When our houses were built, the local phone comany (GTE - now Verizon) was cheap, and laid a cable with only enough pairs for one phone line per house, and a few spares.

Of course, every house now has at least two phone lines (I currently have 4), so they ran out of physical phone lines and resorted to multiplexing multiple phone circuits over single cable pairs. The end result is that no-one has a physical copper wire connection to the local exchange, so it is impossible to get DSL service.

Cable service was appaling and had too many restrictions, so I lived for about 8 years with a full-time dial-up connection to a local friendy ISP Cyber Connectics who were willing to set up the full-time link, and deal with giving me a few static IP addresses.

As you probably know, a 56k modem link for this sort of operation isn't ideal. But I managed to run my own web server and mail server, and got used to things just happening slowly.

Very recently, I decided it was time to upgrade. I decided that if I couldn't get DSL up here, there must be people down in the town that could, and wouldn't be using it. I scoured around and discovered that our Vet was open to letting me use one of their phone lines (provided I paid the DSL bill, of course). The vet is 1.5Km away, as measured with GPS. Approximately where the arrow indicates on this photo taken from the house looking south.

I had a pair of WiFi (802.11b) access points that I had purchased some time previously (Proxim RangeLan), which had a point-to-point mode which seemed like they might be suitable to connect the two points. I set up an antenna pointing towards the vet's office, put the access point in a plastic box and wired it all up. I left the AP operating as a normal access point, hooked to my home network (and the internet via my dial-up connection), took my laptop with its 802.11b card and drove down to an office parking lot behind the vetinary surgery. I was really amazed that I could connect! Obviously not a good signal, but good enough that I could surf the internet - remember this is from 1.5Km away. Its amazing what hooking up a 19dbi antenna can do for a WiFi connection.

Getting DSL installed and working on one of the phone lines was an interesting experience, (see the horror stories section at the end) but eventually it worked, and I installed another 19dbi antenna and the second access point on the roof of the vetinary surgery. The signal came up as "Excellent", so I was quite happy, as you can probably imagine.

I drove home, and plugged the home AP into my laptop and it worked. Next I tried upload and download of some sizable files, and got about 44KB/s upload, and 165KB/s down, which was remarkably close to the DSL connection speed ordered: 1.5Mbps/380Kbps.

The only problem I had was about a week or so after installing the connection, the AP on the roof of the vet died. of course, it was obsolete equipment, and I couldn't get a replacement, so ended up replacing both APs with D-Link WDL-AP900+ access points configured for point to point. As it turns out, these give slightly more RF output, so the link is better still. Now we have to wait to see how it behaves in the pouring rain of a typical Oregon winter.

For anyone thinking of doing this themselves, this section details some of the problems I had. Not that everyone will have these problems, but be aware that setting up this sort of thing is not a trivial as you might think.

A big problem is in finding suitable housings to put the outdoor equipment (access point) in. It really has to be outdoors, because you want the shortest possibe connection between it and the antenna. I ended up with some Rubbermade boxes, which are not really suitable because they are too flimsy, and I have my doubts about their being really waterproof.

I have since found a source of suitable enclosures, and have one I am shortly going to install to test out.

The first problem was in getting the DSL connection to work. The day it was installed on the phone line, I went along to the surgery and located the junction box for the incoming phone line. Of course, it took a lot of scratching around to determine which line was the one I wanted - it was labeled, but inside the cover marked something like "NOT TO BE OPENED BY UNAUTHORIZED PERSONEL", so I duly authorized myself and opened it and found the incoming cable pairs had indeed been labeled by what looked like a drunken spider dipped in diluted ink. Anyway, I found the right pair.

Next, I installed a splitter for the line, one side to go to the PABX via the DSL filter, and the other to the cable modem. Working in the cramped space that I had, I ended up putting the filter in the line to the DSL modem - which of course obstinately refused to acknowlege any signal on the line at all. It took me a while to catch this. With the connections swapped over, the modem lit up just fine.

I configured my laptop with the IP given to me by my ISP and connected to the modem and tried to ping the ISP router. Nothing.

After checking everything a dozen or so times I gave up and called Verizon. I did get a quite helpful person (I won't mention her name, because if I do they will probably fire her). She checked the connection and it seemed ok, but just to be certain, she deleted it and re-provisioned it there and then. Still nothing. She could see my packets on the line, but absolutely nothing from the ISP. Eventually, she said she would call them and work out the problem with them, since my end seemed ok. An hour or so later, I got a call from a very sheepish person at the ISP who told me they had found the problem - the DSL port I had been allocated had belonged to a previous client. This client didn't pay his bills, so they disabled the port. They had forgotten to re-enable it when they allocated it to me. I will happily forgive them for this, because they found it quickly, and they have been a really wonderful ISP in almost every respect, which is one of the reasons I am keeping them for this DSL connection.

The access points I started with were made by Proxim. They originally sold for $1,250 (yes, thats one thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars!!!). I saw them on sale on a very well known WiFi website (based in Florida) for $150 each. I called expecting it to be a typo - I was assured they were brand new, and no they were not about to dropped by the manufacturer. So I bought a couple.

Needless to say, they were prompty dropped by the manufacturer.

When I got them and looked at them, I was amazed at the absolute gall of anyone trying to sell these things for over $1000. There was absolutely nothing special about them. I sort of expected "Industrial Quality", but it was just normal run of the mill cheap plastic case with a cheap PCB holding an 802.11b card with a pull-off antenna, so that you could connect an external antenna. If I had paid list price I would have been mightily dissapointed.

I was quite dissapointed when one of them died after a couple of weeks use. The point-to-point protocols used in 802.11b are non standard, so don't work between different APs. I couldn't find another of the same type, and probably wouldn't have wanted it even if I could. So I went to Fry's and bought a couple of D-Link AP900+ units for about $70 each.

Then I had to order the cables to connect them to the antennas - that took a week. Finally, I installed them, and the connection came back up - or did it? Well, I thought it had, but I was getting really poor and intermittent throughput.

I climbed up the stepladder at the house and hooked my laptop card to the antenna, and saw a good solid signal from the remote AP. I hooked it all back up, drove down to the vet, climbed on the roof and tried the same thing there - nothing. No signal at all. Drove home again. Took my laptop near the AP there, no signal at all from the AP. Dead.

I took the AP back to Fry's, and after the traditional problems of exchanging anything at Fry's (don't ask!) got a replacement.

Installed the replacement, and ... nothing ... well ... there was something. Sniffing the network, I could see packets from the Internet (ARP requests and the like from the ISP), and I could see my packets, but there was never any response to any of my packets - so they obviously were not getting there.

Back to checking the wireless link again. All seemed ok at home, so I drove down to the vet, climbed onto the roof, hooked my laptop to the antenna, and ... no signal. Well, yes there was, but really low down in the noise. I tried realligning the antenna just in case, but didn't really believe that was the problem because I was getting a good signal at home from the remote AP.

I eventually gave up, took the AP from the vet home with me, took the one from the home end down too, and set them up on the kitchen table. All worked ok. Then I had a thought, I wrapped them in kitchen foil to mask the internal antennas, and connected external antennas to them, then measured the output. The "new" unit was 20db or more lower. Tried again with the internal antennas, and they were equal. It as too late at night to go back to Fry's, (and I'm not a massochist), so I opened up the case. There are two antenna connections on the card used in these, one goes to an internal antenna, and the other to a socket for an external antenna. Looking closely, it was obvious that the person who had soldered the co-ax in this unit didn't know how to solder. The inner conductor of the co-ax to the extenal antenna was soldered to fresh air. I re-soldered it, and guess what? it all worked just fine.

Another (late night) trip to the vet, a climb onto the roof in the dark and I reasembled everything. It all worked! and so far, has continued to do so.

Of course, saying anything like the above is just asking for problems. When the first winter rains arrived in November, I was interested to see just what effect the rain would have on the link quality. During a particularly nasty downpour I checked the link, and although there were a few radio packets being dropped, the TCP connection would still run at full speed.

A few minutes later the link dissapeared.

After going through the usual diagnoses, I drove to the Vet's office and checked that everything was live. It was. So up onto the roof again to check the equipment, and found that my worst fears about using the cheap Rubbermade box as a housing were realized. The AP was very, very wet.

Fortunately, I had found a source of reasonable weatherproof enclosures, and had ordered one with the idea that I would one day get around to changing the enclosure on the Vet's roof, which is much more exposed than the one on the house.

As usual, I ended up doing the work in the rain, the wind and the dark. Fortunately, the AP worked just fine after drying out, and is now sitting in its nice new (hopefully) dry enclosure.

In fact, about three years later. The link is still in use, and has been completely reliable. I have had to re-boot the DSL modem a couple of times, and the ISP has had various short term glitches, but the radio link just works.

The waterproof enclosure has given no trouble at all. Unfortunately, the source I found for these seems to have stopped carrying them. There are available alternatives these days, but generally quite expensive.

Checking the stats on the radios, I did notice that there were more errors at the Vet end. I put this down to their being in town and having to look through electricity supply cables. I replaced the antenna with a slightly larger, higher gain version and that seemed to fix the problem.

Of course, the radios/access points are now no longer made, so if I do have any problems I will probably have to look at replacing them with current versions. I do have one spare, but thats it.

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Now about 4 years, and still working well. I did have one issue, but nothing directly related to my link.

The ISP I was using was a small family affair. Eventually they decided to sell, and it was bought by a hosting company that wanted to get into the ISP business. They liked the look of Cyberconnectics because of its stable and loyal customer base.

Not long after they took over (maybe a couple of months), my connection went dead. I pinged the remote end, and it was working fine. I drove to the remote end and re-set the modem. Still nothing. But not a flutter on the modem status lights either unless I sent something. Looked like either a DSL or ISP issue.

I found a hotspot in town and tried to go to the ISP website. Nothing. So I tried a taceroute, and it ended at the backbone providor. Tried calling the ISP customer support -- continually busy. Kept trying all day with the same results.

Eventually, I dug up the home number of the previous owner, who I happened to know still had a financial stake in the company. It seems that this new company didn't pay its bills. The upstream providor eventually cut their service, which included Internet and phone services.

I drove to the ISP offices, and met a few other people on the doorstep. After lots of promised that they would restore service within hours, then a day, etc. etc. I gave up and found another ISP. It took a lot of DNS work to get the IP addresses changed, fortunately, I used mostly private addresses behind the firewall, so there wasn't much to do beyond reconfiguring the firewall as far as local config. changes went.

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Another year has passed, and I receive an email from my ISP telling me about configuration changes that I will need to make.

For their own reasons, they are moving from a bridged connection to PPPoE. This means having to authenticate, and no more static IPs! Of course, this is totally unacceptable for my use. I called them, but my complaints fell on deaf ears. I don't think they were particularly amused when I asked if they had any recommendations for a good ISP.

Having one week to solve this problem, I gave in and called Verizon about signing up for a business account. The prices have gone down a little since I last checked, but they are still pretty expensive.

The good news is that they can give me 3Mb/768Kb rather than the current 1.5Mb/386Kb connection. After checking, they told me that following upgrades in the area, the actual speed should be 5Mb/768Kb. Of course, subject to reality...

For various reasons they wanted to change the phone line used for DSL. We settled on the Fax line, then found that in their database that line didn't qualify for DSL. Even more strange, all of the lines qualified for different speeds (those that qualified at all). "Obviously an error", said the person signing me up, but rather than wait to get the lines re-validated, we chose to go with the one qualifying for the highest speed.

Now waiting for the new modem to be delivered, IPs to be assigned and the service actually connected. Fortunately, the two services should both be active for a couple of days at least, so I may be able to do this switch over with no outage at all (apart from root-DNS changes).

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The switch to Verizon went ok. The service was faster (3Mbps down, 765Kbps up). The radio link has just enough speed for me to exploit this higher speed. Verizon has not been too wonderful as an ISP. More outages and slow-downs with them than I have had in total to this point.

The modem/router provided (sold!) to me by Verizon runs their modified software, and needs an occasional kick to get it working again. This is in addition to the ISP/network issues mentioned above.