Monday, February 24, 2014

Redneck Broadband - from 28Kbps to 28Mbps in an Afternoon


It surprises me that we in the United States have not treated nationwide deployment of broadband in the twenty-first century in the same manner that phone and electricity service was spread in the twentieth century. Is there a doubt that those initiatives last century were a economic boon and a revolution in the standard of living?  It seems pretty clear to me as Google contemplates gigabit fiber to Nashville just sixty miles away that the free market has not spread broadband effectively to rural areas.  I'm sitting at a friend's house in rural Tennessee that has effectively no access to broadband. 

[author note: satellite was looked into a year ago and no plan was found to be appropriate. However that may have changed and we're currently re-evaluating that option.  One of the factors in the use of satellite is lag due to the distance the signal has to travel - lag is important in evaluating broadband for uses including games or interactive applications.]

AT&T, the local landline provider, from the perspective of this household, is seemingly uninterested in expanding the availability of DSL into these rural areas. The cell companies aren't doing it either. It is rough terrain and cell signals don't propagate well into low valleys and hollows that spread off the plateaus. Cable is miles away and not visibly expanding.

This is a tragedy for the people like my friends here. There is only so far one can go with a 28.8K dialup modem. So much of the Web these days assumes that the users have a fast connection to the Internet.

I've taken it on myself to help my friends get at least some semblance of broadband to their home. I know that the small town about four miles away has both AT&T wireless and Verizon cell towers. If I could get a cell hub and a microwave relay system, I might be able to get broadband to my friends.

Here's the plan: 


From the cell tower in town for miles away, I plan on catching the cell signal at the top of the ridge above the house with a cell data hub (for today's test, I'm just using my Verizon cell phone). That will offer a small circle of WiFi at the top of the ridge. From there I will use a TPLink TR-WR702-N in client mode to repeat the WiFi onto a standard ethernet cable.



The ethernet cable goes from there go to a solar/battery Power-over-ethernet adapter that will forward the network to Ubiquti Nanobridge M5 microwave relay.





All this equipment will be powered with a 120AHr 12V RV battery. Eventually, we'll add solar panels to keep the battery charged so my friends don't have to cart heavy RV batteries up the hill. 


Aiming the microwave dish was easy.  Since it only had a quarter mile to go, I just had to point in the general direction of the house.



Meanwhile, the house will have a paired Nanobridge aimed up at the top of the ridge. That'll extend the network onto the a wired ethernet network in the house. Finally, that network will feed house WiFi network.



All said and done, we've exceeded expectations by more than two and a half times: 26.3Mb, I had hoped for 10Mb. That's quite the revolutionary change from the 28.8K dial up signal that has been the only option prior to this point.



During this week that I am here, we will replace my phone with a Verizon Mobile Hotspot.

Please see the follow-up to this post:  Redneck Broadband - disappointing postscript and then the triumphant follow up to the follow up: Redneck Broadband - fixed!