Creating links in Urban environments


#1

For the purpose of this guide ‘Urban’ is any environment where you share a wall with your neighbour. Apartment buildings specifically have a number of fast and effective options that simply aren’t viable anywhere else.

Guides sorted in increasing order of technical difficulty to setup.

Ethernet networks: Just wires! Easy, cheap and fast.
Powerline networking: Other wires. Easy and fast when it works.
Short distance point to point wireless: Slightly more expensive, much more flexible!
Integrated Wireless: Probably what you think of when I say ‘mesh’
Short distance point to multipoint wireless: Connect a lot of people wirelessly
Coaxial and Phone line networking: Take over an apartment with Althea!


Connecting your Althea router to the network
#2

Ethernet Networks

Cat6 (Ethernet) cables can run up to 100m or ~300 feet without and cost less than 10 cents a foot delivered. For all the great things about wireless if you can get away with it a wire will always be faster, more reliable, and cheaper.

The mesh port on your Althea router will happily accept traditional Ethernet cables as links, the real question here is.

A) can you use a Ethernet cable?
B) Do you need a rugged outdoor cable or an indoor one?
C) Should I terminate the cable myself or buy a pre-terminated one?

A) This is mostly up to you and your knowledge of the local community, in many townhomes and apartments it may be possible to run a cable from unit to unit or further without causing any fuss. If that’s the case Ethernet is the best option for you.

B) Unless you intend to bury the cable or have it exposed to the elements for years on end you can use ‘patch’ cables which are less durable but significantly cheaper and often easier to bend and otherwise work with.

C) If you need only one cable buying it pre terminated will probably be easier. The only situation where you want to start thinking about self terminating cables is if you have half a dozen or more 100m/300ft runs in mind. If you do need to terminate a cable yourself you’ll need a crimper, some terminators, and this guide.

Links

Indoor terminated

Outdoor terminated

Outdoor self terminated

Setting Up

  1. Connect each end of the cable into a routers Mesh port

  2. Connect your computer to the router either using the WiFi or LAN port, see setting up your Althea router for more details.

  3. Navigate to 192.168.10.1/althea and click on ‘neighbors’

  4. Now you should see a list of the connections you have with other members of the network. Notice how the bottom neighbor is providing us internet and we are providing the top neighbour internet, as symbolized by the larger bars in the connection. Compare this to how many neighbors you should have and make sure at least one provides a connection to the internet.

    If everything looks good you can proceed to setting up your Althea router or if you’ve already done that kick back and enjoy being an instant ISP!

  5. If you don’t see any neighbors on your screen double check that the cable is plugged into a mesh port on both ends. You should refer back to the pictures in step one. If the port selection looks good, try rebooting one or both of the routers. Finally you may have to try another cable as the one you are using may somehow be damaged (this is far more likely if you’ve pulled it though a wall, or buried non-outdoor cable for example)


#3

Powerline Networking

Powerline networking creates a link between two devices by using the power line between them as a transmission method. Every device that draws power in your home modifies the waveform on the home grid as it turns on and off or changes modes of operation. Powerline network adaptors do this intentionally to communicate with each other.

The amount of change created by the powerline adaptors is hundreds if not thousands of times smaller than a refrigerator or some other large appliance turning on or off. So there’s no chance that using these will damage anything.

The big issue with powerline networking is that apartment power networks are hard to predict. It’s totally possible the plugs on one side of your apartment go to a totally different set of places than the plugs on the other. There are a few tricks though.

If you don’t have your own electric meter or breaker box (usually this happens when power is included in your rent) powerline networking will tend to work better and go further. Probably at least all the way down the hall.

Like cables don’t be afraid to try and chain powerline adaptors, each set will only go a few hundred feet but by plugging two into the same router you can extend the network further out or bridge areas of the network that where otherwise separate.

In general I would recommend buy a not very expensive powerline adaptor and testing it out. It’s the only way to really see if it will or will not work. At least without access to the building electrical schematics.

Setting Up

  1. Unbox the powerline adaptor and follow the manufactures instructions for pairing or first time setup. This may ask you to plug them in, do so using two plugs in the same room or otherwise close together.

  2. Take both units to their final locations and plug them in. Then used the included cables to wire the Ethernet port of the powerline adaptor into the mesh port of each router.

  3. Connect your computer to the router either using the WiFi or LAN port, see setting up your Althea router for more details.

  4. Navigate to 192.168.10.1/althea and click on ‘neighbors’

  5. Now you should see a list of the connections you have with other members of the network. Notice how the bottom neighbor is providing us internet and we are providing the top neighbour internet, as symbolized by the larger bars in the connection. Compare this to how many neighbors you should have and make sure at least one provides a connection to the internet.

    If everything looks good you can proceed to setting up your Althea router or if you’ve already done that kick back and enjoy being an instant ISP!

  6. If you don’t see any neighbors on your screen double check that the cable is plugged into a mesh port on both ends. You should refer back to the pictures in step one.

    Also check the lights on the powerline adaptors, they should be showing green for all lights. If they worked during setup but not in final position chances are there’s too much distance or separate circuits. Try another plug.

    If the lights on the powerline adaptors all show green and the routers still can’t see each other, try rebooting them.


#4

Short distance point to point wireless

For our purposes short distance means less than a mile or two. Point to point means that there are two antennas connecting two people. If you have a location where one antenna (probably on a tower) can see several people you’re looking for the point to multipoint guide.

For this guide we’ll be focusing on the MikroTik Wireless Wire and Wireless Wire dish. These are unlicensed 60ghz radios and antennas.

Unlicensed means that the 60ghz broadcast channels they use are public and you are free (at least in the United States and many other countries) to broadcast on them without a license. Always check local frequency rules before importing hardware.

The very high frequency of these antennas makes them

  1. very fast, we got 900mbps in our tests.

  2. likely to operate without issue even in areas where normal WiFi is very spotty due to congestion.

They have a range of 200 meters and 2.5 kilometres respectively and are plug and play right out of the box.

These high frequency antennas are very sensitive to interfering objects. Scout out your planned link location and ensure there are no trees, leaves, buildings, or anything other than air between the mounting locations of each antennas.

Once you have a location staked out buy whatever mounting brackets are appropriate at your local home improvement store (usually just a screw or some command strips work). You will also want to figure out how long of a Ethernet cable you need to reach your Althea router from the mounting location.

Setting Up

  1. Unbox the antennas, if you can it’s best to test them before installing in their final location. Simply power up the antenna and plug the cable from the antenna into the mesh port of the Althea router. Then point the antennas at each other and test it out. Make sure the antennas are at least 6 feet / 2 meters apart when performing this test!. Also watch out for stainless steel appliances behind either antenna as they reflect signals.

  2. Take both units to their final locations aim them carefully at each other and then mount them in place. Any method you can find at a home improvement store should be fine but don’t screw it in for good until you’ve tested it. Then use Ethernet cables to wire the Ethernet port of the antenna into the mesh port of each router.

  3. Connect your computer to the router either using the WiFi or LAN port, see setting up your Althea router for more details.

  4. Navigate to 192.168.10.1/althea and click on ‘neighbors’

  5. Now you should see a list of the connections you have with other members of the network. Notice how the bottom neighbor is providing us internet and we are providing the top neighbour internet, as symbolized by the larger bars in the connection. Compare this to how many neighbors you should have and make sure at least one provides a connection to the internet.

    If everything looks good you can proceed to setting up your Althea router or if you’ve already done that kick back and enjoy being an instant ISP!

  6. If you don’t see any neighbors on your screen double check that the cable is plugged into a mesh port on both ends. You should refer back to the pictures in step one.

    Next up check if the Antennas are pointing directly at each other, this can be difficult over long distances, you can carefully use a laser pointer or compass to check. Remember there can’t be anything except air in between! No trees, leaves, or walls between the two units.

    Finally try rebooting the Althea routers.


Creating links in Suburban environments
Creating Links in Rural environments
#5

Integrated Wireless

This feature is currently not working, it’s in transition to a more reliable api

When you hear ‘mesh networking’ you probably think of a bunch of devices automatically connecting to nearby nodes and forming a network. Althea can do that, but it comes with a few caveats.

  1. The router must support 802.11s or ‘meshpoint’ all of the ones we endorse/sell do but not every model does.
  2. You must select one frequency, 2.4ghz or 5ghz to run meshpoint on.
  3. Devices must have the same WiFi channel and channel width on the same frequency to connect. If the devices are the same model you don’t have to worry about this, but if they are not it can get quite technical.
  4. You will be sharing the radio you mesh on. Meaning if you use 5ghz for meshing 5ghz may get slower when you use it personally with your laptop, since the same hardware is doing two things.
  5. The distance and throughput are approximately the same as a normal WiFi device. If your phone can’t connect to your WiFi and stream video chances are the other router won’t mesh well from that spot.

This long list of caveats is why we have focused on point to point or point to multipoint connections. They are generally the better choice.

Good places to use integrated wireless

  • In an apartment your neighbour has a connection and would like to share. If both ethernet and powerline are ruled out for some reason. Use 5ghz here.
  • Closely packed town homes or suburban homes. Once again rule out ethernet and point to point wireless first. Use 2.4ghz here.

Setting Up

  1. Connect your computer to the router either using the WiFi or LAN port, see setting up your Althea router for more details.

  2. Navigate to 192.168.10.1/althea and click on ‘router settings’

  3. Click on the advanced menu for the frequency you want and then click ‘Enable mesh over wifi’

  4. Now to test if our new link is working click on ‘neighbors’

  5. You should see a list of the connections you have with other members of the network. Notice how the bottom neighbor is providing us internet and we are providing the top neighbour internet, as symbolized by the larger bars in the connection. Compare this to how many neighbors you should have and make sure at least one provides a connection to the internet.

    If everything looks good you can proceed to setting up your Althea router or if you’ve already done that kick back and enjoy being an instant ISP!

  6. If you don’t see any neighbors on your screen double check that the ‘enable mesh over wifi’ box is selected on both routers on the same frequency. Then use your phone or laptop to check and see if your home wifi network is still visible.

    If your home network is no longer visible your router doesn’t support this feature, go and turn it off to get the home wifi back. You may have to use the LAN port.

    Next check that both routers are the same model and if not ensure that the frequency, bandwidth, and channel parameters all agree across every router you wish to mesh with.

    Finally if the connection works but is just generally bad you should look at the other connectivity options available to you. There is either too much local interference or too many walls in between you and the other router.