AU Wireless equipment in Nevada desert

AU Wireless equipment in Nevada desert

Equipment provided by AU Wireless helped provide Internet access in the middle of the Nevada desert. The Further Future festival took place April 29 through May 1, 2016 in the desert outside of las Vegas, NV.  YDIM - a company that has been providing networking services to large music festivals for many years used equipment from AU Wireless inventory to bring 300 Mbps of Internet connectivity to the festival.

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First multi-tenant building is online

1203 Washington Ave roof

1203 Washington Ave roof

This week we turned on our first multi-tenant building at 1203 Washington Ave. This is a six unit condo complex that is primarily rented out to Mines students. Our first customer is on-line but we put in equipment to easily connect the other tenants of the building.  In addition, this roof provides a nice vantage point for WiFi radios, should the city ever want to provide WiFi in the business district...

Golden fiber??

That's the end goal of all of this - get fiber to the home (FTH) in Golden. Golden has many things going for it when it comes to fiber:

  • Geographically small and central
  • Modern infrastructure in many parts of the city
  • Existing fiber rings around the city (Highway 93, US 6, CSM, Denver West) with connections to major fiber hubs
  • Citizens with strong community ties
  • Residents and local businesses that want to be on the cutting edge
  • Residents and local businesses that want to keep their business and money local
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We are almost to our goal

Since the first of the year, we have been very busy. Our goal as a co-op is to get our member numbers up to around 30 before we pause and allow the network to breathe and evaluate traffic and use.  What we are trying very hard to avoid is the same situation Comcast and Century Link are in with massive over-subscription of service and slower speeds.

Today, we are putting member 21 on-line and have a few more in the install queue!  This includes a City of Golden fire station to aid them in emergency responses from an outlying station.

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Networking over coax cable

Many of you have asked "can I use my cable TV wiring for Internet?" The original answer was, yes, but it costs about $200 to get "MOCA" adapters to make this work. While these will do exactly what you want, I have found a cheaper option ($14). Much cheaper.  DirecTV created this networking standard for their receivers. The good news is, it works great for exactly what we want to do.

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January update

We are up and running!

Since our last update just before the holidays, quite a bit has happened. In the past two weeks, we have connected 10 new members to the Internet, three of those are in the Easley Rd area. Our equipment has been installed in the American Mountaineering Center and our fiber provider has begun installation.

As a co-op (and not a for profit Internet provider), we have provided a "network status" page on our website that not only shows if and when our Internet connections have gone down but also the total network utilization by our members in daily, weekly and monthly usage graphs. We believe in complete transparency.

We also added a "tower location" page to show you where you need to be able to see on Lookout Mountain from your residence to get our service. This has helped answer the "can I get your service" question.

Our goal is to keep signing up new members over the next couple of weeks so when our fiber is installed (and the bills begin rolling in), we are at or near covering costs. Prior to the fiber install, we are offering a 50% discount on your service. The download speeds are still very fast and current members have been quite happy with the service.

If you are interested and ready, head over to our "sign-up" page. This will start the process on our end and we'll be in touch to schedule either an install or a meet and greet and go over the details in person.

Lastly, we have been asked if this service is for residential customers only. The short answer is, no.  We are very interested in working with small businesses in the valley.

If you refer anyone to us that signs up for service, we will give you a $50 service credit for each referral!  Word of mouth from happy members is better than any advertising dollars.

Thanks for the interest and we look forward to getting you on-line!

Testing, testing and more testing

When we started this project in August, 2015, I wanted to make sure we were going to use the fastest wireless system we could find for the money.  That last bit is key - for the money. We did not want radios on members homes to go much past $100. For the access points on the towers, we wanted to stay under $500.  So, that narrowed the field to a handful of vendors.  I had years of experience with Ubiquiti hardware. I have deployed systems of a dozen radios up to 100+ radios  using their hardware. In my mind, it was going to be the direction we were going to go.

We started by deploying a couple Rocket 5AC PtMP radios with UBNT 60 degree AC sector antennas. We bought some Nanobeam 5AC radios (NBE-5AC-19) as well as a couple PowerbeamAC radios (PBE-5AC-300-ISO) and began testing signals from various points all over our intended coverage area.

Let me back up slightly and describe the setup...  We are a town in a valley. Our main antenna site is about 1700' above the town and coverage starts 1 mile out from the tower and goes about 5 miles out from the tower. For those that understand most sector antennas, you see an immediate issue.

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However, we had other problems. First was firmware issues. Ubiquiti has been plagued with firmware issues. They develop hardware and software very quickly. Sometimes too quickly I think. Next came plain old performance issues. I was expecting to get 100+ Mbps radio to radio throughput with this set up. We were not seeing that in most locations we tested. We were getting 50 - 80 Mbps download and a little worse upload. The primary testing area was between 1.5 and 3 miles from the antenna. We made sure the narrow vertical beam of the sector was hitting where it needed to be. RF was clean on our 20 Mhz test channel.

This made me begin to doubt my immediate feeling to go with Ubiquiti and I started reading and reading. We tried LigoWave and a couple smaller vendors. Nothing we were happy with. I kept hearing Cambium get mentioned over and over again. After a long conversation with them, we decided to deploy some ePMP test gear. Through a local vendor who also had some expert advice for us, we started testing an ePMP 1000 GPS access point into a Cambium 120 degree sector. We started with the ePMP 1000 integrated CPE and then upgraded to add some new Force 180 radios along with the Force 110 into the mix. This was a very close match to the same CPEs offered by Ubiquiti.

Not to get into the weeds with details, I was amazed by how rock solid the ePMP gear is. We were getting 100 Mbps down (30 - 60 Mbps up) from nearly all of our test sites and there were no firmware issues. Also, signal to noise with the Cambium sector was about 10 to 15 dB better than what we were seeing with Ubiquiti.  Keep in mind, we did test using the same frequencies with antennas pointed in the same direction with CPEs in the same location.  It was a well orchestrated apples to apples test. And extremely time consuming. These tests ran nearly non-stop from late August into early December.

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Then it came time for some antenna tests. The narrow vertical beam width of most traditional sectors was causing an issue due to our high antenna.  I contacted RF Elements and ended up on the beta test for the new TwistPort antennas. I'll let you do the reading on them but they (on paper) solved exactly what we needed to solve.  So, I deployed two of these, one on an ePMP and one on a Rocket 5AC.

The TwistPort performed significantly better than the UBNT AC sector. No lobes, great SNR and good vertical performance.  CPEs that would not lock up on the AC sector worked with the TwistPort (which was also a 60 degree version). With the ePMP gear, it also performed very well but it drops off around 5.4 Ghz. The 5.7 and 5.8 is very crowded in our area so we need to be in 5.1 and 5.2.  The TwistPort adapter is not yet tuned to go that low. This was a major bummer because the size, price and performance are there for this antenna - just not yet at the low bands.

But, we decided to buy a couple RF Elements carrier class sectors that have fantastic 5.1 performance. Putting these on the ePMP radios (we had decided to move past Ubiquiti by now) brought our signals from around -65 to -55 and added 10 dB to the SNR. Speeds increased around 25 Mbps. This is just by putting these sectors on the AP.  I am very pleased with them and would recommend anyone needing a sector antenna, look at RF Elements and if you are 5.7 / 5.8 Ghz, try a TwistPort. You won't be disappointed.

We created a detailed spreadsheet (thanks to the RF Elements beta program) were we tracked upload and download signal strength, SNR, radio to radio speed tests and speed tests to the Internet over a 100Mbps connection. We ran 2 full sets of tests with the Rocket 5AC PtMP radio - one into the UBNT AC sector and one into the RF Elements TwistPort. We had about 12 test sites in the coverage area and tested both the NBE and PBE radios at each location.

Then, we repeated this with the Cambium ePMP radio. Two full suits of tests with the Cambium 120 sector and then the RF Elements TwistPort.  CPEs were Force 180 and Force 110 radios at each test site. These are almost exact matches to the NBE and PBE products from Ubiquiti - except Cambium does not have an AC product.

After all this, two things were very clear:

1) My wife was getting very tired of the UPS guy stopping by every day with boxes.

2) Cambium ePMP products out performed Ubiquiti AC equipment in our test environment 95% of the time (there was one radio location where UBNT gear was slightly better in speeds).  

If you are interested in seeing the full spreadsheet, contact us and I will be happy to send it along.  It has been shared with RF Elements (as part of the beta program) and Cambium.

While none of this was written as a paid endorsement, I am very pleased to be working with Cambium for our co-op WISP and thank RF Elements for a well performing antenna line.

December update and a new partnership in Golden

Finally, news to report and our December update!


In July, we started the process of looking for a building in downtown Golden with fiber optics in it for our backbone connection to the Internet. I can count on one hand the number of buildings that have fiber. Three of them are banks and are not interested in talking to co-op Internet providers. One is managed by a national leasing company that does not return five phone calls (looking your direction Source Gas building). The fifth is a building many of you know and have been in numerous times.  The American Mountaineering Center on 10th St has fiber they never hooked up but it is still in perfect condition.

I started the conversation with the building management back in August. They are a building full of like minded co-op and non-profit organizations. It was a perfect fit for us.  After a number of meetings and email conversations, yesterday we signed a deal with them for access to the fiber lines as well as roof rights to place our antenna to get the Internet up Lookout Mountain.  To say the least, we are very excited to be working with them. Next time you stop by the center, let them know you appreciate them working with us!

So, where are we with timelines? The bad news is my wife has to endure even more UPS packages on the front door as additional equipment arrives.  The fiber has been ordered as have the routers and radios to get it up Lookout Mountain. We just received 2 more (and final) test radios that would go on members homes. We are committed to finding the fastest radio equipment available today. We are down to two vendors and hope to narrow it down to one in the next 7 to 10 days. You may see me around town with a tripod full of antennas and a laptop...

I expect to transition to our high-speed line from the Mountaineering Center in mid to late December. We are adding our last test customers this week and next with our current temporary line.

If you live in the city of Golden (north of the ~ golf course), I think we can start connecting new members right after the holidays. Just in time to hook up any new electronic toys.

For those in the Easley Rd area, we are working on a relay site on the hill over there. In addition, some new radio equipment is shipping in early January we want to deploy in your neighborhood.  Our goal is to get your service up and running in late January.

We will have some more updates and information on how the co-op will work in the next week or two once we know the radio vendor and the pricing of the equipment.

Ars Technica article on community Internet

Excellent article and video in Ars Technica about the Doe Bay Internet Users Association, a community based Internet co-op very similar to AU Wireless.  Definitely worth the 3 minutes to watch the video and get a better understanding for where AU Wireless is headed.

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/11/how-a-group-of-neighbors-created-their-own-internet-service/

Fall Update

Fall Update from AU Wireless.

Thanks for your interest in AU Wireless (aka Golden Wireless).  AU Wireless is a locally owned Internet co-op, with the goal of providing "real" Internet access to the residents of Golden and surrounding Jefferson County.

Over the last couple of months, we have been attaching transmitter radios to our tower space on top of Lookout Mountain and testing the signal and speeds at various points throughout the city.  Our goal from the beginning has been to provide speeds ranging from 25 Mbps up to 100 Mbps to your location - in bothdirections (unlike cable or phone companies).  What we found during the testing is we are able to maintain these speeds in many locations throughout the city. 

So, where are we now and when will service be available to you? We are putting the final touches on our backhaul location - the fiber optic connection in the city where our service hits the Internet. This location requires access to fiber optic cable, a building with a roof that we can place a microwave dish on and a building owner willing to work with us.  I can count on one hand the number of buildings in Golden currently with fiber. This process has taken longer than expected but we are very close to announcing an exciting partnership!

Second, because we are a co-op and not a commercial business, we are currently growing our members. This is where you can help.  We are looking for 10 to 15 more people (that is all!) willing to sign up once we launch. This will cover the costs of the service and allow us to focus on deploying the service to you without having to second mortgage our homes to keep the lights on.

Ideally, some of these initial co-op members will actively participate in the co-op, in exchange for service discounts. We are looking for members from the tech industry (to help build and maintain the network), lawyers, realtors and local business members.  Help us spread the word!

Interested in the service? Fill out our form at: http://www.auwireless.net/lets-do-this/  That allows us to track and contact perspective members.

Our goal is to launch service by the first of the year so all your high-tech holiday gifts can be using fast, uncapped synchronous Internet.

Lookout Mountain tower operational

After a number of trips up and down the antenna tower at the top of Lookout Mountain, the first couple antennas have been installed and tested. The signal from these is providing service to the north end of Golden (from about the golf course to the city line at Pine Ridge Rd).  If you are in that area and interested in participating in the community co-op, fill out the form to be added to our list ASAP!

 

Looking north from the antenna

Looking north from the antenna

Looking down the tower while installing. Yikes!

Looking down the tower while installing. Yikes!

Backhaul radio examples

Here are a couple images of what the wireless radio looks like for the backhaul link. These images are courtesy of MonkeyBrains ISP in San Francisco but shows the same radio AU Wireless uses. The radio is just under 17"  in diameter (medium pizza) and weighs 10 pounds. It does not require an antenna mast and can be attached to a pole as simple as an old satellite TV pole (the kind that holds a DirecTV dish to your house). The antenna itself that we use is smaller than a DirecTV dish.

Antenna attached to a roof in San Francisco

Antenna attached to a roof in San Francisco

Same antenna type in another location

Same antenna type in another location

Customer installation pictures

Here are a couple pictures from a customer installation. This person already had a small pole attached to a vent pipe to hold a weather station and weather camera. The wireless client is the white dish mounted in the middle.  It gives a pretty good size comparison as well as how it can be mounted on a roof.

Client device mounted below the weather station

Client device mounted below the weather station

Looking at the front of the same device

Looking at the front of the same device