Oct 262014
Internet Antenna

The Internet Antenna, installed

1.5 Mpbs was a great broadband speed, back in 2002. CenturyLink’s refusal to upgrade the DSL speed in our neighborhood, and their lousy/incompetent customer service combined with their general hostility towards 3rd party Internet Service Providers (ISPs) made me start to look for other internet connectivity options. As of this weekend, after months of tinkering on the roof and tweaking radio frequency settings, the Passiflora Farm has officially cut the cable and this webpage is now being served through the new internet antenna. The internet antenna operates in the 5.8 GHz ISM band and uses a dish antenna pointed towards an access point located on a building on Capitol Hill. It took several months of tinkering and about $150 in hardware, but now I am enjoying 10 Mbps dedicated speed internet (both upload and download) while bypassing any of the two or three large broadband providers that everyone else in Seattle is forced to use.

Cortland Communications has been my ISP Since 1998, and they are great small locally-owned company. Before the internet antenna, my connection to Cortland was via a DSL Line provided by USWest/Qwest/CenturyLink; with Cortland acting as a 3rd party ISP. Cortland also provides internet connections to selected locations via point-to-multipoint microwave broadband wireless connections.

On a whim I contacted Mike Levy, the owner of Cortland, to see about getting a wireless broadband connection to the house. Unobstructed line of sight would be required to one of Cortland’s two transmitter sites; one of which is in West Seattle and the other on Capitol Hill. The West Seattle location was out of the question due to that pesky Beacon Hill, but Capitol Hill was a possibility thanks to the fortunate orientation of Rainier Valley. I climbed up on the roof to see if I could see the Council House, the building that hosts Cortland’s transmitters. Not quite; some trees on the foothills of Mt. Baker Ridge seemed to be in the way, but only barely. Then I attached a camera to a 10′ pole and hoisted that up on the roof. Using the self-timer I snapped a photo that showed the top of the Council House barely peeking out above the trees.

The only way to know for sure if this would work would be to get some equipment and try it out. Mike is rather busy, running the whole ISP business himself, and I am a rather small-potatoes residential customer, so if I wanted to try this out then I would have to pretty much do all of the setup myself. Seemed like a fun project. Mike invited me to come over to his shop on Delridge and he gave me some equipment and mounting hardware and walked me through the configuration steps. I would need to build a tower on the roof of the house to get the enough height for the necessary line of sight; this seemed like a bit of a daunting task.

Access Point

The view from the access point

The other issue was that Cortland didn’t have an access point currently pointed in the direction of Rainier Valley. So Mike and I set up a time to go up on the roof of the Council House and get a new access point set up. Then I started thinking about how I would construct a tower on my roof. The tower design I came up with uses two 3/4” EMT conduits coupled together, one 10′ long and the other about 3′ long. At the coupling, three guy wires are attached that hold the pole in place. I stopped by Puget Sound Solar’s shop and got some clamps that attach to our new metal roof, the same ones they used to attach our solar panels, and used those to anchor the guy wires. A dish antenna is clamped onto the very top of the pole, and the “subscriber unit” is attached to the pole below the antenna. An ethernet cable runs from the subscriber unit to the basement and connects to a power injector that provides power to the radio via power-over-ethernet.

When I first powered on the internet antenna, it successfully associated with the access point, but the connection was not very reliable. I spent some time trying some different frequencies but nothing worked satisfactorily. I had to make a return visit to the Council House to find a higher mounting location for the access point, and I had to convert the polarization of the roof antenna from vertical to horizontal by taking down the pole and rotating the dish 90-degrees, then more frequency tweaking. After all that, I finally got a stable connection at 5768 MHz and it has been working great for several weeks. A third visit to the Council House was required to run a new ethernet cable to the access point after my hastily patched-together cable blew apart on a windy October evening.

The final step was to get static IP addresses assigned to the internet antenna and move the kehoe.org server over to one of those IPs. This happened on Saturday, and this means that the Passiflora Farm house is now completely off the DSL and connected to the interwebs via the internet antenna.

I was a little woried about the antenna during the windstorm last night. The connection did get knocked offline for a while, but the antenna was still standing. The wind rotated the whole pole so that the dish was pointed towards somewhere like Kirkland. A brief visit onto the roof this morning to point the dish back towards Capitol Hill was all that was needed to get back online.