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« Satellite Broadband Access – OK If You Have To | Main | WildBlue Gaining Traction »

WildBlue and Skype – Network Neutrality Issue?

It does appear that Skype can be made to work through WildBlue.  It is also possible that WB or Skype changed something on or about May 15 which made this work much worse than it used to in the US.

Last weekend I installed WildBlue satellite broadband at a summer cottage where neither DSL or cable is available.  As I posted previously, quickly tried Skype to see whether I could make VoIP calls. The test failed.  Could logon to Skype but not connect to anybody or anything.

This being the blogosphere, there was an almost immediate comment on my post suggesting that I look at WildBlue Uncensored! forum for user-to-user help.  When I looked there (did a search on Skype), I found what appeared to be a disturbing pattern: users reported uniformly good experience with Skype allowing for the latency you’d expect with a satellite connection UNTIL May 15.  Then they all started getting the same error message I got when they tried to connect to anyone.

Incidentally, gamers reported similar symptoms starting at the same time when they tried to connect to online games.  And, to add to the mystery, users in Canada reported continued ability to use Skype through WildBlue even though users in the US couldn’t.  There are separate beams from the satellite which service different geographies so it is possible for service to differ from location to location.  In fact, one forum member reported that a satellite tech told him that packets are prioritized differently on the Canadian beams with the result that VoIP packets are likely to experience more delay in the US than up North.

The prevailing theory on the WildBlue forum was that WildBlue started blocking VoIP packets or at least communication with Skype on or about May 15. This date is significant because it is about a week after AT&T announced a deal to resell WildBlue service. Moreover, it was on May15 that Skype announced it was making SkypeOut calls within the US and Canada free meaning that Skype users in these two countries can call any number, landline or cell or VoIP, within those same two countries for nada.

Calls to WildBlue tech support go on a long hold queue (I’ve never gotten to the end) so I started a text chat with a WildBlue CSR (less than a minute wait for that).  CSR Richard told me emphatically that WB doesn’t block any packets.  He checked with his colleagues and his Network Operation Center and said they were not aware of any problems. (Note: people on the forum say that they HAVE contacted WB support on these issues.) I asked him how we can test and he told me that that he couldn’t work on a VoIP problem.  It is true that the official WildBlue site says that VoIP is not supported so hard to fault Richard for this.

Emailed WildBlue corporate two days ago asking about packet blocking and the problem but have not heard back yet.

Emailed Skype tech support (they don’t have phone or chat support).  Got back an email saying I may never hear back from them on a technical problem.  So far, they’re right.

So I went on the Skype forum and did a search for WildBlue.  Same suspicions about blocking EXCEPT Ely who reported being able to use old Skype version 2.0.0.76 (available from http://www.oldapps.com/skype) with WildBlue.  I Skyped him (I’m not on WB at the minute so Skype does work for me).  Reached him through his WB connection so it is clearly working.  There is latency as expected and quality is awful at the beginning of a call but rapidly stabilizes to usable.

Ely is technically proficient and told me that he was able to see the packets going back and forth to establish a call.  Use of a geostationary satellite means that a packet and its response will take at least half a second – two roundtrips at the speed of light to a satellite which is 22,000 miles away.  It looked to him like most versions of Skype lost patience with the slow response and just reported an error.  But the version he is using is more patient.

I won’t be able to test with this version until tomorrow when I’m back to my satellite dish.  However, this DOES convince me that WB is NOT blocking Skype or VoIP packets.  It also leaves me with the suspicion that priority for these packets was lowered on or about the significant date of May 15 for US users.  I’d welcome a comment on this one way or another from WB management.

To be fair, it is also possible that Skype changed something on or about May 15 or even that Microsoft changed something via a security update (would be interesting to hear from Mac users of Skype and WildBlue).  However, the anecdotal evidence that Skype/WB works fine in Canada seems to suggest a difference in WB service as does the reports of problems by gamers starting on the same date.

BTW, it seems to me that it would be in Skype and eBay’s interest to pursue reports of possible blocking AND to provide users with tools that analyze the cause of failures.  Blocking may become a huge issue.  Deprioritization of certain packets which implement competition to services offered by an ISP is EXACTLY what proponents of net neutrality legislation are worried about.

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Comments

me

I use WildBlue. I tried Vonage a few weeks ago with the Dlink router/vonage phone adapter. The Vonage website still says (June 25, 2007) that Vonage WILL WORK with satellite internet serviceS. However the Vonage router/adapter will not 'register' to vonage. After 1 hour 45 minutes of some guy in India telling me to "please to uplug the wannage dewice, please to wait 2 minutes and plug in the wannage dewice" He finally turned me over to someone in the USA.

The person in the USA was actually helpful. He claimed that many Vonage users are on WildBlue. He had me go to some websites to check for blocked ports 5060-5069(?) and other ports. They are not blocked. We checked ping times, down and up speeds (1578 kbps and 242 kbps) and he said that was all good. Then we did "netstat" command and "tracert" commands. He did some other quick checks like pinging my computer.

As best I can remember, he said that he determined the Vonage adapter cannot register because of the WildBlue Proxy. He said that the Vonage servers detect that there is something different about the address (or is it domain?) that my Vonage router is telling the vonage servers that my device is on and the route (or domain name or something) that Vonage is actually seeing for my device.

I did not understand it all, but I inferred that Vonage's system would not let my device work because their system detected something out of the ordinary.

Perhaps this means that there is a VoIP service somewhere in the US that will work with WildBlue? Sure would be nice to find it.

No one will convince me that there is a technical obstacle to VoIP over satellites. I do live-two-way-video conferencing and live video broadcasting over my WildBlue internet nearly every day and it works flawlessly. If video with stereo audio works, then somebody sure should be able to make telephone calls work.

It sure will be nice when we get VoIP over satellite since everyone on earth I need to talk to has a telephone. But in the meantime I will use the regular 'landline' telephone to get hold of those that are not equipped for video conferencing.

Dylan

Hello,
I am a mac and WB user. We have 6 computers here in the office of which 2 are mac. On my mac I am able to Log into Skype and chat with people. I have noticed that it is sometimes hard to connect to skype but once I am I am able to chat. I haven't tried call or video call yet on WB. I have also tried to test skype on our Windows XP and it won't even let us login. All the skype versions are up-to-date. If you would like to contact me for questions. My email is dylan@asentcompany.com! Also the mac I am using is the brand new MacBook Pro. So all equipment and software are brand new.

Thanks,
Dylan Cleppe
Owner
A.S.Ent Company
www.AsentCompany.com

Sharon Helms

I am a CSR for both WildBlue and Directv at our Electric Coop. My husband and I both are gamers and have noticed that on or around the date you have mentioned, something changed to cause a great deal of "lag" in our gaming. As WildBlue does not support real-time gaming we have not contacted technical support. But I find your comments about the deal between WildBlue and AT&T happening in this time frame quite supicious. My boss received an email from NRTC this last week that our bean, 35, would be closing down in August. This has come as shocking new because in one of our recent WildBlue Growth Forums, we were told that there were still around 3400 slots available in our beam. Is this all coincident? So I say: What looks like a rat, walks like a rat and smells like a rat........

Randy Scott

it's more about jitter than it is any blocking efforts (or not). Jitter is basically the variance of ping times which occur in a satellite connection.....when variance is high, voip doesn't work. This is most pronounced in consumer satellite intenet products where the bandwidth is heavily shared (or to the point, overbooked).

Andrew

I ment May in the previous message not March (wrong month beginiing with M :) ) Anyways here is the link I refering to.. Enjoy the ammo i just gave ya towards Skype!!

http://support.skype.com/index.php?_a=knowledgebase&_j=questiondetails&_i=741

-Andrew

Andrew

I bet it has something to do with as of March 16, 2006 all skype calls within the USA made TOO the USA are free but not from outside the United States. Seems unlikely to me that its just a coinsidence that the same time they started offereing free calls within the United stats via Skype Out that Skype broke for us via Wildblue.

FYI the server for skype for me is 195.215.8.141 not what was posted in the skype forums.

a "netstat" command issued during a connection turns out this:

C:\Documents and Settings\Andrew>netstat

Active Connections

Proto Local Address Foreign Address State
TCP HP763n:1923 195.215.8.141:33033 ESTABLISHED

C:\Documents and Settings\Andrew>

Issuing a "telnet -ex 195.215.8.141 33033" confirms the connection to the port uninterupted.

I'm guessing its a security implement to keep people from outside the country from using the US skype service to call the US for free. I couldn't register in the forums for some stupid reason or I would message them. I'm gonna email them some more at home. In my mind it's 100% skype. WildBlue is just Skype's we're-to-big-to-care-about-our-users scape goat. Skype's forums wouldn't let me register or I'd flame their canned cut/paste responses.

I have 12 years of experence in computers, satellites and everything between (routers, fiber optics, professional 2 way satellite installation, programming in various computer languages, and lots of other geek hobbies)


I can be reached at shootmeplz@hotmail.com
:D

Brian

CRAP! Just tried the old version downloads, and verson 2.0.0.76 is only available for PCs, not macs. What do I not understand?
I tried the old Mac versions, down to 1.0.0 and still got the "error -cannot connect to server" message.
Any hints?

Brian

Sounds right to me. I'm on a Mac (using OS X 10.4.6) and since May I haven't been able to connect using WildBlue. Keep getting the error message. I'll try the old version today. Thanks for the post.

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