My 4G line of sight internet connection
I constructed my 4G home internet to replace a poor ADSL connection. Living in a rural location the local ADSL provider could not supply a usable broadband connection.
You too may have a need for an LTE / 4G internet connection if you
- Live off-grid
- Live too far from the exchange
- No ADSL available
- Mobile homes
- Rural location
My solution to this common problem of no connection or low MBPS downloads is a simple one. The concept is not new but it is surprising how many people suffer poor download rates when this solution is easy to achieve.
I share with you my solution and the process I went through.
In this diagram, you can see the basis of how to acquire 4G internet into the home using easy to find equipment on Amazon or eBay.
- Two directional antennas, yes TWO
- A Mast and mount or somewhere high to mount
- A 4G Router with WIFI
- 4G sim card
4G line of sight directional antennas
4G or LTE as it is known requires two Antennas, Yes TWO! These antennae or aerials will need to be mounted on a mast or anywhere high not too far from the residence. This is where a website cell mapper comes in handy as you will see different frequencies on offer.
‘Ideally, cables should be no longer than 20ft (6M) between the Yagi antenna and the LTE Router ‘
High frequencies are long-range low capacity yet low frequency can carry a high load at lower bandwidth thus higher capacity.
High-frequency cell towers are positioned in a rural country. Low-Frequency service is usually destined for the towns. Each Cell tower normally has two frequency ranges covered per service provider.
So how do we find a clean 4G signal?
If you are to have a good internet connection living in the wilderness. You will need to understand the principle behind the ‘Line of sight internet?
What is Line of sight internet?
4G internet which relies on a connection to an antenna provided by the cell network. This concept can be divided by a few elements
- 4G signal being available
- Good antenna
- A 4G router that accepted external antennas
- Wireless or LAN connection speeds
What if I cannot find a signal with my smartphone?
This is where you need to do your reccy and discover if there are any 4G internet antennas nearby.
We had no mobile internet but our home 4G works?
If you have no bars showing on your mobile does not mean there is no signal available. This can be because your phone has a poor receptor but also your land could be in a zero coverage zone. But if you raise your receiver to a clean signal.
Do your 4G survey
I use a web-based app call Cellmapper https://www.cellmapper.net/map. This app is very useful when you need to find a local service supplier. When I searched this I was surprised how many 4G antennas are in my local vicinity. We have three antennas within 8km. Remember we have no signal while on the ground at our property.
How to perform a 4G survey
This is easier than it sounds. This is what I do:
- Open up the app Cellmapper
- Search for antennas in my area
- Do a drive-by and perform a speed test using speedtest.net outside the antenna
- Repeat test with each antenna
- Choose the fastest antenna cell (sometimes more than one company is hosted on an antenna)
- Check out which provider the antenna is servicing
- Check out the service suits your needs
- If possible see if you can connect to signal at height
Mapping my 4G line of sight survey
How I do this
- Print out a map off google maps
- Place a mark of each antenna
- Prefer the fastest and closest cell tower
- X marks your spot!
- Draw a line to your spot from each cell tower
- Using a compass rose note the angle in respect to 360°
- You now have a site survey
Using Google Earth
I use the downloaded version of Google Earth but the online version is fine.
- Open google maps
- Goto your location
- Print screen and copy into drawing or photo editing software
- Use cell mapper to locate towers
- Using the line tool draw a line from each tower location to your location
- Place your compass rose onto the screen or print out the image
- Put a note on each tower location the speed and degrees
- Your goal to find the fastest cell tower in your location
Remember that just because of the fast speed during your test is not necessarily the fastest for you. This is because of possible obstructions in the form of trees or building and interference from power lines. So do not discard the other possible cell towers.
Why is internet off-grid so important?
In my defence of ensuring an internet connection, I need it because it is such a wealth of technical self-sufficiency information. A great way to share permaculture methodology with other keen Earth lovers.
What are the pros of off-grid internet?
Frankly, partial independence away from the corporate institutions. I understand that the complexities of letting go completely are not very easy but the benefit could be huge.
Taking back control of our day to day and relaxing our dependence on the big players to provide ADSL connections into our homes. Yes, we are still using the communication giants but without physical connections, we can avoid the crippling contracts. And let’s not forget that remote or just rural homes could be subject to high installation charges.
- Relative independence
- Control over contracts
- possibility of anytime cancellation without penalty
- Internet where no cable is
- No cable laying
What are the cons of off-grid internet?
Like any service, there will always be some negatives and after having an off the grid internet connection for years we are well placed to understand. There may be some problems with any off-grid system but still, we are here with 4G internet supplied via our system.
- Occasional intermittent connection.
- When a voice call is made internet drops to 3G
- Maintenance of own equipment
- Not as fast as fibre optics
- Unlikely to be able to take advantage of 5G
- Some knowledge is advisable
Voice calls over LTE
VoLTE, as it is now known, is new technology and not always available. Almost all LTE providers allow voice calls over their network. This is called ‘Voice Over Internet Protocol’ (VOIP).
Service dropped to 3G during a call
You need to be aware that when a voice call is made nearly all services drop the signal down to 3G instead of 4G. The reason for this is that most cell networks only carry voice calls over 3G & 2G. This drop will affect internet speed while a call is in process. This drop applies to everyone connected to the router whether connected via WIFI or LAN.
Although 5G rollout is likely to make a major difference to people wanting fast streaming services. I believe the technology may be lacking somewhat in practicality terms for individuals wanting 5G in rural areas.
Why is 5G impractical?
Current 4G cell towers service large areas from a central position with frequencies suited to short-range / High capacity to Long-range / Low capacity.
5G networks work by the principle of High frequencies to carry the higher speeds. The problem with this is the microwaves have to be bounced from the transmitter to transmitted to get the range.
There are 5G infrastructure issues to install all the microwave antennas. Just ask your local cell tower installer. How much local community push back they get when civilians here that a brain-melting mast coming near to them!
Line of sight 5G using my system?
I do not believe there is a system available for the installation of a 5G line of sight home-based internet system. Netgear does a 4 gigabit per second router ‘Night Hawk M5 but this router does not give you the possibility of adding signal boosting directional antennas as per the LTE.
‘I believe it is too soon to see any usable home-based rural 5G installations’
If I take our 4G home-based internet as an example and its average download speed of 50mbps eating at our 100-gigabyte download limit. Our monthly allowance will be gone in just over 5 hours.
Now take 5G at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, in 10 seconds my 100 gig allowance will be gone. See the problem?
There is another issue? If you consider that we tend to spend what we earn. And place that idealism into our internet usage then we will just consume more bandwidth.
Any mobile internet service provider has one thing that is out of their control ‘Obstructions’
Line of sight obstructions can be in the form of
- Electrical storms
If you recall what I was saying earlier about High-frequency transmissions can carry more bandwidth but over a short distance. You should have more idea of the limitations that 5G puts upon itself.
5G frequency range 24 – 86 ghz
4G (LTE) frequency range 700 mhz – 2700 mhz
4G can penetrate buildings yet 5G cannot
Bandwidth is not free!
What do I mean by that? Well I mean is that it is not Free to our Environment. Higher demand for internet infrastructure produces hot servers.
The energy needed to facilitate this increase in bandwidth will be seen as the Future ‘Petroleum Corporations’ and not in a good way.
I believe we will come full circle and start rationing our consumption of bandwidth. It will be hard to stomach that ‘Cold Turkey’.
Directional VS Omni Directional 4G internet antennas
There are two main types of antenna available to you: Directional and Omni – Directional. Both have their place in any 4G installation.
Why use Directional Yagi antennas for LTE
As the name applies these antennas receive signals in one direction. Our home-based internet system uses two Yagi enclosed antennas.
- These antennas have a high DBI, ours are 28dbi. I am not sure how accurate that is but in most cases 12dbi should work well.
- Ideal for a high power home 4G internet installation
- Power concentrated and not diluted 360°
- Reliable connection
- Directional antennas are not convenient for mobile use such as motorhomes
- Need mounting in a high position
- Subject to alignment issues because of high winds
Are OMNI – Directional any good
OMNI means that these antennas receive a signal in all directions. Because these antennas are not directional installation is very straightforward. Be careful though as the technology is more complicated and a quality OMNI – Directional antenna is very important.
- Compact units
- Suitable for mobile use because the setup is simple
- Site survey less important as you have a signal or not
- Good for motorhome use
- Poorer signal strength than directional antennas
- Less power
- Signal strength shared through 360°
Mast for mounting 4G Directional Yagi
Your new yagi antennas will collect LTE signal as long as they are mounted in a way to collect the frequency. To do this it is a good idea to mount these antennas on a mast.
‘Higher the mast fewer obstructions hence stronger connection to the cell tower.’
You can use an independent mast or a satellite dish mount on your house. Our mast is independent but is mounted and stayed at our house.
You will need to consider several situations factors. What I mean by this is that you should do a kind of risk assessment of anything that could affect you maintaining a good connection. For instance
- Nearby overhead power lines
- Other buildings
- All obstructions
- Cabling between router and yagi no longer than 20ft(6m)
LTE 4G Router for internet
We first installed our system 4 years ago. We then bought a Huawei B593 WIFI router which we still use with success. The ‘Huawei LTE CPE B593’ is no longer available but the newer ‘Huawei B315’ can be purchase on Amazon.
What is the difference between these this LTE router and an ADSL router?
If you think you can use your old router then think again. The two routers are very different. The only portion that has any comparison is the WIFI component of each of these routers.
The 4G LTE router works in the same principle as your 4G phone.
These routers have their own SIM card from your selected service provider.
These LTE routers come in two main categories
- Mains electric adapter or 12V input
- Rechargeable battery
Our B593 is a mains unit and is mounted in our home. We also have another mobile type in the form of a Huawei E5577 for our camper but you could still use the portable one in your home with a USB connection for constant charging.
Useful tools for LTE
You could invest in an oscilloscope and a whole load of training so you can understand all those knobs and the wiggly line! But one tool I reckon that would really help you is a sighting compass. This compass will help you align your antenna to the chosen cell tower.
Using our method mentioned earlier in this article you should have the degree as a part of the 360°. For instance, our local cell was at 22.5° so we used our sighting compass to point our two LTE enclosed yagi antennas.
My conclusion of Remote WIFI
We left our local provider ORANGE after it failed to provide a service that served our needs. We now have a system as described in this tutorial and it works very well. I am watching Netflix while I write this!
Although we could get a landbased system again, it is too slow compared to our LTE 4G set up. For us, it is a no brainer as now we are in control of our internet provisions.
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