Categories: Tech

They say that one of the many blessings of country life is that you appreciate the little things. Like clean air, water and food. And I do. I also VERY much appreciate our internet connection, now that we’ve finally got it (kind of) sorted.

Our hidden valley is questionably blessed with being devoid of mobile reception. That means no mobile broadband internet.  An ADSL connection is also un-doable. Hmmm. Which leaves dial-up internet (please somebody kill me), or figure a system out for ourselves. Surely it can’t be that hard.

Our hidden valley, showing Nick’s family’s farm (next door to Milkwood)

Wait. I should clarify we can (and do) get satellite internet here. Satellite internet means a dish on the roof and download speeds slightly faster than dial-up. Until 11am each day, that is. Then the connection just hangs up as all the other remote farm users jump online, the connection slows to stasis and that’s the end of your working day.

Hey – that’s not so bad! I hear you say. Deal with it, you ex-city folk! Uh huh. I invite you to spend a minute simulating the experience of satellite internet at our farm (in the fast period, between 2am and 11am). Here’s what you do:

Take a breath, hold it, and close your eyes. You’ve just clicked to open a new page. Okay now hold that breath, with your eyes closed, and count slowly to 15. Open your eyes and breathe out. Your page is now loaded. Except for the images. They take another 5-10 counts.

Now multiply this experience by every. time. you. click. on. anything. See what I mean? It’s hard to stay sane with satellite internet.

So, for the sake of our business, our blog, our students and our sanity, we really needed to figure out how to get faster internet to our farm.

It turned out that there was mobile reception on top of the nearest mountain, which in turn, happened to be on our farm. Aha! Surely we could just relay this signal down the hill somehow to our woolshed, and then on to our house?

Actually, no. We couldn’t do that. What might be possible, however, would be to build a stand-alone system at the top of this mountain to convert the mobile broadband reception to wifi via a mobile broadband modem and a 12 volt router, and then relay that wifi signal about a kilometre down the hill.

All we needed was the modem, router, a solar panel, a battery, a big fat aerial to catch the mobile signal, another big fat aerial to transmit the wifi down the hill to the woolshed (where our classes run and interns hangout), before the whole lot is repeated to transmit down to the farm house where we live and work. And of course all the boxy bits and tangly wires in between. Simple! Or not.

We went looking for remote area internet setups that could do this. Our dream was for a little man to come out with the complete kit, set it all up, turn it on, say ‘it’s working now’ and then walk away after handing us an entirely reasonable bill. One problem. No-one does this sort of thing. At all.

And so is was, with much sighing and pulling out of his hair (literally – some of our 2010 interns can attest to it), that Nick put on his can-do technical-problem-solver hat and figured a system out, from start to finish. In the hope of helping others retain their hair follicles’ integrity, here’s what he built and how he did it. And it even works! Mostly.

My highly technical diagram of our DIY remote area internet system. You get the drift.
The horizontal aerial is pointing at the nearest mobile phone tower. The big dish aerial is pointing at our woolshed, far down the hill.

At the top of the hill:

Aerial for capturing mobile reception: 22dBi 850MHz Next G Yagi Grid Antenna ($160) from City Technology in Melbourne: connected by a cable to a:

Broadband Mobile modem: Telstra Ultimate USB ($300): connected by USB to a:

Router: Draytek Vigor 2110N ($300) which consumes about 27aH per day: connected by a cable to a:

Aerial for relaying wifi down the hill: 19dBi 2.4GHz Square Grid/Dish Antenna ($178) from City Technology. All powered by a:

Solar panel: Lorentz 75 watt panel ($421) providing about 27 amp hours in six hours of sunlight: with a:

Charging Regulator: Sunsaver 10amp regulator ($110) & Battery: Ritar 120Ah 12 volt sealed battery ($349) which should store enough power for four days without sunshine.

The power supply gear came from Steve at

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