Cellular LTE Internet

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
Anyone using the whole house type of cellular internet modems?

We're looking to setup internet for my wife's grandparents farm. Just looking at options, but cellular is really sketch there for our phones, just didn't know if maybe they could pickup signals better than a cell phone could or not.

I ordered a cellular signal booster to take down this weekend to try out for the phones at least.

I've also got a couple of outdoor antennas for connecting to a WISP, so will do some scanning to see if any show up for the area. It's only about 6 miles from town, but completely surrounded by 100' - 150' tall hills.
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
Been devising a plan for if the cellular booster doesn't pan out. This one may be a little more extensive, but kills two birds with one stone. So I started playing with Google Earth to get a feel for the topology around the farm. It is almost 7 miles outside of town as the crow flies, about 12 - 14 miles to drive to it with all the curves in the hills. The house and barn are down in a valley, about 75' on one side, about 150' on the other. Between town and the farm are several hills that are higher than those. I noticed that there was bit of a valley between the shorter hill and town, almost all the way as the creeks goes.

So in Google Earth you can draw paths and I found that you can do a starting and ending point, then set the properties to say that each point is X number of meters from the ground, then shade it up to that point from where the ground is at each end. Following the line I drew, starting at 5m off the ground I could see I was going to run into several hill tops. So I adjusted upward another 5m and that was enough to clear all of the hill tops and have a clear path to what happened to be a cell tower at the end of that path.
CellTowerPathcr.PNG

Here's what the shaded line looks like at the farm end, about 30' off the ground. Of course I'll have to see just how tall the trees are on the farm end. The actual cell tower is about 100' tall, so it should allow for clearance in between.
CellTowerPath10M.PNG

From the tower on the farm I'd run a wifi point-to-point bridge to the house and probably one transceiver at the barn as well, which are about 1,500' away. The tower will be completely solar/battery powered.
CellTowerPathFarm.PNG

Now the two birds thing is that her Aunt and Uncle live a few miles away and can neither get cell phones or wifi due to the terrain, just satellite internet service. Putting a small tower on their property to relay a signal from the one at the farm and again to their house. This would give them a little better internet service and at least allow their phones to call over wifi.
CellTowerRepeaterToV&S.PNG

Surprisingly the equipment costs aren't all that high and may look at providing service to others in the area to help pay for it, if we can get connected to a wifi provider in town to supply signal rather than cell service.

Of course there is the lightning issue, but most of the equipment I'm looking at has protection for that, just need to do my part in getting things grounded properly.

Anyway, May or may not have to go this route, but if nothing else, it was fun to play around with the Google Earth and get a feel for the lay of the land (literally).
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
LOL, I think Brent is convinced that I've been cloned.

I hadn't planned to spend much time on this, but I guess my OCD kicked in huh?

We're looking at buying the farm from them, but my wife would like to move there sooner rather than later. To do that we'd need to work out reliable internet and phone connections to continue to work. The move still won't happen for a while, we have a lot of down sizing to do, but she's always dreamed of moving back there.
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
We went down to the farm this weekend and I installed the cellular signal booster.

At first I installed it up on the TV antenna pole at a level I could reach from the ground and pointed it in the general direction of several known tower locations. The cable I ran through one of the windows without a screen. I kept going inside and checking for signal quality. We normally do not have even voice, let alone any data signals, though we can get a very week signal from parts of the yard.

The first time I went in the house I had full 3g signals, no 4g/LTE. After a few adjustments I had 2 -3 bars of LTE. :)

We were able to load Facebook and even face time with our daughter. :bliss:

So I ended up putting the yagi antenna up closer to the TV antenna (20' or so high) and making a more permanent install of the equipment. I thought I'd better check the install. Sure enough, signals had dropped to barely a 3g signal again. :doh:

So about 20 trips later up/down the ladder to adjust the antenna in various directions, I finally broke out the manual. Seems the two antennas (outdoor and indoor) need to be 25' apart vertically or 50' horizontally, and facing away from one another. Armed with this new information I spread the two out. I spent the next couple of hours checking the signal and it would bounce between high 3g on my phone to 2-3 bars of 4G/LTE over and over. :huh: My wife's phone was staying LTE and 1 -3 bars. I finally got out my AT&T work phone (our personal phones are Sprint) and it was staying between 2 - 4 bars all night long. :D

The next day we were getting mostly 3g or low LTE on both our personal phones, the AT&T phone was 2 -3 bars all day. Her aunt and Uncle came over for a bit and their signals weren't boosted at all. After messing with various settings on her phone I could only guess that we weren't pointing the antenna towards a tower she could connect to normally and I wasn't going to adjust it anymore since it was working for us.

For the AT&T phone, I was getting consistent 5Mbps to 10 Mbps download speeds on the phone speed tests. It didn't have an upload test on the phone and didn't think to to tether my laptop while I was messing with it, we were just happy to have cell service out there.

So in summary:
  • The cell boosters DO really work, as long as you can get some kind of signal normally with your phone, even if its sporadic.
  • The signal will come and go slightly, at least in our case, either due to weather or maybe the load on the antenna, or some other unknown factor.
  • Even though the booster I purchased was for all carriers, it may not work for some if you don't have the antenna pointing where it can pickup towers/signals for a of the carriers you have.
  • There could be some variance of what signals/bands are amplified if you're using a different outdoor antenna type, mine was a Yagi style, which amplifies like a shot gun spread in the direction it's pointing, where some of the others are slightly or fully omni-directional. the omni-directional ones may work better if you have several carriers to support so that you can connect to multiple towers (in theory).
I think our next step will be to look at what cell phone hot spots or whole house plans are available (probably AT&T) and purchase one to tryout on our next trip down.
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
One thing I meant to mention. If you're considering getting one of the booster, there are boosters for specific bands and there are ones that support several bands. You need to do your research and figure out which of them will work for your carrier and the band they are using in the area you're in. Many of the re-sellers have info on how to check that.
 

Don Baer

Moderator
Staff member
in keeping with what Darren said there are a number of free WiFI analyzers out there to let you know what channels you are on as well as what channels/bands your neighbors. I found it helpful in setting up mine home WiFi network so I could put our home network on channels that no one else in the neighborhood was on it made things run a lot smoother and a bit faster.
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
The past trip down to the farm I brought different antenna (https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B073WQ8DXD) to test out. It actually boosted the signal to 4-5 bars of LTE on my work phone, which I use for tethering my laptop to. I can connect up to 5 devices to it. My wife is sitting here watching netflix where we couldn't get a voice only signal without the booster. I'm checking out updates and getting a bit of work done.

Now our personal phones are only getting 3g signals, as they are connecting to a different tower than my work phone. There is an app I loaded on my android phone that lets me turn on/off certain network bands. It actually got on the same band as my work phone as was working with similar speeds, but the carrier seems to re-set it after a while and I have to change back to that band.
 

Dave Minnich

Member
Messages
76
Location
Hendersonville, NC
in keeping with what Darren said there are a number of free WiFI analyzers out there to let you know what channels you are on as well as what channels/bands your neighbors. I found it helpful in setting up mine home WiFi network so I could put our home network on channels that no one else in the neighborhood was on it made things run a lot smoother and a bit faster.

I used to do that, but no more.

Many/most modern WiFi routers can be configured to pick the best channel dynamically rather than statically selecting one. To me it's always seemed better to go that route, since there's no guarantee that the best channel will remain the same over time.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
It is probably time to re-visit this thread and update where I am with using Cellular LTE.

With all the kids doing remote learning and Starlink becoming more available in our area, AT&T and other carriers are starting to reduce the cost of Cellular Internet and increase the data caps. For example, when I first got the data plan for the farm it was $75 a month for 25GB of data per month. It then reduced price to $40 a month for 50GB of data per month. Most recently it's now $50 for 100GB of data per month. So it's made it a bit more affordable to work remotely. If you're on satellite and paying for 25GB a month and getting slowed down when it reaches the cap, yet your cell phone has a good data connection, might be worth looking at some options.

The other thing I've learned about cellular is using a booster/repeater vs. mi-mo antennas. Think of the booster/repeater as a single antenna, it has to do both the send and receive of the data/signals, so one has to wait on the other. MiMo is multiple user/multiple input. Think of it as multiple pipes to communicate over. Basic Mimo is 2 antennas in/out. 4g/LTE is going to use at least two antennas and give you more throughput. When 5g is more defined, it most likely will use up to 4 antennas.

At the farm, we're running the cellular booster/repeater I installed a while back. I also have a Netgear Cellular modem (LB1120), which I have connected to a wifi router. The booster is needed for both our phones and her grandpa's home phone, which is cellular based. Without it, cell service is nil or spotty at best.

With the booster, our download data speeds over the Netgear modem are about 5 - 10 Mbps. On our last trip down there I took an external antenna made for the Netgear modem. Its a mimo antenna. I plugged it in and went from 4 bars to 5 bars on the modem, however the speeds did not improve all that much. So I then turned off the booster and ran the modem by itself on the external antenna (which was stuck in a window facing the direction of the known cell towers). My connectivity dropped to only 2 bars (zero without the external antenna), however, the download speeds increased to 18 - 20 Mbps. :thumb:

I just wanted to explain the in/outs of using a booster vs using external antennas for the cellular internet. For the farm we need to use both, so it will be a matter of positioning the booster's repeating antenna where the netgear mimo antenna will not interfere with one another. I won't be using the window antenna, more of a yagi style antenna that is directional and won't pickup the repeated signal from the booster easily, like an omni directional antenna will.

OK, so for the RV. I'm using a used Pepwave Max BR1 Mini. These are cellular routers that many places like amazon and ups use in their vehicles for internet service. The device is built for LTE and allows you to put two sim cards in it, but only use one plan at time. This is good if you need to double your monthly allotment or need coverage for areas where one carrier has better service than the other. I'm currently only running the $50 a month pay as you go plan from AT&T (100GB). The device also has built in wifi, 2.4ghz only, but plenty fast for LTE speeds. It also runs off of 12v, so we can power it from the RV's 12v system and have internet at all times. I do have a wifi repeater setup that I try to use at the camp grounds when it's available. It has small antennas that come with it, but I've got an external omni directional antenna I'm installing on the roof of the RV. There are also optional directional antennas you can run buy. I may have a directional mimo that I can put up on my mast to get better signals when we're in more remote areas with the RV in the future.

There are various antennas available. Most boost the signal from 7db to 13db, which is quite a bit. You'll have to do your research to see which one works for your situation. If you've got cell towers close by you may be able to get by with the window or an external omni directional antenna, but if it's a ways a way like on our farm, you'll want to look at a directional antenna.

One other thing to mention. Out of all the folks that use the AT&T plan, even though it's a 100GB cap. Many say they go way over that per month and never get throttled to a slower speed. They say that the agreement says that they "may" throttle you if you are in a high bandwidth area. Maybe the same with other carriers, but certainly better than I've read about going over your limit on viastat or hughesnet.
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
I guess now would be a good time for an update on my setup. Sorry this is a long one, but
maybe some info some of you need.

A couple of days ago my wife said she couldn’t connect to the internet. We’ve been pretty stable, and a quick reboot didn’t fix it. I had checked that morning and we had only used about 60gb of our 100gb monthly allowance.

After a bit of checking around I realized that something had eaten up that last 40gb of data. So unlike I previously thought that I’d be throttled, the fact is when I’m out of data, we’re out of internet. :(

Luckily it does let you add more data for an inflated price. I added 5gb and 10 ministers later it was all gone :eek:

So had my wife shut off her phone, data was still leaving, shut off her computer and data usage then stopped.

There wasn’t a good way to determine what actually used the data on windows, so I had to use a software called NetLimiter (https://netlmiter.com $25) to see what apps were using data. The paid version lets you set limits on the apps and even block them from using network/internet.

Long story short, my wife took an enormous amount of pictures for her grandpas birthday. Those were all trying to sync to her computer from iCloud. :doh:

The NetLimiter app let me see that the app was using all the data and block it, I then signed her out of it to keep it from running again. I also was able to limit the computers overall bandwidth to keep another app from doing something similar. The app is one license per computer, but cheap insurance if you are paying dearly for internet.

So equipment wise, the pepwave device started having issues at the RVPark and hardly connected, and didn’t connect at all at the farm. I need up purchasing another Netgear LB1120 cell modem. I also use the Netgear Mimo antenna ( https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DN3J03O ) that can stick in a window. I would recommend the antenna, it boosted our signal and speeds almost doubled with it.

Jay happened to recommend Nomad Internet if (https://nomadinternet.com) which has some truly unlimited data plans. Currently they only have some TMobile and Verizon plans, none for AT&T. We know Verizon is in the area and works from time to time. So I ordered a Verizon (big red) plan from them. I’ll order a couple of directional antennas from Amazon to test it when it arrives. We have 7 days to return it and get a full refund if it doesn’t work out.

If it does work out, we’ll have two data sources and eggs in different baskets.

We also are looking for a place in town to maybe buy or rent for office space with fiber internet. I was hoping there might be somewhere that had office and meeting space, a business center of sorts. Might seem excessive, but we have to work every day still, even if we can’t get internet at the farm.
 

Rennie Heuer

Moderator
Staff member
Messages
10,663
Location
Constantine, MI
I have the T-Mobile 5G internet service and it works pretty well. The best we can do at our location is 2 bars, even so I get speeds as high as 80 MPS with the average closer to 50. Unlimited data. Way better than the 7 MPS speeds I was getting with my land line company.
 

Ryan Mooney

Moderator
Staff member
Messages
6,865
Location
The Gorge Area, Oregon
Something more centralized like


or something cooked up around pfSense

Might be useful. You could basically set a per-device / time bandwidth utilization cap and have it auto disable devices that go over that. That wouldn't "solve" the problem necessarily but would ID the offending device by having it immediately go offline. That would catch something like "and now the phone is syncing pictures" .. not that that will happen.. but just in case.. You can also set per endpoint caps/restrictions to entirely disable some of that, but blocking the apple traffic entirely could be overly challenging and cause other undesired side effects.
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
Well, I got the Nomad Internet cell modem today. It's on their "Deep Red" plan, which is a Verizon plan. I only have one bar and about .01 mbps download, but it's connecting, which is promising. I ordered a couple of directional antennas and from the router's connection details I know which tower it is connecting too (just by chance), so I know which direction to point them when they come. Hopefully we'll be able to get a better signal and have decent, unlimited internet soon.
 

Darren Wright

Administrator
Staff member
Messages
18,304
Location
Kansas City, Missouri
What does 'Up to Unlimited' mean?
This what I found…
Nomad Internet makes a best effort to provide unlimited data, but data limitations, speeds, and availability may vary based on the discretion of the providing network.
 
Top