Technology and offerings from service providers keep changing.
Summary — What to do Now
If you want to skip all the details, just order T Mobile Home Internet: https://www.t-mobile.com/isp
If that gets the Internet into your house, but not into every room, then add NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System (RBK852) https://amzn.to/3iyOH0f
Once that’s working, sell all the other Internet access equipment you have on Ebay. And disconnect service from any old Internet access providers, such as Spark or HughesNet.
Subscribe to whatever streaming services you like, such as Hulu or Netflix or YouTube TV. Optional: cancel any old TV services, such as DirecTV.
Internet service on Dewees Island has changed a bunch and it’s going to keep changing. Here’s what’s working now.
For Internet access on Dewees in the short-term, you need two things:
- To get the signal to your home on Dewees
- To distribute the signal around your home
Getting A Signal – T Mobile
T-Mobile launched its Home Internet Access service in 2020 as a Beta test that’s become more and more of a real ongoing service. More than a dozen homes on Dewees are using it. It works well. It’s $50/month, with automatic online billing. There are no contracts, so you’re not locked in forever if something more efficient comes along. See T-Mobile for details. In most locations, it seems to provide 20-35 Mbps download and 10-20 Mbps upload with relatively low latency (sub 100 ms). That’s plenty to support several people in each home working, watching streaming TV or videoconferencing.
It’s not perfect. Sometimes we experience what I call “fade.” The service just isn’t there for 60 or 90 seconds, then it returns. The fade could be caused by network congestion on T Mobile or by bad weather. The nice thing is that the service just comes back. There’s no need to reboot the cellular modem (which is included with the service). Very convenient. The cellular modem that most people received looks like this:
The modem is about the size of the fat trade paperback “Charleston” by John Jakes. See this CNET story for a picture of the cylinders (and another write up on the service.) T Mobile is likely running trials, testing different equipment; hence the differences. T-Mobile Tech Support told one person on Dewees that the Cylinder is geared towards 5G and the White Box is better for 4G; since high speed 5G isn’t really available on parts of (most of?) Dewees, tech support claimed the person would do better with the white box. (We have no idea if this is just a low level tech support “claim” or factually correct.) One drawback is that the modems do not allow connections to external antennas. So the Yagi antennas I installed last year are disposable.
You may have to contact T-Mobile several days in a row or times in a week to get approved for the service. We’re hearing that people are getting messages saying the service is “not yet available in your area.” But if they keep trying, they typically get approved within 1-7 days.
If the service just doesn’t work, you can cancel.
Verizon and AT&T offer competing services that as of February 2021 aren’t price competitive. But if you love one of those brands or something changes after this blog goes live, you can easily Google their offerings.
Further down, we discuss some future possibilities.
Using the Signal All Over Your Home – a Mesh Network
If the signal from T Mobile works great when you’re sitting near the modem but not in your home office or in your guest bedroom, then we recommend a Mesh Network. Netgear Orbi is our preferred brand, but there are several others. A mesh network is a group of devices that act as a single Wi-Fi network; so there are multiple sources of Wi-Fi around your house, instead of just a single router. They communicate with each other to optimize the signal. Here’s what a current model of Orbi’s looks like. They’re not cheap, but they have no recurring cost.
There are lots of other solutions. If you have one already, you can probably just connect it to your T Mobile modem. If you want something more robust, we suggest talking to an IT / networking specialist like Elliott Friedman. He’s much more dedicated than many IT providers in our experience.
What Can You Do?
Here are some ideas:
- Eliminate your home phone line
- Move your home security and fire monitoring systems over to cellular / Internet
- We pay $18/month for security including a cellular connection
- Be understood on ZOOM conference calls
- Run security cameras, such as Wyze cam
- Stream your favorite TV shows and movie channel
- We watched the Super Bowl over T Mobile on a Roku TV with YouTubeTV
- At the moment, we also have
- HBOmax (for now via a free promo)
- Disney+ (via another free promo)
- Netflix (shared with our kids)
- Spotify (shared with our kids)
- Amazon Prime Video (shared with our kids)
- Hulu (shared with our kids)
The best thing, is you can spend more time on Dewees because you have Internet that works. And being on Dewees, especially during the pandemic, lets you spend more time outside. But when your office calls, you can communicate with them over the Internet — just like everyone else.
Future Shock – What about _____?
Communications technology is rapidly evolving. We hear about all kinds of possibilities. Some become reality, some don’t.
In 2017, we heard from lots of people about how 5G was going to “save us” by 2019. That didn’t happened. It’s 2021 and the 5G you can get in Charleston isn’t like the 5G on 5th Avenue in New York, but it is getting better and better. 5G has a very flexible definition. You and I think of it as a speed or a quality of service, but that not how providers like Verizon, AT&T and T Mobile define it. At this point, generally speaking, to get super high speed 5G, you need a fiber optical cable within 1 mile of you, a 5G antenna connected to that fiber, and a brand new cell phone, such as an iPhone 12. Dewees doesn’t have fiber. So no super high speed 5G on Dewees at this point.
There is an effort to try to bring Fiber to Dewees. We’re really, really hoping it works, but not counting on it.
Starlink from SpaceX
Starlink sent announcements to some people on February 22, 2021 that it might be available on Dewees in Beta (in test) in late 2021 or perhaps in 2022. It’s seems pretty neat and as an early adopter, I signed up for the Beta. The coverage will probably be for a portion of the day until SpaceX gets enough satellites up. That means each time a satellite goes out of view, you’ll have to wait for another one to come into view. SpaceX is launching bunches of satellites. Over time, the density should be high enough that Starlink Internet on Dewees is solid.
For most people, I think you can wait until you see if people like me have a good experience. But, if you like to be on the leading edge (bleeding edge), go for it. https://www.starlink.com/
Here’s what the antennas look like. We’re told they very easy to setup so long as you have a 110 degree view of the sky. The dish focuses itself — no technician needed.
Over the Air TV
If you prefer not to stream TV, perhaps because of the monthly cost, you can get HDTV using rabbit ears or a traditional TV antenna in your attic. Last time I checked there were 19 HD channels in the Charleston area and some people tell me they get up to 34. You can Google how to do this. Try, “HDTV over the air.”
Of course, this will only provide TV service and not Internet access. You may want to get a DVR that’s compatible with over the air signals so you can pause, rewind and save TV shows.
Human ingenuity is awesome. We hope some really smart people are creating the next great thing. We’re ready.