Will o' the WISP
September 22, 2006 6:46 AM   Subscribe

How can I redirect the signal from a line-of-sight WISP provider around objects that are between the tower and my house?

I live just far enough out of town that DSL and cable are not options for high-speed internet service. Dialup is killing me and moving isn’t an option as we’ve just built our house. We do though have a WISP provider whose tower is on the mountain just near my house. You need line of sight to get the signal. The problem is I have a tree-covered hill (on my land) about 100 yards from my house that blocks my view of the tower. I’ve had the company come out and do a sight survey. They indicated that it wasn’t easily doable, maybe something could be rigged, but it would probably be expensive and difficult…etc, etc. I basically got the feeling it could probably be done, but they’d rather just deal with the easy installs. I can appreciate their position, but I’m wondering if there is something I can do myself to get the redirect set up and then get them to install. Before consulting them, I wanted to get some more background from folks more knowledgeable than myself as to be better prepared.

So, what’s the word? Anything I can rig up myself? I’m reasonably handy and technically literate so I think with a bit of direction I could handle it.

Thanks in advance!
posted by MrToad to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
I don't know about "redirecting" anything, but why not stick the antenna in question on one of the trees on your hill? They're your trees, on your land, and they have LOS to the tower. Then you just have to cope with wiring the last 300 feet to your house.
posted by majick at 7:09 AM on September 22, 2006

I've thought about doing that. I'll still have to cut down some trees, but that shouldn't be too huge of an issue. My questions regarding this option are:

1 - Anyone know if these sorts of dishes have any power requirements?

2 - Would the approximate 300' run of wire from the dish to the house pose any issues? By this I mean, would 300' be too far?

Again, these are all questions I plan on asking the provider but I just want to be relatively informed when I do so.
posted by MrToad at 7:25 AM on September 22, 2006

Google for "Pringles Antenna" to get some ideas.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:35 AM on September 22, 2006

You might be able to rig a "passive repeater." The web isn't brimming with tales of success though.

Pretty much anything else you might want to try will need power. Your best bet is probably to put a wireless access-point/router there in an outdoor enclosure, and run ethernet back to a switch or another router in your house (100BaseT has a 100m limit). You should be able to use Power over Ethernet (PoE) to power the router over the ethernet cable.
posted by Good Brain at 8:56 AM on September 22, 2006

You've basically got three options. All of them are going to require cabling something out to that hill.
  1. Router and Antenna both on Hill (per Good Brain) Power over Ethernet from House to hill will be at its maximum range, limiting where you can place the router. You will, however, be able to get yourself a little slack on antenna placement with your antenna cable. Lightning suppression is tricky here because you ideally want to isolate the antenna from the router in addition to the router from the inside of your house.
  2. Router in house, antenna on hill You'll spend some serious money on the antenna cable and still may have attenuation problems. Most likely you'll need special hardware (an active amplifier) that can deal with a cable that long. The only benefit of this approach is that the router is inside the house on the good side of the lightning arrestor.
  3. Router in house, repeater on hill (or elsewhere) You put an active repeater on the hill with two antennas (one to the WISP and one to your house). This requires cabling power to the hill, but the benefit is that there aren't any range issues with 120VAC. It is also the solution that most folks would think of first when you talk about dealing with line-of-sight issues. If you have line-of-sight to a neighbor's house (where there is already power and hopefully, a WISP connection), you may be able to work a deal out with them and the WISP.

    posted by Mr Stickfigure at 9:28 AM on September 22, 2006

    Mr Stickfigure - Thanks for the great info. I'm curious if you might have a recommendation for an active repeater as mentioned in your #3. A bit of googling turns up a ton of differnet options, so I'd just want to be sure I was on the right track.

    Thanks again.
    posted by MrToad at 10:11 AM on September 22, 2006

    IMO, short answer is that it CAN be done given enough effort and investment. Great answers so far.

    I agree... the WISP isn't probably going to be interested in engineering something for you, so you'll have to risk doing it yourself. Money, effort and time are involved and you may never get it working.

    One of the bigger problems is that it's a bidirectional link. Whatever you do has to work both ways.

    I'd start by finding out where you are in the radius of their service area... Are you at the extreme edge or do they have LOS customers a lot farther out than you? If you are at the fringe, you will have problems with any approach you take and I'd explore other options.

    If you are NOT at the fringe... perhaps you might want to experiment with a reflector. Is there a LOS point on your property that's also LOS to the remote antenna. This isn't a passive re-transmitter, but rather just a large, radio-reflective surface. No losses are associated with reflection, as is the case with passive retransmission. It might work better. Trig, compass work, some signal measurement technology, etc. will be useful.

    As a last resort, I think I agree that a ridge mounted transceiver and a long ethernet cable, using power over ethernet would be the next best choice. If you can make everything work OK with a laptop and battery/generator up on the hill, your problem is reduced to getting power and data cabling there from your house, a much simpler set of problems.
    posted by FauxScot at 10:41 AM on September 22, 2006

    You may want to look at using a few Locust World Mesh APs. Not sure if this would work with your WISP's equipment, but with a little ingenuity I think you could get this to work.
    posted by white_devil at 1:38 PM on September 22, 2006

    Unfortunately, the only vendor with which I have any experience had its entire product line summarily canceled last year, so I don't feel comfortable making a specific recommendation.

    There are a large range of products that would do the job ranging from ready-made solutions by the big name vendors (expensive) to do-it-yourself solutions from hole-in-the-wall manufacturers. At the high end, you'd be looking at Cisco's Aironet line or its competitors and you'd be spending $1000-3000 just for the router. At the low end you could figure out how to box up a couple of home-routers (maybe the Linksys WRT54G with nice third-party software) with a crossover cable and all the appropriate lightning arrestors and a couple of cheap-as-possible antennas. Or, you might go with a complete do-it-yourself solution starting from a bare board. (The software configuration and environmental considerations will be the worst part for those last two options.) You may want to do some reading about equipment providers.

    Unfortunately, while you can hit your local computer superstore and find half a dozen home access points for $50 or less, as soon as there is a second radio involved, you'll find those prices go up by at least 10x.
    posted by Mr Stickfigure at 1:42 PM on September 22, 2006

    Here is a story which you may find useful.
    posted by alexei at 2:03 PM on September 22, 2006

    There was a related question, but the answers here are better - WiFi with my neighbors.

    I'm thinking you are getting pretty close to worst case for lightning risk. Still, don't get discouraged, lots of people do lots of things with antennas on towers out in the open..

    A nice weather proof box containing an off the shelf router and an improvised power over ethernet system is where I would start. Power over ethernet is expensive because it is very flexible, but you don't need flexibility, so.. Here is a question with a discussion of power over ethernet - Solar powering a linksys router?

    I was just doing some searching on DIY power over ethernet solutions, and I found this promising product, and this MAKE blog entry.

    Those both seem to be based on unused wires in the ethernet cable.. I knew that 10base-T only used two pairs of wires (4 pairs total in your typical ethernet wire). Reading the article linked from MAKE I thought, since 10 mbit speeds are plenty for an internet connection, they must be accepting a speed drop. But after reading about the product, I started to wonder.. Turns out even 100base-TX only uses two pairs! That makes DIYing a solution very easy indeed..

    I could swear I've had a 100base-TX connection fail because of cheap 2 pair wire though (came included with something like a DSL modem), so I'm a little confused.. And, astonished (that I didn't know until now)..

    Note: 1000base-T uses all four pairs, but 1000base-TX does not. Most gigabit products are going to be 1000base-T.
    posted by Chuckles at 2:43 PM on September 22, 2006

    And if I'd just looked at the wikipedia article on power over ethernet.. Well, we could have skipped a lot of that stuff :)
    posted by Chuckles at 2:52 PM on September 22, 2006

    Robert X Cringely used a passive repeater.

    If you can't do that, I'd look first at getting power to the antenna location and putting a wireless router there. Then you have a variety of options to get the signal back to your house. You're at the outer limit for most Ethernet as people have mentioned, but there are alternatives like fiber and long range Ethernet.

    Heck, Linksys has a Powerline network to Ethernet bridge . Walt Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal liked this tech, but I don't remember if it was this one or a Netgear one (like this one that goes straight from wireless to powerline), sorry. Range not stated on the Linksys site but most web reports seem to have the max range of the Powerline tech as well over 100 yards. That means you essentially have to run only power there (which you'd have to do, anyway).
    posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:36 PM on September 22, 2006

    Here is what I would do were I in your position. It is fairly cheap, but will be technically challenging.

    You're going to build a router inside of a WRAP Box. On that page, you need a WRAP.2C, a WRAP-BOX 2A1E (the 4A2E will do if you're in a hurry), two radios (pick ones that match the band(s) you want to use), a power supply, weatherproof ethernet assembly and POE injector. You need to go somewhere else for antennas, cables and lightning protection. I've recommended these guys with some success before. The last part I can think that you need is a compact flash card. (Anything 64MB or above will probably do.)

    The good thing about the WRAP is that a lot of people make firmware for it. Pick your favorite firmware image and copy it to the compact flash. Install it onto the board along with the radios and test its operation as an AP in your house. Once you've go the software part working, assemble the board and radios inside the enclosure (this guy has some good notes) and verify (again) that you can get it to work inside.

    You will need to find/make another enclosure for the power transformer and POE injector. (I belive that you will want your own weatherproof ethernet assembly for this box which is why I included it in the parts list above.) The most significant drawback of the WRAP board is that it uses a 12V input instead of standard 48V POE. (Do not put a standard POE into this board as it will very likely short your board out.)

    Last step is to bring everything out to the hill and mount the power supply, router, antennas and lightning protection. I bet if you get to this point you can offer to pay for an hour of technician time with your WISP to help you get all the settings right for one radio to be a client of their AP. (You did think to call the WISP and clear this plan with one of their techs before starting, right? It is very important to know whether standard 802.11 is going to play friendly with their network as some folks use systems running proprietary protocols.)

    Then, you're home free. Well, mostly. You still do need something at your house to pick up the signal. With any luck, the CPE they were going to install will work as a client of your newly built repeater. If not, then you are on your own. But if you have gotten this far, I believe I can safely leave that as an exercise for the reader.... ;) Good luck.
    posted by Mr Stickfigure at 8:36 AM on September 23, 2006

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