AVC Broadband

If you can't get ADSL, consider a one-way satellite broadband connection such as AVC Broadband. However it's expensive, and your computer needs wired links to the DVB decoder and the phone line (for dial-up uplink connection).

The reach of ADSL is increasing, but this is small comfort if you are currently unable to get it and want a high-speed internet connection. One option is satellite broadband, and one provider is AVC Broadband, which offers several speeds at prices ranging from £26.99 (inc. VAT) a month for 256Kbps to £57.99 a month for 2Mbps. The installation fee is £249.99 (inc. VAT).

Setup is not something you can do for yourself. An engineer has to come to your home and fit the satellite dish (or if you already have a dish, the extra hardware required), and a different engineer will set up your computer. In our case both things happened at the same time, and that should be your experience too.

Along with the dish, or amendment to your existing dish, you get a Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) decoder, which in our case was the Hauppage WinTV Nova USB. This is the gateway between the satellite signal and your PC, connecting at one end via an aerial cable and at the other via USB. The installation engineers take care of setting this up. The £249.99 (inc. VAT) installation fee covers all the costs involved, including all the vital hardware -- although it's up to you to provide sound card and speakers.

The setup process was relatively fast and the engineers were competent and answered all our questions readily. We were assured that we got the standard service rather than a special one for journalists, so we assume you'll get the same high-quality experience. However the setup process is quite complex and if for any reason you need to reinstall, it's highly likely you'll require the engineer again.

We had the system set up on a notebook -- a Fujitsu Siemens LifeBook S-6120 running on a 1.6GB Pentium M processor and with 256MB of RAM. It's important to make the right choice here if you have more than one computer, as you can’t network access to the TV and radio elements of the AVC Broadband service. Networking Internet access is possible via Windows' usual Internet Connection Sharing services, and you can use wired or wireless options for this.

Our reasoning for choosing the notebook was to provide some measure of portability with the service. However, the connection between the computer and DVB decoder is wired, so you'll need a long coil of cable to uncoil when you want to use the service.

A key issue to bear in mind is that the satellite link is a downlink only: you can receive data, but can’t send any. To upload any data into the system, for example to request Web pages or to send email, you also need an uplink. Typically this will be a 56Kbps dial-up connection.

This link has to be connected and live all the time you're likely to want to send requests -- which is all the time you are using the Web, and whenever you want to send and receive email. This means more cable (into the phone socket); your phone line will be engaged when you're online, and of course you'll have to pay for the dial-up connection. AVC Broadband does offer an 'always on' two-way satellite connection aimed at businesses and power users, but this will be a lot more expensive.

The Internet and email function as you'd expect them to, and we had no difficulties with either. The ‘extra’ that this type of service provides -- access to free-to-air digital satellite TV, teletext and radio -- is potentially a draw, and as it's downlink only, it doesn't require a live dial-up connection. But in our case the notebook we were using was in our living room, where a Freeview box provides access to these things on a TV with a larger screen. Irritatingly, the Hauppage software we had for managing channels did not automatically select the free-to-air channels, requiring us to sift through the lot and make our own list of favourites.

Note that the Freeview TV service is not quite the same as you’d get with a Freeview box bought on the high street and connected to your TV: it is the satellite Freeview service. There are some channels you can get with the former that you don’t get with the latter, most notably Channels 4 and 5. You can get a list of the satellite TV channels here.

Although the AVC Broadband service works as advertised, it does have some serious disadvantages. It's clearly an option if ADSL is out of the question, but if you do have ADSL available, consider the cost of both, and bear in mind that a Freeview box will give you more channels and output to a TV screen, which is almost certainly larger than your computer's screen.

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