The 3G Project (Or, Can Broadband be Found in the Boonies?)

22May09

My wife and I own a getaway house we are renovating on a 5 acre plot of gorgeous, mother-nature decorated, out-of-the-way land.  I could seriously see myself retiring here 20 years down the road, but right now I’m on a mission.  You see, the  techie in me just can’t quite reconcile the lack of Broadband Internet access with the On-Golden-Pond beauty of the place. 

I figure I spend about 60 to 70 hours a week coming up with software solutions to all kinds of business challenges, so why should this be any different?

Enter Wireless Mobile Broadband.  Simply put, it’s using existing cellular networks to provide Internet access to all those folks on the go.  What you may not know is that the user experience is getting good enough now to seriously consider using it as a fixed location Internet solution.

Without boring you to tears, lets just say there are 3 basic levels, or tiers, of connection speed.  At this stage of the technology, there is a direct relationship between speed and civilization.  Heavily populated metro areas are more likely to have the faster tiers, while those of us out in the sticks (that would be me) have to settle for, well, what we can settle for.

Since I’m the kind of guy that hears “not yet” instead of “can’t be done” I suppose this project was inevitable.  About 45 days ago I bit the bullet and retired the ISDN line.  I had it for two years and it provided a constant-on connection that was about 3 times faster than dialup.  Enough speed to bear the Internet, but just barely.

In it’s place I have a Sierra Wireless 885 Compass (also known as a Mercury LaptopConnect on AT&T Networks).  There’s a cell tower about 3 miles due East of the house, and I have no problem keeping a very solid connection.  It never drops, and most of the time I maintain a full 5-bars of connection strength. 

The 885 is a USB solution that plugs right into any laptop.  As long as you are near an AT&T cell site, you’ll have Internet access.  The only question is, what level of speed will that tower have?  And that brings us to my new project.  My cell tower offers the EDGE service, which is the middle tier, and I see between 180 to 250 Kbps.  Granted, that’s much improved over the ISDN line, but I’m driven to find the holy grail of Wireless Broadband…3G – which can get me into the neighborhood of DSL to cable Internet speeds.

3G coverage, as the crow flies, is about 22 miles from my house in a small town outside of the nearest metro. 

So here’s what I’m going to do:  I’m going to get that signal.  Somehow, someway, I’m going to reel it in from 22 miles away.  And I’m going to document the whole experience (succeed or fail) right here.

To be continued.

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