The argument for satellite broadband is a compelling one: any building can have fast broadband, so long as you can position a satellite dish so that it can see the sky. And the Tooway package takes price out of the equation: you can get up to 20Mbps broadband for just £29 a month. Bearing in mind that you don't need a phone line for satellite broadband, that total cost compares well with traditional or fibre broadband. (Find out how fast your connection is using PC Advisor's Broadband Speed Test.)
So with satellite anyone can get broadband. But is satellite broadband any good? We took an up to 20-meg subscription from Avonline via Tooway to find out. (See also: How to test broadband speed.)
Tooway satellite broadband: setup
There are two agencies involved in your Tooway satellite setup. Tooway is the satellite provider, and one of its broadband provider partners provides the install. If you are interested, simply visit the Tooway website.
The first thing you need to know: you need a satellite dish, and it is not a small one. This review would have been published six months ago, but a colleague who volunteered to test Tooway satellite broadband hadn't quite factored in how big and unsightly is the dish. (Or rather, his wife took one look at the dish and flatly refused to have it appended to her house.) In real terms the dish is bigger than the dish usually provided as part of a Sky TV subscription. And unlike those dishes the satellite broadband kit is white and solid. You'll notice it from the end of the street (see the pictures at the top and bottom of this page).
Installation takes a couple of hours, and the installer needs to pass a thick black cable from the dish and into the house. As with copper-wiring broadband, the last step from connection to router is critical, so it's better to have the router as near the ceiling as possible. Our home office is upstairs, so that was no problem for us. But if you are in an old house with thick walls the fact that the router may be upstairs could be a factor - you probably do all your surfing in the lounge. (See also: what's the best broadband router?)
You need both satellite modem and broadband router - we were given a router for free, but customers usually have to pay for one or use an existing broadband router. Setup is part of the package, and couldn't be simpler. Once everything is up and running you need only to connect to the satellite broadband router in exactly the same way as you would any connection.
Tooway satellite broadband: speed tests
We tested our connection using Speedtest.net - our connection was provided by Avonline Broadband, which has its own speed test, but we thought independent was best! For comparison we tested our existing Sky Broadband ADSL broadband. Both connections are nominally 'up to 20Mbps', but our ADSL line has always been slow - our house is a long way from the exchange.
Our Sky Broadband is slow. It's not Sky's fault: the house is a long way from the exchange. Speedtest.net measured average download speeds of 3.51mbps, and upload speeds of 0.67Mbps. The ping was measured at an average of 38ms - this is important, as we will see.
Tooway smashed Sky in all but the ping test. Average download speeds were a square 8Mbps, uploads 3.08Mbps. But the ping time - the time it takes the router to get a call back from the internet server - was a yawn-inducing 797ms.
Tooway satellite broadband: real-world tests
What this means in practice is that downloading and uploading files is unrecognisably better when using the satellite connection. Pulling down a file for work is so much faster. But web surfing feels about the same - that slow ping response time means a certain lag when calling web pages that negates some of the benefits of the much faster down- and upload speeds.
That became more of an issue when we tried media streaming. Using Tooway Sky Go for mobile simply didn't work on iOS or Android. Our iPhone and tablet simply reported that they needed to be online to stream live TV - we were online, of course, but that tardy ping suggested otherwise. Using our iPhone to stream live radio over BBC iPlayer was okay, but can take a while to catch on. It also occasionally drops out. Sky Go worked on our laptop, but the content buffered regularly.
Using our Sky Broadband ADSL connection - much slower, remember - Sky Go for mobile just works on both the iPhone and Nexus 7. It's the same story with BBC iPlayer Radio on the iPhone. Sky Go works on the laptop, but buffers occasionally. So if mobile media streaming or online gaming is your thing, satellite broadband may not be for you.
Tooway satellite broadband: is it good value?
Those caveats notwithstanding, we think Tooway is good value. Most ADSL broadband packages require you to pay BT for a phoneline, remember, and the data allowance is generous if you use multiple devices in your home. It's not a cheap option, but it is reasonably priced when compared to other options.
As well as the setup costs - charged by the individual providers but usually costing around £100-£200 all in - there are five basic packages. A very basic £19 a month package gets you 2Mbps down- and 1Mbps uploads, as well as a data allowance of 2GB.
More realistically is the basic package we tested: £29 a month gets you 20Mbps downloads, 6Mpbs uploads and a 10GB a month data limit. The £39 a month package is also 20Mbps down and 6Mbps up, with 20GB data and unlimited data at night time. Dial up the cost to £49 and the data limit goes up to 30GB, and pay £74 a month and your data is unlimited 24/7.
Tooway satellite broadband: who is it for?
Our experience is that satellite broadband is not as good as a fast fibre or ADSL connection, in most circumstances. Increasingly we are using the web for media streaming, online gaming, video calling and so on. The technology means that satellite is not as good as fixed line broadband for these purposes. But that misses the point. If you need internet connectivity and can't get ADSL or fibre broadband, you should look at satellite. If you can see the sky, you can get online. And it won't break the bank.