My history with tooway

Up to now satellite broadband has been very expensive, which is a pity because, as with freesat for television, you get just as good a service wherever you are. In December 2010 the Ka-SAT satellite was launched into orbit at 9.2 East. It supports a new service provider called 'tooway'. Ka-SAT uses spot-beam technology. Normally a satellite sends the same signals to the whole of the area to which it transmits. Spot-beam technology uses narrow, concentrated beams, called spot-beams, that are aimed at smaller regions of the coverage area. This means that one frequency can be re-used in different areas, thus reducing the cost of providing the service. For an example click here.

I visited the local tooway dealer, Rural Broadband, based near Hunstanton in Norfolk. My impressions of both tooway, and the company and its owner Richard Dix were very good, so much so that I ordered a system. It's expensive to install, at about £400, but for 4 Gb of data per month, and 6 Mbit/s download speed, I pay £24.99. This is less than I currently pay Zen and BT together. I will do away with my landline and use Skype and the copious minutes on my mobiles. It will be good to be rid of BT and only have one organisation to deal with when there is a fault. As for rain-fade, when I visited the company I had just driven through a wildly torrential storm that left the lanes like rivers. They had lost connection for ten seconds.

The system was installed very efficiently by Chris. As well as the tooway Via-Sat modem you get a wireless router which also provides the DHCP addresses for your network. I have a fairly extensive network with up to eight devices attached, using a mixture of wireless and wired connections including gigabit ethernet.

This is a very new service and not surprisingly there have been two teething problems, neither serious. First I lost the service about once a day to start with. This turned out to be the original Buffalo router that was supplied, so this has been replaced with a TP-Link TL-WR541G one. Secondly my satellite spot-beam had a problem early on which was fixed.

One amusing quirk is that, as the service provider is in Italy, the Internet sees an Italian IP address. Some sites give you the Italian page or alert you in some way. Camelot warns me that if (when?) I win the lottery, I won't be paid if I am not a UK resident. BBC radio podcasts are not blocked, fortunately. Tooway is allocating UK IP addresses soon, so this oddity will disappear. In the meantime it is improving my Italian.

The only negative is that it is not an unlimited data service. 4 Gbyte per month is fine for me. If you need more data, or higher speeds, these are available at higher cost. If you don't know what your monthly data usage is, you can download and run the ThinkBroadband monitor called tbbmeter from

March 2012 Richard Dix has just told me that I now have a UK IP address. I wonder where they got them from? I thought IPv4 addresses had run out. The speed is still 6 Mbit/s.

Here's the proof

July 2012 update Still very happy with the service. No rain fade in the recent heavy downpours. There was a fault late on June 21, that was fixed by next morning. As always, communication with Rural Broadband is excellent. The good news is that there is a free upgrade. I am now to get 8 Mbit/s download, 2 Mbit/s upload and 8 Gb data allowance. I never exceeded the old limit of 4.

1 August 2012 update The basic service that I use has now become the second from bottom one called tooway 8. For no extra cost I am now getting 8 Mbit/s download and 2 up, with a more sensible 8 Gbit four-weekly data allowance. There is now a much lower cost service for those who only have very simple needs from the Internet.

Here's the proof from the screen of my HTC phone.

Previous warning (August 2013)

Two things have happened to the tooway service. It has introduced an illogical and unfair change to its service and and has allowed the service to slip to an unacceptable level.

First there is the new 'fair access policy'. Tooway now slugs your speed when you have used a quarter of the data allowance that you have paid for. I pay for 20 Gb per month but can now only use 2.5 in any one week before I suffer service reduction. Tooway has not yet said what the slugged speed will be.

Secondly and more important is the speed drop. Speeds are now often so bad that slugging can't take them lower. It looks like tooway miscalculated its capacity. Until recentlyl I used to get a reliable speed of never less than 14 and usually 20 Mbit/s. It then dropped to 2 or 3. The forum on has reports from many tooway users about it. To see a record of my speeds click here. You will see that in November speeds have improved but time will tell whether this is enough to be reasonable from the point of view of the contract. The upload speed never varies much from 6 Mbit/s. It is massive downloads from unlimited users, and a gross miscalculation and over-selling by tooway of its capacity, that causes the present bad service. There will be little or no contention on uploads.

It l ooks like I am going to have to drop the service and try to find an acceptable landline one. I find it hard to believe that tooway is willing to alienate existing loyal customers at exactly the time when other new and competitive options are becoming available. In the next couple of years the whole field will be revolutionised and tooway will find itself losing business. It deserves to.

This is what I have suggested to tooway: "I did the calculations. I believe that the downstream capacity of the spotbeam is a bit under 500 Mbit/s. Allowing for 20 M download and a contention ratio of 25 to 1 that only allows 625 users before the system is usually in a state of overload. Higher download speeds made the system more unstable.

"My suggestion is that tooway reduces the monthly price by £5 as a goodwill gesture and drops the maximum download to 10 or even back to 8. That should mean that the system will be in a normal state more often and should avoid frequent slow downs. 8 is more than enough for streaming and I would rather have reliable 8 than flaky 20.

"Another idea that if upload capacity can be transferred to become download capacity then the upload could go down to 2 or 3. Assuming that tooway do not envisage people setting up servers on their own premises then 6 is far more than needed."

November 2013 It seems that tooway is undergoing a reorganisation. A reliable source informs me that 'Eutelsat absorbed Skylogic months ago'. I suspect that services might be aggregated and tooway's overload problems might be solved. If so it will be good news both for service providers and for those rural users who still get poor speeds after BDUK has done its best, or worst. To keep in touch with progress, and make your comments, visit the excellent forum set up by xinam at

Until things are resolved there really is no point in reading further, except to see what things used to be like and why I was an enthusiast. I can't recommend tooway to new customers at present. For me the good news is that OpenReach tells me that fibre will be run to my area between January and March 2014. Even if the speed is not the target 'superfast' 20 Mbit/s average, it will be better than I get now and of course a lot cheaper. I will get a landline and broadband for a little more than half what I am paying tooway. They are nuts. I might have stuck with them if they hadn't fouled up.

Here's the proof from my phone connected over wifi. The results vary a bit from test to test but this is a typical one.

I did away with my landline and use Skype and the copious minutes on my mobiles. Who needs a landline now? We all have tons of free mobile minutes and Skype out covers those numbers that would be chargeable and costly on a mobile. On my Android software page there are details of apps that let you call 0800 numbers free on your mobile using your wifi or mobile data allowance and use a database to find geographic numbers for you to use instead of 0845, 0870 etc. It is good to be rid of BT and only have one organisation to deal with.

I have successfully used a number of VoIP services, including skype and viber, from a wired desktop computer and from various mobile devices through wifi. Video skype works fine. Skype will set up a virtual landline number for people to contact you, if you really need one. Vodafone appears to block this though.

As for rain-fade, when I visited the company I had just driven through a wildly torrential storm that left the lanes like rivers. They had lost connection for ten seconds. I have briefly lost signal a handful of times over two years during very intense rain storms.

It will take a lot of convincing to get me to try an enhanced landline or possibly 4G. Tooway is such an improvement on what BT laughingly called a 'service'.

Update January 2014

The message in italics below has been broadcast unchanged by tooway since October 2013. However the download speed has significantly improved since then and now is acceptable. I have plotted the speeds during that time against time of day and I include the graph below. Any zeroes mean that no readings were taken during those hours, not that the speeds were zero.

I held back from publishing this because there have been false dawns before. However the change now seems permanent. You can see that speed falls off over the day but for about three-quarters of the hours the speed is 8 Mbit/s or more. There were periods of very low speed over the new year, even down to less than 1 Mbit/s, which have depressed the averages a bit.

Please be aware that spot beam 34/Orange (covering mainland UK) is suffering slow download speeds due to network congestion. The problem has been identified as a configuration error of the congestion/heavy user policy. A fix is currently being worked on and will be implemented as soon as possible. We apologise for the inconvenience.

This appeared on the tooway website:

Update 24.01.2014

The fixes on the network have gone live during the second week of January 2014. We have been monitoring the network closely since then and have found that speeds have significantly improved on average. The results have positively improved download speeds on 34 and 23 mainly.

Amendments to the Heavy User Policy:

The heavy user policy has now been changed to reflect that if a user uses more than 25% of their data in a single week during peak times, they may have their speeds limited in peak times (4pm-11pm).

This helps both in curbing excessive data throughput during peak times (which can cause congestion on the network as a whole), and also it passively slows the data use of the user in the policy. If they are using more than 25% of their data in a week, they can potentially use more than 100% of their data within their monthly data cycle. Once a user hits the 100% cap, they are on a significant speed restriction 24/7. However on this policy, they will only be in a light speed restriction only in peak times and will be completely unrestricted in off-peak times. (Does anyone understand this?)

If the data of the user falls below 25% in the second week (calculated via a rolling 7 days), they will exit this policy.

We will be monitoring these changes and the heavy user policy changes closely in the future, and welcome feedback from our users.

Update 6 February 2014

I calculated the average speeds for the first and second half of January and there is no difference. It is about 9 Mbit/s for both.

Update after two years of use

There have been a few problems but overall I am happy that I switched to tooway. Any new technology will have teething problems. The use of spotbeams to enable low-cost satellite broadband has produced commendably few of them. So now good and bad points.

Good points. Speeds are consistently close to the specified speed. Upload is always 5 to 6 Mbit/s and download rarely below 14 and often spot on 20. Compared with the unreliable 1.5 I used to get, this is heaven. I find the 20 Gbyte download limit is plenty and of course it is unlimited after 23:00. Rain fade isn't a problem. From memory I have briefly lost connection only two or three times during torrential downpours. I now have a UK IP address so don't get the Italian versions of some pages any more and the lottery doesn't fret about my location.

Bad points. There have been a few technical hitches, which is no surprise for a new technology. The most annoying has been overnight disconnections. I have had to restart the modem in the morning. This is only an annoyance, not a problem. For a period recently, speeds dropped for a few days, but this might have been down to my network. I changed my router and the problem disappeared as did the disconnections. Tooway did technical maintenance at about the same time so I can't say which did the trick. Users are kept informed of routine and other maintenance and Richard, or one of the staff, always replies, without delay, to enquiries. As of today there is a further very bad slugging point described above.


(C) Peter Scott 2013

Last edit 10 March 2014