Setting Up Wireless Broadband Internet Service

Not a week had passed since Jeff Block wrote his article "Wireless Internet - The DSL Killer?" about his wireless broadband Internet service when I found myself having to help my father install wireless service out in the boonies of Northern Illinois. After moving north to a quieter area, he found out that he had no access to broadband service from traditional DSL or cable services, since telephone equipment near his home was not able to carry broadband, and there was no cable provider servicing his area. Months ago, he decided to get television service from Dish Network, but he knew that broadband service from satellite providers should only be considered as a last resort.

I'll clear something up on my good ol' Dad... He didn't really need my help figuring out how to get the wireless equipment installed. He's a VP of information systems for the company he works for, and by far knows more about networking, software, and computers in general than I do. However, my presence was needed because I'm a much smaller guy than he is, and he needed someone to crawl around in the attic of the house and run a cable from the roof to a chase pipe that leads to the basement.

On the Scene

I arrived at the scene around 10 o'clock last Sunday morning, and he had already made considerable progress with the installation. The antenna was already mounted to the roof, and the included power devices were already mounted in the basement. I figured we would be done in less than 2 hours based on the progress he already made.

Jeff wrote about his experience with wireless broadband provider DLS, but that wasn't who services the area my parents live in. Their system was provided by Elgin, IL based Fox Valley Internet Services, who is another wireless broadband provider in the area. Being my nosy self, the first thing I did was pick up the provided installation instructions (I always like to know what I'm in for). They were poorly written, generic, and mostly unhelpful, but they did at least give me an overview of what the process entailed.

Dad was in the basement when I got there, so after I thumbed through the install guide, I joined him downstairs. He was just finishing mounting the power devices, and grounding it to the electrical box. Once that was complete, we headed outside so he could give me a peek at the antenna's location, and where the cable was going to come in from on the roof. There was a vent cover very close to the antenna, so getting the wire into the attic would be a piece of cake.

To the Attic

After chit-chatting a few minutes (we're notorious for wasting time whenever we do a project together), we headed to the attic access in the garage. I climbed up a very long ladder, and wiggled my way into the attic with him following. He pointed out where the wire would come in and where the chase was in relation, then pointed out that the attic floor rises up about five feet on the other side of the house (which is where I needed to be to complete my task). Looks like I'd be doing some climbing during my attic expedition.

From there we parted ways. He headed back to the roof to fish the cable through the vent, and started my trek to the other side of the house, being careful to only place my feet on the trusses as I went (remember what it was like to play "Hot Lava" as a kid?). Sounds easy, right? Well, you need to remember that attics are full of insulation, so you can't always see the trusses below you. After a little fancy footwork, and a lot of monkeying my way up the five-foot half wall, I finally made my way there without falling through the ceiling (always a good thing).

Running the wires to the chase pipe went smoothly and easily, so I made my way back to the attic access in the garage, trying not to fall through the ceiling on my way back. More monkeying was required, but I successfully made it there after a few minutes.

Putting it All Together

When I returned to the basement, Dad was already connecting all the wires together, and getting ready to connect power to the antenna. However, to complete the installation we needed a laptop to connect to the line. No problem, they had one in the kitchen. By the time I returned with it, we were ready to rock.

According to the instructions, the laptop needed to be set in DHCP mode, which means that it acquires IP addresses automatically from the antenna. They had used static IP addresses with their prior setup, so we had to reconfigure the laptop and reboot (darn Windows 98!!!) Finally, the moment of truth had arrived. He opened the command console (the C:\ prompt for those who remember the DOS days), and tried to ping the antenna. Success! We received a reply, and moved on to step 2.

The next step was to open a web browser and bring up the antenna configuration screen. This screen gives you information about your connection to the wireless transmitter, that way you can fine-tune the antennas aim for the best connection. We typed the gateway address into the web browser, the screen came up, and.......

Disaster Strikes

Nothing. No connection to the transmitter. According to the instructions, the RSSI number on the screen is the measure of your signal strength. 1200 was great, 700-1200 was good, and 700 and under wouldn't work. Well, we had RSSI strength of 0, which was odd since the antenna had a line-of-sight shot to the transmitter on top of a water tower about 3 miles away. We each agreed that we should at least be getting something. Are these things really that picky about how they're aimed?

With each of us armed with a handset from his wireless phone system (it features direct handset to handset intercom), he proceeded to the roof while I stayed in the basement to monitor the laptop screen and provide feedback on signal strength. We played a game of "Can you hear me now?" as he aimed made slight adjustments to the antennas aim. Suffice to say, we wasted 10 minutes of our lives trying to get a connection, and we had nothing to show for it. We tried everything, including resetting the antenna by removing power.

Making the Call

Something was wrong, so we had no choice but to call the tech support number for Fox Valley Internet. After several attempts, we received only a voice mail message that instructed us to leave a message. Bummer. There was nothing we could do but comply, so we left a message and gave up for the time being, focusing our efforts on cutting down some shelves for my new bookcases that I got a month ago (he has power tools, I don't).

We had just gotten his table saw ready when someone from Fox Valley Internet called us. He explained the situation to the guy on the phone, and read some information off the screen that was in the basement. After a few minutes they hung up. It appears that they configured the antenna improperly when he picked up the equipment, so we had to go to the office in Elgin to have it reconfigured. As I said, they're out in the sticks, so Elgin was a 25-minute car ride down the tollway. Well, what choice did we have? In pure Spider Man form, I crawled onto the roof to take down the antenna, and then we hopped in the car.

Road Trip

The sales office was in the basement of a dumpy building in downtown Elgin. It's nice that they were open on a Sunday, but there was only one kid manning the whole operation. It appears that he is the weekend tech support agent, sales agent, and manager rolled into one. He hooked the antenna to a computer and reconfigured it, which only took about 5 minutes. Then, we were homeward bound.

By now it was about 1 o'clock, and we sat down for lunch with my mother and lovely girlfriend, who were hanging out in the sun while we worked on our manly (ok... nerdly) project.

Stab #2, the Sequel

After lunch, he headed back to the roof with the newly configured antenna while I headed to the depths of the basement. A few minutes passed before he contacted me on the intercom. "Okay, what does it say?" he said. I hit refresh on the screen, and bam! We got a signal. The RSSI number jumped from 0 to 650 like that. I told him the number, and we continued the aim game to get the RSSI number over 700.

Disaster Strikes...Again

About 2 minuets later, the signal was gone, and the RSSI fell back to 0. "What the *&#%!" we proclaimed. And if that wasn't weird enough, the antenna started to go crazy. According to the screen before the signal cut out, the transmitter was 2.83 miles away. Now the antenna was trying to lock on to a source 10.02 miles away, and was obviously not successful in doing so. It sat there trying to connect; ultimately failing, and then trying to reconnect. The transmitter 2.83 miles away was just... gone.

Fighting the Tech

By now, the wind had picked up, so it would have been hard for him to call tech support from the roof, so I called this time. Luckily, I didn't have to leave a message, and the same kid from the office answered the phone. I explained the problem, and after a few minutes, he was convinced that it was something we had done. Believe me, we're not stupid when it comes to this stuff. "Explain to me why the antenna can see a transmitter 10 miles away, but not one right in front of it," I asked. He didn't have an answer, so he said he would have a technician contact us in a little while.

In the meantime, I took a shot at aiming the antenna, and had no more success than my Dad did. So what did we do? We went back to cutting bookshelves. 15 minutes later, we received a call.

The tech asked us for the information on the screen again, and when we returned to the basement, the problem had fixed itself. The antenna was locked on to the right transmitter, but the RSSI number was still far below 700.

The first suggestion from the tech was to walk around on the roof with the antenna and see where the signal is best, which I have to admit is probably the dumbest, and most dangerous suggestion the tech could have made. After another minute or two, they hung up. "We need to go get a dish for the antenna," my Dad said with a frustrated tone.

He was referring to a parabolic dish, which resembles a dish used for satellite TV reception. Except, the parabolic dish for this application is not solid metal, but looks more like wire shelving bent to look like a dish.

Back...To The Office

Back to Elgin we went (at 88 miles per hour), and neither of us were in good mood at this point. We both agreed that they should have known we would need the dish, considering that the 2 neighbors who use the same service each have one. Our visit to the Elgin office was brief, since we were both ready to take out our frustrations on the poor kid that was there. With the parabolic dish in hand, we headed home again.

The Dish Puzzle

I had to pull the antenna from the roof again in order to mount it to the dish. Assembling the dish proved to be more difficult than expected, mostly because the instructions for doing so consisted only of a few images of the assembled product, and none of them were very helpful in providing insight as to how it goes together. This wasn't our finest moment, mostly because we ended up disassembling it twice after discovering that a part was upside down or backwards.

Stab #3, the Trilogy

Finally, it was done. He headed up the ladder to the roof, and I followed carrying the dish with attached antenna. After a few minutes of fighting with the dish's mounting bracket, he had it attached to the mast and aimed. I proceeded with my 800th visit to the basement, and watched in suspense as I hit refresh on the web browser.

Nothing (I bet the look of horror on my face was surely a Kodak moment) ...Connecting...Verifying...SUCCESS! The current RSSI number read 997. I got on the intercom and told him not to even think about touching a thing. We were golden.

Once the connection had been made, the rest proved to be easy. A few setup screens, and bang... we got the web browser to connect to a few websites. MSN...check. Yahoo...check. TechLore...check. Now that the hard part had been done, the rest of the project involved setting up a firewall and router, which could all wait for another day. By now it was about 5 o'clock, which means Miller Time!


Normally, a project like this wouldn't be that difficult. Mounting the dish to the roof, properly sealing the holes, and running the cables should be the most difficult part of this task. Currently, my opinion of Fox Valley Internet isn't very high. While I'll give them brownie points for quick response on tech support (especially on a Sunday), both trips we had to make to Elgin was their fault, and the suggestion to walk around on the roof was asinine.

First, the equipment should have been configured properly when it was picked up. And second, they should have known we would need a parabolic dish based on their customers two houses down from where we were. If we had been the first in the area to get service from them, I could excuse the second screw up, but they had enough knowledge to provide us the right equipment the first time. Each mistake cost us hours of time (and 1.50 in tolls), turning a two-hour into a six-hour project.

Our experience with Fox Valley Internet was bad enough that we would have normally returned the equipment and told them to eat it, but unfortunately, they're the only game in town. It was either choke it up and deal with it, or go back to dial-up. Few would argue, dealing with dial-up is worse than anything.

If you find yourself in the position if getting wireless broadband service from Fox Valley Internet or any other similar provider, make sure the equipment is properly configured before you leave, and check your immediate area to see if anyone else is using a dish (if they are, you probably need one too).

I hope you have enjoyed reading about this experience. Please take the time to share your electronic experiences with everyone in TechLore Community.


Connect With Techlore