Extending the tubes one cabin at a time
August 10, 2006 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Looking for some tips on how to extend a wireless network in a rural area. Computer savvy but getting lost in the technicalities of repeaters and access points and tin cans.

I'm from a metropolitain city but am now living in rural NH while attending gradschool. Gone from dozens of overlapping wireless networks to being too far from the pole to recieve cable high speed! I have some friends who live about 150-200 feet away who could recieved high speed cable if they wanted.

I have a Linksys WRT54G, not sure if it can be flashed with thirdparty firmware (they stopped that "feature" right?). I'm hopping to propose to my friends that I'll pay for their broadband access if they let me somehow beam their signal to my cabin.

I've spent the last 2 hours trying to figure out what's needed. Firstly they'll need a wireless router attached to the cable modem, then... A directional cantenna pointed at my cabin? The line of sight isn't very good. There's another cabin in between us and a few trees as well. If I bring the middle cabin in on this, and setup a repeater and another cantenna could I possibly get in buisness?

Assuming I can get that signal into my cabin, how do I go about getting my WRT54G router to distribute it to my 3 computers? And would I still get decent speed at that distance?

Any other ideas (roof antennas? Bending the signal around the middle cabin and back to me?)
posted by Smegoid to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Ethernet wire, if I'm not mistaken, is ok for about 100m - so that should be within your range and might be your best bet.

If you use a repeater, which is doable, you'll obviously have to be in cahoots with the 'middle cabin', and downsides include potentially slower rates of transfer, the headache of asking neighbors to reset/work with you to troubleshoot yet another gadget if things aren't working right, and your uptime not being as bulletproof as an ethernet cable.

Having said that, it does sound like you may have particular reasons for wanting wireless - you could also consider new MIMO-type technology (Linksys just rolled out routers and wireless cards that do "N"), which is still not finalized as the technology goes, but will give you more range, and all the major router/AP manuf. offer it. But 150-200ft would probably be out of range even for that newer, better technology. MIMO + repeater? (Stay with the same brand name to reduce headaches in making sure the units are all on the same ip range, reduce configuration time, etc.)
posted by parma at 4:35 PM on August 10, 2006

Also, yes, I believe with v4 and v5 of the WRT54G they stopped that "feature" of letting you flash the firmware.

But if the signal reaches your entire area clearly from the AP in the 'middle cabin', your WRT54G would be unnecessary, as the original router (the one sitting by the cable modem) and AP router should be enough.
posted by parma at 4:40 PM on August 10, 2006

You'll need one of the old school PCMCIA wifi cards that do not have the antenna on the inside. That way you can snap off the stupid antenna and put your own cable in there. Like this one.

This is a good illustration

I do not know how bad your line of site is but if you're that close I don't see how it would be that much of a problem.

But what you probably want to do is just unscrew one of your antennas on your wireless router and put the cable whip there.
posted by geoff. at 4:43 PM on August 10, 2006

Satellite? The startup costs are kind of steep, but it gets around the jury rigged point to point hops and $50/mo gets you 512/128.
posted by bhance at 5:18 PM on August 10, 2006

Best answer: First: you can flash all revs of the WRT54G, although the newer ones have less RAM so you can't run a whole pile of apps--should be ok for your purposes though. This would definitely come in useful for the repeater scenario.

Second: I second parma's suggestion on wire. I can only think of a handful of situations where you'd *need* wireless between the cabins, and if you're thinking of getting the middle one involved as a wireless repeater then surely they won't have a problem with a bit of CAT5 buried at the edge of their garden. It may seem like a little more of a headache now, but you'll thank yourself with the first big rain storm hits.

If you absolutely have to go wireless it sounds like the most robust solution would be a repeater in the middle house and directional (Pringle can) antennas. Most of the WRT firmwares (I think dd-wrt has the best combination of features and good interface) have a repeater mode. You'd set up one router at the cable source with an antenna pointing out the window, one router in the middle cabin as a repeater, with one antenna pointing out each window, and then it sounds like a third router in your house with one antenna pointed at the repeater and the other using the factory antenna to broadcast to your laptop and the LAN ports for wired connections.
posted by hugo at 5:29 PM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips everyone, I'm going home now and will try and measure how far my current router gets to their cabin to get a sense of how much distance I need to boost. Willa lso try to get on the roof to see if I can get a clear line of sight there.

Parma: It'd be nice to get the signal from the AP, but I'd still want to have a good solid WAN in my house for file sharing between my laptops and server which is why I was thinking of keeping a WRT54G in my house but flashing the firmware (which may not be possible with my version) to get it to run in "client" mode. Not entirely sure what that means but from what I've been reading it'll rebroadcast the signal from my neighbours into all the computers in my house.

Geoff: I'll look into that, I could leave the router where it has and mount a cantenna or something similar on the roof and tie it to the router's antenna.

Bhance: yeah I can get satellite here but unless the tech got a lot better, isn't it immensly slow compared to cable? It's been a few years but I remember reading that there's a huge lag and it's no good for gaming (not that I game anymore anyway).
posted by Smegoid at 5:31 PM on August 10, 2006

Satellite is unsatisfying compared to cable, or anything other than dialup. Latency is bad, and congestion at peak times is getting worse and worse. I have no hope of any broadband and recommend Starband for similar locations, but if you have an alternative, use it.
posted by anadem at 6:37 PM on August 10, 2006

Best answer: This is one of those geographical situations where the best option, in terms of an engineering/maintenance/cost/reliability matrix solution, may be DSL. Assuming you can get landline telephone in your cabin, you should be able to get DSL in some flavor, which at the low end, is probably consumer ADSL. Speedwise it's probably at least as fast as satellite or spanned 802.11b/g, and if you go with DSL, it's the telephone company's contractual responsibility to make it work, to your install point. That is worth a lot on a frosty New Hampshire morning.

If for some reason, DSL isn't technically feasible for you, and you can arrange some kind of inter-house wiring system (which considering your weather, is not a trivial exercise of stringing up some interior CAT 5 cable, if your system is to be reliable), you could consider putting in 10 mbps Ethernet as your WAN link from your cable drop point, if your path is within the 328 foot (100 meter) maximum span length, as you say it is. You'd be better off making such a run with fiber optics, due to grounding issues, but the cost is much higher. Be aware that in rocky or sandy soils, the ground potential difference between two buildings as much as 15 or 20 feet apart may be so great, as to completely swamp 10/100BaseT level signals, so that a wired connection based on this LAN technology may never work reliably between buildings with independent electrical services.

At something above the cost of 802.11b/g routers (like your Linksys) feeding Pringles can antennas, but still below a fiber optic link system, you could put in 5 GHz point-to-point commercial WiFi type links, such as the Cisco Aironet series of equipment. This is equipment designed for doing what you want to do, and you have the range of commercial antennas needed to make this an engineered solution. By operating your inter-house WAN as a 5 GHz network, you also don't contend for spectrum with your local 802.11b/g Linksys router working on 2.4 GHz, and you can select operation band in the 5 GHz spectrum which could still let you use consumer grade 5 GHz devices like cordless phones. You could look at the greater cost of this grade of hardware as the premium you'd pay for reliable all weather operation, but it is also something you'd get back pretty easily by selling the equipment when you move. And there is a lot of refurbished Cisco equipment to be had, if you shop around.

A satellite ISP link may be feasible for you, depending on site issues. You have to be able to "see" the satellite from your location, so trees, buildings, or mountains can make this difficult or impossible, and there may be some degradation of service in bad weather conditions, due to loss of signal. The "circuit lag" time introduced by the physical distance up to the satellites and back isn't nearly as bad for services provided by MEO (medium earth orbit) satellites as it was for those provided by geostationary satellites up at 22,000+ miles, but it is still 2x what DSL will be. Still, if you are not getting the connection for online FPS gaming, a few hundred milliseconds of lag isn't that big an issue.
posted by paulsc at 7:25 PM on August 10, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers hugo and paulsc. I've looked at the issue today and there's naught but a bushy unused field and a few trees seperating the houses. I could easily run wire, although I wasn't aware of this grounding issue. I'll try it with a smaller amount of wire and see how it looks. Any apps to measure SNR in a wired LAN?

DSL unfortunatly is not available in my area.

Hopefully the landlord won't object to wire. If she does then I'll try wireless, I noticed today that I can get a clear line of sight between the two houses if I shoot out one particular window. Don't need to worry about the middle house anymore.
posted by Smegoid at 1:20 PM on August 11, 2006

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