In order to have unfettered access to cats and cucumbers videos on YouTube in the most remote places in Europe, we decided we absolutely had to have satellite Internet.
Our chosen system operates at a maximum speed of
ASTRA 3 satellite at 23.5°E orbital position in Ku-band with horizontal polarisation using DVB-S2. In other words, plenty of bandwidth for cat videos...
A customary note, if you just want to look at the pictures in this blog, here is a running project photo journal with the most recent photos at the top.
zone 4 footprint covers most of Europe and some of the Nordics, with the exception of of southern Spain, Sardinia and Sicily, where you need a much larger antenna.
The total cost of hardware and first month connection came to under
£200. If you follow this guide, you could save anywhere from
£800 to more than
£2,000 over the cost of a commercial system. If you would like a quick review of the market, relevant at the time of writing, read my previous post Electronics and the Other Odd Jobs.
I got the previous generation
Asta2Connect (now SES Broadband) second-hand kit, which includes a satellite modem and a 500mW Ku-band iLNB from eBay for a bargain price of £11.90!
The modem is a
Newtec NTC/2252 device, which is marketed under the name of Sat3Play. It comes with a proprietary audio assisted Point&Play tool, which makes alignment very easy. The installation and pointing guide is available here.
The Interactive LNB is a ILB2110 500 mW Ku-band iLNB.
Astra is currently upgrading their Deutsch customers to the faster Ka-band and some frugal Germans are selling off their old Ku-band kits. This means you can usually pick up the older kit anywhere from 15 EUR to 150 EUR. Search eBay and also eBay Classifieds for
sat3play and get your Google Translate out...
In any case, while the new kit costs around
£265 + VAT, comes with a new modem supporting faster Ka-band and a
85cm dish, I opted for a second-hand one, because: (a) I wasn't sure if this setup was actually going to work; (b) even if it did work, I wanted a smaller dish regardless; and (c) Ka-band isn't well suited to mobile installations. If you'd like a practical summary of differences between Ka and Ku bands and their suitability to mobile installations, read this.
I had to make a custom polarisation scale gauge, since the factory one must have fallen off somewhere between Germany and the UK. The scale is
2.5mm per 5° increments, so I printed off a suitable grid on an A4 sheet, laminated it, cut it out, trimmed it, labelled from
0 to 180 in 5° increments and attached it to the iLNB neck with clear tape. This is good enough to get the rough polarisation angle, with fine-tuning performed later by the online Xpol tool.
In case a reprint is required, here is my original polarisation grid template.
Since the modem lives on the roof (in the roof box or perhaps in the spare tyre bowl), it is powered over
CAT5 cable by a passive PoE injector from inside the van (eBay). The modem needs a
15VDC@2A feed, which I provide using
XL6009 adjustable step-up converter module from the native
Also, since the modem has a
2.5mm DC socket, I had to replace the
2.1mm DC plug on the extractor side with a larger
2.5mm one. In what can only be described as a rare occurrence of 20/20 foresight, I provisioned a waterproof
CAT5 socket on the roof as part of the build earlier.
On top of that, I had some existing
F-type RF connectors, a crimping tool and a length of coax, which I re-purposed to connect the modem and the iLNB, plus plenty of
Astra kits are normally supplied with a
85cm round dish. Since I got the kit second-hand sans dish, I opted for a smaller
68cm dish made by Fracarro, called PENTA DIGIT 68cm. These dishes are available from eBay in three different colours as well as other satellite equipment resellers and come with a galvanised steel mounting bracket. They should also be easier to store away when on the move.
For the ISP, I chose the aptly named Satellite Internet (formerly BeyondDSL). For the initial testing phase, I chose the
23.5 Ku 4M3 ValuePlus / Monthly package at £15.95 per month, plus a £40 one-off connection fee. This package gives maximum 4Mbps throughput with 3GB monthly quota. You can also get off-peak unlimited data for additional £7 per month.
As well as the satellite receiver,
Satellite Internet can supply a dual-LNB clamp for £59 to get TV reception and Internet on the same dish, but since we don't watch broadcast TV, we decided not to bother with it.
If you are bringing your own kit, like I did, connection is very simple. It involves giving the ISP the
AIR MAC address printed on your modem and pulling out your wallet.
Assembly and Pointing
For the test, I bolted the mast to our ladder, which I temporarily set-up in the back yard. Using the values from the Astra pointing web site and a compass, I set the azimuth to around
150° and elevation to around
27°. I also set the iLNB polarisation offset to around
10°. After an hour or so of re-crimping the cables and trying to get a signal, I realised my elevation was off because the mast wasn't exactly straight. Using materials available on hand, the elevation was corrected.
Following the official
Newtec video instruction for my iLNB/modem, I managed to get on with the pointing. After quickly finding the strongest signal and completing the manual pointing operation, the modem synchronised, registered with the hub and went to download the software upgrade to
After the software upgrade was eventually downloaded and installed, the modem rebooted and came up on-line.
Poking around the various screens in the web interfaces revealed that the terminal installation had been successfully completed.
I did some quick testing and found the web browsing performance more than adequate, although with a
500ms average ping times, I wouldn't plan on playing any on-line games.
$ ping 188.8.131.52 -c 10 PING 184.108.40.206 (220.127.116.11) 56(84) bytes of data. 64 bytes from 18.104.22.168: icmp_seq=1 ttl=51 time=1036 ms 64 bytes from 22.214.171.124: icmp_seq=2 ttl=51 time=2137 ms 64 bytes from 126.96.36.199: icmp_seq=3 ttl=51 time=1155 ms 64 bytes from 188.8.131.52: icmp_seq=4 ttl=51 time=617 ms 64 bytes from 184.108.40.206: icmp_seq=5 ttl=51 time=647 ms 64 bytes from 220.127.116.11: icmp_seq=6 ttl=51 time=588 ms 64 bytes from 18.104.22.168: icmp_seq=7 ttl=51 time=1307 ms 64 bytes from 22.214.171.124: icmp_seq=8 ttl=51 time=1249 ms 64 bytes from 126.96.36.199: icmp_seq=9 ttl=51 time=1409 ms 64 bytes from 188.8.131.52: icmp_seq=10 ttl=51 time=1280 ms --- 184.108.40.206 ping statistics --- 10 packets transmitted, 10 received, 0% packet loss, time 9017ms rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 588.102/1142.966/2137.696/442.586 ms, pipe 3
The other good point about the
Astra connection, is that you effectively get a static UK based IP address assigned, so you could watch
BBC iPlayer without proxying. The connection is also not filtered/NATed, so you could run services on your end, which would be publicly accessible over the Internet.
A note on alignment. The dish is roughly pointed in the right direction and set at the right elevation. Then adjusted using the
Point&Playtool, listening to the audible indicator until it makes a continuous high-pitched beep.
From my back-yard testing, it appears that the elevation angle of the arm is exactly
11° below the actual dish elevation angle, so when the dish elevation reads
27°, the inclinometer on the arm should read
16°. This is good, because I can use the inclinometer plus some simple maths to get a precise elevation, rather than using the difficult to read metal gauge etched in the mounting bracket.
The iLNB needs to be set at the correct polarisation angle for a given location to give optimal performance. After roughly setting this angle using the scale gauge printed on the iLNB, it can be fine-tuned using the Xpol Tool. I followed the instructions on the site to get the optimal iLNB pointing.
I've made a dashboard with some basic information about the connection. The collector script is executed by
supervisord, which periodically collects statistics from the Newtec modem and posts them to
On The Roof
The dish mounts onto the
35mm square aluminium support bar, running across the rear of the spare tyre platform using the
2" x 2" (double) Shelley Mast Clamp.
I changed the stock
M6 nuts and bolts, which attach the dish to the bracket with
16mm wing bolts and plastic thumb nuts.
I also replaced the
M6 nut holding the LNB clamp with a wing nut, to make it a bit quicker to assemble.
I kept the original
M8 elevation and azimuth bolts and nuts, because they bear a bit more load and must be tightened with a spanner to prevent the whole thing from flying away.
Once assembled, the
15VDC is injected via a passive PoE splitter, wired in the electronics closet.
CAT5 cable runs to the waterproof socket/gland under the solar panel, which is in turn connected to a length of
CAT5 cable running under the solar panels and into the roof box, where the satellite modem is located. The RF cabling also enters the roof box via the same means.
Depending on the orientation of the dish, the modem can also be located in the spare tyre bowl.
When not in use, the dish conveniently packs away in the dead space behind the table top.
Automotive door trim around the dish edge helps avoid scratching the paint work and keeps the rattle to the minimum.
The rest of the kit just goes into the roof box and the bowl of the spare tyre.
We need to make some side window insulating covers and get some bits and pieces to comply with various EU regulations, but as far as all the major components are concerned, we are done.
On a related note, as I am working on a cheap time-lapse device using a Raspberry Pi and a Pi Camera with a M12 GoPro HERO fish-eye lens, when I get that going, I'll make a new post.
# published via satellite uplink