Broadband Bucket Brigade - or How to get Broadband into the Trees.

by on ‎08-07-2017 04:46 PM

So what is a community to do when they're buried in the forest and all of their rooftop views look like this:




900 Mhz to the tower 2 miles away? Worth a try, but no dice. The "magic" of licensed LTE on 3.65? Took it for a test drive and couldn't find a link anywhere behind these trees with it.


This rural community had no provider of interent other than satellite, so they were very motivated to find a solution. More than a year of testing and experimenting yielded no usable results, and we were about ready to give up.


Then the new Ubiquti horns came out. What we discovered was that the horns were able achieve 8x modulation between houses by going underneath the tree canopy. Here is a ground level view from one house looking towards the neighboring house:




Still not line of sight - heck you can't even see the other house through all those trees. Experimenting with the horns revealed that they were able to find a path through all those tree trunks and establish links between houses that were just like line of sight links. Other UBNT radios were also finding paths, but only with precision locating and aiming on both ends - something the horns didn't require. And being 5 Ghz spectrum means there would be enough channels available to actually do some relaying, unlike 2.4 or 900.


So the small community came together and all agreed to relay signals from house to house so they could get off of satellite.


The first order of business was finding a location for a gen2 Powerbeam with line of sight to the tower. This would serve as one of the backhauls for the broadband brigade. The edge of the treeline on one property did the trick. An anchored tripod with everything painted brown like the trees:




Power for the backhaul comes from an EP-R6 about 250 feet deep into the trees - also painted brown to camoflage it's presence. Direct-burial cable was buried from here to the backhaul dish:




Direct-burial cable also goes from this mid-forest relay to the first house in the brigade, which is also where this EP-R6 is getting it's power. We also have the first horn in the brigade - and here is what that horn sees:




Yikes, but with the assistance of a higher-gain 30 degree horn on the other end this link is a solid 8x with about 140 Mbps of capacity on a 20 Mhz channel. Here is the view from the other end:




Doesn't look to me like it would work, but it's holding a steady 8x no problem. Here is the ground-level view of the 30 degree horn - doesn't really stand out that much from the ground:





From the other side of the house a cute little fascia mount makes the link to the next house:




A soffit-mounted horn picks it up at the next house:




And on it goes until the brigade reaches the last house, where 300 foot of fencing gives us barely enough cable run to come out of the trees and mount a second backhaul dish:




In all there are a dozen houses participating in the broadband brigade. Each house has 2 radios to relay the bridge from one neighbor to the next, and those radios are powered by an EP-R6 at each house which also provides each house's routed connection onto the bridge. A backhaul dish on each end makes it tolerant of losing any single house in the bridgade, at which point the brigade will require adjustment if the break in the brigade will be permanent for some reason. 


The bridge has an end-to-end capacity of 140 Mbps which is shared by all of the participants. Each house (as the relay point) adds about 1 ms of latency, so the longest distance to exiting the bridge is only about 12 ms max - still orders of magnitude better than satellite. Each house was also given a UPS battery to prevent power outages from disrupting connectivity to downstream neighbors.


140 Mbps of shared bandwidth with latencies in the low double digits makes this little forested community very happy. Thank you to Ubiquiti for making this possible!


on ‎08-07-2017 04:53 PM

Great solution @FuzzyDice !    I've also noticed that low under the tree branches is usually best.   

on ‎08-07-2017 06:37 PM

Great solution but for the distance and the maintenance and more bandwidth you should really consider burying 2 miles of fiber and using a GPON system, no messing with UPS and power from the neighbors

on ‎08-07-2017 06:46 PM

Trees have roots - burying a couple miles of fiber in the forest would be a nightmare. Even the few hundred feet of cable we buried only went in a few inches deep because of the tree roots.


At one point we even considered stringing fiber up in the trees, but that just seemed like a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

on ‎08-07-2017 07:24 PM
Having installed a lot of fiber, I think FuzzyDices solution made a lot of sense here. Certainly cheaper and quicker than fiber.
Fiber would have a longer life but this was a good,inovating solution.
on ‎08-08-2017 05:25 AM

Great problem solving here. What a way to bring a community together. Have you noticed any substantial degradation due to wet foliage?

on ‎08-08-2017 07:00 AM

@amilian Try to run a trencher through all those trees... The roots of the trees will make it a terrible and painful job...

@FuzzyDice made a quick and fast solution. Great job!

on ‎08-08-2017 07:21 AM

Back form my fiber laying days, you take a small maxxy sneaker to run the cable like normal, and when you get to the trees, you chain it to your truck (or a mainline plow sitting around) and give it an extra tug Man Wink I still ended up digging and cutting lots of roots though... This is definitely a great alternative. Multiple daisy chains does threaten reliable uptime, but when all else fails, you made it work. Kudos.

on ‎08-08-2017 07:26 AM

Very nice, and it shows that you can indeed go through relatively short distances of trees etc. even with 5GHz.   And shooting under the canopy is a great way to do it - most RF attenuation is from the water + organic material in the leaves/needles.


on ‎08-08-2017 07:33 AM

If the path which you to cross is private property with little traffic, you could put an aerial messenger straight on the forrest ground.


We have done this many times.  Good aerials are so solid they'll last forever.  Over time vegetation will just grow over.  Even the odd ATV running over wouldn't break it as it will just burry the cable a bit deeper.  Heck we even had these cables on bare asphalt with tens of cars and trucks running over them after a pole broke off.


Only problem could be when somebody puts on a bonfire above.


on ‎08-08-2017 07:43 AM

You used the PowerBeam on the houses due to the tighter beamwidth, yes?


From my understanding, the PB and NB are pretty much the same except the 10 degree vs 30 degree beamwidth, right?


Have you run a speedtest between the AP-AP? Do you have a screeshot of the first AP to the one that broadcasts to teh houses? Interested in seeing what kind of signal stats you get cutting through that much wood. 


I have a similar situation with a campsite.

on ‎08-08-2017 08:07 AM

can we see more pictures of the stats ?

on ‎08-08-2017 08:52 AM

No signal degredation due to rain or moisture on the links with tree trunks in the path. The needles are the big problem. One link that shoots through a patch of needles will lose a db or two when the needles get wet, but still maintain 120+ Mbps of capacity.


Here are the link stats for one shooting through some needles:




Here are link stats for a link shooting through tree trunks:




on ‎08-08-2017 08:58 AM

@F1NETWORX- We used the new horns because of the wider beamwidth. The tighter beamwidths are very picky about location and aim from both ends when shooting through trees like that. We would have been mounting dishes next to front doors, on deck posts, and other silly stuff like that. The horns were much more forgiving and allowed us to place them in locations that were convenient for the customer and didn't look ridiculous.

‎08-08-2017 06:23 PM - edited ‎08-08-2017 06:24 PM

The horns have an interesting advantage here because of their wider pattern.  When going through the trees like this, it might be a second, third or fourth signal freznel that actually has the signal path.  The sending horn allows a looser beamwidth that sends multiple paths and the receiving horn can pickup different directions as well.  It all comes to gether and works well for short distances like this.   A tigher beam dish wouldn't send a wide enough signal to find paths around the trees.  

on ‎08-09-2017 06:36 AM

Nice. Thought at first blush it might be a solution for isolated communities here in a New England national forest, but those (red pines?) are nice and open under the canopy. Around here, the hemlocks, spruces, and white pines, plus the scrub tend to be foliated right to the ground. Still looking for an update to the beamforming Wavion 2.4 which saved my bacon when I had to replace 900 because the electric utility decided to trash it for not-so-smart meters.


on ‎08-09-2017 04:31 PM


Where is this located? Looks a LOT like where we have a home in Lake  Tahoe, Nevada. I have pondered the same issues, how to break us free of the local lackluster cable modem service, and have our subdivision at the very least purchase and share some fiber grade internet service, but the trees, the trees.

on ‎08-10-2017 07:49 AM

find the tallest tree and put the dish ontop of the tree Man Happy



if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, what sound does it make

bing, email notification Saying device offline

on ‎08-11-2017 05:58 AM

@FuzzyDice great post, and the multitude of photos at each step along the way are really helpful to see what's going on.  Just curious what satellite options you have in this area (HughesNet, Wildblue/Exede?) and whether those packages are getting any better with the new satellites coming up (Jupiter 2 for HughesNet up and taking new subs but I'm not sure about price points; Viasat-2 still reaching orbit).  Do y'all ever see yourselves getting back on satellite if the service improves?