This page is an open source resource page covering remote internet setup for sustainable village and community creation. It is divided into the following sections:
This page will evolve indefinitely with the building of all 7 village models and in collaboration with others also choosing to build earthbag teacher/demonstration communities, villages, and cities using our blueprints and plans.
One Community’s global transformation and open source sharing goals necessitate an exceptional connection to the internet. While connectivity like this may not be as essential for all other communities, we see it as a definite helpful element for many and foundational to collaborative teacher/demonstration communities, villages, and hubs everywhere. For this reason, we’ve created this page and will open source our process of establishing internet in an area miles away from the closest power lines.
The better we can all communicate and share, the more people we can help. For this reason, before One Community is constructed in earnest, an initial team will move to the property to survey the land, finalize development plans, and create the “pre-infrastructure” that needs to exist to support the construction and sharing of all of One Community’s infrastructure, social architecture, and other details. This group will need internet access on the property and our goal is to have this established by day 1. This will enable them to communicate (voice and video chat), prepare tutorials (record and upload videos), and conduct business as usual (online research and using web applications).
In support of our global transformation and open source sharing goals, we are developing this tutorial to help others interested in this too. We see this as helpful to individuals, groups, and especially for others interested in joining us in the creation of collaborative teacher/demonstration communities, villages, and hubs like One Community.
For a collaborative teacher/demonstration village/city like One Community, the primary focus is getting a system for internet access operational as quickly as possible. However, we don’t want to invest significant time or money into a temporary solution that will have to be upgraded/replaced after only a few months. With these goals in mind, we have evaluated the following 3 available options for selecting an internet provider: Satellite Internet, Wireless, and Direct Connection. For One Community’s property and goals, ISP-provided wireless is the preferred choice.
Satellite internet is by far the easiest, cheapest, and most readily available option for internet. It is doubtful, however, whether a satellite connection (5 Mbps) could realistically meet the needs of even an initial twenty residents, and it would definitely have to be upgraded as our complete initial team and visitors and expanded resident team join us on the property. Satellite suffers from low bandwidth, low data caps, high latency, and frequent outages (highly sensitive to weather). There are also installation costs and contracts not aligned with our goals ($350/mo and 2 year commitment). The benefit is that it would be very quick and easy to set up.
With flexible bandwidth (up to 1 Gbps), wireless/point-to-point internet is likely capable of providing adequate internet access for many years; even then it can be upgraded or supplemented with an additional connection to meet future needs. While the technology is usually not affected by typical weather (rain, snow, etc), being above ground and requiring alignment with the ISP’s tower adds moderate risk of interrupted service. There are two options for wireless internet: Do-it-yourself and ISP-provided
Do-it-yourself wireless requires additional cost, time/effort, and responsibilities. Therefore, it is typically only beneficial in situations where no existing wireless options are available (not our situation).
ISP wireless is installed by companies providing this service. Since the ISP handles much of the installation, it is quick to implement (similar to satellite) carrying much less timeline risk than DIY wireless or direct connection. It has fairly low installation costs ($2000) and is the option we have identified as the most cost effective option capable of meeting our needs.
Direct Connection (Fiber in our case) internet is currently the leading technology with the fastest and most reliable connection available. A direct fiber connection is also as future-proof an option as available. Current bandwidth capabilities (10 Gbps) far exceed our needs and yet the technology is still improving. Being underground, there are the fewest risks of service interruption (the largest cause of failure is a backhoe digging without checking county maps). Installation, however, carries timeline risks and is by far the most costly (estimated $150k – $200k).
Here are the rollout specifics for our remote internet implementation beginning with the initial survey team and progressing through 100s of people as described on our First Five Years of Expansion Page. These guidelines should be applicable to any teacher/demonstration community, village, or city seeking to establish a similar internet setup like One Community’s. We will add to this section further once we actually start building (click here to help).
The first group of people to move to the property will be the initial survey team. Their function is surveying the property, soil amendment, and the beginnings of phase I food production. To meet our open source goals for this phase of development and the survey team’s individual internet needs, the following steps will be completed after purchasing the property but prior to anyone living on the property:
Selecting hardware consists of two areas of focus: Routers and Switches/Access Points. Here are the expansion options for both and our rationale for recommending medium-term options in a case like ours:
|Most “consumer routers” are actually 3 devices in 1: a router, a switch, and a wireless access point. They cost $50 – $200 and can meet the needs of a growing teacher/demonstration village/city like One Community that needs WiFi available. It isn’t clear at what point our needs would surpass its capabilities but we think more than 50 residents would push this technology’s capabilities. The average person can set up and configure a consumer device such as this.
|These devices cost $1000 – $3000 and can support many users (maybe up to 500). Someone who has worked with these networking devices before shouldn’t have trouble setting it up; we would guess that an average technical person could handle it as well without too much difficulty. Most “enterprise routers” are also higher quality components that are highly reliable, long-lasting, and provide capabilities that most consumer devices do not. These include:
|The sky is the limit as these devices cost $5000 – $20000+ and handle anything you can throw at them. While they are technically designed to last for decades without breaking down, technology often moves faster than physical failure and it isn’t clear how long it would take before a teacher/demonstration village/city like One Community would begin to benefit from the features of these ultra-high-end routers. A networking professional is required to configure this device.
|As mentioned above, an access point is included in the “consumer router” and no other separate device is required.
|These devices create the “WiFi” zone so that devices can connect wirelessly to the network. With a single device, a teacher/demonstration village/city like One Community won’t have to worry much about setup because most of the configuration is related to managing a network of access points and we will only need one initially.
The rest of the pioneer team will move onto the property after the “landing party” has completed their site survey, identified the locations of all planned construction (specific for buildings to be built in the first 5 years, plus long-term general plan), begun soil amendment for the phase I food production, and confirmed approval for all the initial building plans. All residents will need to use the internet for open source sharing, research, and completing many of their tasks. Future residents will also likely need a larger area where they are able to work online and, at this point, enough planning will have been done to begin working on creating this and the long-term data/internet infrastructure.
The two tasks of our internet infrastructure during this phase are:
For (1), the rule of thumb is to schedule bandwidth increase when average utilization reaches 80%. Our network specialists will monitor usage patterns to identify upcoming bandwidth and area needs before bottlenecks and congestion begin to cause problems. The only additional equipment selection required for this task is a basic network switch to allow connections to multiple access points. We believe that the demands on this device will be minimal thus a highly-rated consumer device will suffice.
For (2), the “landing party” (and anyone creating a similar internet system) should have identified the ideal location, based on:
|We will likely need to put up a tower so that the wireless devices have clear connections to both the ISP(s) and the entire property area.
|It is preferable to be as centrally-located as possible. This allows the load to be broken up into different zones with minimal frequency interference and keeps the average connection distance to a minimum.
|Ideally, this location will house all computer equipment in the long-term, meaning the location will need access to significant power and a backup power source and/or battery backup. It’d be nice to have all the equipment housed indoors, with ability to use the heat produced and also cool the space so that the devices don’t overheat.
When necessary (based on network usage analysis):
Construct “Internet Station” (anytime if standalone, or when possible if part of other building):
The “second wave” of an additional 50-100 residents is projected to begin mid-way through the construction of the Earthbag Village (Pod 1). As with any increase in property population, we’ll have to stay aware of when to increase the bandwidth available and size of WiFi area so that all residents can perform their tasks and reasonably use the internet in their free time without being hindered. This will likely require setting up additional separate areas for WiFi access as the number of separate groups of residents increases (different building/work sites, temporary housing, etc).
As we increase our total internet bandwidth to accommodate the additional residents, it may be a good opportunity to add some fault tolerance to our network via a redundant ISP connection. Instead of increasing the bandwidth of our existing ISP internet connection, we can purchase a second receiver and separate internet bandwidth from a second ISP. Thus, if there is a failure somewhere along the line connecting to the internet via ISP1, we’d be able to continue (although at a reduced capacity) via the ISP2 connection.
By the completion of the previous phase, we’ll have the initial infrastructure for property-wide internet access. This infrastructure will allow easy setup of new WiFi zones in areas with line-of-sight and access to power; however, it is unknown and unlikely that it will enable client devices to directly access the network. During this phase, we will need to copy the existing WiFi area setup to additional areas and start closely monitoring how the load is handled so that we can identify points in the infrastructure to be upgraded for optimal results.
When we want to add additional/redundant bandwidth:
When we want to add an additional area (repeat as necessary):
Throughout the first five years on the property, we will construct and open source several key structures including The Duplicable City Center, the earthbag village (Pod 1), the indoor growing structures, and other related buildings. The expectation from residents working in these areas and visitors touring our community will be that a fast, reliable internet connection is available everywhere within and close to our constructed buildings. Only remote areas of the property (areas that have no access to power for instance) will have poor or no connection to the network. While residents will have universal access to the property network, we will likely be handling visitors in a separate “guest” system to allow internet access without access to the entire property data network.
Within each building, we will need a switch or set of switches to connect all the wireless access points together. For buildings with light expected throughput, a consumer-grade switch should suffice; for high throughput buildings, a business-class switch will probably be needed. Before construction, designs should be analyzed for access point locations to ensure that power and data cables are available where needed to provide full wireless coverage. Ethernet cables can support total distances of at most 75m, so the size of the building determines whether a single, centrally placed switch can reach all the necessary access points or whether multiple switches are needed so that no single cable exceeds 75m in length. The switch also needs to connect to the wireless receiver, which will be on top of the roof. The access points should support broadcasting multiple SSIDs so that we can use one set of hardware to support both trusted resident connections to the data network and untrusted guest/visitor connections to the internet.
Each building/WiFi area will connect back to the central “Internet Tower.” For areas with low expected aggregate throughput, a basic receiver can connect the building to the relevant sector antenna wireless transceiver, which is the point-to-multipoint (PTMP) setup described previously. However, some buildings or areas will handle significant load and will need dedicated connections to the tower. In these situations, a point-to-point (PTP) connection will be required. Different PTP connection hardware can handle different loads – the faster the transfer rate, the more expensive the connection. Therefore, each situation is unique and will be “right-sized” so that we don’t overspend or underperform.
As the number of users increases, we will continue to increase bandwidth to stay ahead of growing demand. Our current estimate for this phase would be ≈175 Mbps: $1750/mo and our current suggestion for access points is the UniFi line by Ubiquiti (same line, different models than the outdoor access points previously suggested). These access points were selected based on their relative affordability and the following features (from http://www.ubnt.com/enterprise/):
Each building will be individually evaluated to determine the necessary number and optimal locations for access points so that the entire internal area has connectivity and no access point is trying to support too much load. However, a few examples of setups:
Extending off our existing PTMP design, Ubiquiti currently offers the following PTP links:
At this point, we’re looking far into the future, probably at least five years after breaking ground at One Community. Over time, the community will increase to our long-term goal of 2000 residents and visitors. We will build other sub-villages within One Community, additional food and energy infrastructure, more city centers, and other buildings not currently within the scope of our planning (dedicated educational and business areas). We will continue to evolve all aspects of One Community, bringing additional features to our existing infrastructure and buildings, such as increased monitoring and automation.
Given the rapid rate of technological progress, the specific problems and opportunities that will unfold during our time on the property, and the increased expertise as more Pioneers join our team, we can currently only outline a few big-picture scenarios that may prove to be relevant:
1. Upgrading the infrastructure to handle the expanding community will involve increasing total internet bandwidth and the physical devices capable of handling the load:
2. Options to add redundancy include:
3. Ideally, we would have WiFi coverage spanning the entire property so residents and visitors could move around with their tablets, smartphones, and other wireless devices and have a seamless experience connected to the internet and data network. Bringing wireless internet to large areas is an active area of research in the industry, so we can hope that the capabilities to easily accomplish this will become available within the next 5-10 years. As it currently is, we will set up wireless access points everywhere that we have easy access to power, thus our Wifi zone will encompass all buildings. For remote areas, we could set up “mini-towers” that would connect to the internet tower and serve as an access point. On unobstructed flat land, it would take 36 of such towers to blanket 1 sq mi with Wifi coverage. Each specific property would have to be individually evaluated to determine the required number and placement of towers. Each “mini-tower” would consist of the following:
4. There are three primary advantages to hosting some of our own services with servers on the property connected to our local area network (LAN). First, we reduce our monthly bandwidth costs by reducing the amount that we rely on internet-based services to meet our needs. Second, we become more resilient by allowing more functions to continue in the event of a lost internet connection. Third, we increase the performance of applications that require significant data transfer and have a low tolerance for network latency. Common uses include network data storage (a shared or private hard drive storing data on the property), application virtualization (instead of everyone needing to install a program, users can access it from any computer), and hosting (custom programs, websites, or other services available only to those connected to the property’s network). The significant downside to this approach is the cost to acquire and maintain the necessary hardware and software, as well as the additional burden of adding to the many things that we are responsible for providing. An example setup with these capabilities extending the previous redundant network design is shown below.
ISP Wireless combined with the medium-term router and medium-to-long-term access point options described above are the combination of hardware and service that we have found to best provide the most affordable, adaptable, and functional internet needed to meet our global transformation and open source sharing goals. If direct connection is not affordably available, we would recommend a similar setup for other collaborative teacher/demonstration communities, villages, and hubs too. In worst-case scenarios, satellite internet (and its shortcomings) is currently the only other option we found. As we implement the above strategy, we will open source share our setup, adaptations, evolutions, and maintenance experience on this page.
Q: What would you recommend for extreme remote conditions?
Satellite internet would most likely be the only option in these situations.
Q: When would direct connection make sense?
Anytime the additional cost justifies the additional benefits.
Q: You make a distinction between ‘wireless transceivers’ and ‘wireless receivers’, but aren’t they all transceivers? They are all capable of two-way communication, correct?
Yes, they are all technically transceivers – devices capable of both transmitting and receiving data. The reason we made a distinction was to further illustrate the directionality in the point-to-multipoint links. Our transceivers are the ‘point’ that broadcast to connect with multiple [point] “receivers.”
Q: What about health concerns related to WiFi or other forms of microwave radiation on the property?
We recognize that many people are understandably concerned about their health these days. We also feel that it is important for our organization’s response to be conscientious of the significance of the risk. Given the loss of technical capabilities and increase in cost associated with abandoning wireless technologies completely (and even more if we attempted to minimize all forms of electromagnetic radiation on the property), we do not feel there is reason to doubt the current scientific consensus (summarized here by the World Health Organization): “Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.“
Here’s a video that takes more of a layman’s approach to addressing this concern:
This said, however, One Community is not presenting this as the definitive solution, but rather the solution most appropriate to our organization and community. As in all aspects of our project, we welcome the diversity of opinions about these matters and encourage others who prefer alternative solutions to consider expanding off our designs and building a satellite community that creates the variation that works best for them.