Datastorm Field Report
by Ron Bunge
South Texas, January 25, 2004
I first learned about Datastorm from newsgroup postings on the Web. I knew I wanted to be able live full-time on the road and still manage and
produce my Web site. I purchased the system in August, 2003, over the Web from Ground Control and had it installed by Cyclone Communications in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prior to arriving at the installation facility, I had pre-wired most of the inside wiring, including the power leads, in my fifth-wheel based upon the instructions that I found on their site.
The installation of the antenna and the rest of the system went very smoothly. I also had them install a DirecTV input on the dish. The Datastorm system booted up on the first try and I eagerly looked forward to hitting the road. I drove to a campground in Wisconsin, arriving well after dark and prepared to get online. The mechanism started right on cue and starting scanning the nighttime sky. Unfortunately, it could not locate a satellite, and so it promptly shut down and stowed itself. I tried a bunch of thingsnothing seemed to be workingso I took the hint and looked at the instructions. After increasing the search parameters the satellite dish was able to connect, but I was still getting range errors. I called Ground Control and within a couple of rings I was able to reach a knowledgeable technician who was able to answer all of my questions.
The next step in using this system was to try and make VOIP (Voice over IP) phone calls on it. I downloaded the software from Net2Phone.com and installed it on my computer. I am still surprised at how clear the sound is, and it works even better when I use a headset. There is a noticeable delay when speaking because the voice signal has to go 22K miles to the Satellite and then back down. The program seems to hold each side of the conversation until the other one is finished. So, it really isn't like a normal conversation on a landline telephone, but it works for us.
I also use UReach.com, which provides me an 800 toll-free phone number for voicemail and incoming faxes. Whenever there is a voicemail message, the system either sends me an email alerting me to it or, if I am online, an alert pops up in the task bar and then I can have the voice-mail message played back to me over the Internet. I can then return that person's phone call by using the Net2Phone. At about $0.02 per minute, it works for me, and it is a lot more reliable and less expensive than my regular cell phone.
When we are parked for a few days, I leave Datastorm on all day, but I usually stow it at night because windy conditions can develop with no warning here in South Texas. When we are on the road, it takes about five minutes to get online. I store the monitor on the bed, so I have to set it on the desk, hook up the serial and USB cable, boot the computer, and click on the icon. The Datastorm system does everything else. In heavy rain, I have lost the DirecTV signal, but the Internet satellite connection has remained intact. Because the Datastorm antenna dish is larger than the conventional TV dish, we get a much stronger TV signal.
With the latest model, I could do away with the serial cable to the controller, but I find the setup works fine just the way it is. I have had to install a number of software updates, but every one of them has installed with ease. There is a Datastorm users group that is quite good for sharing tips and suggestions. To see where we (look for member number 98) are right now, click here.
Whenever I go outside at night, I can't help grinning because when I see that blue light beaming from the dish, I know I can get connected to the Internet from anywhere.