Connections in the Bush

Well, to be honest it is not really the bush out here. In fact, it could never really be the bush out here, considering that we live in the middle of a desert. But the idea is the same. The bush means far from anything like a city. We are far from anything like a city.

A long way from town

Looking towards the city from halfway down the road.

The city of Puerto Madryn lies 6kms from us. The nearest point of the town, before everything melts into desert-scape is somewhere between three and four kilometres away. This is our nearest possibility for internet, as where we are, there is nothing. But that has all been explained before.

The point of writing this post is to tell you not of our problems, but our solutions. How we now have internet where there was none. How we connected everything up and worked it all out. The technical, and not so technical bits about it all.

The Problem

Now to solve a problem, you must first know what it is that you are trying to solve. Our problem was that we needed internet in a remote location and price was important. After looking at many alternatives, most of which were not available for us, we finally settled on the need for a wireless link connecting our property with a house in the city which would have internet that we could access.

Our problem therefore was that we needed something that would give us a reliable wireless connection over four kilometres, a house that had line-of-sight with our property and in which we could connect internet. Naturally the people living in the house would need to be reliable and trustworthy.

The Solution

One of two antennas The antenna in town

Our two antennas that are talking to each other over 4kms

The first problem, of what we could use to give us a reliable connection with a house in the city, was not easy to solve. I had heard of DIY wifi connections over long distances and even ended up buying some equipment to try and do this very thing. However as my knowledge was quite limited and even with the help of the photos and guides online I never managed to get any satisfying results.

On my return to Australia I sent out emails to a number of different wireless providers thinking that all we really needed was a good antenna, but presenting them with the whole concept of what I was trying to do. A community wireless group in Adelaide responded explaining that perhaps I really wanted to look at the Ubiquity NanoStation2’s as they were small enough to fit in my suitcase and yet powerful enough to establish a connection over long distances.

After looking at the product on their website, it seemed to be the perfect device for our needs. I ordered two of them and when they arrived they fit easily into my bag, ready for the flight back.

Setting these NanoStations up was as easy as following the online guides and before long we soon discovered many wireless access points scattered around the city. The most surprising discovery was that we were able to (almost) reliably connect with the city’s free internet service over 6 kilometres away by using just one antenna. The service was abysmally slow, but it was encouraging to know that with the two antennas operating our connection should be very strong and reliable.

Laying cables to the antenna

Laying cables to the antenna.

Finding the house was not as hard as we first thought, and a house not too far from the edge of the city near us provided the perfect location. We mounted the NanoStation on a 6 metre long metal pole (with a little extra metal sticking out above to try and keep lightning away) and fastened this to the wall of the house. Our antenna was now live.

With both antennas in place, we connected the house to a broadband plan. When the modem finally arrived we checked everything was working and then connected it directly to the NanoStation acting in WDS Bridge mode. This was connecting to the other NanoStation on our property and together they provide a transparent bridge.

Currently we have an old computer running linux that is acting as a router, server, firewall and more, but its control of the modem is causing us a lot of problems. So we will probably replace it with a hardware router which will control the ADSL modem sometime soon. As for the other functions of the server, maybe we can do without it altogether.

Current Results

In this part of the world there is a lot of wind, yet even when the 4 metres of pipe that the NanoStation is mounted on is flailing around violently, the two NanoStations maintain their connection around the -70 dB range and the connection has never failed. Well, not never, but the signal between the two NanoStations is always strong.

The installed antenna

The failures that we have had over time have been easily resolved by resetting one of the NanoStations. Even that problem is no longer present since setting up the ping watchdog tool in the configuration. The two NanoStations are connecting over a distance of just under 4 kilometres without any extra antennas. Simply by pointing one towards the other we have our connection. I can see that these antennas are very powerful tools.