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Wireless Internet For a Rural Community: Broadband Almost Anywhere in Spain

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Wireless Internet For a Rural Community: Broadband Almost Anywhere in Spain

... villages in Nepal, Africa, USA, UK. They have solved the problem in a similar way to that which I’m about to describe by using second hand, home made/modified, or off the shelf equipment.

Posted by The Editor

Tagged: telefonica, adsl, technology, internet in spain, gprs, rural, 3g, router, wireless, isdn

Kevin Dillon finally shares his secrets with expats everywhere. You too can now setup a wireless web connection for your rural home in Spain. Check out more conventional ways to connect to the Internet at our more general Internet in Spain page.

Background- Why do it?

This article came about as a result of my having moved to Spain to a valley where Telefonica had claimed to offer ADSL (Broadband) internet service. In short, they couldn’t do it because they use equipment considered obsolete in other parts of the world. They have no interest in widening their operating range beyond the current 3km from an exchange, and they don’t allow other companies to use more modern RADSL equipment to extend their range to 6-7 km. Telefonica aren’t incompetent; they are allowed to cherry pick customers who are cheapest to service. For my Internet connection I was presented with the following choices and here are my reasons in summary for rejecting them:

Dial up Internet Connection

It typically costs around €25 per month, ties up your telephone line and, worst of all, drops out randomly causing much frustration. Its typical speed of around 40kbs is sedentary. If you have to use this service I can personally recommend ONSPEED (www.Onspeed.com) . For €40 per year it will improve most of your web surfing activity by a factor of 3-4 and may extend your sanity! I only twitch a little bit now that I’ve moved on!

ISDN Internet Connection

This technology is still pushed hard by Telefonica for rural users although it belongs to an era that passed over 10 years ago. It would be easier for them to provide ADSL but they charge more for ISDN. It’s an expensive way to improve the service by around 30% over dial up.

Unidirectional Satellite Internet System

You can get a free dish/PC card package from SkyDSL (http://www.teles-skydsl.com) for DIY installation. A download rate of 4 Mbs and data volume will cost around €30 per month. But you will still need a telephone link and and an ISP for uploading. The service has its problems because the upload speed is slow and although the download speed is good, you will have to wait half a second for the data to travel to the satellite and back. This effect is called latency and it doesn’t seem to be a problem until you try using voice systems (VoIP) such as Skype through it. Please note that ONSPEED will not work with this system.

Bidirectional Satellite Internet System

Apart from still having the latency effect (times 2 now, for up and down links) this system works well but it costs serious money. It’s around €3000 to set up and expect to pay over €100 per month for anything approaching a comparable terrestrial ADSL Internet package in Spain.

GPRS or 3G

This can offer around 300 Kbs, almost ADSL, using mobile phone technology. It’s worth considering if you live in an area where the network is enabled (test it, don’t believe what company claims) and your usage is limited to a relatively short time online (1-2 hours) and for fairly small data volumes. It would be very expensive if you want ‘always on’ broadband, which is what ADSL is all about. There is some good news; ONSPEED works for this technology and because it compresses data you can save a lot of money as well as improving the speed. Check out Vodafone for this service.

Purpose of this article

So now I have eliminated all the easily available options what options are left? By operating on the assumption that there is always someone else who may have solved a similar problem I searched the web and found hundreds of places in the world that have done so. They range from villages in Nepal, Africa, USA, UK. They have solved the problem in a similar way to that which I’m about to describe by using second hand, home made/modified, or off the shelf equipment.

Scope for WiFi in this article

The potential scale for WiFi (Wireless Fidelity, a type of wireless Internet connection using 2.4Ghz radio waves) applications is huge. San Francisco is becoming a WiFi enabled zone as a commercial operation through Google. Many areas of the world have large zones (40km long) where people have helped themselves to achieve ASDL networks through a technique called meshing. Meshing is a way of developing large networks with many users, say more than 10, but it is a step more complex than this article will cover. Fon, the wireless device manufacturer from Spain, is partnering with Google to try to blanket Barcelona with wireless coverage by offering customers access to 5€ wifi routers if they agree to allow open access to their Internet connection.

This article is limited to a wireless system that I have built and am operating along with 4 users. It uses equipment which can be bought either from local shops or through the internet. It is fairly simple to design and configure a similar wireless system if you have some experience with computers and basic networks. The cost is low and it doesn’t require any licensing to operate. I do not intend to address the question of whether the source ISP will be happy with such an arrangement other than to say that ISP’s typically supply WiFi routers and expect that their users may operate several computers within a household. What this system will do is extend the networks range beyond a house; by a long way!

The next step is to replace it with an antenna that is designed to focus the signal towards the other end of the link.

System Design

The first requirement for a network is to find an broadband (ADSL or Cable) Internet source. In summary it needs to be good enough (sufficient speed, data volume throughput, price, and LOCATION) to make sharing it with other users a viable proposition. If you live in Nepal you might have to install a bi-directional satellite system (although there are also UK sites doing this). If you consider how the cost could be shared amongst many users; it rapidly becomes an affordable option. Alternatively a cheaper source would be a suitable telephone-based ADSL user who is near enough and in the right location to supply your area. While seeking a source check that they are willing to share their service with you (sharing their Internet subscription costs makes an attractive proposition), and that you can construct a wireless LINK between the intended users. This can be done in several legs and can also serve other users en-route. The length for each leg of the link can be up to 15 km providing that a clear line of sight is available between each antenna.

The Equipment:

Internet Source
The source will usually receive their ADSL service from an ADSL modem (USB or otherwise). If it’s a USB (or even a combined USB/Ethernet) modem, replace it with an ADSL modem router (€50-80). Their service is then connected between the router by ethernet cable or WiFi to their PC. An additional ethernet cable is connected to the router to serve the Link.

Consider what the source ISP actually delivers. For example, although the ISP may claim to offer a download rate of 1 Mbs you may achieve a download of 3 Mbs for a short time. The ISP may ration data delivery so that between fast bursts you receive very little. This can be tolerated providing it’s understood and no users become greedy. Also note that Onspeed
can enhance the throughput speed too.

Check out a business Internet service too. Without costing too much more you’ll receive a higher level of customer service and the ISP will be more hesitant to complain if you’re sharing the connection with others. Also, you can order residential ADSL Internet lines of up to 20 Mbs with 1Mbs uplink for comparatively little extra over the standard 1-4Mbs lines.

The WiFi Link
The link uses the same piece of technology at each end. An ethernet cable is taken from the source’s router to a WiFi Access Point (AP, €40). The range of these units as sold is only 100-200 metres because the antenna, the little rubber stick, is limiting its range. The next step is to replace it with an antenna that is designed to focus the signal towards the other end of the link. The design of antennas is for specialists, so you decide the range that you need to achieve and then buy the right item from a specialist. For my system I have bought the equipment and used the technical references from a UK supplier: www.solwise.co.uk

It’s hard to provide definite costs for antenna because they vary between €10-100 depending upon the requirement.

Because it’s vital that the access point and antenna are mounted outside on a wall, chimney, mast, etc, it’s best to choose an antenna that can also house and protect the access point. The access point needs a power supply and the convenient solution is to use a Power over Ethernet (POE) kit. The easy option is to choose an antenna that can house the power and access point together.

My system uses several units, each constructed from an antenna, an access point, and a POE kit. The cost of the complete unit is €180 each. Your needs may be simpler and cheaper solutions may be possible.

The User
All that is needed for a user is a unit as described in the Link section and an ethernet cable from the unit to the PC, or to continue the theme, another WiFi AP to provide a local network within the house. When agreeing to add users to the network remember to consider what their Internet usage is likely to be; all of you will be sharing the same source and a user who downloads DVDs or shares files through P2P (peer to peer) networks could cause problems for the others.

Costs
The costs I have indicated are for using good quality off-the-shelf equipment. It may appear that €180 for each end of the link, plus a router at €50 for the source, is expensive.
Consider that Dial-up costs are typically €300 per year, ADSL is nearer to €400. The cost of a WiFi link with miscellaneous fittings is around €450.

To set up this system there is an initial cost of €450 and you will probably pay your source €200 per year if you share the ISP cost; so you save €200 (from the €400 you would have paid if you could have your own ISP). In 2-3 years it’s paid for itself. If you add more users then it becomes cheaper than using your own ISP even more quickly!

Is there a catch?

Technically it’s all feasible; mine is working and it can be done quickly and simply. If there is a catch, it’s that, in addition to factors such as your skill level and Sod’s Law, this is Spain and the equipment (remember the ADSL source ISP too) seems to know it. I reckon I have caused or encountered nearly all the problems that could exist. I don’t want you to repeat all my errors so please ask!

What is not covered in this article

  • Contractual aspects of sharing an ISP.
  • Large scale network issues such as meshing are beyond the scope of this article.
  • There are security and network management issues to be addressed.
  • This is a high level summary of the reasons for and the principles of how to do it; it does not aim to provide the detail because that would need a book.
  • Your own source/user/geography will determine the design that is right for you.

Good luck!

Ps. If you have any questions, please see the forum topic on the Spain Expat forums here.

 

Last updated 09 10 2006

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Comments

If you'd like to ask a question for discussion, please mosey on over to the Spain Forum. See our posting rules and instructions here.

01/Nov/2011:
ebropc said:

Hi

You can now order, the equipment for a 10mb satellite broadband connection for free if you sign up for the service called too way 10, its also setup for self installation... have a look at the video at http://www.ebrovalleycomputers.eu

Thank you

 

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