SkyDSL

Full disclosure: this post is incentivized by SkyDSL GmbH with a potential reward of €500. Since I am not entirely happy with their service, I decided to publish and enter this into their contest anyway just to see if they can stand criticism. If this gets me a few years of free subscription, so be it. I am certainly not doing their advertising for them, this is a recount of my personal experience.

Living in the countryside sure has its benefits, but at least one significant downside: internet coverage can be quite terrible. I am probably “lucky” to be able to even have a DSL line instead of the usual dual-channel ISDN, but come on – 1 megabit (around 120 kilobyte/sec) downstream and 100 kilobit upstream is absolutely not state of the art anymore. It shows every day – simple emails with attachments take forever to send, Windows updates can clog the pipes for hours and let’s not get started about anything fun like digital game downloads or streaming video. While my brother enjoys the benefits of his blazing fast connection with Netflix and Steam downloads going by within minutes and even my father, who doesn’t use his tablet for more than web browsing, is enjoying the speed of LTE, I am still in the dark ages. Hell, 15 years ago when I rented my first apartment, I had a Vodafone DSL connection with more than what I have now – for the same price!

Despite the German government promising a 100% coverage with high-speed internet until 2018, nothing has changed so far and nothing will change in quite a while. Because our small community here has only seven houses and four of them are covered by LTE, there’s hardly any interest among the providers to upgrade our pitiful connection.

Since download sizes became an issue even on my consoles, I took matters into my own hands. Early in 2013, a friend who is also living in a remote area told me he had installed satellite internet and was quite satisfied with it. His connection was provided by SkyDSL and since he already had experience with installing it, I didn’t think too long about ordering it. Since their contracts can be cancelled every month, I didn’t feel like it was much of a risk – worst case would be a loss of the rather small setup fee. I ordered the 16 megabit option at a price of €39,95/month; the same price as my DSL line, only 16 times faster.

However, things didn’t start out all that well. Soon after ordering, I got the first two bills, but no hardware. When I asked support about it, they told me they had technical issues and my hardware would be shipped shortly, but in the end, it took about two weeks to get the dish and router to my home. Considering how long I had waited for a proper internet connection already, that’s not all that long, but over these weeks, the weather had shifted and installation wasn’t really possible. At least they told me they’d refund me for the time I was unable to use the connection, which they did. Fair enough.

The dish installation on the roof, plus frightful looking weather.

The dish installation on the roof, plus frightful looking weather. Winter is coming.

My friend installed the dish and router for me, which was looking more complicated than it was in the end. I would never have done it on my own, though, since the antenna had to be installed on the roof of my house. I am afraid of heights, so I was glad to have help. The antenna is very heavy as well, which turned out to be a problem, since the roof could not support it properly. We installed it anyway with the idea that should it ever tilt from its original position, my friend would weld some kind of support to the pole the dish was mounted to. Fine tuning the antenna position took some time, but since my friend knew what he was doing from his own installation, setup took about 20 minutes after installing the antenna.

The router is just as small as any other router, and doesn't bother me much.

The router is just as small as any other router. And yeah, that’s a can of Raid – I just hate insects in my room.

At first, things worked out pretty well: while the ping was (of course) terrible due to long round-trip times to the satellite and back, the download speed was greatly improved with up to 1 megabyte per second from Steam. Since I also kept the DSL connection as a backup, I wasn’t concerned with the latency – I could simply switch WiFi networks to play games or download big stuff.

Unfortunately, after just a few days, the download speed started to dry up to a degree where the connection was not even usable for normal browsing. Sometimes, the speed would go up again in the morning, but just for a few hundred megabytes – afterwards, it would quickly drop to ridiculously slow levels far below my DSL connection and stay there for the rest of the day. It was absolutely useless most of the time. At first, I thought our not-entirely-stable antenna setup was to blame, so my friend and me checked the entire thing again, including the fine-tuning. Nothing helped, the speed was mostly just abysmal.

Maybe I was already data capped? Most providers do that in order to prevent constant downloads at high speeds, but when I ordered SkyDSL, the website didn’t state anything about data caps. The only statement in that regard was that there was “no fair use policy”, which in retrospect should have rung a bell. I asked support, and they quite brashly told me that I had agreed to the terms and conditions and that there was no data cap, however, the available bandwidth was divided among all users with “my usage profile”, and if they were power users, well, bad luck. “Don’t like that? You can cancel any time.” I did have other questions – especially why the website didn’t contain that interesting piece of information – but they were never answered. The terms and conditions I had received with my order confirmation didn’t contain any information about that, just something about a “fair use policy” (which usually means  “use it as much as you like as long as it doesn’t bother other users or breaks our business”).

At that point, I probably should have cancelled, but since my other options were none, I decided to give them a little time. Maybe things would get better over time, maybe their capacities would be increased, whatever. A second, albeit slow, connection wasn’t the worst thing anyway since I could connect my consoles to the satellite WiFi for downloads – even if it took more time, I could at least use the DSL internet else while they download.

Not long after that, a storm knocked out the satellite dish – the original installation simply wasn’t strong enough, as we already expected. It took me a while to get it fixed, but when we finally got it done a few months later, the speed wasn’t as unbearable as before, but still not great. At least I could occasionally download a 1-2 gigabyte file in a few minutes before it slowed to a crawl once more. At that time, I didn’t really need to download huge files on a regular basis any more since I mostly gamed on my Xbox 360 where updates were few and usually small, so I wasn’t bothered. I mainly considered the satellite as last-resort backup now.

One thing I have to mention is that while my connection was down for a few months due to the dish not being installed properly any more, I got a call from SkyDSL. An Indian sounding fellow asked me in broken German if I had noticed that my connection didn’t work, and what might be the cause for that? I told him that it was a fault on my end. Despite my insistence that the problem was the poorly installed dish, he told me he’d call again if the service wasn’t restored within the next few weeks. He didn’t, but that was okay – I appreciated the attempt at supporting the customer regardless. I also got an e-mail about the same issue, so they at least monitor their customer’s installations.

At the end of 2014, my friend was finally able to fix the broken dish by welding a support beam to the pole it was attached to and screwing that support beam to the roof’s wooden structure. That way, no storm would be able to move the dish any more, and that turned out to be true – the winter storms didn’t bother the satellite connection one bit, it still works today without any problems.

However, the speed is still an issue. In August 2015, I got a mail telling me I got lucky: they’d upgrade my connection to “up to 16 megabit up and 4 megabit down”! That way, I’d “save €6,90”, but unfortunately, since prices went up and stuff, I’d end up paying €5 more. It’s an offer for their most loyal customers, who can say no to that?

Well … I didn’t say no, and they ended up billing me €55 instead of €34,90. Huh? At least this time their customer service was friendly and told me it was a mistake. They’d refund me immediately and make sure it never happens again. And it didn’t, which is the least I can expect. What I also expected – but didn’t happen either – was an improvement in the connection speed, but I wasn’t all that disappointed anymore.

So, am I satisfied with SkyDSL? It’s complicated. On the one hand, the connection speed is borderline unusable, although my girlfriend does use the satellite link to browse the web on her iPad without much trouble – at least it’s good enough for that now. But for anything else? Not exactly. I can’t start a large download and go to bed – it’ll start fast, then drop down to almost nothing over night, wasting energy it shouldn’t have. Occasionally, I would get lucky – one time, my Xbox One was able to download the huge patch for Ryse: Son of Rome within a few hours – but it’s still too flaky to be of much use.

The upload speed is better, however – I used the satellite to upload my YouTube videos, which was significantly faster than via DSL. So that’s the main reason I keep the contract running, although I am occasionally deliberating if I should cancel. The main problem is that I’d have to return the dish, which means I need help to remove it from the roof … and that help isn’t readily available at the moment.

In their defense, I’m not certain all this is the fault of SkyDSL as satellite internet in general isn’t the most reliable thing in the world. I should have know that – maybe I was a little too desperate to “fix” my download speed issues.

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