Astra2Connect satellite broadband review

Looking for a quick fix for your flaky broadband?

Astra2Connect is a welcome alternative to those who live in remote areas and cant get regular broadband

TechRadar Verdict

Astra2Connect is a great way to get broadband internet access if your location stops you from getting it reliably, if at all, already. The rest of us are better off sticking with ADSL.


  • +

    Broadband access for anyone

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    it's reliable and reasonably quick

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    you don't need a telephone line

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    it's better than dial-up or no broadband access at all

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    satellite dish can double as a digital TV receiver


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    Pricey compared to ADSL

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    relatively slow speeds

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    high latency times make it unsuited to online gamers

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    doesn't currently work with BBC iPlayer etc

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In January, Lord Carter set out an ambitious broadband target for Britain - with everyone theoretically set to get a minimum 2Mbps service by 2012.

That may seem like a nonsense when today's average is already around 3.5Mbps according to BT, but British broadband is far from universal - there are some 1,300 'not spots' in the UK - areas of the country where you simply can't get broadband at all; plus countless other places with marginal coverage.

You maybe able to get broadband in theory, but your distance from the exchange, contention and other factors may mean you're lucky to get anything at all.

Entering into this confusing maelstrom then is Astra2Connect - a broadband over satellite service that aims to plug the not spots gaps and give those us with flaky connections a better end user experience.

Broadband over satellite, of course isn't new - in fact SES Astra began offering such a service as far back as 1997 - but it got a substantial leg-up last December thanks to two separate factors: it's now more affordable than before; and you can now upload as well as download content via satellite (uploads used to require a fixed telephone line connection).

The aim of the service, delivered in the UK by beyonDSL, is not to act as a replacement for existing robust, reliable and fast broadband internet connections - you're not going to buy it if you live within a mile of a telephone exchange in Central London, for example, but to provide broadband sustenance those in 'not spot' areas, or in places of marginal coverage.

What you get then are three things - a 79cm satellite dish, Newtec router and the Astra2Connect service where prices range from £24.99 per month for a 256kbps connection (falling to £19.99 per month if paying annually) to £84.99 for the 2Mbps version (falling to £74.99 per month if paying annually).

The most popular version is the unlimited 1MB £44.99 / £39.99 per month service, which we're testing here. It's not that cheap... but then if you're a small business or just have to have broadband, it could be a price you're prepared to pay.

By way of comparison, Demon Internet's 'up to 8Mbps' ADSL service costs £17.51 per month online; plus £15 per month line rental from BT - equipment and installation are free.

Upload speeds range from 64kbps on the 256kbps service, and rise to 128kbps for the 1Mbps and 2Mbps versions.

The first thing you have to do to begin enjoying satellite over broadband, of course, is to install the equipment. BeyondDSL is happy to provide you with the kit so you can do it yourself, and the package even includes a Point And Play alignment device that enables you to aim the dish at an Astra2Connect satellite, located in the sky at 23.5 degrees East.

All you have to do then is run two lengths of cable (one for transmission, one for reception) into the house and plug it into the Newtec transceiver - a small-ish silver box which also includes a Ethernet connection so you can hook it up to your wireless router or computer. Both Mac and PC operating systems are support.

The final step is to enter the Newtec's browser-based menu, and make sure its pointing at the right satellite, then you're good to go.

One thing that's immediately obvious about the equipment you get is just how massive the satellite antenna's dish is - 79cm doesn't sound like a lot, but compare that to the 53cm Sky digital TV mini dish.

It's going to look pretty conspicuous plonked on to a wall of your house - especially since the dish is also made from solid metal, not wire-mesh like Sky's version is. The arm that carries the Low-block Noise Converter (LNB) is also much longer than the Sky's minidish version, while the LNB is substantially bigger too.

At least, you can fit a second optional LNB for digital satellite TV reception - that's one less carbuncle on your home at least.

Installation of the dish should be straightforward if you're handy with a screwdriver, spanner and drill, although our professional installation did take some time.

Our installer spent about four hours getting the thing up and running - something that was partly due to his own inexperience at fitting a broadband over satellite dish. BeyonDSL's UK-wide network of installers should be able do it much faster as the service (and their experience) grows.

So how well does it work?

The big sell from BeyonDSL's point of view is that the service offers constant connection speeds - you pay for 1Mbps, you get 1Mbps - there's none of that 'up to 24Mbps' nonsense you get from ISPs that can in reality deliver anything but that in the real world.

BeyondDSL's own tests, of course, show that a constant 1Mbps connection can be just a quick as a 6Mbps ADSL service in practice - something we were keen to put to the test.

During the last few weeks we've tested the BeyonDSL service using all kind of data - from simple web surfing, to sending and receiving emails, watching YouTube and other movie clips, using BitTorrent and even playing online games. Here are four things we've learned:

1) It's reliable. Only a couple of times during our trial did we ever fail to get a connection: Emails were sent and received, webpages were loaded, movies were watched. Compare that to the flaky 3Mbps ADSL service this author was using before and it's amazing what a difference that makes. There's nothing more frustrating than a service that promises much, but doesn't deliver. 99 times out of 100 Astra2Connect did just that.

2) It's not as quick as you think. Although Astra2Connect claims that you get 1Mbps every time all the time, in practice you're subject to the same internet slowdowns as everyone else - The 63.4MB iTunes 8.1 updated actually landed on our computer in 9 minutes 22 seconds at an average rate of 1.15Mbps; however we also experienced download speeds of as little as 78kbps, with an average speed of about 500kbps.

Your experience may vary, it all depends on what time of day you're making the download: obviously accessing the internet during evening and weekend peaks isn't going to net you the same result as the middle of the night or during the day.

3) It's rubbish for gaming. According to Ofcom's UK broadband Speeds 2008 survey, latency (the request for and return of a single packet of data) averages at around 50-60 miliseconds using ADSL - the lower the latency the bigger the advantage you have over your opponent. However Astra2Connect has a latency of 0.6-1.8 seconds - making an untimely death all too inevitable.

That's obviously a consequence of having to send and receive data via a satellite thousands of miles up in the sky. Not a lot you can do about that.

4) Some services are simply off limits. If you like to watch again using BBC iPlayer, Sky Player or any other location-based services, you're currently out of luck. Because Astra2Connect is based in Luxembourg, your ISP address to all intents and purposes is located outside the UK too - which you can't watch some UK-centred content. Astra2Connect says it plans to address this shortcoming in future.

Is it worth it?

As we've already explained broadband over satellite isn't for you if you already have access to a fast, reliable and cheap ADSL connection.

There's no point pretending otherwise. What Astra2Connect does ably is to plug a gap in Britain's broadband provision by giving access to those of us who either would be stuck with dial-up or who're in marginal coverage areas.

It's still relatively expensive and relatively slow, but it's a darn sight better than nothing if nothing is what you have.