Saturday, July 08, 2006

Me and the Internet: A Case Study

I moved from the relative civilization of Palo Alto, California to an apple farm in Sonoma County a few months ago. We have phone and cable service, but DSL is very problematic because of our distance from the nearest central office, and only the buildings nearest the road are wired for cable (one of which has a high-speed Internet connection.) I arrived here with a motley crew of wireless routers and other equipment, and I was committed to figure out a way to get a high-speed Internet connection back to my cottage using the equipment I already had, and without running a conduit and wires. Here’s what I did to get it to work:

First, I connected my Belkin Pre-N MIMO router to the existing cable modem. (Of all the equipment I have, the Belkin has by far the longest range.) The Belkin’s antennas can’t be removed, so I couldn’t connect an outdoor antenna to the router (which would have made the most sense.) Instead, I got the router as close to a window facing my cottage as possible. Next, I flashed my Linksys wireless router (which the Belkin replaced in my old home office) with DD-WRT firmware, and converted it to a wireless bridge, connected to the Belkin. I then wired a Buffalo wireless router/access point (the only new piece of active equipment I purchased) to the Linksys, and wired my print server, data server and Vonage phone adapter to the Buffalo (which is configured as an access point.) Finally, I connected my Buffalo wireless Ethernet converter to the Netgear USB-to-Ethernet adapter on my Series 2 TiVo. Both my TiVo and notebook computer connect wirelessly to the Buffalo access point, which sends packets by wire to the Linksys, from there wirelessly to the Belkin, and finally on to the cable modem.

So far, so good, but because of the distance between the main building and my cottage (and the fact that both the Belkin and Linksys are inside,) I was getting an average signal-to-noise ratio of 10dB on my wireless connection—marginal under the best of conditions. Thus, I added the last component: A 2.4GHz 15.5dBi directional planar array outdoor antenna from Sharper Concepts, and 25 feet of low-loss pre-terminated coaxial cable to connect the antenna to my Linksys bridge. With about a half-hour of work, we got the antenna mounted and aimed. The signal-to-noise ratio went from 10 to more than 40dB, more than enough to insure a reliable connection.

So there you have it. Rube Goldberg, eat your heart out!

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