How to Build a Large Citywide WiFi Hotspot/Zone
How It Works
How do you actually make money from a WiFi Hotspot?
Most people are familiar with WiFi in their homes and some cafes/coffee shops. What I'm doing is building a large WiFi hotspot/zone which people pay to use to get internet access.
Some coffee shops/cafes/hotels & campsites have WiFi which they charge customers to use to make an extra income. I am attempting to do the same but on a much larger scale, covering large residential areas.
You will basically be providing internet access to people wirelessly via WiFi.
They look for your wifi network in their wifi connections, connect to it and will be redirected to your landing page where they pay with a credit or debit card to get internet access.
Table Of Contents
- How a Large WiFi Mesh Self Healing Network Works
- The Main Unit/Backhaul - Equipment for a Large WiFi Zone
- Internet Connection for Your WiFi Network
- WiFi Hotspot Management Systems
- Locating Sites & Installing the WiFi Hotspots/Units
- UK vs. USA
- Why you can't just use one big antenna for a large WiFi hotspot
- Open-Mesh OM2P WiFi Router 802.11g/n
- Open-Mesh Router OM2P Indoor and Outdoor Housing
- How To Flash a Open-Mesh/Cloudtrax Enabled Device with Open-Mesh Firmware
- 5Ghz Backhaul / Point To Point / Point to Multipoint Link
- Diary 2011
- Diary 2012
- Diary 2013
- Diary 2014
- How to Crimp / Termintate Ethernet Cable / Add Connector
- Poll - Have You Ever Created a WiFi Network?
- How To Provide Free WiFi To Your Customers
If you just want a short guide on how to provide WiFi to your cafe/bar/restaurant customers visit this link.
You can set up a wifi hotspot on a small scale like in a cafe or even from your home with a cheap router, an internet connection, a computer and some WiFi hotspot billing software.
However I am working on a building a large WiFi Zone covering wide residential areas and that will be the focus of this lens, although the information will still be useful if you want to build a small network or just have one hotspot in one location.
When building a large WiFi network the main challenge is getting a good range and coverage of the WiFi network. I am using special outdoor (weatherproof) high power WiFi hotspot equipment with high power long range WiFi antennas. The equipment consists of a unit similar to a domestic wifi router which can handle multiple users, billing/payments & wifi hotspot management systems and a powerful external wifi antenna (Shown in picture)
I have had the equipment supplied & managed by a company who also take a share of the money. You don't have to use a company but if you just want something you can plug into your router and start making money without any technical knowledge then this is the best option. I have also decided to use a company or 'billing partner' for a number of other reasons which I will mention later.*
*When I started this project and diary I was using a billing partner and the equipment they suppplied which was the Engenius EOC 2611 & Engenius EOC 1650, I have now changed to Cloudtrax and the Open-Mesh routers but you will see me mention the Engenius equipment and billing partner as that is what I started with and it will help the diary make sense.
Locating Sites & Installing the WiFi Hotspots/Units
How a Large WiFi Network Works
You will have a main unit (back-haul/Gateway) which is connected to the internet (it is also a hotspot which users can connect to) and it connects to smaller 'repeater' units, which repeat the signal and increase the network coverage and they only need to be powered.
The picture is not of my network but I expect it is a repeater unit, it is attached to a power/telegraph pole, I expect it is drawing power from the pole but they can be solar powered. I expect this unit to be part of a network installed by a local City/Council/Government or large WiFi installation company either independently or on behalf of the local City/Council. Being able to install units in this way is probably best but obviously you will need to gain permission from the company who owns the pole and then with then arrange some kind of payment for the power, I foresee lots of issues and costs associated with this option. If you have a lots of start up capital then I would consider it. However my project focuses on private residential buildings and small private local businesses.
Coverage is everything with building a large WiFi network, your back haul-unit will have a range over a mile with a clear 'light of sight' (no obstructions/buildings/hills/trees in the way) and most computers will only have enough range and power to get a good connection up to 300 feet away with a clear 'light of sight'. However in an urban (city) environment with tall brick & concrete buildings you may struggle to pick up the signal 50ft away. This means you will need lots of repeater units, some say 60 or more per square mile. You can either sell or rent the repeater units to people who want to use the wifi service but don't have a strong enough signal. This way you can get lots units building coverage without having to really pay for it.
A single shared internet connection will only be able to service a certain number of people, as a general rule for each 1MB of download speed you can have six people online at the same time before it becomes to slow. So if you are using a 20MB line then you could have 120 people using it at the same time. Once you reach this limit you will need to start adding more backhaul units (units connected to the internet) to the network, they will all mesh/sync up and make the network stronger, if one internet connection goes down the other one will keep the network live.
If you are trying to cover a town with only one and two storey buildings and houses and it is over looked buy a hill or single high structure (water tower) you could put you main unit there and this would provide good coverage and then you would only need a few repeater units to cover a large area and each one would have a good 'clear line of sight'.
Finding sites to place the equipment is the most difficult part. The main wifi units (backhaul) need to be installed ideally on roof tops or in high positions so they have a 'clear line of sight' with the 'repeater' units.
Trying to convince people to have something on their roof and pay for electricity to power it isn't that easy! I have been and still am trying different methods to get enough repeater units installed to cover a large area.
One of my most successful methods is too find people who will let you put a unit on their building in exchange for free access. If they live in a densely populated area or block of apartments then you will cover that area, maybe 50 properties and will get some customers. You are only paying for the internet connection once so you can give out free accounts and it won't cost you anymore and hopefully you will get a few people in that area paying for it. I would suggest an ad on craigslist or in shop windows or give out flyers or ask friends/family & co workers. Who doesn't want FREE internet?
Offer to pay people to put it on their building/house, its smaller than a TV aerial and as its on the roof it won't get in their way and they wont see it. During these hard economical times how many homeowners wouldn't want an extra $20 or $30 a month? ($240-$360 a year)
Work with local businesses, tell them you want to build a public wifi network in the area and put units on or in their buildings and in return they get free advertising on the WiFi service.
Community project. Start it as a community project providing low cost internet access for low income families and free access to local City/Community/Educational websites. This way you can get churches, community centers, government buildings, sports centers & charities to let you put units on their buildings.
How a Large WiFi Mesh Self Healing Network Works
The green units are the Gateways/Back-hauls (connected to the internet via internet router) and the other units are the repeaters. The laptop indicates a user, users can connect to any of the units when in range.
The red circle & line symbol shows that with more than one gateway, even if one link is broken the other Gateways support the network. Each network can have just one or many Gateways, the more the better as this will spread the load and reduce the number of 'hops' (a hop refers to each time the signal goes from one node to another unit it reaches the Gateway unit). By increasing the number of Gateways you increase the capacity of the network ( 2 x 20Mb Internet connections = 40Mb capacity).
The Main Unit/Backhaul - Equipment for a Large WiFi Zone
When you build a large WiFi network you need special equipment and not the WiFi signal provided by the router you get from your Internet supplier.
This is the equipment I now use in my network. Open-Mesh OM2P WiFi Router & 8dbi omni directional antenna. The unit is powered by 'power over ethernet' (PoE) the low 12v current runs along the ethernet cable using the power injector, so the data and power run along the same single cable and there is no risk of electric shock. The ethernet cable I use is special outdoor weather proof cable so it can be run over roofs, down drain pipes and underground.
The Open-Mesh equipment is really good value for money when you compare it to simliar equipment, I have written a page about the Open-Mesh equipment here.
UK vs. USA
I am building this WiFi network in the United Kingdom (England) and most people reading this will be in the USA. However builing a wifi network is exactly the same where ever you live. The WiFi equipment is exactly the same and when purchased from the USA will have a standard american wall plug. I think you guys get to use one more or one less WiFi channel but this is not a problem. In most countries there are limits on the power output of the equipment (Mw), please check your local regulations or the FCC. However as you will understand just turning the power up to 1000Mw with a massive antenna (the legal limit is usually around 100Mw) won't work.
WiFi Hotspot Management Systems
WiFi hotspots are similar to your wifi network at home except that you want to charge people to use so you will need a system to handle multiple users, user accounts, set pricing, accept payments, data logging, download speeds & restrict access to illegal sites (pornography/terrorism/fraud/illegal file sharing).
There are three basic options
1. You can get hotspot software (free and paid for) and do everything yourself from your computer. You might have to share some of the revenue with the software supplier. This is suitable for small wifi hotspots (cafes or from home)
2. Use a 'billing partner' who handle the system/users and accept card payments. Usually they take a 25% cut and you get 75% of revenue from the hotspot(s). This is suitable for small wifi hotspots (cafes or from home)
3. Use a company/billing partner who supply the equipment and hotspot system management systems and advice. These companies usually provide and install wifi systems in hotels/shopping centers/campsites/ RV parks and have a lot more experience on setting up large wifi networks. Usually they will take 25% - 50% of the revenue from the hotspot(s).
The last option is what I have chosen*. I am not very technical and it would take me a long time to learn everything I need to know, I rather spend my time making money! The company I use provides lots of support & advice on setting up a large wifi network and helps me avoid expensive problems. I tell them what I want to achieve and they advise me and supply the most suitable equipment.
It is up to you which way you want to do it but I would recommend the last option. Find a local company like this, give them a call and have a chat, you will find out that going it alone on a large scale wifi network will be difficult.
*At the time of writing this page I was using a billing partner but now use the Cloudtrax/Open-Mesh system and do everything myself (option 1). There is so much to learn and so many problems you will come across and sometimes it is good to have someone to call to ask for an answer. If you feel confident going it alone then do it but I would recommend using a billing partner.
Selling WiFi Access / Vouchers
The Cloudtrax system uses access vouchers which are fully integrated with Paypal so once a user connects to your WiFi network they will be taken to your landing page where they will be presented with a list of access times and cost you set. You can also manually edit and create access vouchers (see picture).
Internet Connection for Your WiFi Network
Choosing the right service is very important
Obviously you will need an internet connection. Since you will be 'reselling' it you will need to make sure your internet provider allows this, most don't and will cut you off if they find out that you are charging other people to use it. Again if you use a company like I recommend then they will advise you on which companies allow you to resell the connection, you will probably need a business broadband line.
Make sure you have UNLIMITED download allowance with the Internet package you choose. As there will be lots of people using it all the time you must have an unlimited or uncapped download allowance. Some of my customers download over 5GB of data a day!
Since there will be lots of people using it at the same time you will need the best and fastest internet connection you can get. Check to see the best speeds available where the hotspot will be, if you can only get a low maximum speed like 3Mb it might not be worth doing it.
Why you can't just use one big antenna for a large WiFi Hotspot
I have noticed a lot of people landing on this page because of this question, so here is a quick explanation, although I do mention it throughout this page.
It is true that a single WiFi unit with a small 8dBi antenna mounted at height will pump out a signal for a few Km but the problem is that the WiFi card in most laptops and smart phones is only designed to be used when fairly close the the wifi router (ie in a house or office) so the range is probably 300 feet at best with a clear line of sight. This means to provide coverage to a large area like a city you must ensure that there is a AP within a maximum of 300 feet of where you expect people will be using it. In a built up urban area or indoors you will probably only get 50 or 100 feet clear line of sight so many more units will be needed.
Finding the first site. Housing is very expensive here in the UK and most people (under the age of about 40!) have no choice but to rent so I could not start building a wifi network from my home, I needed somewhere permanent. Every cloud has a silver lining and during moving from one rented property to another I met a property owner and explained my idea and asked if I could put a unit on one of his properties he rents out. It was a big house divided up into small apartments so none of them had a phone line for internet access, this was a problem for his tenants and I had a solution which wouldn't cost him anything so he agreed. The fastest Internet speed in that area was 18Mbs which wasn't amazing but it was good enough.
My town is very hilly which is not good for building a large wifi network but the house was a very tall one and on one of the tallest hills so that was great.
Since I wouldn't be there to stop people just plugging their computers into the router and getting free access and gaining access to the building was difficult I decided to have the phone line, equipment and power installed into an exterior lockable electrical box on the ground floor on the outside of the building. The installation of the main unit on the roof was easier than I though it would be due to the height. There was access to a small safe flat part of the roof via one of the apartments and easy access to the chimney where the unit would be mounted on a pole. I hired a TV aerial installation company who supplied and fitted the pole, the guy had never installed or seen a wifi hotspot before so I worked with him running cables and explaining the setup. Luckily there was a drainpipe, which went straight from the top of the roof down the bottom of the building, we just tied a weight to the cable and let it drop! (The cable is special waterproof outdoor UV protected, stronger than standard Ethernet cable and since it only carries a low voltage there is no risk of electric shock). I hired someone because I wanted a good job done and someone who was insured as it wasn't my property, if you can do it yourself and save some money then great!
We just ran the cable out from the bottom of the drainpipe, fixed it to the wall with cable clamps and ran it into the box with the router & power injector, plugged it in and the hotspot was up and running and ready for business!
I had the cable pre crimped with the RJ45 connectors at each end which meant I had to make a hole in the box large enough to put it through which wasn't ideal. It would have been better to just make a small hole for the cable (about 6mm) and then crimp the connector when inside the box but I didn't know how to then. I am now practising how to do it so that on the next install, if the cable has to be run through walls I only need a 6mm or 7mm hole drilled. Below I will put a video on how to crimp a ethernet cable and the tools needed.
No customers. I get a letter from the Internet provider saying that fiber optic broadband is available now! It is almost the same price but now with 35Mbs Download and 10Mbs upload speeds!
No customers. I realise people aren't just going to find it, I need to advertise. I get some flyers printed up and put them through letterboxes of houses within range of the main unit.
Early November 2011
No customers. I call the company I use and asked for advice, they suggest I offer some free service. So in addition to the paid for access I let people use it for 1 hour per day for free.
Late November 2011
One person has used the service, for free for 12 minutes! Ok not made any money yet but people are finding it and using it, the first step! And this guy was not in an area that I had delivered flyers, which was good, it also showed the range was better than expected.
Early December 2011
I amend the flyers with stickers to say there is now free access and start delivering them to a wider area around the hotspot. One guy who lives in the house where the main unit is calls me after seeing the flyer and say he wants to use it but cannot see the signal. I contact the landlord and ask if I can put a repeater unit in the house. There is a power point in a communal hallway so I fix the unit there, it connects to the main unit and now the signal in the house is very strong.
I check the management system later that day and there are more people using it for free!!!
Mid December 2011
Woo-Hoo!!! Paying customers! Two people have paid for 30 days access!
Late December 2011
More paying customers!!!!
Christmas & New Year 2011
A few more people using it for free, an hour a day isn't that much, hopefully they will want to use it more and then pay for access.
I start looking for new locations to put the repeater units on Gumtree (similar to Craigslist), finding people who are trying to make money from their house, renting out rooms, garages, parking spaces and see if they want to 'rent' out some of their roof space, most haven't even thought of it but like the idea!
I find on Gumtree a garage/storage unit with power and a phone line for rent! I call the guy and explain what I want to do and offer some money for some roof space, he is happy as this means he is making some extra money which he didn't expect. And fiber optic broadband is available there too! I am now in the process of getting the broadband installed, check back for more updates!
7 January 2012
Ordered fiber optic broadband for the new site today, installation date is has been given as the 1 Feb. 2012 so I am now ordering another EOC2611 Unit/ Antenna/cable and organising the installation.
20 January 2012
One customer from last month has bought another 30 days access, this is good as it shows they are happy with the service. This is exactly what I want, people who will pay for it every month to create a regular income instead of just occasional use.
I am thinking about the new install site, the building is only a car garage and single storey with high buildings around it, not an ideal site but it has a phone line and power. There is a bar across the street which is a high building so I am going to talk to the bar owner/manager and see if I can put a repeater unit on the roof of the bar in exchange for free advertising on the WiFi network. They already have free WiFi there so I shouldn't have any trouble explaining the advantage of to them, you might think if they already have free wifi then why would they let me put another service in there? Well the wifi they already have does not log users details so it leaves them open to risks if someone uses their service for illegal activities. Also the service is provided by a 'free hotspot' company but only seems to benefit the hotspot provider by having pay per click advertising on the landing page. I will show them how, using my service I can rebrand it for their bar or have people redirected to their website.
This month has been a real headache, getting the internet installed at the new site has been lots of trouble and involved lots of waiting around in the cold, when the sun is shining you don't waiting a few hours outside but when its frosty and you can't feel your fingers and toes its not much fun! It seems to be taking ages too, the first engineer visit was about 2 or 3 weeks after I ordered it, then another week for them to check the line and install a new socket, then another 2 weeks until it is fully installed and with a working internet connection.
Also there have been a few 'bugs' in the system which means when people have paid they couldn't use their account which isn't good for business!
I get an automated email saying the repeater until in the house is down (which people who have paid are using), not good! I go to check it and swap it with another until in case it is faulty but still no luck. I check the main unit on the roof and check it but everything looks fine which means there is either a fault with the unit or antenna. I will have to replace it and send the old one back (it is still under warranty).
I have replaced the main unit and this time used an 8dbi antenna instead of the 15dbi, the signal doesn't go so far (a few miles) but it gives better coverage in all directions, the signal is transmitted in more of a sphere so the signal reaches the lower floors better and the repeater units in the house give a better speed. The 8dbi is much smaller and cheaper so I think I might use them more, the 15dbi is ideal if the terrain is very flat but in a town with lots of buildings and hills using more smaller antennas I think is the way forward.
Finally got the internet installed at the new site (took about 7 weeks from placing the order) so now i just need to install the wifi unit and antenna, I still need to speak to the bar manager across the street about putting on unit on their bar but it looks hopeful.
The new unit with the 8dbi antenna is much better, the signal is stronger and better quality locally. There are two new users and looking at their postal codes (like a zip code), one is 500 meters away and the other one was 750 meters away! This is very good for outdoors but in an urban environment with buildings and other radio interference it even surprised me!
One person phoned me up and said they want to use the service but cannot connect so I suggested that I could supply one of the smaller 1650 repeater units for a deposit of £50 ($100) which is what they cost me and I will return the deposit when they give the unit back, they seemed happy with the idea. This is an excellent way to increase coverage, you will get one extra customer and hopefully a few more who are within range of the unit. By using this method each time I loan a unit I can use that money to buy another one so I can have hundreds of units working building coverage and it won't cost me more than £50 ($100)!
I am still really busy and have only had time to put up the brackets at the new site, I have everything I need now except time! I have had a few more customers and lots of people using the free hour per day access. I have been doing lots of business networking trying to get local businesses on board and most seem really interested and I keep getting invited to networking events, I think the time is just right now for this business as people are starting to realise the advantages of a citywide wifi network. I am at that difficult point of starting a business where it is not bringing in enough money yet to stop working a regular job which means I don't have enough spare time to put into the business to really push it forward, I am considering getting a loan so I can use that money to pay bills so I can take a month off work to concentrate on building the wifi network.
I moved house twice this month so been very busy and had no time to do anything else.
Still not much progress in getting more units up, I am still working full time and the little spare time I have seems to be taken up with chores. I am getting a little frustrated to be honest, when I do have spare time either the weather is too bad to be outside installing units or I can't get in touch with people or there is some family/social event I have to attend. My advice to anyone considering a similar project is that you need a decent amount of start up cash, lots of free time and no family or friends!
Mid July 2012
Ok, so I'm a bit more positive than I was in my last post, I have managed to get a small cash advance, not enough to take time off work but enough for about another 10 or 15 units. I also managed to install another unit on a friends house who only lives a few doors down from the main backhaul unit, they suggested I could put one there, I wasn't sure if it was really worth it as it was so close to the main unit but I had all the equipment sitting in my house gathering dust & not making any money and as it only cost me a few hours of my time I thought I would install it anyway. The next day someone signed up for 90 days access from the new unit!
Another month and little progress. However it does look like I should be putting the equipment up at the new site next week which will be good. It will be interesting to see the usage trends as it is a different type of area, just off a main shopping street, not my ideal location as I doubt many people will whip out their credit card in the street to pay for access when they go to buy milk. However here in the UK most shop/stores have flats (apartments) above them which are usually lower in value and therefore rented out to people on lower than average incomes, my ideal customers. It will also add a second Gateway/Back haul to the network, although I don't think they will actually form a mesh as there is not currently a clear line of sight and they are 2.25km apart I will only need to add a few repeaters between them to get round large buildings so they will all connect to each other and the network will become much stronger as I will have two 40MB lines supporting the network and coverage area will be increased. Also the type of area will have a large number of people seeing the network so it will be good and free advertising too.
Mid August 2012
Finally got the unit up at the new site today! It was good to finally get it up but I think it could have been a bit higher to be honest. I just estimated the height it needed to be to be level with the roof tops of the surrounding buildings. I should have used a helium balloon and a long piece of string to measure the correct height. The pole is about 25ft in total, anything above that it would have needed guy wires and there isn't anywhere to attach them to. However as it is mainly a back haul unit I will be able to easily place a few more units on higher surrounding buildings to get good coverage. If you have read all of this diary you will remember I mentioned the bar across the street which I hoped to put a repeater unit on the roof, well they did have free WiFi there but don't anymore so I think if I can offer to add free wifi and/or free advertising it should be easier to get them to agree.
Just 2 days after installing the unit at the new site one person has used the free access! It took about 5 months and flyers last time to get people to start using it so it is encouraging news!
21 August 2012
Today the UK government regulator OFcom gave permission for one network provider to launch the first British 4G service. For those who don't know, 4G is fourth generation mobile service, first there was analogue, like a radio, then digital and then 3G also called mobile broadband and then there is 4G which basically provides wireless internet connection with speeds comparable to fibre. This is a concern for anyone running or planning on running a WiFi service like the one detailed in this guide.
However I knew this was coming and have researched how it has affected other WISP's (Wireless Internet Service Providers) where 4G already exists. The general consensus is that you can't ignore it but it isn't a major issue. I don't have all the details about the 4G service or plans here yet but will detail more soon.
The new site is going well, as it is opposite a bar there are lots of people using it, not many paying as expected but works really well as advertising. Also the bar owner contacted me and asked if they could advertise the wifi service in their bar! So getting a few units on their building to boost coverage shouldn't be to much trouble now especially as it will benefit them too.
Well this month has not been good. Firstly there has been a problem with the internet connection which supports the system and the company I use to supply equipment and handle user accounts/payments has merged with a similar company and the structure/service provided has changed, I fear for the worse. I will post more detailed info later when I have more time.
Also mobile 4G will be here in the UK sooner than expected however with a lot of controversy between the major mobile operators which will hopefully slow its introduction and increase costs which will benefit WISP's
OK, firstly I'll talk about 4G. Only one mobile operator is currently offering 4G services almost as a test I think. There will be an auction for the 4G radio spectrum later this year which means the other operators will be bidding and competing for it, it is not expected to cost as much as the 3G spectrum which most operators believe they paid too much for, however it is an auction so no one knows really. The good things about 4G (for a WISP) is that it is NOT unlimited and it is fairly expensive ($70 a month for 5GB) and it seems to be aimed at the mobile market. Also when reading comments on news stories about 4G most people say they just want a decent 3G service and are not too bothered about 4G, this is of course not an accurate measurement but it gives you an idea to the levels of demand for this service.
This month has not been good, there was a problem with one internet connection which served lots of customers, it took about 3 weeks to fix and then the company I use who supply equipment and handle users accounts has merged with another company and despite assurances that 'nothing would change' everything has changed. After they merged users could not get online and the new company says they can't help until I get a contract with them which can't happen until January! They will no longer offer to support my system on a revenue share basis, I must now pay a monthly fee and keep 100% of the revenue. This is good if you have lots of customers as you will make more money but when you only have a small network with a limited number of customers it is an extra expense. I am considering finding another company but this might mean getting new equipment and re-installations or even doing it by myself by finding some good WiFi hotspot software, this way I could just reprogramme the equipment I have installed. I am still weighing up my options.
Happy New Year!
New year, new start.
I have decided to go it alone, not because I really want to but because by using a 'billing partner' the costs have become too high. I have found a new system which is very simliar to the one provided by my billing partner except the new system is free to use. I can still charge customers for access, view usage and real time feedback on each node.
You can buy equipment with the firmware (like software) already installed for as little as $55 per unit, enter a few configuration details and your network is up and running! The best part is that other equipment is supported including Engenius products which I have in my network. I can just flash my existing installed equipment with the new firmware and then use it on the new system. I can do this from the ground using the PoE/ethernet cable so no access issues. I will do this in the next few days and post the results.
I have just successfully flashed my Engenius 2611 units with the new firmware and they are working well and checking into the dashboard where I can see node details and they are meshing together well with good speeds. As this is becoming more technical I will do a glossary of the terminology used soon.
The new system, as with most simliar systems consists of three parts.
The physical equipment - Professional high power WiFi router/ Access point
Firmware - Like software which is installed on the equipment
Dashboard/Controller - Centralised system management. This is where you can view & edit the entire network, network activity, set user speeds, edit splash page, set up paid for access and more.
The new system uses 'Open-mesh' firmware and 'Cloudtrax' for the dashboard/controller. I am using the existing equipment I have already installed.
The benefit of this system is that you can buy the equipment from www.open-mesh.com with the firmware already installed, you just put a few details from the router into www.cloudtrax.com and turn it on and you have a working WiFi network! Cloudtrax is free to use which mean you can just buy the router for $55 and there are no other costs! All the money you make from selling access is yours, minus the 2-3% fee taken by Paypal but this means you can take credit card payments and it's all automatic so you don't have to do anything!
Also if like me you already have equipment then you can flash it with the open-mesh firmware. Most equipment which uses an Atheros chip can be flashed with the open-mesh firmware, there are lists of supported devices online and the forums will often tell you if your device will work or not.
I will list the sites for more detail as they have good tutorials and explanations.
www.dev.cloudtrax.com (More technical for advanced users, otherwise you only need the two links above)
End of January 2013
It has been about 20 days since I switched to the new system and so far everything seems to be working well, no phone calls or emails from customers with problems. I will put a link at the bottom of this section showing the Cloudtrax dashboard so you can see a real live Cloudtrax network in real time with node details/users/data usage etc.
Now that I am happy with the new system I really want to push it forward and have a plan to cover a run down local shopping/commercial area with free WiFi, I don't expect to make much money from it but I feel it will be an excellent form of advertising for my WiFi network as it will be seen and used by lots of people, hundreds hopefully. I am going to talk to the local shop owners and see if they are prepared to share some of their internet connections or have a repeater unit on their shop. I don't want to pay for another internet connection as most people will just be using the free service, I might get a few subscriptions but not enough to make it worth paying another $100 a month. Some of the bars there already have free WiFi so I'm hoping they will understand the benefits. I'm planning on going down and talking to them soon so will post the results of how it goes.
I went and spoke to the shopkeepers in the shopping area I mentioned above and most seemed happy with the idea, some didn't even ask many questions, they just said go ahead! Obviously I need an internet connection, more than one really and some of the shopkeepers said they would let me use their's but it was really slow, around 3MB and for that reason they said no. A few other seemed happy but just wanted some more info or needed to speak to the boss/owner. Genrally though I feel it went well and plan on starting the installations soon.
There isn't much change since my last post, partly due to the bad weather but mostly due to a lack of funds and finding places to install more equipment. I actually have about 5 units sitting in storage but no site to put them, yet. As for the shopping area plan I mentioned in the Feb/2013 post the main problem is the slow speeds in that area, the businesses liked the idea but were not prepared to share their 3MB connection and to be honest it would be very slow and probably do more harm that good to the WiFi business due to the poor speed. I didn't really expect that many people to pay for it either and I need to concentrate on getting more money coming into the business to expand it. I think I will wait until fibre is installed in that area and then go for it.
Although nothing physical has changed I have been learning a lot more and talking to telecom companies, one which supplies 'leased lines', these are very expensive, maybe $1000 a month for 10MB. At first this sounds bad but when they told me that Amazon only use a 100MB leased line you can start to understand the difference. This speed is guaranteed, a direct link between the socket at the property where it is installed and the telephone exchange, is is not shared.
When talking about standard internet connections that you get at home there is something called 'Contention' or 'Contention ratio'.
For example there are 50 houses in your street and every house has an 'upto 50MB' line, this actually means 50Mb SHARED between those 50 houses! So if everyone is online at the same time you are really only getting 1MB! Ratios are usually 20:1 or 50:1, the cheaper the deal the higher that ratio. Here in the UK we have an ISP offering internet connections for £2.99 ($4.55) a month for 'upto 16MB' speed, sounds good right? Well the lower the price the more people you are sharing it with, 16MB between 20 people streaming HD isn't that great really!
So when planning a large WiFi network with 10 Fibre/ADSL gateways at $50 a month each with 10MB download speed ($500 for 100MB) is in reality $500 for maybe just 5MB! So it might just be better to go for a $1000 leased line for a guaranteed 10MB connection.
All I have done this month is replace one gateway/backhaul from an Engenius 2611p to the new Open-Mesh OM2P router which is N wireless and has double the processor speed and RAM. It has only been a few days but it looks good, meshing well with the other Engenius units with a mesh speed of about 45 Mbps. I only had time to check it was working and didn't do any extensive testing but since I haven't had any phone calls or emails from customers (no news is good news!) I assume all is well with the system.
If you notice a gap between May and August and wonder what's going on, well nothing much really which is why I haven't updated.
Ok, so August 2013. The only real news to report is that I had a customer who couldn't get a good signal and asked about the repeater so I popped round with an Open-Mesh OM2P and, unlike the Engenius products meshed in a matter minutes (with the other OM2P which is the Gateway/Backhaul)! When using the Engenius products before I would be at a customers house for about an hour resetting and restarting the units until they connected and sometime even when they did it was a pretty poor connection. The OM2P connected straight away with a really good speed, I was in and out in five minutes!
Sorry this has not been updated much recently but to be honest, not much has really changed since the last update.
Happy new year, again! Wow the time really does fly, it has been almost four and half years since I started this venture and I have learned a lot in that time!
Again I'm afraid I don't have a huge amount of new information to add, things are still pretty much the same, ticking along. As I predicted the introduction of 4G hasn't affected the WiFi business too much, mobile data is still expensive and people will always want to use the Internet as cheaply as possible. Also the huge rise in popularity of tables, many of which are WiFi enabled only (they can't access the Internet via mobile/cellular networks) has been a real boost for anyone running a WiFi hotspot business. In fact just after Christmas when lots of people got a table as a present I noticed a rise in the WiFi network usage and more revenue.
I also received a comment on one of my pages about monetizing a free WiFi hotspot by showing the user a short 20- 30 second video after they connect to the network, like they have on YouTube videos. I really think this is a good idea and will investigate some options, basically provide free WiFi and earn money from it!
I have also been looking in to Social WiFi which is a method to use free WiFi hotspots to boost a companies online/social profile and have done a little write up here.
5Ghz Backhaul / Point To Point / Point to Multipoint Link
I hope that after reading this you are familiar with 'meshing', you have one unit connected to the internet (gateway/backhaul) and then another unit which just needs power which connects to the main unit (repeater) to increase coverage. This is what I use and it is great but it does have limitations, the distance between each unit is maybe just a few hundred meters, you can add more repeaters but each 'hop' (when the signal goes from one unit to the next) reduces the speed by half. So as an example, your gateway is connected to a 100Mb line, the first 'hop' will drop your speed to 50Mb, then 25MB, then 12.5MB and then just 6.25Mb and even then with interference from other radio signals it will probably be pretty useless. And if one unit in the chain fails or is switched off all the other units after it will fail.
So how do we get a link 1km or 2 km away without using loads of repeaters? We use 5Ghz point to point (PTP) links. WiFi uses the 2.4 Ghz frequency which is used by many other devices (cordless phones, cordless keyboards, cordless CCTV and microwave ovens) and therefore is subject to A lot of interference. The 2.4 Ghz is absorbed by water which is how microwaves work, they heat the water in the food, the 2.4 Ghz is absorbed by rain and snow. There have been cases where city WiFi networks were installed in the winter, worked fine and then when the leaves starting growing on the trees again in the spring the water in the leaves absorbed the signal and the system crashed! The 5Ghz spectrum is not so badly affected by water and is not so widely used so it is much better for providing back hauls. Obviously you will need two 5Ghz units, one 5Ghz unit connected to the internet and another one at the other end connected to a 2.4Ghz unit so people can connect to the network as normal. (I will post diagram below). By using 5Ghz you can get a link 1km away with just two 5Ghz units instead of five or six 2.4Ghz units 200 meters apart.
To get the range each 5Ghz unit needs to be pointing directly (using internal or external directional antennas) at each other so if you want 360 degree coverage you will need 3 or 4 units mounted on one pole. So when you want to bring coverage to another site 1 or 2 km away you just put up another 5Ghz unit on the roof and point it at the pole with the 3 or 4 units and run the cable down into the building connected to a 2.4Ghz unit in the building, job done
This unit from Ubiquiti uses the 5Ghz frequency which is less congested than the 2.4Ghz WiFi frequency and the range is much better (up to 25km), it will go further but the speed and link quality will drop significantly. You will need two units to create a link (one at each end). Most devices cannot connect to 5Ghz range so you will need to connect it to a 2.4Ghz unit like the Engenius EOC1650/EOC2611 or Open Mesh OM2P. I have not used this yet but will do on my next install and post results. I have however only seen good reviews online and had it recommended by other WiFi professionals.
If high speed internet is available in a town a few Km away and you can get a good clear light of sight (no obstructions in the way) you could use two long range point to point wifi antennas to bring high speed internet to your town. Even if your town doesn't have phone lines (or power if using solar power) you could use this method to bring high speed Internet and sell access to residents/businesses and local authorities and make some serious cash! The setup costs can be pretty low.
Open-Mesh OM2P WiFi Router 802.11g/n
This is the equipment from the new system Open-Mesh/Cloudtrax. I have been testing a few units and the performance seems very good compared to similar higher priced products, the signal is strong & meshing speed between nodes can be more than 20MB, there is no need for any technical knowledge, just some set up but there are very good guides from the website. The units are much smaller but have have twice the processor speed & RAM of the Engenius 1650/2611 but at a lower price. Each unit can be a Gateway or repeater, you can move units around and just add more as you need them. It supports PoE (Power over ethernet for outside installations or multi gateway networks.) The unit comes pre flashed with the open mesh firmware, just add it to the Cloudtrax dashboard and your network is up and running in minutes!
I have written a more detailed page about the Open-Mesh Routers here.
Open-Mesh Router OM2P Indoor and Outdoor Housing
Indoor and outdoor enclosures are available but not required, however the outdoor enclosure is needed if the unit is used outside to protect it from rain & moisture. The indoor unit covers the plug socket and hides the unit to make it look neat and tidy and to prevent theft. The unit has two fittings so it can be fixed to a wall or ceiling without the enclosures.
How To Flash a Open-Mesh/Cloudtrax Enabled Device with Open-Mesh Firmware
As I mentioned earlier how the company I was using merged with another company and changed their payment/pricing structure putting me in a difficult position I decided to ditch them and do everything myself. This is when I started using the Cloudtrax WiFi hotspot/network management system, as all my equipment had the old company's firmware on it I had to install the new 'open mesh' firmware on all the routers. It took me a while to learn how to do everything but once I got the hang of it flashing equipment only took me a few minutes. I have made a 'how to' video for anyone else wanting to install Open-Mesh firmware on a supported router. If like me your equipment is installed on a rooftop or tower you can flash it from the ground via the ethernet cable. This video will show you how to put the open-mesh firmware on Open-Mesh/Cloudtrax enabled device including Open Mesh, OMP1, OM2P routers (If you wish to upgrade or downgrade current firmware), FON, La Fonera (2100), Engenius, EOC-1650, EOC-2610, EOC-2610p, Engenius, 3660, Dlink, DIR-300 (after installing a reflash-enabled redboot), Ubiquiti, Pico2 & HP, UniAppliance Colibrì (UniData) & other Atheros chip based wifi routers.
This is useful if you already have some equipment, installed or in storage you may be able to re flash it with the Open-Mesh firmware and use it on your Cloudtrax network without having to buy any more equipment.
How to Crimp / Termintate Ethernet Cable / Add Connector
You will need to learn how to do this if installing units yourself as you will probably have to run cable through walls and floors and cannot really do that with the plug on the end. Also you will probably not know how long the cable needs to be before you start the install so cannot buy pre terminated cable. It only took me an evening to perfect it.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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