Cellular LTE Internet

Darren Wright

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


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