This article was originally written during autumn of 2015. It was left waiting for publishing then, and now, 4 months later I am publishing it.
Smarthome Extravaganza – Part 5 : “DIY WAN”
Back at the smart home project. I have not updated my site for a long time, but that does not mean I have not done a thing. This summer time, I’ve been married with shovel while making my home and yard smarter by extending it’s network with several different kind of network solutions.
Describing the problem
Our yard is big. Not a mansion-like big but much bigger than 90% of the Finnish suburbs. It has a lot of ground to cover and four (originally five) exterior buildings. As our main servers and connections to the outside world with 4G modem is built inside to our country house, it was going to be pain in the ass to get network and specially local area network coverage around the yard buildings- which of course, I wanted to have.
My first solution, was of course, the most easy one to figure out: Wireless Area Network aka Wi-Fi. Yes. It should work– I’ll just position my Wi-Fi box(es) to the proper locations around the house near the windows on both floors and make the Wi-Fi boxes interconnect each other by RJ45 wiring travelling inside the house. With good WLAN boxes, it should give good coverage around the yard, right?
I ended up finding out two facts: For one, our house is very well made and has been extremely well thermal insulated. As this is a old sturdy woodhouse made in 1950s and renovated well in 1980s, this means also radio signals do not travel as well as in the other kind of structres. Second fact I found out was that our yard, was actually so wide, that I barely got any kind of WLAN signal in the back of the yard where my workshop building is located.
After I got tired of using my mobile phone’s internet connection sharing with the workshop’s laptop, I started planning secondary solution for getting better network to my workshop, where I desperately needed internet for fetching blueprints, electronic schematics and all sort of information for my personal project.
Well- I may not have WLAN there but perhaps other kind of solutions would work? I had previously configured a nice set of Zyxel’s EoP (ethernet over power) converts which were initally used providing network to our new house (which then proved to provide too slow ping and network and led to cabling) and I though that maybe I could use them providing network to the workshop.
Well, if the WLAN solution was bad, this was worse. We are, after all, talking of old house, as I soon found out, electricity systems originally from 1950s and a yard power cable providing electricity to the workshop. Talk about losing network packets. This was a bad, bad solution.
Why do it hard way, when you can do it easy way? In the early 2015, I came up simple, yet extremely bad idea to get internet to my workshop: I still had some length left in my RJ45 CAT6 cable reel, about 60 meters, which I had used building network inside our house, so I though: Yeah, well, why the hell not. I, well, cut heads from spare short network cable and attached them to the 60 meters cable, did not even solder, just attached and taped, and then dragged the damn cable from library room’s wlan box through the yard to my workshop.
Yes – I managed to get the internet. No – it was not a good, not even good temporary, solution. Why? Well first, bad cabling. Cable, even if it did had 60 meters left and went through window to window, was not long enough and hanged half on the air and for secondary, it occasionally shorted somehow and caused the whole local network in the house go down. This so called solution was active for long two days and was then removed.
One thing my wife has well taught me during our 10 years of living together is patience, a thing I did not have when I was a younger man and still have big problems to maintain. Up towards summer of 2015, I started to planning digging a ditch from our house towards our large warehouse, about 20-30 meters (~65-100 feets) from the house. My own personal image of myself, yours truly, digging a ditch was like a movie montage where man takes a shovel, digs little bit, swipes sweat off from forehead and ding – it’s done.
Well, reality bites. Movie montages bites. Even great TV-show, Supernatural, bites, because they make digging ditches and holes look like a walk in the garden. Well it was not.
Everyday I’m shovelling
Because of the recommandations of my much-wiser half, my wife, I ended up digging 50 centimeter (~20 inch) deep and 30 centimeter (~12 inch) wide ditch for the whole distance and it took me almost two weeks because the ground was mostly made of very hard clay-ish material with lot of rocks in the uphill path. I worked 2 to 4 hours a day and after a lot of shoveling, transporting clay and dirt and swiping off sweat from my forehead without the montage I was done.
The main reason I made ditch for network cabling so deep and wide, was the very fact that the composure of the ground was mainly clay, or claylike material and here in Finland we have this thing called deep ground freezing during winter and unfreezing towards summer which causes clayish grounds to frost, and thefore move, heavily.
After the ditch was completed, I purchased 20 meters of firm plastic electric tubing, 2-2.5m a piece, to cover the CAT6 cable, drew the tubes (with the cabling inside) from storage house towards our house and covered the initial tubing with fine and coarse sand all the way. As a perfectionist, and being very careful, I triple-taped all tube connections with both duct tape and insulations tapes before filling the ground with sand.
Minor, yet akward, “missing a network” problem
After cabling was done, filled, sealed and all done well, I felt pretty sure that even without prior-fill testing, cabling was working well because I did precision work with it but everything does not go always as smoothly as you would want it to go. Something was missing, and this time it was a working network connection between network nodes.
After a lot of testing, I concluded that something was wrong with the cabling. Because I was pretty sure that my cabling and tubing now underground was flawless, I started looking for the source of the problem from the RJ45 (8P8C) cable connectors used with the CAT6. We had used Deltaco’s toolfree RJ45 (8P8C) cable connectors for our previous cabling inside our house with great success, and had not expected less but clearly something was wrong this time.
Connectors, as before, were attached by my wife, who (for a girl, *grin*) did excellent work with them. We tried, and re-tried, and re-tried again, and again, attaching connectors to the cables but did not receive the green line-light at all to any end of the cabling. I started to feel desperate that there could be a short underground which would mean digging up to 3 cubic meters of compressed soil, cutting all the taped seals open and dragging cable out and do it all over again, I wanted to make one last diagnostic before giving up.
I figured out that much, that with a RJ45 tester, lot of problems could be solved quickly but as I did not have that in hand, I started to make diagnostic using multimeter and my wife. I went to the warehouse’s cable end with multimeter, called my wife at the house to pair wire-pairs (green, green/white and then red, red/white) with each other and then use multimeter’s connection tester in the warehouse end, only to found out that all the wires were intact and fully working,
This meant, that the problem had to be with the connectors. After small in-house diagnostic, we found out that the new cable I had bought was stranded wire cable reel instead of solid core cable reel we had used earlier — which of course meant, that the Deltaco’s toolfree connector was quite picky with the wiring and did not connect at all with the stranded wire. Having now discovered the nature of the problem, the next phase was quite easy to figure out: We needed to solder the wires to the some other, better RJ45-connector.
I’ve done a lot of soldering during my life, including handmade stuttering SMD-soldering with microscope, but felt that leaving the soldering glory to my wife, who has often showed very high quality when working with precision work, would be the best solution. Although little reluctant, she agreed to solder the wirings on the both end. I’ve seen a lot of network (and other) wires being soldered well, but the silverish shining of her precision soldering was beauty to look at.
After final solderings were made and wires insulated, network lights finally went green. We had a network.
Although we now have a well working and quite fast network between our house and our warehouse, my workshop, which is still about total of 40 meters from the warehouse, is missing a network cabling. I know I just could have done same hellish ditch digging from warehouse to the workshop but I concluded that the total two months of networking work done this summer had to be enough. My back was not going to take much more for this summer.
To get a some sort of (any sort of!) network to my workshop, I rigged warehouse’s network switch to work as a WLAN repeater and I eventually got a nice, not the fastest, yet not the slowest, internet to my workshop. It’s not “landline” but it is a network and it works.
I also have set up IP based security cameras around the yard and house which use this WAN-In-Progress solution
Now, to the conclusion. While writing this, 4 months has passed from the original date this article was written. Since then, I have extended my network cabling to my workshop using wire-by-air method, i.e., there’s a RJ45 hanging with support line from our storage building to my workshop. I’ve also extended our network to my weather camera in the border of our yard so now there’s not-so-nicely several air-based wires.
In the upcoming summer I’m about to dig more ditch as I did this summer and sunk all the network cabling underground. It is going to a be lot of work but then again it is going weather-proof and permanent solution. We will just wait for that.