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Information Technology

Adding WiFi to Your Whole Farm

Adding wifi to your whole farm is a decision most should have made years ago. Some get there kicking and screaming.

Eventually the day finally comes. You’ve known it would come, but you aren’t quite ready for it. The day someone finally gets their new invoice from DTN satellite service and caves. When they total up their quarterly invoice to find out just how much per year they are spending and still not getting all of the market bids they want. That’s when you get the question “What would it take to hook me up to the Internet?”

The situation here is a similar, yet different, from a lot of farm situations. I have an office building on site where I already have HughesNet Internet service. Nearly everyone who lives on a farm knows you cannot afford dial up service. Almost every phone call is long distance and the speed sucks. Since we have another dish up for television service, why get yet another subscription?

My first thought was to just trench CAT 5 cable over to his house to get a good connection, then I measured the distance. Add to that the power, water, and lines I would have to cross it would be quite an ordeal. Second thoughts are sometimes your best. I was going to be faced with getting Internet service into my house once I got done restoring it, so why not provide Internet access to the entire farm? Spending some time on eBay allowed me to acquire all of the components I would need for under $300.

What you need:

Linksys WRT54G wireless router

Linksys WAP54G wireless access point

Linksys 5 port Hub

Outdoor 18dBI Antenna

Some pre-made CAT 5 cables of various lengths.

Believe it or not, that’s exactly what is listed on the box for the product name of the antenna.

When it comes to the CAT 5 cables, just choose where you want everything and eyeball the distance. Cables come in two lengths, too long and too short. Visit your local office supply store (or Target or Kmart for that matter) and choose some that are close to the length you think you need.

As to a computer for him, I had an old AMD 1.8Ghz machine I wasn’t using. A quick trip to the Linux store on-line got a fresh CD with Ubuntu Gutsy distribution on it. When it comes to an end user, Ubuntu is probably the cleanest and easiest to set up OS out there. The CD cost about $17 to have mailed to me. Ubuntu is freely distributable and comes with most everything you would need: OpenOffice word processor/spreadhsheet, Mozilla Web browser, Evolution email, even some games.

The handiest thing you can have or borrow is a notebook computer when you are setting up WiFi for farm access. This allows you to connect to the router, then wander around your farm testing the signal strength.

Mounting for the antenna was simple. It came with a pole mount bracket set. For a pole I found a 10 foot hunk of old water well drop pipe and drove about 3 feet of it in the ground with a fence post driver. The antenna came with 9 feet of lead cable so it was a quick thing to hook up. You need an adapter cable to hook the antenna to one of the antenna ports on the back of the router. This particular router comes with RP-TNC connector and the antenna came with the new standard RP-SMA. You can either order the adapter, get a cable with the correct connector, or do what I did, steal one out of an indoor antenna kit I had from CompUSA.

Please note: the Linksys router and wireless access point both have a reset button on them. You have to actually hold that reset button for about 30 seconds if you need to reset a router back to firmware load conditions.

I downloaded the firmware for both devices before connecting my notebook directly to the router. The following link has some pretty good information about the setup and configuration of this router.

The basic gist is you have to manually set your wired connection to 192.168.1.5 (any final digit other than 1) with a subnet of 255.255.255.0. Open your Web browser and key in 192.168.1.1 (which is the factory default address for the router.) Upload your firmware update as prompted, then wait for the router to reboot. After it reboots you can again go to that address and you will be presented with the configuration menu. There is no username and the password is “admin” (all lowercase without the quotes).

Each time you tell the router to “ save settings” it will take a few seconds for it to reboot. The first settings you want to change are the wireless settings. Ensure you are using channel 6 and supporting mixed mode communications. Save those settings. Connect again and set your router IP address and turn on DHCP on your main page. I run a network of 192.168.2.x so I set my router to 192.168.2.1. Be sure to set your timezone as well.

Turn your router over and write down the MAC address. You will need this later.

Plug the router into your satellite and your external antenna. Make sure everything is turned on.

Now you are ready to configure your access point.

Plug your notebook into the only port on the back of the WAP54G after you have held the reset button the correct length of time. The AP address will be 198.168.1.245, if you still have the manually set up 192.168.1.5 address on your notebook you should be able to open your Web browser and key in the AP address. Upload the firmware and wait for it to reset. Be sure you have the correct version of firmware. There are 4 or 5 different versions of the firmware. The Linksys web site has a lot of instructions about how to identify your version.

You want this access point to work as a range extender, not an access point. One of the options on the Web menu you are presented with is “mode”. Clicking it will bring up a screen with various modes. Chose the range extender or repeater mode. Find the piece of paper you wrote down the MAC address of the router on, and enter the MAC address into the field provided. It will get formatted with colons, so don’t worry if they appear while you are typing, or after you finish.

Save the settings.

Once it reboots, use your browser to connect again. The one critical piece of information missing from the documentation is that you cannot have a static (manually entered) IP address for the AP if you are working in repeater mode. You must let the address be set via DHCP. Choose DHCP assigned address from the main screen. This time when the router reboots you won’t be able to connect to it because it will have a new address. Don’t worry about it, you don’t need to.

Plug your AP into a port on the Hub. Make certain you do NOT plug the cable into one of the Uplink ports. Plug your computer into the hub and set your wired IP connection to use DHCP configuration. Depending upon what OS you are using you may need to reboot your computer after doing this.

Open your Web browser and try to connect to the Internet. Your favorite Web page should appear.

The reason you need to plug into a Hub is that you may want to get a networked printer later on, or an additional computer. Might as well set it up correctly the first time.

With this type of WiFi configuration and an old notebook computer, you will be able to look up technical specs or repair manuals while working in your shop. No need to put a computer out there permanently and no need to run into the house, look something up, then try to remember it while walking back out to the shop.

You can find the 2015 version of this post here. Another wifi antenna saga here.