While there are some brilliant advantages to living in rural areas, there are also technical challenges to deal with. One of the biggest technical challenges on a farm is getting a reliable internet connection. Once you have reliable internet, the next challenge is improving WiFi coverage to such a degree that you can use your WiFi no matter where you are on your land.
How do you get wi-fi on a farm? The most effective and economical way to get wi-fi on a farm is using a wireless mesh network. With a mesh infrastructure, you can extend the range of your wi-fi.
I’ve worked with multiple farm owners in the last few years to help them improve their WiFi coverage. I’ve written this blog post as a bit of a do-it-yourself guide to improving your WiFi coverage. I’ll talk through all the equipment that you’ll need to create a wireless mesh network and how it all works.
Wireless Mesh Network: What Is It?
A wireless mesh network is a communications network made up of a series of radio nodes. These nodes are organised in a mesh topology, which is a network setup where each network device is interconnected. Because all or some of the devices in a mesh topology are interconnected, this means a network should continue to operate normally even if one of the devices in the network fails.
Typically, there are two types of wireless mesh network:
Full Mesh Topology
In a full mesh topology, every mode communicates with every other node. With this type of deployment, if one device fails, the network should continue to operate as usual.
Partial Mesh Network
A partial mesh network works slightly differently. Rather than every single node communicating, nodes communicate with those nearby. This means that nodes will not communicate with those further away. While this can be beneficial, there isn’t as much redundancy as there is with the full mesh topology.
How Mesh Infrastructure Works
With a mesh infrastructure, data can be carried over great distances. Through the strategic deployment of radio devices, you can extend the range of your WiFi and cover a much larger area than you could with just one router.
A wireless mesh network is essentially a network of routers. In the context of improving WiFi coverage, you’ll be able to go anywhere on your farm and still be connected to your WiFi. There’s no need to switch between networks either because each radio is part of the same network.
Wireless mesh architecture can be deployed relatively cost-effectively because the nodes don’t need to be cabled together. This would be a problem if you were using traditional access points, as they’d all need to be connected by cable.
Now we’ve briefly explained what a wireless mesh network is and how it works, I’ll talk through the equipment that you’ll need to create a mesh network on your farm.
Improving WiFi Coverage: The Equipment You’ll Need To Get Wi-Fi On A Farm
If you want to expand the WiFi coverage on your farm, there’s naturally some equipment that you are going to need. At this stage, I presume that you already have a suitable internet connection somewhere on your property. For example, an internet connection into your farm home that you want to project around your farm. If you don’t, there are several types of internet available to people that own farms, such as fixed wireless.
With the equipment I mention here, the aim is to create a mesh network with a single SSID that gives coverage across the entire property. We’re also creating a network that can be easily upgraded and expanded in the future. These aspects are essential for the future-proofing of the network.
Mesh Network Components
A mesh network is made up of several components regardless of the network’s size. Here are the components that make up a mesh network:
- Network Switch
- Mesh Routers
- Mesh Clients
What are these components and how do they all work together?
A gateway acts as the mesh network’s backhaul to the internet. But what does this actually mean?
You will have a modem and a router somewhere on your farm that you can use to connect to the internet. A modem allows you to connect to the internet, whereas the router will distribute that connection amongst the devices on the network.
The gateway is where the internet comes into your home. This is a key component of a wireless mesh network as this is essentially the starting point. Without the gateway, you wouldn’t be able to use the internet on your wireless mesh network because there would be no connection coming into your home.
A network switch is a component that you might need for your wireless mesh network. Most home routers only have a few ethernet ports, which is usually fine since most devices use WiFi anyway. However, wired ethernet ensures fast, lag-free connections for all your devices.
So if you’re using a router with only a few ports, what can you do? In this circumstance, a network switch will come in useful. An unmanaged switch exists purely to add more ethernet ports to your network.
If you can, you should create a wired network in your home to improve WiFi performance. By wiring in as many devices to your network as possible, you’ll have less competition for wireless bandwidth.
Mesh routers, also known as nodes, make up the vast majority of a mesh network in most cases. Mesh routers are access points that will extend your network’s coverage. You’ll place these mesh routers strategically over the farm to maximise your coverage.
Only one mesh node needs to be wired into your connection. That one node can then broadcast the connection wirelessly to the other nodes. While you might just have 4 or 5 nodes on your farm, a mesh network can contain hundreds of nodes.
Mesh nodes are small radio transmitters. They function in the same way that a wireless router does. Nodes use the common WiFI standards (802.11a, b and g) which allows them to communicate with other nodes and mesh clients.
Mesh routers are connected together and enable data to be carried over large distances. This can have many uses in IT setups, but in this case, it will allow you to connect to the internet no matter where you are on your farm.
Mesh clients are the devices that will connect to the mesh routers. For example, some examples of mesh clients are laptops, cell phones or CCTV cameras. So if you have an IP camera on your farm, this would be a mesh client and connect to the mesh router.
Setting Up Your Mesh Network To Get Wi-Fi On A Farm
Once you have all of the components that you need (I recommend going with Ubiquiti hardware; it’s versatile and allows for easy scaling in the future) it’s time to begin setting up your network. At this point, you already have the connection into your home. I’ll talk you through how you can enhance your network so you can use WiFi no matter where you are on your farm.
Setting Up The Controller Software
If you do decide to go with the UniFi products by Ubiquiti, you can’t just go and install all the components and hope for the best. You have to begin by setting up the controller software.
The controller software is what brings to your network together. If the name didn’t give it away, this software is where you’ll configure your network and manage it.
There are multiple ways that you can set up the controller software. You can either host it on a machine or use the UniFi Cloud Key. In my experience, I recommend going with the UniFi Cloud Key if it’s an option you can afford.
The UniFi Cloud Key is a piece of hardware that runs a local instance of the UniFi Controller software that you can remotely access from another device. You connect the Cloud Key to your network and then you can use the Controller software on a laptop or desktop PC.
The Controller software will talk you through the process of ‘adopting’ your devices. Once you have ‘adopted’ your devices, they will become a part of your network and you’ll be able to manage them through the Controller software.
Once you have ‘adopted’ the devices that will make up your wireless mesh network, it’s time to install the devices.
Installing The Devices
Now the devices have been added to your controller software, you can install them around your farm. In general, you want to install the mesh access points as high as you possibly can. For example, high on a building’s wall or a pole on your land.
This reduces the chance of signal interruptions and therefore increases the reliability of your WiFi. Just remember that the first access point will have to be connected by wire to your network, so you’ll want to attach this to the building that your network equipment is in.
The UniFi UAP mesh access points have a range of 183 meters. You need to consider this when deciding where to install the access points as they’ll need to be close enough together for the connection to transmit suitably.
I would personally install them closer together and not leave a 183 meter gap between them. This is the max range of the device, so the closer together they are the lower the chance of wireless dead zones.
If you’re unsure about your coverage after installing your access points, the UniFi Controller software will come in handy. The Controller software includes a mapping feature that allows you to place your devices on an aerial image to see how good your coverage will be. While this won’t be entirely accurate, it will give you a really good idea of whether you’re placing your mesh nodes in the correct places for maximum coverage.
Installing the UniFi access point devices shouldn’t be too difficult if you have a rough idea of what you’re doing. The UniFi mesh devices actually come with the accessories you need to install them on walls, poles and so on.
You’ll need to install the access points in places that you can easily get power to. You can power most mesh devices using Cat5 or Cat6 cable, so take this into consideration. Cat5 and Cat6 cables can’t run longer than 100 meters, so keep this in mind when deciding where you will install the access points.
Is A Wireless Mesh Network The Best Option To Get Wi-Fi On A Farm?
When it comes to increasing coverage on farms, I believe that creating a wireless mesh network is the best option. With the hardware you can purchase from a business such as Ubiquiti, you can create your own network without having any professional assistance if you’re willing to have a go.
There can be some blips when it comes to setting up your own network. If you don’t have experience in network design, you might encounter issues that someone with experience wouldn’t. For example, you might not end up ordering all the equipment you need the first time round.
However, the UniFi equipment in particular really guides you when it comes to installing and configuring your network. If you have the patience for a DIY project like this, you can save yourself a lot of money and seriously improve the WiFi coverage on your farm.
Remember, a wireless mesh network can be added to easily in the future as your requirements change. If you find that your current setup isn’t working as you’d like a few months down the line, you can easily make adjustments and optimise your setup. And that’s it from me. It’s time for you to go away and begin creating your very own wireless mesh network!