Living in the country brings a lot of benefits. Great internet access is not one of them. We are too far from the telco switch station to get DSL, and let’s face it, the telco is no longer investing in their wired infrastructure. Nor would most DSL speeds any longer be adequate. Hence, out of luck there!
From originally being a non-techie house it has become a smart-house where every light switch and every outlet is controlled by a Z-Wave house controller and multiple iPad interfaces (may be come another article later?).
The backbone intranet is a gigabit ethernet network with a Mikrotik Gigabit router as the brain. This router will accept one Fiber connection, 5 Gigabit Ethernet and 5 100mb Ethernet. Each port is configurable to “whatever you need”. A mirrored 4Tb media server with 600+ movies is available to all smart TVs in the house. It also provides stored music. Two “theater” setups (55″ TV + 5.1 Surround Sound) are synchronized for when we have house parties. The same video and sound comes from all systems.
Internally, we are high speed. However, from the outside we are rural and at the mercy of wireless internet providers at this time.
When we built our country log home we needed a phone pole to carry utilities close to the house before the utilities would go underground to enter the building. I could purchase a phone pole from the electric company, but since Verizon owns the poles in my town, I was told I could never get phone service added to a electric pole. Don’t know if it was true or not, but we signed up for 2 years of wired phone service to get a discounted phone/utility pole put in. The basic phone service was $30 + taxes and fees per month for a local phone number, no long distance calls, but at least 911 service and incoming calls. Our cells would be used for outgoing calls.
For years we have been running Verizon Cell Data connection in the form of a MiFi and later a Verizon 4G Broadband Router with Voice combo unit of house phone and internet. However, it uses the same shared data plan as our cellphones and is thus not reasonable for streaming to TVs etc. due to the high data cost. We have a 30Gig data plan to be shared between 3 cells, a house and 3 MiFi’s. We still have this and due to its “smooth” data flow (latency and buffering) it supplies internet access for all DMR access (repeaters and hot spots) as well as our mobile routers used in the vehicles or at events. The cost for unlimited house phone plus shared internet remained at $30 per month. You wonder why anyone has wired phone service anymore??
About a year ago, after numerous hours of research, hunting and pecking I discovered a AT&T service a lot of full-time RV’ers use called Wireless Home Phone & Internet (WHPI). However, all of my reading indicated that it was only available in certain regions. Consulting the AT&T website confirmed the same. A note in one of the many user comments indicated that by finding the right sales person I should be in luck. So the phone hunt started. Sure enough, I friendly female said “no worries” and the deal was on. We were suddenly online with cell-based broadband internet.
So what did we get?
- 4G LTE House unit with WiFi, phone and Ethernet connectors
- 15 – 50M download speed and 5 – 15M upload (typically the higher values, but depending on number of tourists in the area). Just did an 2Gb software update on a computer with an average download speed of 49M. Awesome!
- 250G data per month (seems to be plenty). We average 170Gb.
- $10 per extra 10Gb (not the usual $10 for 1Gb!)
- Ability to downgrade HD video streaming to DVD quality (very important!)
- Cost $60 + tax per month
Effectively, we now have “broad-band” internet. Our average monthly use is about 170Gb and we have never exceeded the 250Gb allotment, even with extensive streaming of Netflix. Although the data flow is not as smooth as the Verizon service, for general house use, it is simply great! With our intranet infrastructure it is as though we have regular high speed service. Very happy with the results. Rumor is that they have discontinued the sale of the package to new subscribers. I hope not!
This service will stay for us as long as AT&T wants my payment. We also use this when we go traveling to avoid hotel WiFi’s etc.
Although each of the data access points (AT&T and Verizon) have battery backup built in for 911 purposes, I have the ability to also have the Mikrotik router configured for multiple WANs and switch from the primary AT&T service to Verizon in case of a data failure on AT&T. More to come on this.
MESH NETWORK CONSIDERED
Many will ask – why not create a mesh network in the neighborhood. Yes, maybe we could with a lot of trial and error. We live along a ridge and “around the mountain” with solid forrest. No simple mesh, but more of a straight line network. We are still back to the simple fact that only two houses (mine is one) has a location conducive to LTE feed. Some other homes have satellite service (high latency, slow and metered service). The terrain would also not be conducive to house to house hops without relays somewhere in the woods. Not a simple solution.
THE FUTURE IS HERE – FIBER!
The town has committed to extend fiber to every house in the community so that all children have the same opportunity to succeed as if they live in a metropolitan area. We are looking forward to this with guarded optimism. It seems like a ambitious task to connect every household in a small rural town spread over thousands of acres and miles of country road. However, the offer is for Gigabit service for $70 per month. Can’t wait!
Living at the “end of the line” has proved challenging at times. We do loose wired services (electricity and wired phone) when we least expect it. Thus, the AT&T WHPI Service may remain as a main house phone and backup internet. The Mikrotik router can be configured for 2 WAN and auto switch-over should the primary feed fail. Time will only tell.
FIBER PROJECT UPDATES
We live at the end of a 1.25 mile private road with 8 houses. Kind of “at the end of the road” in more than one way;
- 2017 Fall – utility poles surveyed for height. Our private road has numerous spots with long hanging wires causing issues for construction vehicles.
- 2018 Spring – replacement of short utility poles started.
- 2019 Winter – Utility lines moved to new poles.
- 2019 Spring – ready for fiber runs.
- 2019 Fall – Fiber is to our property, but not lit up and we are missing the run into the house. Hoping for Spring?
- 2019 Christmas – Whip City Fiber called and announced it was my turn to get lit up. 2 minor problems; 1) we are not here full time so a coordinated date was needed, 2) Do the installation trucks have 4WD and capable of a steep driveway in the winter? No snow (on December 23rd) and we will be high-speed. Snow, and we will wait until after the mud-season. 2″ of hardpack placed us out of reach. Funny thing – 3 days later I received a call from the their tech department – my internet shows off-line??!! How about not yet installed!
- April 2020 – Please come and install fiber as a necessity for work in a Corona Self Isolation environment. All installations stopped. Installers do not have PPE.
- July 2020 – Finally! Contracted fiber installers are able to come and run the last 200′ in conduit from the pole to the house and install the ONT. Great!
- THE FIBER IS LIT UP!
Reality sets in – time to rewire the house and loose up all choke points. Another problem appeared:
- All TV services is planned to be via fiber. The provider I picked is Youtube TV since the same service can provide multiple streams for the same price. Additionally, the house has Netflix and other streaming services.
- Problem occurred where the fiber service has short glitches, but also causing the TV feed to buffer. I therefore decided to go with a used router, due to budget, which has multi wan service and auto failover to a Verizon LTE backup feed. Since the house is a Smart House, the remote monitoring and control to my cellphone is via internet.
- Router 1 – Luxul XBR-4400. I like it, but when they designed the box, the fastest internet available was 100M so the limitation of the router is that with advanced services turned on the WAN speed is only Fast (or 100M). To get the full speed, advanced service must be turned off and all ports become Gig ports. Thus, I had to choose 1) gig wan speed or 2) dual wan with failover, but only 100M throughput. The LAN ports are all running gig speed. The fixed IP assignments and inbound routing is easy to set up. Like that part a lot!
- Router 2 – CISCO RV320. Typical professional IT router. Yes, the WAN ports appears to run at full gig, but the configurations of inbound port forwarding is cumbersome. A huge problem is that the DHCP is not recognizing ROKUs and does not issue an IP Address to these units. This happens to be the TV interface for internet fed TV services. Total standstill. Router is in the project box for future use somewhere simpler.
- Router 3 – Luxul ABR-4500. It is the replacement to router #1. When I run single WAN it is capable of the full gig. When I run dual redundant WANs the speed drops to 0.6G. I cannot tell the difference with a typical household setup.
- WiFi access points have been upgraded to a Luxul roaming system supporting N technology. Problem is the effective range of the signal at these high speeds. The Roaming controller does an excellent job in moving the mobile devices to the best access point. I love it!
Do I LOVE having high speed internet – without doubt – YES!
Crazy, but we are completing year 2 and starting year 3 on Fiber. Overall it is simply great – love it! At times when the town or area looses internet typically due to trunk line problems, we loose both internet and TV since we are in the boons and over the air TV is useless. When we spend longer periods of time here we install the old AT&T WHPI box on the second WAN port and we typically never realize the town / area has lost Fiber. This has happened a couple of times in these two years. Overall, we cannot express how much we like our service. The town of Otis, MA has done an excellent job in a low-density “last mile” environment. Congratulations!