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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.
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
- Increased range on larger properties, especially hilly or mountainous terrain.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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 here for latest
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
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.
Small Charge Controller
A really basic charge controller is all you need if all you are doing is running a relay tower.
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
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.
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.
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.
NoCo Battery Box Size 24
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 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.
Universal Solar Panel Mounts Arm Pole Brackets Set for Solar Panels from 30W to 60W
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!
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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