9.4 Online From Home,No Strings Attached

Around this time, I relocated to Sebastopol from San Francisco. By a staggering coincidence, the house we moved into happened to have clean line of sight to the antenna I had installed on the roof, more than half of a mile away. This provided a great tool for experimentation, as I now had a fixed signal at a distance with clear LOS, and could aim whatever kind of equipment I liked at it to see how well it would perform. I realized that a high-gain dish, pointed directly at the omni, could achieve a very good signal, even through walls and glass. I was so excited by the quality of the signal that I bungee-corded the dish to a chair with rollers, and rolled it around the house, while streaming a full-screen video on my laptop the entire time. Yes, a keen interest in wireless was now developing into a full-blown psychotic obsession, as the potential possibilities of long-distance, low-cost, high-speed communications played about in my mind.

I finally mounted the dish inside my attic, set up a makeshift access point, and found that I could have a stable 11Mbps connection from about six-tenths of a mile away, with a "stealth" dish under my roof that wouldn't bother the neighbors. I used this connection for several months, through all kinds of weather (and I was very grateful of it: in my area, DSL and cable modems weren't an option at the time).

Now that I had a proof-of-concept and parts list, I approached others in the company who live in the area, to try to set up a second node. This was when I came up against possibly the biggest natural obstacle to long-distance microwave: trees. As it turned out, I had been truly lucky with my own situation. Finding many clean paths to a single point is highly improbable in Sebastopol. Except for the immediate downtown area, medium to dense foliage is virtually everywhere. After visiting several possible node sites (and trying to shoot to O'Reilly despite the trees), it became clear that a single access point at a low altitude wasn't going to be sufficient to get our Sebastopol employees unplugged. There are just too many trees between O'Reilly and the rest of the world.

With no obvious plan of action, I had to put the wireless extension project away for a while, so I could do more research. By now, there was certainly no shortage of online information available, as community groups began popping up all over the globe. I decided that if I was going to get anywhere with practical wireless networking, I'd need to talk to some experts.