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Archive for October, 2011

Extending Wifi Range in a Rural Area: During Implementation

The previously posted entry described my goals with rural wifi and how I was going to accomplish this task.  As explained, I procured the following items:

I learned that apparently the wifi signal (2.3-2.5Ghz approximately) degrades very quickly, which is why I was advised by the salesman of the antenna to not exceed a cable length of 25 feet. Before I journeyed to the harsh rural land where the extended range network will be implemented, I made sure that the routers would be able to not only see each other, but also convey the internet from a previous access point using the directions from DD-WRT for setting up a client bridged network.  After hours of the system not working, I resorted to my primal instincts and started slapping the routers and yelling rhetorical questions to the machines.  I decided to stop wasting time however and scavenged the forums discussing client bridged modes and learned something new: DO NOT USE WPA2 FOR CLIENT BRIDGED.  My router that was broadcasting the internet from the cable modem was set up with WPA2 encryption and apparently this simply does not work.  I changed the encryption to WPA, but alas, it still did not work.  After again growing quite frustrated, I turned the encryption off.  After a few moments of simply “not thinking”, I noticed that one of the WRT160N routers was showing a MAC address signal strength that was not its own (I had memorized their MAC addresses by this point).  I quickly had my laptop connect to that specific router (laptop wired to WRT160N which was wirelessly connected to internet wireless router… henceforth known as “base” router”) and the internet came through just fine.  The first wireless hop was working.  I went to the second WRT160N router and set it up with a router name of Router2 and connected my laptop via Ethernet to it now.  Router2 then showed the MAC address of Router1 and base router.  This presented a problem to me… how am I going to test the second air hop when Router2 is able to pull the signal from base router and not Router1?  I decided to “solve” this by connecting the cable modem directly to Router1 (bypassing base router) and the internet worked when I was connected to Router2, which means that they were talking to each other.  I cannot stress enough with my learning experience in the hours that I did this: THE CHANGES YOU MAKE ON THE ROUTERS DO NOT HAPPEN IMMEDIATELY.  When you make a change in the settings on the router, give it some time.  Walk away and make a sandwich or something and by the time you get back it should be working… if it is going to work (read: don’t use WPA2).

So now my setup was ready for real world testing:

[cable modem]—–[base wireless router]~~air hop~~[Router1]~~air hop~~[Router2]

I journeyed to the rural area with some friends and we mounted the SPAPG20’s on long PVC pipes because we were not quite sold on drilling holes for the cords yet in the house until the tests proved successful for internet reception.  For these tests, we did not have access to a cable modem due to the rural area, instead we used Sierra Wireless Overdrive from Sprint which served as the base wireless router.  At the origin building (Building1), we set up the Overdrive and Router 1 with the high gain antenna connected via the RSMA-N male cable to one of the WRT160N’s antenna spots (therefore the WRT160N only had one little black antenna attached to it instead of two).  At the remote location, on the other side of the small and sparse tree-line, we set up Router2 very similar to Router1 (high gain antenna connected in lieu of one of the little black antenna’s in the back) and connected a laptop to Router2.  We pointed the antenna’s to each other, turned on the Overdrive, and waited for a few moments.  Luckily, the WRT160N’s with DD-WRT have a feature built in that not only lets you see the MAC address of the other router, but also the signal strength.  After a few moments, we had a 33% signal strength.  Then the wind started blowing and the signal strength would jump around but the lowest it would get is 15%.  On a good broadband connection that may not affect speed, but on a 3G (barely) signal as the internet source, it probably would not be very fast.  I loaded up the first web page I could think of: Google.  The page loaded quickly, but not quickly so much for me to suspect it was pulling from my computers cache.  Suspecting it still may be pulling from my system cache, I loaded up a separate webpage that is always different, my email.  The page loaded (albeit slowly), but it loaded.  The air hops had worked!  I then tried to load up YouTube… it started loading up and was continuing, but after a few minutes my patience had run out and I decided to view this internet not as a broadband connection, but more like a dial-up connection until a more speedy broadband connection is implemented in the area (which is in progress).

Overall, the system worked.  It was not quite what I had expected and ended up costing as much as an Ayrstone probably would have cost anyways (my goal was to save money overall), but it worked.  Would I use it for my own internet?  He!l no, I don’t live in the boones, 16mbps down and minimum 1mbps up.  There ain’t no way I’m living out yonder.  But honestly no, I think next time I would just skip the headache and try the Ayrstone (or something commercially similar) first and see how that goes.

Disclaimer: The websites listed in here with specific brand names are not paying this author, it is simply my opinion and what I had done.)

Categories: Technology