DIY remote area internet

They say that one of the many blessings of country life is that you appreciate the little things. Like clean air, water and food. And I do. I also VERY much appreciate our internet connection, now that we’ve finally got it (kind of) sorted.

Our hidden valley is questionably blessed with being devoid of mobile reception. That means no mobile broadband internet.  An ADSL connection is also un-doable. Hmmm. Which leaves dial-up internet (please somebody kill me), or figure a system out for ourselves. Surely it can’t be that hard.

Our hidden valley, showing Nick's family's farm (next door to Milkwood)

Wait. I should clarify we can (and do) get satellite internet here. Satellite internet means a dish on the roof and download speeds slightly faster than dial-up. Until 11am each day, that is. Then the connection just hangs up as all the other remote farm users jump online, the connection slows to stasis and that’s the end of your working day.

Hey – that’s not so bad! I hear you say. Deal with it, you ex-city folk! Uh huh. I invite you to spend a minute simulating the experience of satellite internet at our farm (in the fast period, between 2am and 11am). Here’s what you do:

Take a breath, hold it, and close your eyes. You’ve just clicked to open a new page. Okay now hold that breath, with your eyes closed, and count slowly to 15. Open your eyes and breathe out. Your page is now loaded. Except for the images. They take another 5-10 counts.

Now multiply this experience by every. time. you. click. on. anything. See what I mean? It’s hard to stay sane with satellite internet.

So, for the sake of our business, our blog, our students and our sanity, we really needed to figure out how to get faster internet to our farm.

It turned out that there was mobile reception on top of the nearest mountain, which in turn, happened to be on our farm. Aha! Surely we could just relay this signal down the hill somehow to our woolshed, and then on to our house?

Actually, no. We couldn’t do that. What might be possible, however, would be to build a stand-alone system at the top of this mountain to convert the mobile broadband reception to wifi via a mobile broadband modem and a 12 volt router, and then relay that wifi signal about a kilometre down the hill.

All we needed was the modem, router, a solar panel, a battery, a big fat aerial to catch the mobile signal, another big fat aerial to transmit the wifi down the hill to the woolshed (where our classes run and interns hangout), before the whole lot is repeated to transmit down to the farm house where we live and work. And of course all the boxy bits and tangly wires in between. Simple! Or not.

We went looking for remote area internet setups that could do this. Our dream was for a little man to come out with the complete kit, set it all up, turn it on, say ‘it’s working now’ and then walk away after handing us an entirely reasonable bill. One problem. No-one does this sort of thing. At all.

And so is was, with much sighing and pulling out of his hair (literally – some of our 2010 interns can attest to it), that Nick put on his can-do technical-problem-solver hat and figured a system out, from start to finish. In the hope of helping others retain their hair follicles’ integrity, here’s what he built and how he did it. And it even works! Mostly.

My highly technical diagram of our DIY remote area internet system. You get the drift.

The horizontal aerial is pointing at the nearest mobile phone tower. The big dish aerial is pointing at our woolshed, far down the hill.

At the top of the hill:

Aerial for capturing mobile reception: 22dBi 850MHz Next G Yagi Grid Antenna ($160) from City Technology in Melbourne: connected by a cable to a:

Broadband Mobile modem: Telstra Ultimate USB ($300): connected by USB to a:

Router: Draytek Vigor 2110N ($300) which consumes about 27aH per day: connected by a cable to a:

Aerial for relaying wifi down the hill: 19dBi 2.4GHz Square Grid/Dish Antenna ($178) from City Technology. All powered by a:

Solar panel: Lorentz 75 watt panel ($421) providing about 27 amp hours in six hours of sunlight: with a:

Charging Regulator: Sunsaver 10amp regulator ($110) & Battery: Ritar 120Ah 12 volt sealed battery ($349) which should store enough power for four days without sunshine

The power supply gear came from Steve at solarpumping.com.au

All this was mounted in a weatherproof electrical switch box ($200), on a sturdy stand that Nick’s dad made from scrap metal, and which also held up both aerials and the solar panel itself. Whew.

The precious wifi signal's destination, at the bottom of the hill.

At the woolshed:

Aerial for receiving wifi signal from the top of the hill: 19dBi 2.4GHz Square Grid/Dish Antenna ($178) from City Technology: connected to a:

Wireless Bridge: D-Link DWL-G810 ($80) & Router: Draytek Vigor 2110N ($300): providing a wi-fi network for the woolshed & connected to a:

Aerial for relaying the wifi signal further down the hill: 19dBi 2.4GHz Square Grid/Dish Antenna ($178)

These were all mounted in and on the woolshed roof.

The receiving aerial at our woolshed, catching and storing energy (ok, catching wifi signal, actually)

Down at the homestead:

Aerial for receiving wifi signal from the woolshed: 19dBi 2.4GHz Square Grid/Dish Antenna ($178): connected to a:

Wireless Bridge: D-Link DWL-G810 ($80) & Router: D-Link DI-624S ($200)

And thence by normal-person wifi technology, the wifi proceeded to become available to our computers. Huzzah.

After you include all the tangly bits it all cost about $3500, not including the considerable time spent. When you multiply all those held-breath counts of 15 we’ve had over the last 4 years waiting for things to load, I’d say the cost was worth it to our family farms’ various businesses, and our collective sanity.

The verdict? I’ve never been happier. I love my husband so much for figuring this one out it could make you sick.

System stability? Mostly good. The system as a whole functions maybe 80% of the time, the rest of the time, it doesn’t. The Telstra Modem seems to go down pretty regularly, even though it consistently reports 42% signal strength. The other links occasionally fall over too, especially in wet weather. Why, we just don’t know.

We just make a cup of tea and wait until it comes back online. We’re well trained in waiting for our pages to load.

As luck would have it just after we installed the system, some visitors to the farm started receiving text messages on their Optus mobiles in a couple of isolated spots.This was a disturbing first for Milkwood. It turns out Optus just installed a new transmitter only 10km away making our attempt to get wireless broadband from Telstra’s Tower 36km from here kind of ludicrous.

Maybe the gods of things that flash and go beep might bestow kindness upon us and offer up a new Telstra transmitter nearby, a contract solicitor to help us escape their iron contract grip or a network geek who will fine tune our current rig in return for good food and conversation.

At least we have fresh air, warm tea and happy chooks.

Hey there! Are you a geek who could troubleshoot the above system to make it more stable? We would LOVE to hear from you.

We can’t afford a whole new rig, so suggestions of the “you know what you should have done” variety that require us to start from scratch are not what we are looking for. Replacement of strategic bits considered, however.

We will show our thanks with pastured lamb, olive oil, and/or free courses on the most blisteringly interesting and useful subjects you’ll ever sit down for. Please comment below or get in touch. Many thanks in advance.

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68 Comments

  1. Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for sharing your geeky project Milkwooders. I love to see this kind of geekiness combined with permageekiness. Its beautiful. May your polycultures be overyielding and your signal constant!

  2. chrisconder
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink | Reply

    can feel your pain. We use ubiquity nano stations now.
    And we are laying fibre. cheapest and easiest way to join two places. http://www.youtube.com/user/wennetvideo#p/a/u/2/NZnyEGPJv3w
    I wish I could help you, but the only reliable way is fibre. and its so cheap. fiwipie, fibre to wireless to fibre to wireless. just eliminate as much of the wireless as you can and life will be sunnier and simpler. it worked for us and the fibre link is far less trouble than any other.
    chris

  3. Robb Bradfield
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi. You have a very good set up there. There is nothing we can do about Telstra but I think from what you are saying drop outs are more when rain and wind is a problem. Looking at the photos I sugest beefing up your aerial poles on the bildings as any vibration or movment will lose signal and reasablishing signal is the problem we had the same in the Kimberleys. I had to set up a simler set up in Fitzroy Croosing some years ago and that fixed our problem.
    Wish you all the best.
    Robb

  4. Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink | Reply

    http://solarflower.blogspo​t.com/2011/07/chicken-mesh​-and-plywood-radiowifi.htm​l

    $20 2 square meter homemade reflector dish, place around your mobile receiver. Worked very nicely in the similar setup we had in NZ. That post has a few more details and construction info. I’ll add more tomorrow.

  5. Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    Have you looked at a cantenna to extend range and improve signal quality? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantenna. Never done this myself but looks simple enough.

  6. Posted July 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Congrats on having the both the creativity and patience in developing your solution. Impressive!
    Having moved from the smoke in Melbourne (cable connection) to the bush where we initially had dial-up (totally useless) before finally connecting to broadband mobile I can totally relate to the frustration you’ve gone through.
    Our signal strength now from Telstra varies from 1 bar (‘connected but non-functional’) to 4 for fleeting moments on occasional / best days. Most of the time it’s around 2 bars which is fine for loading pages, not too flash for watching short videos if I’m prepared to wait for regular buffering periods and OK for Skype chats but not voice / conversations. Our connection quality seems to be similar to yours.
    Connectivity diminishes dramatically to next to useless on windy and heavily overcast days AND at around 8-9.20 am daily. On the latter, from what I can gather this is ‘peak hour’ for business internet use from all channels, and my sense is that Telstra gives last priority to mobile broadband.
    None of what I’ve said above helps with your query, unfortunately. I will send a link to my oldest son who specialises is PC internet connections and see if he has any ideas.

  7. David Webb
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Farmers have always had many talents.

    Plumber, builder, mechanic, labourer, vet, engineer, agronomist, conservationist, meteorologist, economist, marketer.

    And now innovative IT and telecommunications specialist.

    Absolutely Brilliant.

  8. Peter Chubb
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    A few comments from a radio ham:
    1. Water absorbs 2.4GHz signals (which is why they’re used in microwave ovens). Using wider bandwidth (wirelessN instead of G) may help for showers, but heavy rain will still knock it out.
    2. You didn’t say what channels you were running things on … you’ll get maybe better results if you make each leg as far apart as possible. So channel one on the link from the hill to the woodshed, channel 6 inside the woodshed and channel 12 linking to the house (where you can use channel 1 again). Depending on your antennas this may or may not help. You want to avoid interference where a signal transmitted on one channel interferes with an adjacent channel. If you’re using wireless N, channels can be 40MHz wide, so leave 6 channels of separation at least.
    3. I don’t know why the Telstra connexion drops out — can’t help you there.

  9. Posted July 8, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great stuff. The two things that come to mind – Map your signal strength to work out your weak spots are and your cables. You will need to measure your signal strength and map any weak points (recorded over time). My suggestion is that you use a tool like: Inssider (http://www.metageek.net/products/inssider/) There is a free version available and you are able to record and export to Netstumbler format. You can also export the GPS data to KML format. Good for Google earth view of your signal strength. inSSIDer also gives you a live view of your signal strengths. So once you have this data mapped, you may then want to look at your cables. Any movement of the cables used may cause you some issues. Try replacing some of your Ethernet cables (just in case).

  10. Dale Kerrigan
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi, just out of curiousity, what satellite provider were you using? This can make alot of difference.

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

      HarbourSat? I know there is others, but that’s the contract the family has currently -

      • Posted February 18, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        We are having the same issues as permalink Mount Isa Qld and we are also using Harboursat and very unhappy – Currently researching other options so we can run our cattle stations more effectively. Satellite is very very slow – for business in this day and age of Technology.

  11. Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Updated the post with schematics, 3d models and construction instructions. http://solarflower.blogspo​t.com/2011/07/chicken-mesh​-and-plywood-radiowifi.htm​l

  12. Posted July 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    If it’s any consolation, we get this kind of signal drop out too, and we’re only a 15 minute drive from a city. All the signal towers are located on top of the Toowoomba Ranges, so signal strength should be (in theory) excellent! It just depends which pocket of land is located in the black spot. Ours is on the edge of a black spot, so we get intermittent signal drop outs.

    Wet weather and wind is a definite trigger, so is humidity, because we get poorer reception during summer and autumn.

    We’ve had quite a few technogeek conversations with various antenna companies, electrical engineers and they pretty much agree that it’s pot luck where you live which determines signal strength, not how many towers are located in the vacinity. Because mountains and hillsides block signals and digital information cannot bend around them like the old radio waves could.

    Having exhausted the “professional advice” route, we’ve come to the conclusion that the new digital era for rural landscapes cannot be ammalgamated. You can at best, tweak what signal is available, but the elements of nature still (mostly) call the shots.

    The tweaking part is what’s interesting though. I’ve noticed in your list of materials, no booster to boost signal strength. This has made a big difference in receiving digital signals to our place. Take your design to Dick Smiths, or at least a few companies which sell electronic components, and ask them if a booster would work, and at what point it could be added to your system.

    It may just be a simple matter of plugging in a booster from inside your house, where you receive the signal too. Take the specifications of your existing cables to the same places and ask if there’s a better one to carry stronger signal strength. We had this done at our place and got slightly better signal. It’s like adding layers to a cake. Doing all these little things to tweak existing signal strength, makes for a bigger piece in the end.

    Instead of getting a thicker pole on the antennas on your woolshed, you could also look at installing two guide wires to stabilise it. We had this done to our TV antenna, because they tested the signal strength at 8-foot and it was just as bad as at 4-foot. So they installed the 4-foot antenna with two guide wires to stabilise the pole.

    By the way, well done! We’re looking at a home set-up too, but for the most part we’re living with what we’ve got. Still doing our research and adding small solutions as they arise.

    We don’t have the gaping chasm of no signal at our place, as you seem to be having at yours. Ours is only intermittent signal drop outs. Still frustrating though.

  13. Posted July 10, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink | Reply

    Good stuff guys, you could probably sell that system

  14. Craig
    Posted July 11, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink | Reply

    Directional lasers actually work quiet well from what I’m told.

    http://www.airlinx.com/products.cfm/product/19-0-0.htm

    That’s if it’s the wireless link falling over vs the Telstra service. I’d put the Dlink components aside for something with a better wireless radio and some reasonable logging for diagnostics.

  15. Posted July 13, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Heartfelt thanks for all your insightful comments, everyone! Will sift through them and decide which bits of advice to implement next week if we survive the Mudgee Field Days -

  16. beentheredonethat
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Document the dropouts on your telstra connection – they will help to get out of the contract.

    Don’t go to optus, the dropout problem is bad with them, but you can use a 3rd party provider that uses the optus provided backbone. I suggest Internode, but there are plenty of others.

  17. Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    Brilliant! We lived in Haiti for a year with PATHETIC internet connection–beyond really bad–beyond-the-brink bad! Wish we could have come up with something like this there! I will come back with a link to a post I did about our slllllllllloooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww connection!
    And congrats on Freshly Pressed!
    Kathy

  18. Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:43 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow … that’s commitment and innovation!

    I wish I had some techniques to offer — but instead, I just sit back and shake my head in awe at your ingenuity.

    Best of luck!
    :)

  19. Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    Brilliant geekiness… ;) Love it.

  20. Posted July 21, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink | Reply

    Love the photos!

  21. Posted July 21, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    overall, your solution to your problem is a good one, a very creative use of what you can get hold of to solve the problem at hand. your problems with moisture/humidity/rainfall are because the microwaves the signals use can be absorbed by the water in the air. it’s why a microwave oven works: the radio waves from the microwave are absorbed by the moisture in the food, which generates heat and cooks the food. a higher-gain antenna might help, but you’ll run into problems ‘bore sighting’ it onto the transmitting site to get the maximum received signal. all of the antennas will benefit from careful aiming to center them up on the antenna that’s transmitting to them, so watch the signal levels as you aim them and make as sure as you can that the antennas don’t move. you might also consider a preamplifier, essentially a small receiver that takes the incoming signal and amplifies it. this can help too, but you’re limited by what comes into the system. remember: “Garbage in, garbage out!”, so you’ll need a fairly steady signal coming in to make such a device worth bothering with.
    good luck with the new system, I hope it keeps you connected to the rest of the world well.

  22. Posted July 21, 2011 at 3:44 am | Permalink | Reply

    Seriously impressed! Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  23. Posted July 21, 2011 at 3:56 am | Permalink | Reply

    Can’t help with the problem but I got out of a contract because I had rubbish service. Great pic though!

  24. Posted July 21, 2011 at 4:11 am | Permalink | Reply

    I used to live in a remote location without cell phone or other technological access. This would have been helpful! Can I come live on your farm?

  25. Posted July 21, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink | Reply

    Good for you for doing so well with your DIY project. Hope it progresses just the way you’d like.

  26. Posted July 21, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow! Anything is possible if you put you’re mind to it! Well done Milkwooders :)

  27. Posted July 21, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink | Reply

    fantastic posting, thanks, may need to adapt some of this when I move out to the country in a few years xx

  28. Posted July 21, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink | Reply

    Well, the details are totally mind-boggling to me and over my head, but I’m happy that you’ve gotten a greatly improved Internet connection…congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  29. Posted July 21, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink | Reply

    Nice job on this! Now depending on bandwidth you could sell it to your neighbors and become your own ISP!

  30. Posted July 21, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    excellent job…………… really very helpful

  31. Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink | Reply

    You made it on to to the front page of wordpress.com!!! well done

  32. Posted July 21, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for the detailed discription on how to do this. I love what you guys did and I find this rather inspiring!

  33. Posted July 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink | Reply

    This reminds me of Carlsberg ice mount tv reception advertisement :D

  34. Posted July 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Yay! Freshly Pressed! I lurk around Milkwood’s website & blog from time to time, so it was a beautiful surprise to see you on the front page of WordPress. Well done!

    Sorry, but I have less than no idea how to help you improve your internet connection. Hopefully it won’t take 2 hours to read all your comments.

  35. Posted July 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink | Reply

    hey that’s nice..

    life sucks without internet.

    nature and technology … both at a time,, thts ,,,, wowww/

  36. Posted July 21, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Than’s cool!

  37. Fien
    Posted July 21, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I think it’s a bit ironic to have an organic farm in respect of nature and people’s health and then install WiFi which emits harmfull, pulsed electromagnetic radiation into the environment 24/7, harming the environment and especially people’s health. Why don’t you use fibre?!

    “”Laboratory studies of radio frequency radiation as well as epidemiological studies of people who live near cell phone antennas and/or use wireless technology indicate adverse biological effects. These effects include increase in cancers, DNA breaks, impaired reproduction, increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier, altered calcium flux, changes in enzyme activity, neurological disorders, altered brainwave activity, insomnia, decreased memory, inattention, slower reaction time, tinnitus, dizziness, skin disorders, headaches, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, respiratory problems and arrhythmia.”
    (http://www.powerwatch.org.uk/pdfs/20061232_havas.pdf)

    More information about the harmfull consequences of electromagnetic radiation can be found here:
    http://www.powerwatch.org.uk
    http://www.microwavenews.com
    http://www.magdahavas.com
    http://www.bioinitiative.org

    Highly recommended is also the documentary ‘Full Signal':

    http://www.fullsignalmovie.com/

    • Andrew
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink | Reply

      Hi. Would a direct link (to house), satellite connection using the new NBN satellite solution (6M byte download speed, 3 times faster than standard satellite), be environmentally friendly compared with WiFi and wireless tower solutions?

  38. Posted July 21, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Kudos for the enterprise, money and effort you’ve put into this. What happens if you get a hurricane?

  39. Posted July 21, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Highly recommended is also the documentary ‘Full Signal’:
    good job

  40. ropaw1
    Posted July 21, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thats awesome.

  41. Posted July 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great achievement. Well done!

  42. edy
    Posted July 22, 2011 at 12:17 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi guys,

    Congratulations on your internet setup. Well done Mate!
    I’ve also done extensive research into this type of problem (Rural Area Broadband) and developed our own solution in Italy. We’re on our second year of 24/7 stable and fast internet connection shared between 9 users and more neighbours wanting to join.

    Our setup is rather different than yours. We’re on a valley behind THREE mountain ridges but only 12Kms from town. So, we need two repeater stations, whereas you only have one.
    We use cheap 2nd hand Cisco 2.4GHZ wi-fi routers for the signal transmission.
    Rather than the mobile phone network, which is unreliable, slow, weak and COSTLY we get the internet access from a landline in town. We were blessed to have found a an angel of a friend who allowed us to install a new telephone line at her house in town and put a yagi antenna on her roof. So we get internet speeds as fast as in town, with ALMOST the same reliability and service quality as a landline at 11mbps.
    As the previous posts have already mentioned, this type of technology (2.4ghz) is vulnerable to moisture in the air and wind – but not that much! Our availability is well over 95% in all weathers with no significant drop in performance. (Way to go Cisco!).

    The routers cost between £10 and £35 each, depending on the auction you bid for. I refused to pay more than that for old (though tried, tested and unquestionably reliable) equipment. The downside is: they are a pain-in-the-**** to setup. You REALLY must read-up and understand the documentation before you start getting any joy out of it. It’s definitely GEEK ORIENTED equipment. However I’ve tested Ubiquiti and T-Link equipment very successfully and got very impressed by the reliability and easy setup.

    As far as your setup is concernet, if you tweak it a bit you’ll improve performance GUARANTEED.
    Radio signals behave in very weird ways but once you understand the principles, it’s easy to resolve signal problems like yours. (Thanks ARRL Antenna book!).

    Firstly, coaxial cables and connectors EAT YOUR SIGNAL FOR BREAKFAST. The shorter the cables, and the fewer connections the better. All that coiled coax cable is a NO-NO. That alone is where most of your signal quality is being sucked out of your system. Trust me, you simply cannot go wrong there.

    Secondly, your two antennas on the repeating station at the top of the hill are too close together.
    The mobile phone antenna should be about 3 meters higher than the wi-fi one.
    (Though different frequencies are being used all that metalwork around causes RF interference issues).

    I suggest replacing the yagi antenna MAST for a longer one. The drawback is that you would lose your neat setup. You’d need TWO enclosure boxes instead of just one. A waterproof enclosure box should be used to house the Telstra, reducing the length of the coax cable from the Telstra to the yagi to a minimum. Place the Telstra waterproof enclosure directly below the Yagi. This alone will improve your (850Mhz) signal quality significantly.

    Mixing cable types is also not a good idea. I noticed you used an RG58 coax cable for part of the setup. If at all possible, find a connector for the Telstra antenna that goes directly into the back of the yagi and ALSO trim that cable to minimum length.

    From the Telstra enclosure, a 3 mtr USB cable should be run to the Draytek router. USB cables also have limits and suffer signal loss but NOWHERE NEAR coaxial. The type of signal is completely different. USB cable loss is only significant in this specific context after about 4 to 5 metres.

    Inside the Draytek waterproof enclosure you should also TRIM THAT COAX CABLE! If it was my setup I’d also turn the unit upside-down to reduce cable length another foot. That alone will earn you an extra couple of decibels.

    The solar panels and battery can be placed below everything else. Light will be captured even if the panels are on the ground. All this can be done without spending much money, just a bit of re-arranging things around.

    If you don’t mind spending a bit more money to have a more stable system I’d suggest replacing the Telstra yagi antenna for a dish type, that alone will increase your signal significantly. Just make sure the new dish is tuned to the 850Mhz frequency of your mobile phone network. The bigger the dish, the better signal you’ll get.

    I’ve been doing tests with cheap 85cm satellite parabolic antennas on a 2.4GHZ network but “life happened” and I couldn’t complete the tests. Basically, a dish only gathers a scattered signal and concentrates it on a tight spot. (On a satellite system the tight spot is the LNB). It’s the “tight spot” that needs to be tuned to the right frequency, NOT the dish.

    I have no experience with boosters but my theoretical knowledge of radio propagation mixed with DIGITAL transmission technologies (connection oriented sessions) tell me that a booster will just not do. I could go on explaining why, but I think it’s beyond the scope of this post. On another occasion perhaps. (Radio wave interference, reflection, signal to noise ratio, dropped packets, re-transmission issues, etc…). If you don’t mind experimenting with a VERY CHEAP satellite dish you’ll find that the efficiency-to-investment ratio very appealing.

    I also noted that the antenna on the roof of the farm is right above a building that’s been clad with ondulated metal roof tiles. Those metal things wreak havoc with the radio signals, scattering them all over the place, instead of going neatly into the antenna, down the wires and into your computer. They ‘confuse’ the signal. But that is not a major issue.

    One last thing: I don’t know if expanding your knowledge of radio frequency transmission is at the forefront of your interests but I highly recommend reading the “Bible” of radio technology, the ARRL Antenna Book.

    http://www.arrl.org/shop/The-ARRL-Antenna-Book/

    Still VERY HIGH VALUE AND MUCH SOUGHT AFTER since 1939 when it was first published.
    I got my 1983 edition from eBay for £15. Absolutely invaluable reading if you want to sort out these Radio Frequency issues. When I got mine I only looked at the pictures and captions. That alone was enough to clarify a lot of questions I had then. I have no connection with the publishers, I’m just a happy and enthusiastic reader.

    Hope this helps. Best of luck.

    Edy

  43. Posted July 22, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Fien,

    I totally agree with limiting use of wi-fi in our living and working environments.

    We avoid using wi-fi in our office at all and avoid using wi-fi for extended periods with laptops.

    The real issue with electromagnetic radiation is duration and proximity.

    Electromagnetic radiation reduces exponentially with distance from the transmitter. The closer you are to the transmitter the more dangerous the signal.

    All our wi-fi transmitters are placed at least 10m (30ft) from our desks and a lot further from our beds.

    We have also purposely avoided using signal amplifiers to increase the total energy output of our wi-fi transmitters. Instead we have used highly directional antennae which focus the energy directly at the other end of the link. This way we actually dramatically reduce the amount of energy which is “leaked” into our living & working space.

    I recommend anyone who is using the wi-fi on their laptop as their primary Internet connection day in day out to change their practice right now.

    Cheers

  44. Posted July 22, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    I need to show this post to my other half, we have the same problem getting a good signal.

  45. Posted July 22, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow…Edy,

    great suggestions especially the bit about the coax length and the position of the two antennae at the top… most of our problem seems to be at the WCDMA end so thats where I will concentrate my troubleshooting.

    Cheers

  46. Posted July 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    First of all, I applaud your ingenuity. Peter Chubb and edy (although a little extreme at times perhaps) seem to know what they’re talking about when it comes to hardware.

    You may want to make sure you have good quality (coaxial) cables, and ends.

    Long cables could be shortened to avoid signal loss, certainly avoid creasing them, and creating rings distorts signal (if I recall). In terms of length, I wouldn’t shorten them just yet, until you try out rearranging things as edy suggests.

    I would make sure that each router upstream is configured to work to maximum output. This is usually listed in meters.

    On the software side of things, you could install a (local) caching proxy on local computers (or just on one acting as a proxy for the entire set of homestead computers) and make sure to have anti-ad software running. Ads take up bandwidth you could use towards improving connectivity. What a caching proxy does is to simply download page “objects” that are not in cache. Once there is a record of it in cache, your computer does not waste bandwidth downloading them again because there’s a local copy on your computer running the caching proxy.

    Squid is a caching proxy that does both of the things I mentioned above but it’s a huge undertaking for novices and it takes considerable computer resources. Polipo is a much better choice. It even makes use of Poor Man’s Multiplexing to further reduce latency. I’m writing an article on caching proxies and will post a link when I’m done. The best of luck.

  47. Posted July 27, 2011 at 12:36 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you for the information…I greatly appreciate this…..and will continue to receive your posts by email ..I hope…
    Sister Kaite

  48. Mark
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    Quote “most of our problem seems to be at the WCDMA end so thats where I will concentrate my troubleshooting.

    One thing you could look into is multipul antennas, we use to do it with the old CB radios( starting to show my age here) you need to make sure that the coax from each antenna to the spliter is the same length, dont expect double the signal but it will increase, your antenna guys should be able to tell you more on this
    Mark

  49. Posted August 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Another crazy thought… make sure that your network card drivers and your software is all up-to-date.

  50. Carole
    Posted August 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have a 1 metre colinear antenna to pick up the local (dodgy) Telstra 3G signal, that cable links to the WiFi that feeds to the household computers. My grumble is that this system seems to limit us to the ‘premium roaming’ package available through Telstra and, given that they designed this for travelling executives, it means paying through the nose for a size limited data package. Very expensive compared to the ‘metropolitan equivalent’ that Telstra told the Australian Broadband Guarantee that they could provide for us (and mind numbingly slow if you inadvertently exceed the monthly download limit – no YouTube for us!). Call me cynical but I don’t think NBN will make anything any different in my lifetime.

    • Posted August 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Yes we’re on the same ‘traveling executives’ priced package from telstra, as the only offering available via mobile broadband – no youtube for us either! Aarg…

  51. Neville McMartin
    Posted August 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The problem with the disconnects is the modem. The Sierra Wireless 312U (Telstra Ultimate) can only be described as rubbish (cr*p) in marginal areas. Jump over to the Whirlpool forums and you will see what I mean. I am 20km from a cell and even with a roof mounted yagi and 4 bars it used to drop regularly. Firmware updates made no difference.

    I fixed it by purchaing a Maxon BP3-EXT on Ebay for about $25. These modems are the proverbial bricksh*t house of modems and will stay connected for months. I use mine on a Draytek 2110N router.

    They need 6 volts so you need to drop the voltage from 13.8 off your battery and the antenna connection is an SMA. They were designed for Bigpond but work on Telstra as well. (Note the reverse is not true, Telstra hardware will not work on Bigpond even though they are the same company).

    The Telstra Ultimate sits on the bench gathering dust.

    Good luck.

  52. David Booth
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    Get the telstra modem as close as you can to the yagi. Contact http://www.rfshop.com.au/ and get a single “ultra low loss” cable the exact length required to connect the modem to the yagi. Along the lines of what Edy suggests above, put the telstra modem in a plastic enclosure right under the yagi and run usb to the metal box.

    On the wifi side, make the coax runs as short as possible and use the best cable you can get.

  53. Posted September 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

    http://www.adslsouthafrica.co.za/how-to-make-wifi-antenna-boosters.html

  54. rhorstkoetter
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Milkwood citizen,

    first of all, I’d like to take the opportunity to post a rather off-topic comment: My honest respect to everything you have achieved so far at Milkwood farm. It actually is my own ultimate wish to live in a similar way at some point in time.

    That said, due to my occupation, I happen to have some rather comprehensive knowledge about comparable Wifi systems like the one you built at Milkwood farm and I’d like to share some thoughts with you …

    If I understand your write-up correctly, you have instabilities in at least one of the 3 three connection sections (carrier to hill top, hill top to woolshed, woolshed to house). Other than precisely focusing the Yagi antenna to the carrier tower, there unfortunately isn’t that much you can do here – at least I’m not aware of any 3G raw packet sniffers but you may just use “ping” to find the very appropriate direction. You can certainly troubleshoot the LAN sections and act accordingly though. First, try to get an idea about the topology and source of failure with the tools “ping” and “traceroute”. You also may, for more precise troubleshooting, attach a laptop to the antennas and utilize airodump-ng from the aircrack-ng suite to really see the beacons (wireless packets) from the various access points/bridges – do this section by section. You’re looking for an RXQ-level of ideally “100” and as much PWR/SNR-level as possible (PWR/SNR of “10” is the least sufficient level for a stable connection). It’s rather difficult to explain the whole airodump-ng procedure via a blog comment, but feel free to write an email and we may setup a Skype session explaining everything in more detail if you feel the need to do so. Airodump-ng (a raw 80211 packet sniffer) is explained in very detail at http://aircrack-ng.org/doku.php?id=airodump-ng&DokuWiki=9cfb06019e6371240819746624beaa0d

    That said, humidity anyways isn’t good for microwaves and there unfortunately isn’t that much you can do here other to maintain a good SNR and RXQ (i.e. the better the SNR in good weather conditions, the better (although worse) it is in rainy conditions). Most important thing thus is to maintain a good SNR above “10” .. remember this most important rule.

    This leads me to my next/last recommendation: Have a close look at the Fresnel-zones of your wireless connections. If you have buildings, trees or the like within the Fresnel-zone you get much more reflections and the SNR drops significantly. To understand the Fresnel-zone, please read through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresnel_zone. This may (still) be OK in good weather but humidity+Fresnel-zone interference may be too much in rainy weather.

    HTH
    R

  55. Posted February 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    It’s been 6 months but I finally finished some articles on how to configure a local proxy (effectively, improving quality of internet service) using OS X, Ubuntu, or Debian operating systems. Windows users are on their own.

    http://mauroandres.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/surfing-economically-adding-a-local-dns-server-to-os-x-tiger-hooking-up-a-caching-proxy/

    http://mauroandres.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/surfing-economically-adding-a-local-dns-server-to-ubuntu-gnulinux-hooking-up-a-caching-proxy/

    http://mauroandres.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/surfing-economically-adding-a-local-dns-server-to-debian-gnulinux-hooking-up-a-caching-proxy-ii/

    I hope one of these help.

  56. Ben
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The first thing I would do is drop your connection speed on the wifi gateways,
    for that distance, I wouldn’t go much over 802.11g at 10mbps
    802.11N uses a higher frequency so if you are using that, it will be faster but the signal strength will be lower.

    A thing to keep in mind will be what is called “Z Phase Shift” to put it in simple terms, the longer a radio signal travels, the more your signal phase rotates.

    A few other things can be done to prevent dropouts.
    1. Ensure that your Yagi is set to be polarised the same as the mobile tower (vertically in most cases)
    2. You can get an inline gsm amplifier to boost your output signal.
    3. Ensure your earth points are well connected

    4. Try vertically polarising your wifi antennas, they will need to be aimed more accurately (about 1.5deg as opposed to about 8deg)

    If worst comes to worst, try going to 802.11a or b it’ll be slower but will travel further.

  57. Posted August 25, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on diaryofanoccupier.

  58. Wahroonga Farm
    Posted June 6, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Guys,

    A great project very nicely executed.

    I’d very seriously look at replacing the Draytec up the hill with a Tiny Dovado, as things have moved on dramatically in the router world. The Tiny is available from TelcoAntennas.

    Reason? Connection reliability. Dovado have many unique features including a keep alive function which will restart the router and modem at loss of internet, saving yourself a long walk up that hill. The Tiny runs on 5V but you can solve that easily. This will solve 99% of your availability issues, unless one of the wifi routers is also muckin’ you around.

    Not sure of the modem in use (is it a 312U?), but the Sierra 320U is the current post paid model and it does 1800Mhz 4G as well which may eventually come your way?

    So a bit of plug and play and you’ll be ready for a few more years.

    PS that 3G antenna is good for only 12dBi (I have tested it). A few marketing porkies involved. ;) However it is probably doing a reasonable job. 42% = -87dBm. That is not good, but depending on your location and distance from tower, it suffice for a reliable connection. Details here https://www.box.com/s/3c6b9375e12f67862ca3 (pdf) on how to calculate dBm from router %. The Tiny will give you a true dBm figure.

    Good luck and Cheers

    John k

  59. Posted June 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your tips.

    We swapped over to the Sierra 320U a while back now after some reliability issues. With the same antennae i get a consistent 48% signal strength. Got a better option for the antenna?

    I also added a 12v iBoot http://www.zantech.com.au/power/reboot/iboot.html to reboot the system in case of an outage, which rarely happens since i upgrade the firmware on the draytek.

    I did have reliability issues with using the Draytek wifi, so I now use a Loco M5 for the bridge between the hill and the woolshed. http://store.freenet-antennas.com.au/product_info.php?products_id=454 This has been as solid as a rock. I’ve bought several more pairs of these for other hops around the farm & can’t recommend them highly enough. Literally plug and play .

    The Draytek is still up there as something to connect the 320u to the LocoM5… but the whole thing is now drawing too much power and the Sunsaver6 http://www.morningstarcorp.com/en/support/library/SS.IOM.01.EN.pdf often shuts the whole thing down on cloudy days to save the battery.

    I suppose swapping the Draytek/iBoot for the Dovado might reduce my power consumption a bit, otherwise i will have to upgrade the battery / panel combination to get us through the winter.

    N

  60. Wahroonga Farm
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi,

    Without understanding the location on the ground, any antenna advice would be fraught. Ensure that the cable loss form the antenna to modem is minimised by using the best cable you can afford that works, LMR 400 is best.

    The Loco M5’s are tops. :)

    However I would simply use the wifi antenna connection of the chosen USB router to drive an external 2.4Ghz antenna to conserve power at the solar site and the remote wifi link acquisition in client mode.

    A new tiny Dovado would be cheaper than a bigger battery.

    KISS. :)

    Cheers

    John k

  61. Posted October 31, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    As a supplier of antennas 3G and 4G modems I thought Id share a little expertize.
    Im always amazed when I see the “22dBi Yagi” used for installations.
    Id suggest replacing the Yagi with a real one. The suppliers of those Yagis don’t normally rate them at “dBi” but rather as “..dB” which is nonsense. Antennas can’t be rated in just dB , so they are BS’ing about the antennas performance.
    16dBi is the maximum Yagi gain that can be achieved at the bandwidth required for 850MHz nextG (824-890) and 14dBi is the max if the yagi covers up to 960MHz for Telstra and Optus (824-960).
    And a real 16dBi Yagi for 850MHz will be 1.5m or more long.
    We made a info page about these antennas here:
    http://scam.onwireless.net/

6 Trackbacks

  1. [...] DIY remote area internet (via Milkwood: permaculture farming and living) They say that one of the many blessings of country life is that you appreciate the little things. Like clean air, water and food. And I do. I also VERY much appreciate our internet connection, now that we've finally got it (kind of) sorted. Our hidden valley is questionably blessed with being devoid of mobile reception. That means no mobile broadband internet.  An ADSL connection is also un-doable. Hmmm. Which leaves dial-up internet (please some … Read More [...]

  2. [...] They say that one of the many blessings of country life is that you appreciate the little things. Like clean air, water and food. And I do. I also VERY much appreciate our internet connection, now that we've finally got it (kind of) sorted. Our hidden valley is questionably blessed with being devoid of mobile reception. That means no mobile broadband internet.  An ADSL connection is also un-doable. Hmmm. Which leaves dial-up internet (please some … Read More [...]

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