RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip


Satellite Services, Wireless Internet,
Advanced Cellular Services, Bluetooth, & More


(Note: We know that much of the information on this page is now historical, but we keep it here as a reference and informal history to illustrate how mobile connectivity has progressed since 1996. For up-to-the-minute discussions about mobile Interent access, please visit the Great American RoadTrip Forum.)


Satellite Services
(DataStorm, Iridium, Starband, DirecWay, more)

Supporting Technologies
(Blue Tooth, Wireless Networking, etc.)

Dashboarding Products
(Phones, antennas, accessories, etc.)



"Fixed/Mobile" Two-way Satellite.

Dashboarder Ron Bunge's field report from South Texas! Click here.

In June, 2002 the FCC licensed Hughes Network Systems (HNS) to provide two-way mobile internet connectivity under the DirecWay gateway and MotoSat's dish/receiver technology.

There are a variety of vendors selling the service under brand names like Datastorm.

Hughes DirecWay also supplies service to iNetVu, a Canadian firm (& competitor of Datastorm)[More info about iNetVu]

$3995, Dish, Mounting hardware and automatic targeting acquisition software.

Installation Costs: List price is $1000, but some dealers are installing units for $500

Monthly Internet Service: $99 to $500/month. Marketed as "unlimited access" but per-month charges are based upon bandwidth usage each month. (**See notes below)

A January 2004 Field Test reported average upload speeds of 70 Kbps & 1000 K bps download. During the test, uploads as low as 8 Kbps and as high as 1787 Kbps were observed.

Networks: MotoSat will be releasing (in 1Q -04) an external network connection box that enables networking of up to 15 computers without needing a PC/server.

First true 2-way data satellite product for consumers. Software is designed to raise and aim the dish, target and acquire the proper communication satellite without manual programming by user. In most cases, user can be online within 8-10 minutes of clicking on the satellite icon on the PC screen.

System is VPN capable, but requires additional software to lessen the effects of latency (potential connection failure caused by the extreme distances between satellites and the earth).

The service employs a 39" by 24" oblong satellite dish that can be used to access both the Internet and TV programming that is mounted on an aluminum platform and controlled by a 11"x9"x1" controller that is connected to a PC (minimum 500 Mhz). The Datastorm software completely controls the entire targeting and signal acquisition process from inside the vehicle. The vehicle must be parked when the satellite receiver is being used. Excessive movement of the vehicle will result in a stowing of the dish by the software. In the stowed position, the satellite dish is only 10.5" tall. The dish can sustain a 40-mph wind and can operate in both rain and snow storms.

By licensing agreement, there is no "consumer version" of this service, but any person can purchase and use the "Basic Business" service. There are some coverage problems in Alaska and northern Canada, but generally access is possible throughout North America. VPN and multiple user configurations including the use of wireless LANs in the area surrounding the vehicle are possible with this service. The major differences among vendors are the degree and implementation of customer support. The market leader is Ground Control in this regard.

**Monthly Internet Service: The basic level of service costs $99 per month (many dealers offer first three months free) and is considered "unlimited access," but is subject to a "Fair Access Policy" restriction. In the event that a user were to download more than 500 Mb in a four hour period, the access speed for the service would be downgraded from 400 Kbps to 56 Kpbs for 12 hours and then the service to the higher speed would be restored. Most users will not exceed this 500 Mb limit but there are higher monthly access plans allowing up to 1000 Mb of download if required. Dashboarder Bill Adams, who installs DataStorm systems on the road, suggests this resource: Insider information about FAP and the Hughes Network satellite systems.

4/18/04 Read Bill Adams' article about DataStorm: New Age in Mobile Connectivity.

For more information and photographs of installed Fixed/Mobile applications check out:MotoSat's DataStorm, and Ground Control's "Broadband Internet Anywhere".

TV Service is available through Dish network (starting at $30/month) or DirecTV (starting at $32/month). A satellite receiver is required--an existing receiver works, or a new one is usually under $100.

Resources: Photos & information from dashboarders who are in the field & using Datastorm right now!

FIELD REPORT 5/22/03: Ground Control owner Mark Wright phoned RoadTrip America via VOIP (voice over Internet) from "the middle of nowhere," (actually somewhere east of Ely, Nevada) and described his field test results using the Hughes DW4020 gateway. He dowloaded files at speeds approaching 1.8 Mb! The cost of the new gateway is about $700 more than the standard DirecWay modem.


Iridium Motorola (update 11/12/01)

#9520 (permanently installed in vehicles)

#9570 (portable docking station for voice/data phones)

#9505 (lightweight handset)




Voice; 2.0K-10.0K for data

Global service; works in areas not served by other wireless service

Predominant application is e-mail or possible return routing for future two-way systems.

Iridium uses LEO satellites which require smaller transceivers. Iridium (post-bankruptcy) re-launched voice service on 03/28/01. Cost information for the handset and service plans remains very difficult to substantiate. Basic handset operation allows for a dial-up data connection at ~ 2.0 Kbps. Iridium is also supporting a "Direct Internet Data" service which uses a compression program and an emulator protocol in an "always on" mode, so that PCs (connected to an Iridium handset) can send and receive data through a dedicated (for data use) gateway on the Iridium system. Service is consistent with through-put found in analog (1G), but it will work in areas not served by 1G phones. To reduce transmission costs , this service employs "spoofing," which is supposed to be able to disconnect and re-connect automatically when data is being sent. Pricing will be updated when information is available.

Starband (update 8/29/03)

Model #360 Satellite Modem



Upload speed of 70 Kbps to 150 Kbps; Downstream at 150 Kbps to 700 Kbps Uses GEO stationary satellites. Not licensed by FCC for mobile use. Fixed residential installations only.
After a brief and unsuccessful alliance with nationwide retailer RadioShack in early 2001, Starband is now only available through third party installation companies. Must have unobstructed view of southern sky. Must have Pentium PC processor in excess of 200 MHz. Pricing includes 12-month service agreement, required hardware and software, a 24" x 36" transceiver antenna, and required installation by FCC-certified installer. (For more information click here.)

8/29/03: Field Test from Dashboarder Ron Gillentine at a fixed location near Lake Isabella, California. Reports that thunderstorms in the area frequently break connections, although reconnections are made quickly and automatically. Ron also reported that electrical storms near the system uplink near Atlanta, Georgia, can cause temporary loss of signal. At RTA's request, he ran throughput bandwidth tests using the C|Net and 2Wire testing protocols. Both testing programs showed consistent service in the 528K to 630K range on August 29, 2003.

DirecWay/ DirecPC (update 11/12/01)

DW-3000 (DirecPC)


DW-4000 (DirecWay)



Upload by dial-up; download up to 400 Kbps

Upload 70-150 Kbps; download up to 400 Kbps

Uses GEO stationary satellites. Not licensed by FCC for mobile useCan use 18" dish receiver. Requires 24"x36" receiver & specialized hardware and software
Pricing is determined by the reseller partners and is in state of flux. Primary residential re-sellers are Earthlink in urban areas and Pegasus in the rural areas. DirecWay is marketed directly to enterprise-level businesses. (Click here for more information.)

TracNet 2.0
In motion TV & Internet (update 01/03)


$5,995 for hardware;
Four service plans:
1. **$190/mo. for 250 minutes (extra use @ $.89/min.)
2. ** $250/mo. for 500 minutes (extra use @ $.79/min.)
3. ** $490/mo. for 1500 minutes (extra use @ $.69/min.)
4. $99/mo. unlimited use @ $.99/min.

Uploads dependent upon on access by either dial-up landline, digital cellular or LEO satellite so 2.4 Kbps to 33 Kbps.

Downloads 200 to 400 Kbps (using acceleration software in continental U.S.; service in Alaska & Caribbea in the 33-55 Kbps range)

DVB-TracVision TV antennas and Internet access supplied in motion without manual targeting.
TracVision S3*
Stationary TV & Internet
$4,795 for hardware
Service plan similar to In Motion plan (see above)
Speeds comparable to TracNet 2.0 (see above), but vehicle must be stable & parked Antenna receiver less expensive than DirecWay

**Service plans require 12-month service contract. TracNet 2.0 employs the Canadian Bell ExpressVu DirecPC system for
providing Internet access. Since this product employs an 18" receiver, it requires low-speed data connectivity. It features an on-board wireless server and capability of connecting laptops and other PCs to the satellite feeds by 802.11(b) networks. TracNet 2.0 is currently the only high-speed (download) in-motion Internet connectivity system available to consumers. At the CES show in January 2003, KVH unveiled a phased-array TV antenna that is only 4 1/2 iches tall. Software to enable TracNet 2.0 for use with this antenna is currently under development.

*Compatible with DirecTV and ExpressVu, TracVision S3 appears to be a direct competitor with Hughes' "Fixed Mobile" and DirecWay service.


OFDM (as of 7/1/02)

by Flarion
  1-3 Mbps The technology is based on a new IP-centric architecture rather than the circuit-switched networks used by CDMA/TDMA/GSM. As a result, the latency issue is very low and allows for peak high-speed bursts of data transmission
Base Station
Under development  
PC cards for laptops Under development  
Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) was originally developed in the famous Bell Labs, divides a range of available bandwidth spectrum into a series of frequencies known as tones. Flarion's system can be tuned using frequencies below 3 GHz and divides each channel into 400 discrete tones (each at slightly different frequency). Orthogonal tones do not interfere with each other when the peak of one tone corresponds with the null. All frequencies fade, but the rapid switching, frequency-hopping technique is supposed to allow more robust data service. In Q4-2002, Flarion is planning to deploy radio base stations on existing cell towers to serve the 800 and 1900 MHz cellular frequencies. The technology enables communication with no interference with existing CDMA or TDMA signals.


New version

No pricing available yet

434 Kbps (2-way)

>20 Mbps

Blue Tooth is the name given to a specification for a wireless communication chip used for the transmission of voice and data. It is expected to be low cost (at less than $6 per chip), short-range, (30 feet) radio link that has been envisioned as cable-replacement system. Operates in the un-licensed 2.4 GHz range. Blue Tooth uses fast frequency-hopping technology to avoid interference from other radio signals when it transmits packets of data. Can be used as the interface to download e-mail from high speed wireline network to PC using PC card (click here for article with more info). Cost of the chips now $50, too expensive for most applications.

Wireless LANs 802.11(b)


No pricing available yet

5-7 Mbps

5-7 Mbps

PC cards that provide networking with a range of 75 to 300 feet.
Cellsocket WHP Wireless (updated 11/12/01) $99 Available through Best Buy stores, Herringtons, and Home Shopping Network Deskphone instead of RF from cell phone. Charging and antenna boosts. Should allow PC connections.
A device that allows a Nokia cell phone to be placed in a cradle that is plugged into a phone land-line, so that one can use wireless minutes instead of wireline services. (Models supported: Nokia 5110, 6110, 5160, 6160, 5190, 6190 and 5165). Other models later.
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