Private wireless peer: #1 – first steps

Recently I’ve grown the requirement for on-demand bandwidth in both ways to a friend. Both our regular consumer internet connections are rather limited. They have a bandwidth cap on 200 Mbps down and 12 Mbps up. That’s not too bad, but they are both in use all the time and thus limiting the available bandwidth. So we started analysing the available and affordable options.

As we do live in the same village on a distance of about 500 meters, we concluded that a private peering by a wireless point-to-point connection is a feasible option.

Line of sight

The first thing we did was look at pictures that recently were taken on the roof on one of the locations and it was quite obvious that a clear line of sight wasn’t possible. One of the locations is surrounded by trees. Somewhat better is the fact that the tree line is quite thin in that direction.

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I was in contact with petzl. He’s a community member of userbase.be and one of the administrators of Wireless Belgium. I was very interested to connect to their network and he would happily come by my house to measure if I could receive their network signal on my location. More on that network later.

He came prepared, to say the least. He had a mobile pillar that could easily go up to 15 meters. He attached a directional 5 Ghz antenna and pulled the pillar up next to my house and scanned the ether looking for one of their nodes a few kilometres away. He did the same at my friend’s place.

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We took advantage of the moment to test the connection between our houses. He gave me a smaller extendible pillar that I could hold by hand with a omnidirectional 5 Ghz access point attached. Whilst I was waving at my house with the mobile pillar he was scanning the ether at my friend’s house.

He was able to get a signal of -78 dBm. There was a single tree in between which affected the signal level. We had a feeling that we could overcome this by using directional antenna’s on both ends, so we went on with our small project.

Hardware

A few tips we had from Petzl was to use the 5 Ghz band and an Ubiquiti PowerBeam M5-300. The M5-300 is a 5 Ghz directional antenna with a 30 cm dish and a built-in access point. The 2.4 Ghz band is really polluted and shouldn’t be trusted for ‘long’ distance connections, that’s the main reason to use 5 Ghz.

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We ordered some antenna mounts as well from a specialised web shop. You can really find anything on the internet these days.

To manage the routing for our internet uplinks and the private peer we use a Mikrotik RB2011UiAS-2HnD-IN. I already had one in service for quite some years as I avoid consumer gateways. Those are unstable, limited and really expensive. It really baffles me that vendors can get away with it.

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This router supports anything you need or want to experiment on at home for a reasonable price.

Continue reading in part #2 soon.

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