Internet Relay Towers and Communications in Limited Access Settings

One of the challenges of moving to the property we live on was the lack of internet availability. It wasn’t that we couldn’t do without it but it was nice to be able to at least get information or watch a show while living in a camper without plumbing and building a house.

At first, we got one of the first USB sticks that Verizon offered. This allowed some usage but it was pretty slow. The nearest access point for standard Internet needed to be a good ways away.

This meant that we needed a relay that was capable of bouncing a signal around so we could have some level of internet.

You may be wondering why we did not just get satellite and the truth is that it was and still continues to be cost prohibitive even if you find a provider with room enough on their satellite for you.

At the time, we were using my Dad’s internet connection so that I could work a remote financial planning job but that was at least a ¼ mile from where we were living so I was having to work at his house. It was also difficult to have any entertainment when it rained or we were snowed in. Living in a camper meant no space for things like DVDs.

Fortunately, my husband is more knowledgeable than I will ever be when it comes to internet and communications. For about $300, he managed to put together an internet relay tower that is still functional.

Our internet relay tower. The metal rod on top with the wire coming off is the lighting rod which is very important if you live in an area with significant thunderstorms. The lower box is where the router and charge controller are housed.

No, the connection is not the greatest due to trees being in the way but it is still good enough to watch Netflix, allows me to write, and we can get a WiFi signal on parts of our place that normally we could not have before besides the house.

Advantages Of Relays

  1. Increased range on larger properties, especially hilly or mountainous terrain.
  2. Less expensive than a totally separate service at one end of your property. It is usually much cheaper in the long term to just upgrade to a higher connection speed than sign up for an additional account. In my area the basic high speed internet is around $60 with unlimited access. It is plenty fast but if I had more people living here, for $15 extra I would get the fastest speed and it would still be much cheaper.
  3. Increases range so you can get more done.

You may be thinking how can the internet help me get more done? Well the answer to that is really quite simple. When you are able to look things up for reference it an save time and money. Instead of just guessing if something is right, you may be able to get good instructions online.

There is a lot to think about if you are getting a place set up the way you want. When building our house it was very nice to be able to look things up and order things as needed. There are a lot of things that are now much easier to learn to do because of the internet.

  1. Homeschooling

A lot of people are homeschooling and with good reason. Having internet throughout your property can help with this. Kids can even do homework and research outside if they want which can make it seem a little less like school.

As someone that only attended public classrooms for grade school I am a firm believer that kids are not meant to just sit for hours on end in the same place. No wonder there is such a problem with attention spans.

  1. Can Give You Access To Better Internet Services In Some Cases

Some areas have radio Internet and other services that can be accessed even in rural areas. This means that you may be able to get much higher speeds at a reduced cost over satellite.

Satellite internet can be very restrictive on speeds and how much data you can download in a given month before they reduce your speed and charge you a per gigabyte fee that really adds up.

With a tower, you may suddenly have line of sight that allows you to get a superior signal.

The Basics You Need For A Solar Powered Internet Relay Tower

Router

This is not something you want to skimp on. Buy a quality router not a $30 one from a big box store. The one we have is designed to be an access point so it has the power we need to get the internet signal where it should be.

Our router/access point and charge controller mounted in a battery box that has been turned upside down. It is less expensive to get an indoor router and put it in a housing than it is to buy an outdoor grade router/access point. Ours has worked great for over 5 years.

A wireless access point style router with external antennae is a good way to go. Here is the one we use. They are half the price of what we had to pay 5 years ago! We have another one of these in our house. Engenius is a great company when it comes to wireless networking.

EnGenius Technologies Wireless-N Indoor Access Point/Bridge with Gigabit ECB350

It is cheaper to get an indoor router and then get a weather proof box. This has worked for us for over 5 years despite being out in a field and all the heavy winds, snows, etc. You can use a 12 volt battery box turned upside down.

A little bit of screen attached at the bottom can help prevent bugs and spiders from getting into the box. Some may find their way in anyway but it does help some.

Cost: Check here for prices

12 volt gel cell maintenance free battery

For a remote application, you want to get a maintenance free deep cycle gel cell battery. We are still using the original battery. This is not a big power draw application so you don’t have to use the biggest battery. Our router only burns about 1 amp of power.

Mighty Max 12V 35AH GEL Replacement Battery for Deep Cycle Solar 33Ah, 34Ah, 36Ah

Cost: Check this listing

AutoCraft Golf Cart 12V GOLF CAR BATTERY

Cost: Check here for latest

Solar Panel

We used a 60 watt solar panel. On a good day we usually get at least 8 hours of good daylight for charging so we actually could have gotten away with a smaller panel.

As affordable as panels are, I advise using a panel that is a little larger than what you think you need because this will ensure that you never run out of power and in turn, your internet stays up and running.

WINDYNATION Complete Solar 60 Watt Panel Kit: 60W Solar Panel + 20A LCD Display PWM Charge Controller + MC4 Connectors +Solar Cable + Mounting Brackets

Cost: See the price here

NOTE: This kit has everything to mount and set up your solar system besides the battery, battery box, and battery wire connectors. You even get the charge controller.  

Or if you just want the panel you can get one for a good price here at this listing.

Small Charge Controller

A really basic under $30 charge controller is all you need if all you are doing is running a relay tower. The basic charge controllers on Amazon can handle 10 amps-20 amps.

A 60 watt panel produces 5 amps so you are in good shape with the small charge controllers.

ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller Solar Panel Battery Intelligent Regulator with USB Port Display 12V/24V

Cost: Check here for latest

Mounting Pole

We used a cedar pole cut from a tree on the property and treated with wood preservative. Our tower is based somewhat high off the ground and requires a ladder to access it all. The reason for this is that we had cattle at the time and sometimes others graze horses where the tower is located.

Putting it all up high prevents any rubbing or knocking it over. You may be able to get away with a tower that is a bit shorter than the one we did.

Assorted Connectors

Your solar panel will likely have connectors with it. You may need a few battery connector cables or other small parts depending on your choice of equipment.

There are a lot of wiring diagrams and videos available on Youtube that show how to set up a battery and solar panel. The solar panel kit I mentioned before has about everything you need.

Battery Box

You can get some that are actual power station type boxes that allow you to use car charger style devices from the power supply if needed. Doing this means that you can have some electricity at certain points that you otherwise would not have had.

If you have a panel that is larger than what you need you could definitely be charging another battery or solar generator out at your relay tower location. I am including links to a power station style box and a basic one.

MinnKota Trolling Motor Power Center

This box may cost more but it has easy access terminals for attaching battery leads, a charge indicator, and two 12 volt outlets so you can have electricity to power other devices remotely if desired. The handle makes it easier to carry when needed than other battery boxes.

Cost: Check here for latest

NoCo Battery Box Size 24

Cost: See the latest price here

The Lightning Issue

We live where lightning storms are very common so when Matt set up this tower he created a lightning rod to protect the electronics from a strike. Our tower is right out in the open in a field so it was a logical decision to protect our investment.

Our lighting protection is a basic set up with a grounding rod like you can get at Lowes or Tractor Supply. A 8G wire runs from the top of the tower to the ground rod.

So far we have not had any damage and we have been through a lot of lightning storms over the last 5 years for sure! Those of you that have experience grounding electrical fences will find this to be the same idea and process.

Finding the best location for your relay

If you have a flat property with few obstructions then you are not going to have to worry about too much setting up your relay.

If like us you are trying to bounce signals up hill, then you need to pick the area with the least obstructions and shortest and clearest line of sight with your primary access point.

You can use any wireless device like a phone or tablet to discover just how far your current internet signal will reach. Walking around and seeing when and where you can pick up and maintain a reliable and acceptable connection speed can be helpful.

You can even use GPS to plan and mark. If there are spots that you want internet capability that are now no go zones you can start to plan out where to put your tower.

Working Out The Small Things

Our system has worked well for us but I have to say that it had its moments when there were just small issues like getting routers and antennae at our house to communicate with each other.

Don’t get too frustrated if you run into a few set backs getting a tower or relay set up. Once a few things were worked out we had a system we are still using.

Costs

Costs for establishing a relay point have probably went up a bit since ours was put together. If you have to buy a post to mount it on it could raise your cost some depending on what you get. A treated 4 x 4 post or a 6 inch locust or cypress pole is an affordable and long lasting choice.

Routers and access points can vary a lot in price. You may be able to find a bargain on a discontinued model that works just fine for your needs.

I won’t say that you can find quality used equipment because the routers for a good relay tower are much more powerful and less common than the little household wireless routers that a lot of households have.

Extra mounting hardware may also be needed to place your solar panel where you want it. Amazon sells mounting arms but they are somewhat expensive.

Universal Solar Panel Mounts Arm Pole Brackets Set for Solar Panels from 30W to 60W

Cost: Check the latest here

Have you extended your network? Do you have any tips for internet access for those living remotely or beyond where DSL and other traditional services reach?

Access to the internet may not be the most important thing when it comes to prepping but it does make life easier and even makes it possible to earn a living where jobs may be scarce.

We at Backdoor Survival love to hear about the ingenuity of those that read this site!

Author Bio:

Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband and pack of loyal hounds in a house her husband and she built themselves. When not writing she is working in their vineyard, raising Shetland sheep, or helping her husband with whatever the farm and vineyard can throw at them.


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Having an issue with internet availability in your location? It may be time to look into setting up an internet relay tower. Find the step-by-step guide to setting one up at home today!

  1. Pretty good article, lots of good info. May have to put this into use on our new property. One thing, I’m pretty sure I know the answer, but, in the article, what’s your reason for a maintenance free battery? The article drops off and the reason is lost…

    1. Hi Jose. Sorry, it took me awhile to respond to this. My main reason for encouraging the use of maintenance-free batteries is simply because it can be difficult for a lot of people to remember to perform maintenance. If you can remember then you can get a less expensive battery. Sometimes towers like those discussed are also high enough off the ground or inaccessible enough to make it a hassle even if you can remember. Thanks for reading!

  2. Without getting into all the details: recommend you get yourself an amateur radio (HAM) license and join a HAM club. HAM’s put up repeaters which are relays for radio. You will learn to relay cell phones, Internet, TV, and any other radio signal you want. They will teach you to build repeater “relay” sites that operate 24 hours per day and 7 days per week.

  3. Will this work to give a better signal from Verizon? Our service is horrible but it’s all we can get other than very expensive satellite. The article is interesting but I’m very confused if it’s cell service or something else? Thanks for any feedback!

    1. Theoretically you could set up a relay to broadcast any internet service. So if you have a Version hot spot you could put it in an enclosure in your relay to protect it and use it to connect devices. So if your hot spot picks up better on what part of where you live then the tower could help you have better service when you are in other areas. This is complicated stuff to think about at times because anything dealing with electronics and routers and such varies a lot based on the exact situation. I hope I have helped you understand it a little better. Thanks for reading.

    1. Our tower allows us to use regular internet services. For example if at the the end of your property there is line of sight to a radio internet tower but not line of sight at your house, you could put up a tower and then be able to pay for a standard service rather than relying on satellite internet. Basically if you can get a signal from any provider of radio wave internet, cell hot spot, etc, you can relay it. Even on a few acres with a lot of hills and valleys it can be a challenge for some to get a reliable signal throughout their property. Towers are really only useful if you have some point on your place where you can connect to your provider of choice. So if you have a hot spot Wifi device it would be possible to relay the signal.

  4. Coincidentally I built a very similar system last winter to get internet in my remote cabin

    My setup involves a Verizon Jetpack mobile wifi hotspot with an external antenna, located in my pasture where it’s line of sight to a cell tower 4 miles away. Then right next to it I have a wifi extender (I recommend the Pepwave brand, they have American tech support) which extends the wifi signal 300′ to my cabin.

    The wifi extender is meant to plug into 110v but it has a transformer that puts out 12vdc, so it can run it off a small car battery which is kept charged by a $40, 20w solar panel running through a $10 charge controller.

    The wifi hotspot runs up to 15 hours from its internal battery and is recharged through a charging circuit that’s just a cheap cigarette lighter-to-USB charger.

    It’s all housed in tupperware enclosures and a battery box, mounted on a steel fence post. The hotspot’s external antenna is mounted on top of the post. Total cost was around $300 plus a LOT of hours on the phone with tech support..

    One good feature is I can use a prepaid Verizon service for internet service, plus the hotspot device itself is portable for when I travel.

    I would post a photo if I could, I’m very pleased with how it turned out.

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