database to locate a satellite. I found this out on the Dempster Highway. I was in a beautiful valley with a clear view of the sky and wanted to check email, but my phone wanted to access the internet to verify the satellite location or check my license or some dumb thing. It couldn’t, so the $25 program just became worthless to me. But I knew the general direction and inclination, so I found it after a few minutes. BGAN is also expensive, and it’s metered. So, management is a must, or the charges can go through the roof.

I really like BGAN. I almost bought the terminal, but with being out of cell service so rarely, it was unjustifiable as a purchase.

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