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