Farm wide wireless private network ideas

I am interested in setting up my own private wireless data coverage at the farm for a few reasons, GPS correction data, file syncing, network IP cameras etc.

While to some people this might sound like a WiFi setup, WiFi doesn’t have very good range unless you start modifying routers and adding high gain external antennae, and WiFi’s protocol also doesn’t perform well at longer distances, it was not intended for that application. So what I’m talking about is using something like Ubiquiti’s airMax radios.

I already use the 5 Ghz airMax radios to get my own high speed internet to the farm and share it with some neighboring relatives but airMax doesn’t have the provision to hop between different access points (APs) so I would have to add more APs for this purpose or change all my APs to use the same SSID but maybe it would be best to use 900 MHz for this instead.

@darrenjlobb has setup something like this, maybe he can detail his setup here on the forum. I do have a few questions for him regarding his setup so I’ll ask here for the benefit of others who might be interested.

  1. You mentioned you use one base AP (what kind of antenna?) and a couple repeaters, how do you handle the clients’ roaming between the AP and repeaters?
  2. Do your tractor client radios operate in router mode with their own subnet for devices in the tractor?
  3. Do you use PoE switches in your tractors?
  4. Which frequency group are you using? (900 / 2.4 / 5)
  5. Do you feel it’s necessary to use Rocket APs or could the LiteBeam APs work well enough? Maybe depends on the desired antenna.

There actually is a 802.11 standard for 900 MHz and there are commercial devices available to do it. Not sure the bandwidth. I suspect you could get at least 1 Mbit/s out of it, probably more if it uses the full band.

On a tractor one crazy idea is to have a directional Nanostation Loco on a turntable and have an arduino that aims it roughly at the yard at all times. Wifi units like the Nanostation typically receive and transmit over a 45 degree spread, so multiple units would be needed to cover different directions.

Another idea is mesh networking, but that needs power at the nodes. I could make each pivot point a repeater. I’ve never been too keen on mesh networking because bandwidth and latency suffer.

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I was thinking 802.11 was 2.4 Ghz (5Hz in latest evolution); that said, field application will need higher range that Wifi (or bluetooth) seen hardly work more than 50 meters as we will need 1km at least. Then will have a compromise between range and output… “longer waves” (higher frequencies) will help, could use 915 Mhz (868 in Europ) or 433, even 169 MHz… But how much output we loose for gaining range? What output we need for our “field applications”
MeshNetwork definitely the way to go?
Seen Radiocrafts?

I get 400m out of one of these mounted up on a tall pole.$ja=tsid:59130|acid:289-152-2757|cid:599609992|agid:24126986217|tid:pla-882531610245|crid:94168542777|nw:g|rnd:4021468950760374773|dvc:c|adp:|mt:|loc:9046778&utm_source=Google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=599609992&utm_term=&utm_content=shopping&utm_custom1=24126986217&utm_custom2=289-152-2757&gclid=Cj0KCQiA0MD_BRCTARIsADXoopbJSZhJzBQu4LzQsixF9vGaw4T53yM1XVlyqCETo2rXKJfiLdFY3Y0aAm0_EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Yes if “fixed on a tall pole”… I was thinking including “mobile” (tractors, harvesters) in a farm level network… Then it is much more challenging!. Antenna cannot be directional… obstacles in line of sight…

You mean mobile repeaters or just mobile devices connecting?

Saw many “field mesh networks” said “self forming, self healing” based on 6LowPan, 802.15.4, IPV6
like RIIM or Tinymesh

even discovered ESP32 had a native mesh network functionnality

ESP32’s capabilities are pretty short range, as they are pretty low powered and have tiny antennas. You’d need an ESP32 mesh repeater every 50 metres or so.

As for 802.11, it describes communication over many different frequency ranges and bandwidths, denoted by the letters. 900Mhz is denoted by 802.11ah. Wikipedia claims it can go up to 400 MBit, but that would require large chunks of spectrum, making it hard to use other 900 MHz devices on the farm.

In general, as the frequency goes down, the range increases, but the bandwidth also decreases. At 433 MHz, you’d have about half the bandwidth as 900 MHz.

With directional antennas, you can get point to point standard wifi 2.4 GHz up to a KM easily. I think Ubiquiti sells units that can go 10 km. They narrowly-focused, though, and you need the focused antena on both ends of the connection. Thus they are used for point to point. I use them in my yard to link houses and buildings together. Works great for that. I use 5.8 Ghz for that.

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Interesting thread, Will add my own experiences in here…

I thought id start by saying that the setup I run, I have ran for many years, long before playing with RTK / AOG in general, Have always used it to give an internet / LAN connection in the tractor for general use, and for farm records etc. It also keeps my record folders in sync between tractor tablet and my FarmOS server, so my field records just automatically stay in sync without any manual intervention.

The main reason I set this up originally, was because any form of mobile data coverage was very u re-liable, and expensive! Things have changed alot since then…And probably 80-90% of my farm is now covered with fairly decent 4g coverage, so the need is really not there anymore, however its a project I enjoy, and is still nice having all the data moving on my own network.

I use a large antenna on my highest farm building with 3 sectors on it, connected to airmax rocket transmitters. This gives the core connection out to remote devices. Tractors have got airmax Bullets on them, with short Omni antennas, and this actually covers 75% of the farm, 1-2km or more away, signal is great, plenty of bandwidth to steam CCTV grid view, watch youtube, and all these sorts of things…

The tractors all have a switch in them, and another AP inside the cab, so once running and connected, mobile devices just connect to the WiFi and use the back haul to the yard for internet, as if I was in yard, AOG tablet also connected to the switch along with the autosteer board / section control and any future AOG controllers…

This setup has ran for years now, never really given any issues, I more recently expanded it slightly with a remote repeater station, down over the valley in a dead spot, which is basically a pole, solar panel, a litebeam to connect back to the yard (P2P link), then another omni antenna connected to a rocket, which covers this side of the valley. Tractor will just connect itself when you drive over that side as it looses connection to the main transmitter. It doesn’t “Roam” of such, but it works perfectly well enough / have never had an issue with it…

Obviously since using AOG, this link is also being used to get the RTCM corrections into AOG for RTK, which has also worked great…

For anyone who has poor cell signal, its 100% worth doing, and really these days not hugely expensive given how cheap the kit is now vs 10 years ago…

Hope thats of use…


Can you be more specific on which antenna and airMax radios you use (model numbers)? Are you using 3 APs at your main yard, each with a sector? Are they all setup with the same SSID? I have never tried this with airMax radios, I’m curious how the mobile clients hop from one to the next.

The coverage through trees and around buildings also works better with lower frequencies.

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Mine are all 2.4ghz (for max range / signal strength). Yes one radio per sector, Before that I had a single rocket and large omni antenna, to be honest this also worked very well, but adding the sectors hugely boosted the signal in each area… But if within 1km with line of sight, single radio with one omni would be absolutely fine.

Mine are all on the same SSID (hidden), and also only allow specific MAC’s to connect (just for extra security).

The models I use now are very out of date / cant buy them anymore, like I said its all old 2.4ghz gear from several years ago now.

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Are yours the Rocket & Bullet M series? The AC can definitely go faster but requires a little better signal strength. I see they (ubiquiti’s site) have the Bullet AC in 2.4 & 5Ghz but the Rocket AC is only 5Ghz. They also don’t show any AC omni antennae in 2.4Ghz, only 5Ghz.

I’d like to avoid needing a directional antenna on a turn table for the rovers but I’d need 3km+ range. I think I will end up just using either 900 mhz radios or a hotspot for rtk correction, and experiement with the dd-wrt firmware on a couple consumer routers to see if I can create a WDS mesh setup for the rovers that are close enough to each other (in the same field) to share IP camera streams such as between combine and grain cart.

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Very cool, @darrenjlobb! Thanks for that information. I’ve thought about doing something very similar. What kind of practical range do you get from it?

I just saw new wifi norm 802.11ah you are referring: interesting! as it uses “sub GHz” frequency, range and obstacles avoidance will be improved compared to 2.4 GHz.
IP and all Wifi compatible
Silex Technology has just released first breakboard:
What about working on mobiles vehicles? in Mesh network? (I like this idea…)

Looks like you’ve received some good answers, but just to add a little…

I used to build long distance Wi-fi point-to-point links and mesh networks and there are a gazillion options depending on what design you want to go for and how much you want to spend.

I used to make my own antennas out of dog food tins, Pringle tubes, a £3 connector and a bit of copper wire and these would be good for a few miles.

You have two main kinds of antenna: directional and omnidirectional: the first is basically a focussed beam between two devices and these can span distances of hundreds of miles if there is line of sight. The second broadcasts its signal in all directions equally in donut shape, less fat than a directional, but spread over a wider area.

For a farm, I imagine you’re going to need a couple of onmis.

You need to strap these to some kind of radio transmitter: Cisco are the Rolls Royce manufacturer here, but Netgear, TPLink and other providers are offering some cheap and reliable alternatives. Personally I always stuck to old WRT54G routers though, I’d wipe them clean of software and install DD-WRT which is a free home brew Wi-fi mesh solution. Slap DD-WRT on it and you can build the equivalent of a top end extended Wi-fi mesh for buttons.

One of these in your cab, a couple around the farm, strap a couple of decent antennas to them and Robert’s your mother’s brother. You can pick them up on eBay for £20, I might even still have a box full from some old projects if you’re struggling.

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I also started out with old devices with DD-WRT running on them, and a external antenna etc…which used to work great… But honestly, theres just no point now, for the cost of the UBNT airmax stuff, just use the proper gear, IMO its SUCH value for how well it performs…

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DD-WRT is great! I too started with it, and built my own omnis and directional antennae but outdoor enclosures and boosting power was difficult so I agree that Ubiquiti stuff is an excellent value. I use it almost exclusively now. The only issue is Ubiqitui doesn’t have any nice outdoor meshing gear so that’s why I want to use my old dd-wrt routers to try some WDS meshing.

Another vote for UBNT. Great hardware. I use their 5 GHz point to point units in my yard.

UBNT also used to have a great digital security video recording system, but they’ve kind of gutted it in favor of their cloud system now. Cloud’s fine and all but a lot of their customers liked that they had the controller and recorder on their own hardware and network. I guess the temptation to cash perpetual cheques is too much for them like most companies these days.

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Heh, good to see some old DD-WRT users around, thought i was going to be a voice in the dark on this one.

TBH, I haven’t built any decent sized networks for a few years now, I got kind of sidetracked into healthcare technology. I’ll check out UBNT, sounds promising.