this side down

This isn’t the post that I had been thinking of writing today. However, events of the past couple of days inspired me to post this photo and write something about how I’ve been occupied. This may or may not be of interest to all. If you live in the country and have had trouble getting decent internet service, or if you just want to read a somewhat funny story about the typical crap you have to go through to get something new to work, then read on. Otherwise, return tomorrow for a more nature-related post.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile will know that I’ve been patiently struggling along with what was probably the world’s slowest dial-up connection. It didn’t really matter too much for many years, but with the growth of DSL and other high-speed internet, websites have changed to include more graphics, video, etc.. making it a painfully slow experience for those who are still stuck with dial-up.

In our immediate area we can’t get cable, and from what we’ve been told by some of the telephone service people, the phone lines are not too great and can’t carry DSL. Up until recently, there haven’t been too many choices for line-of-sight type broadband, although that is changing as towers have been going up all over. I had checked into getting some kind of broadband service, but it was usually fairly expensive — generally quite a substantial set-up fee, usually the requirement of purchasing expensive equipment or an ongoing “equipment rental fee”, and almost always required that one sign a contract for 2 or 3 years of service. Prices of service usually ranged from somewhere around 40 to 70 per month depending on what speed of service one wanted. I found the whole thing very confusing and didn’t like the idea of having to sign a contract, although I can see the provider’s side as they would not want to set up equipment and then have someone cancel their service six months down the road.

Anyhow, after much searching around, I pretty much gave up on the idea of broadband and decided to just putz along with the dial-up and hope for cable or DSL to someday make its way along our road. Perhaps I should explain how utterly ludicrous our situation is, lest anyone get the impression that we’re “out in the boonies” here at our farm. That’s only true in a superficial sense. To look out any of our windows, one would think we were in the middle of nowhere, but that’s far from the truth. We’re in what was formerly the Township of Osgoode, before it was amalgamated into the City of Ottawa. For those in other countries, Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, with a population of somewhere around 840,000. It has a large airport which is located about 15 km (9.3 miles) from our doorstep. Also from my doorstep, we can be in the midst of a mass of big box stores in about 15 minutes. As the city has sprawled in every direction, bus service and such things as DSL and cable have rolled out ahead of it. However, there’s this pie-shaped area, mainly composed of the former Township of Osgoode, that is like the Bermuda Triangle of Nothingness. It just so happens that our farm lies inside of that area — so no bus service and no high-speed net connections, along with some other “nothings”. However, there are some country estate subdivisions in our area, and surprise, surprise, cable and DSL run all through those.

But, I digress. Back to the story that accompanies the above photo.

One day last week, while trying to sort out an email problem, I happened to come across a reference to something called an outdoor WiMax modem being offered by Now, I’m posting some links here as this may be of interest to others who are stuck with crappy dial-ups, and who might be able to make use of this technology. As I had a hard time digging up info on this thing, I figure that these notes can be considered along the lines of a public service announcement.

When I somehow managed to find myself on this page, I thought, “Hey! This is too good to be true! I’ll bet this isn’t available in my area!” However, after consulting this coverage map, I discovered that we are, indeed, within one of the coverage areas. However, even *this* wasn’t immediately apparent as I first tried looking for Osgoode, and using my postal code, and got a reply that said something about coverage being uncertain. I then tried the little search by location box on the top left, entered my street address, and bingo…the map showed my area as being eligible for outdoor modem service. Price of the outdoor modem unit is $249.95 — and you must install it yourself. Monthly charge for service is either $24.95 or $49.95 depending on the connection speed you wish to order. Instructions for installation are available in a downloadable pdf manual (an instruction manual is also supplied in the kit — but more about this below).

The next morning, I started making calls to try to order a modem. After calling Rogers and getting through to a sales person or two, I found that they didn’t seem to know much about these outdoor modem units, and each time I spoke to someone, they would ask for my postal code and then tell me that the service wasn’t available in Osgoode. Also, everyone seemed to think I was enquiring about the indoor portable units. I would then proceed to tell them about the coverage map. A few people later, I finally got someone who said that it probably was available, and that I could order the unit, try it, and return it within 30 days if it didn’t work out. I also spoke to the tech support people about whether the system could be used with a Mac. I was told that it should work, but I’d need a PC to do the installation part as it required running a program that wouldn’t run on a Mac. This sounded hopeful and almost too good to be true. After a bunch of hassles that I won’t get into, the unit was finally ordered on Friday, and arrived by UPS late Monday afternoon.

That evening, Don and I drove to Ottawa to borrow an unused older PC from my brother. My intention was to use it to run the LinkMonitor program that the modem installation manual described in detail over a couple of pages or so. Yesterday morning, feeling rather gung-ho, I loaded the installation kit CD into the computer, only to find that the LinkMonitor program didn’t seem to be on it. I messed around for quite awhile trying to find the program, thinking that, not being a PC person, I had done something wrong. Finally, I gave up and called the tech support number. The techie immediately said, “Does it have lights on it?” I’m thinking, “What?” He told me that it would have lights on the underside. I checked and sure enough, there was a row of tiny lights. He then said, “You don’t need the LinkMonitor program. You just plug in the modem cord and walk around outside, and the flashing lights will indicate strength of signal.” I thanked him and continued with the installation.

Plugging in the modem, I headed out into the yard dragging along the 90 foot section of cable supplied with the unit. I walked here and there, stopping to hold the unit up over my head and turning it slowly, as described in the manual. The lights just ran in sequence and never seemed to change. After about 20 minutes, with my arms starting to wear out, I came indoors and called tech support again, thinking that perhaps I’d been getting a full signal all the time. I got a different techie this time. He took my name and address and then informed me that the unit wasn’t “switched on” yet, so I wouldn’t be able to get a proper signal. He told me that he’d get that taken care of, and to try the unit later in the day. He did also give me some good info on finding the best direction to pick up a signal (to the northwest of us). He also said I should be able to get a good signal as the towers are only 10 km (6 miles) away, and as I later found from looking at the specs for this modem (see unit at bottom right), this unit is supposed to have a range of about 32 km (20 miles).

I patiently waited until later in the afternoon, occasionally giving the unit a try. At about 2 p.m., I was able to get a weak signal (1 light flashing), by standing in the doorway of our back porch, holding the unit at head height. So! At least I knew the unit might work. With Don away at work, and not wanting to risk climbing ladders by myself, I decided to put off testing the unit from a higher point on the house where it would be more likely to get a good signal. Instead, I decided to try to assemble the mounting brackets. I turned to that part of the manual, only to find that the model of modem which I’d received looked absolutely *nothing* like the one in the manual. This kit contained a bunch of weird looking bits and pieces out of which one was supposed to create a mounting bracket. Now, let me just say that I’m one of the most “mechanical” people you might meet, and if someone can make something out of a bunch of “stuff”, it’s usually me. However, for the life of me, I can’t quite figure out how this mounting bracket thing goes together. I decided to just give up and work on that problem later. In the meantime, I found that I could position the modem in the porch doorway, and stuff some styrofoam around it, and get at least a meagre signal — enough to experiment with hooking up to the computer.

Don arrived home from work just about then. The next “step” in the manual — the manual that, until this point, was more like a document prepared to lead one totally astray — said to call Rogers to request a registration number and “key” number which would be required to set up our account, email, etc… This took only a few moments.

In my discussions with the tech support people, I’d quizzed each of them on whether they thought my Mac would “just work” with the modem once the ethernet cable was hooked up. I got a couple of different answers that boiled down to “Once everything is set up and working, you can probably hook up a Mac using some kind of router.” I was anticipating that I’d have to use the PC running Explorer to do all of the set-up (that’s what was indicated in the instruction manual). However, I decided to stick the ethernet cable on the Mac and see what happens. Rather like magic, I was able to connect immediately after just a tweak or two in the TCP/IP settings. Within seconds, I was surfing the net at blazing speeds — at least, blazing by past standards. Success!!!

As of this morning, the modem is still hanging in the porch doorway awaiting better positioning and installation. I’ll be studying the mounting brackets better today as I now see that the spec page mentions that the modem can be mounted to an eave, wall or pole, so I’m guessing these bracket pieces are for configuring in multiple ways. I still haven’t managed to get my new email account entirely sorted out yet, but I can work on that later.

All in all, I’d say this is probably one dead-easy unit to install IF you toss out the installation manual. Of course, I’m just joking, but seriously, the manual is so full of red herrings, that it actually made the whole process much more confusing than it should have been (the .pdf and print versions are the same and describe a different unit than the one that is supplied in the kit). In actual fact, this is a very easy unit to install. The first thing to do should have been to be sure it was activated properly so that a signal would be received. Next step should have been to go outside to try to find the best signal using the lights. After that, a quick call to Rogers to get the registration number and key (perhaps could have been done with step 1). Then hook up the unit to the computer to test the connection, etc… Then mount the unit in a more permanent location. I’ll bet that, if things had gone in that order, the installation would have taken no more than a half hour or so. Anyhow, it’s all water under the bridge and I’m cool with how it went. The outcome looks to be good so far. I have almost 30 days to use the system and see how it works out. So far, I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen. I’ll post a follow-up after I’ve had some time to evaluate the service.

First Update (August 3, 2007): About a day after setting up the modem, I did a connection speed test to get a rough idea of how the modem was functioning. At this point, the modem was still temporarily installed — clamped to a tall walking stick that was fastened to one of the uprights in our back sun porch. This first test got 966.6 kbs. Last evening, we did some selective pruning of heavily leafed trees in the garden in the line of sight between the modem and where we knew the towers to be located. The modem immediately picked up a stronger signal. I did another connection test last night (Aug. 2) and got a bit better than 1.5 mps — which is the level of service which I’d subscribed to. That seems fairly good considering that the modem is not really much above ground level at the moment, and that there is probably still some foliage interfering with reception. I’ll post further updates from time to time.

Note: Here’s a bit more info for anyone who is interested in what might be available across Canada. Here’s info on the Inukshuk Wireless initiative which is what these WiMax type modems use. The transmitters are located on existing cell towers, so I expect that we’ll see more of this as time goes by. Here’s a link to a page with a list of the population centers which have at least some WiMax service here in Canada — see this page. There may be something equivalent going on in the U.S., so check around for more info.

Tags: , , ,

  • Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Trackback URI:
  • Comments RSS 2.0

18 Responses to “this side down”

  1. Mark Says:

    It’s exciting, Bev. The city of Rome, Ga, which we can actually see from our deck, has a wireless network in the downtown area. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, we are not close enough to use it. I have tried searching for other wireless networks in our area. One ISP actually appears to offer a business service, but their website shows nothing about it. They are my former ISP, which was so Mac hostile that I dropped them. Maybe some day.

  2. robin andrea Says:

    This is such excellent news. When we consider the prospects of moving, we know we might face a situation where we won’t have high speed connection. If you get this device to work, it gives me some hope that we could do the same, if necessary. I’m going to check the links you provide to see what’s available in the backwoods of northern California. Good luck.

  3. bev Says:

    Mark – Keep up on develoments there as (from what I can figure out thus far) these WiMax type modems work from signals from the same towers used for cellphones. Some companies are setting up the transmitters on these towers. Up here, Bell and Rogers have formed a partnership and are doing it under an initiative that goes by the name Inukshuk. Here’s some info about it from the Inukshuk website, and in fact, I’ll post these links up above too. Centers installed in Canada can be found here.

  4. bev Says:

    robin – I think similar systems are beginning to be rolled out in different areas. I’d actually been hearing of WiMax systems for awhile — a friend was following the story a couple of years ago, so that’s how I first learned of it. Up here, as mentioned in my comment to Mark up above, two of the largest internet and cellphone providers are setting these up using existing cell towers. I think we’ll see this kind of service becoming more widespread in the near future.

  5. Wayne Says:

    Great explanation, Bev. I was wondering if this was to be accomplished by DSL over phone lines. So you are basically wireless!

    Glenn and I were talking about setting up a directional transmitter that would be received by a modem similar to the one you describe, for our phone-less WVFD so that it could have connectivity. It sounds like much the same setup – we would take the place of the transmitters on the cellphone towers you’re linking to, piggybacking on our DSL connection. And Glenn’s understanding was that the range was 14 miles (Mark!).

    Sounds too good to be legal, much less true, but in fact companies are encouraging people to do this.

  6. Pamela Says:

    It sure is interesting to me, Bev. I’m finding it slower and slower to get around on dial-up every day–with every improvement to a website, or update of blogging sites, including my own host Blogger. Last time I checked around here the equipment cost was so high, for equipment that I feared would be obsolete within a couple of years, that I let it go–hoping that Hastings County would finally come up with a highspeed solution for us rural folk (there’s been talk for years…). What you describe sounds just about possible. I’m following the provided links as I write (i.e., waiting for the pages to load), and I look forward to hearing how your new setup works out for you.

  7. Pamela Says:

    And it looks like the answer for Thomasburg is “no.” If it’s running off cell phone towers, maybe it will be yes soon? Some day? Eventually?

  8. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    Welcome to higher speed internet. We too have a Rogers modem and it works from inside our house. Mind you we had to check every window on our second floor and when we found a 4 light signal in the southwest corner all the computer equipment had to move along with desks etc. Of course that was before the leaves came on the trees in the spring but even now, with lots of leaves just outside the window, we still get 3 light service which works just fine. Yea for Rogers! I told Bell where to get off and even changed my phone. (Bell told me 4 years ago that they would have high speed here in 2 or 3 2 weeks. It’s still not available from them.)

  9. Crafty Gardener Says:

    That was quite the experience you went through to get connected. Hope that it does work for you. We live in an area that does not have cable modem, or telephone high speed. About a year ago satellite high speed was offered in our area which we jumped at trying. Lots of hiccups to get going but recently they have done lots of upgrades and things are working well (looking around quickly for some wood to touch!) We have line of site to the tower so guess we are one of the luckier ones.

  10. John Says:

    Your patience is so, so much more developed than mine! I’m delighted to hear that it seems to work, Bev. I hope it turns out to be exactly what you’ve been looking for. I can’t tell you what a difference it made when I switched from dial-up to DSL; it was wonderful.

  11. bev Says:

    Wayne – Yes, wireless! It’s a remarkably simple set-up as far as the modem is concerned. Basically, just a small flat box with a long cable, going to a tiny power unit and power cord. You just have to work out the best way to install it onto a building, attach a ground wire, ground that to something, and you’re in business. I’m not getting a great signal as yet, but I just did a speed test on the connection and I’m getting 966.6 kbs. That’s really not too bad considering that the unit is now mounted to a 6 foot long stick that is standing inside the back sun porch! (-:

    Pamela – I would just keep checking on the status of this thing if there are any cell phone towers in your area. I suspect that Bell and Rogers will add transmitters to more of their towers if this technology turns out to be reliable. I’m sure it doesn’t cost them a huge amount to add transmitters to existing towers, so they’d could be making extra money from WiMax service offered in rural areas.

    OW – We’ve been hearing the same thing from Bell re: DSL service, for at least 4 years, but nothing ever changes. So far, it seems like this unit is going to work, so things are looking up!

    CG – Yes, it was quite an experience! So far, so good, although the connection was poor this morning. However, as mentioned above in the comments, I’ve just got the modem temporarily installed, so I think it’s doing quite well so far.

    John – I do have a lot of patience as far as most things are concerned. Good thing too, as yesterday’s events would have tested the patience of most people, I think. I sure hope it does work out. So far, so good – it’s working well tonight. I guess I’ll just have to see how reliable it is over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’m enjoying zipping around to visit everyone’s blogs! (-:

  12. Duncan Says:

    Well done Bev, you won’t know yourself.

  13. David Says:

    966 kbps?? That seems really low compared to the theoretical throughput of WiMAX. Would Rogers divulge how many users are on the same tower or what throughput they can guarantee? If they are piling on the users per tower, throughput for everyone grinds to a crawl. But, I bet you in the crispness of winter with lots of snow on the ground & no leaves, your throughput will be substantially better.

  14. bev Says:

    Duncan – Since installing this unit, I’ve discovered there’s a whole other world out there on the net! (Actually, I knew about it already, but just haven’t been able to access it from home). (-:

    David – I tested the connection again last night after we finished doing some selective pruning of some large, heavily leafed trees around our house. With the modem just clamped to a small pole attached inside our back sun porch, we could get a bit more than 1.5 mps, which is what this level of Rogers service is supposed to deliver (approximately). At the moment, Rogers is selling 2 levels of residential service, and the higher is 1.5 mps. If our modem will deliver that most of the time, I’ll be quite happy, as that’s plenty fast for just about anything that I’ll be doing. Also, I feel that’s pretty good considering that the unit is not much above ground level. I’m actually considering not putting it up on the exterior of the house as I don’t really want to drill holes in the eaves or siding to do a more permanent installation.

  15. bev Says:

    David — P.S. It would probably be difficult to get an answer from Rogers re: number of users per tower. I suspect they are sharing the same transmitters with Bell who is offering the same service, but they install your unit, etc… At the moment, I’d be very surprised if there are many subscribers using WiMax out in our area as it’s just recently become available. I’ve been reading messages on a couple of digital forums and it sounds as though everyone has had problems even getting info on these units, or being able to place an order. Our experience is just about identical to what most are describing — sales department doesn’t seem to know anything about the outdoor modems, so getting one was like pulling teeth. The crazy thing is, after having so much trouble getting ONE modem, they shipped a SECOND one right after, so now we have to try to return one! (arrrgh!!!). Anyhow, it will be interesting to see how the service is in a few months as more subscribers are added. I’m kind of hoping that, once the service becomes more widespread, perhaps they’ll even improve it over time as with so many things these days.

  16. KGMom Says:

    I realize that all the work that preceded your writing this blog took lots of time–but I am sitting here laughing at your various descriptions.
    And, as an occasional visitor to your site, I have always marveled at your lovely intricate photos of insects–to think all those have been uploaded on a dial-up line!
    My guess is the manual may be have been written by someone for whom English is not a first language? Possible?
    Here’s a funny Customer Service Video

  17. Rebecca Clayton Says:

    It’s odd how the service providers put up so many hurdles for prospective customers. Don’t they want more business?

    My experiences looking for broadband in rural West Virginia were similarly frustrating. We live in a “radio quiet zone” because of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, so there are no cell phones and there will be no wireless, but something strange (probably political) has gone on with the phone service. Eight years ago, the “phonelines” were unable to maintain a dialup connection. Now, DSL is available. There’s been no physical change in the “phonelines,” and right before DSL became available last summer, the phone company told me they had “no plans” to extend DSL service to our area.

    Congratulations on your new speed!

  18. bev Says:

    KGMom – Thanks! It has definitely been a labor of love to maintain this blog and upload photos while working with a pathetic dial-up connection. I’m quite enjoying being able to zip around the net and actually watched a few video clips yesterday. I just watched the clip you linked to. Hey! I think I may even have talked to that same Customer Service Rep a couple of times last week! (-:

    Rebecca – I was thinking much the same while trying to order this modem. What the heck…don’t you want to sell any of these?!!
    That’s very interesting about the phone lines. We keep being told that our lines are too old for DSL, and yet I keep hearing of other communities which get DSL and I’m sure their lines must be at least as old as ours. It all seems rather fishy.
    And yes, hurray for the new speed!