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I’m blessed enough to be living in a beautiful rural location in the heart of Ireland. But the issue with working in Tech and living here is that there are no fiber, or even copper, networks to my house. Yes, the NBI has started a rollout of rural fiber, but with that being constantly pushed back, I taken it upon myself to get a decent network set up. Previously, I was with a “wireless broadband” provider, and they broke my heart. During peak times it would be lucky to reach 0.5Mb download and ~600ms latency, and off-peak times (think: 3am on a Wednesday) it would reach 20Mb download and ~150ms latency. But forget about uploading, that would lay the network down completely.

Scoping out the setup

I done some research into other options, and my final decision was between waiting for a Starlink connection, Imagine Broadband or setting up a 4G LTE connection. The deciding factors for this was availibility and cost, with Starlink coming out at €99 a month and a 4-6 month lead time, Imagine broadband not being able to provide an availability time and all and costing €60 a month, and LTE connection being immediately available with Three Ireland and only costing €30 a month on a rolling 30-day contract.

After this decision was made, I went and searched for good, reliable hardware for the setup and got talking to a company called Novatel. They supply hardware for exactly my type of situation, and after explaining my situation to Niamh, I was pointed in the right direction of the type of setup I required – with multiple options provided to me depending on the price range I had in mind.

I ultimately decided on purchasing a Poynting XPOL-2-5G antenna, as this had a solid 2×2 MIMO antenna, great gain of 11dBi and is futureproofed if I ever decided to upgrade to a 5G connection. I paired this with a Teltonika RUTX09 CAT6 router. This router has a throughput of up to 300Mbps, and has an operating system based on OpenWrt.

The next thing I needed was some good access points, for WiFi access across my whole house. With it being a long bungalow, multiple APs would be needed for full coverage. I ended up going with a Linksys WHW0303 AC2200 Tri-Band mesh setup, which are all connected together via ethernet. Transitions between APs are seamless, and they are futureproof for any speed increases I may get on the network.

Setting Up

On a nice, bright day. I had to install the antenna on the roof and align it to face one of the local Three masts with LTE capabilities. The ComReg SiteViewer was a life saver, as it shown me all local masts and the capabilities each network had on it. I initially installed the antenna to point generally at the mast location, and would go back and make fine-tuned adjustments at a later stage once the network was running.

This antenna was then wired down through the roof tiles into the attic, in which I have the Teltonika router in. I connected up the SMA ports to the router, popped in the Three SIM card I was sent and set up the router via ethernet on my laptop. Initial setup of the Teltonika router was very simple, and I had it up and running (and upgraded to the latest software) within half an hour.

I then ran an ethernet cable from the router down into the office, and connected it up to a Netgear 8 Port Gigabit switch in the cabinet. This switch was then connected to the Linksys Mesh access point, along with the few things I had in the office which I wanted/needed to be hard wired (Mac Mini, CCTV DVR, Philips Hue, Raspberry Pi’s). The next job was to run an ethernet between each of the Linksys access points, which once all connected up, picked up immediately.

Selecting LTE bands & Aligning the Antenna

So once the internal network was all setup and I was happy, I then had to select the best, least congested LTE bands in my area. LTE bands 1, 3, 20 & 28 are the bands Three Ireland operate on, with Band 1 & 28 being a temporary license granted for use as a COVID related precaution. This worked out well in my favour, as band 1 is the least congested. So I set up the configuration on the router to only use LTE band 1, and it received a Dual connection but with a signal strength (RSSI) of -73dBm.

I then had to align the dish in order to get the strongest signal. After many minor adjustments, the best I got was an RSSI of -62dBm, which is a good, strong signal, so I secured the antenna in place and was happy with a job well done.

Let’s talk speeds

Since the installation, I have set up home assistant with the Speedtest plugin as an entity, tracking the network connection speed at 15 minute intervals. Let’s take a look at the last week in the below screenshots.

Download speeds over the last week
Upload speeds over the last week
Latency over the last week

As we can see above, the download speed fluctuates from 20-30Mbps at peak times to over 100Mbps at off-peak times. During the average workday, I would see these speeds sit around the 40-60Mbps mark, which is great. The upload speeds sit at a consistent 40Mbps, with the spike drops occurring at times I am uploading files, so the speed test would drop considerably.

The greatest improvement I have seen is in latency, which is holding up at 30ms almost all the time, with very little spikes occurring. As you can see from my tests, there are a few spikes that occur across the board, which usually happen when I am doing something network-heavy, uploading & downloading large files.

The Verdict

Well, I ended up spending much more up front than I expected to, with the total coming out at around the €800 mark. But this cost is offset by the saving I am getting over the monthly fees with the other broadband providers. But at the end of the day, the network upgrade I have received is substantial, and has greatly improved my connection.

Would I recommend this setup to the average person? Oh yes, most definitely. But I would add the caveat that if they aren’t too technically inclined, it would be best to get it installed and set up by a professional.

Cover photo by Vyacheslav Shatskiy on Unsplash

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