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Setting Up Your Own Wireless Network

Updated: 08/08/2014 @ 1:33pm

If the two-way radio was all you ever needed for farm communication, then it may be time to think about setting up a wireless equivalent – with a sensor at the other end rather than a family member or coworker.

By now, you’ve probably replaced that old two-way radio with a cell phone or a smartphone. 

Wireless is the next step. It can let you tap into information from devices that are silently watching or measuring on your behalf. You can open the channel (like a two-way radio) by just dialing it up or connecting to it over the Internet. 

Unlike a two-way radio, wireless networks don’t require an FCC license. Like a cell phone or smartphone, wireless networks do require a subscription from a service provider. Instead of voice, however, it will be transmitting data with a data plan. 

Ag researchers and some equipment companies are deep into wireless services. The technology has become more affordable, reliable, and useful, so it’s worth considering for private use on many farms, according to John Nowatzki, North Dakota State University (NDSU) agricultural machine systems specialist.

The basics of setup
The term wireless really is a shortened form of wireless local area network (WLAN). Wireless technology uses radio waves to send data between electronic devices. These devices are wired internally according to IEEE protocol 802.11, established by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. There are multiple types of 802.11 technology, identified by letters after the numbers, such as 802.11a and 802.11b. 

These new two-ways are permitted to transmit by the FCC in three bands (900 MHz, 2.4 MHz, and 5 MHz) without a license. 

The 900 MHz band was slow and had lots of interference. These days, common wireless networks transmit on 2.4 MHz with 802.11b or 802.11g designs. They are very fast. A small digital photo, for instance, can be transmitted in less than one second. 

It is possible for a farm to own a complete system for a LAN. However, Nowatzki says, if your LAN is tethered to a conventional antenna (like the two-way), it will be highly limited. It probably won’t reach beyond the farmyard before interference from obstacles and other devices makes it useless. If you want access to the information from another point outside the farmyard, it may not work.

“The effective operating distance of 802.11 wireless networks is unique to each site, so it is important to try equipment to determine actual distances on-site,” Nowatzki says. “Wireless networks using common whip antennas function effectively up to 2 miles. Distances can be increased up to 5 or 6 miles by using directional antennas.” 

However, when a farm’s network hooks up with wireless cellular service, distance is unlimited. It can connect virtually anywhere. The reliability is as good (or weak) as cell service. 

“The basic components of wireless networks, to remotely monitor or control activities on farms, include a radio base station connected to a computer and three components at the remote or mobile location. Those three components include a remote radio modem, an electronic data logger, and the electronic sensor,” says Nowatzki.

Many practical applications
You can use wireless technology to monitor conditions and to control activities from a distance. Sensors will monitor a wide range of conditions. 

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No subscription needed for a wireless network 08/08/2014 @ 5:13pm John- Thank you for an excellent article on this important topic. Farming isn't getting any easier, and growers should be taking advantage of any technology that keeps them from getting "spread too thin." Instant communications across the farm can help keep a farm manageable. Perhaps the most practical wireless network is one that uses off-the-shelf technology to create a private Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) using 802.11 technologies. You just buy the components and connect to your existing Internet connection (DSL, cable, satellite, fixed wireless, cellular, etc.) and build out your network to anywhere you need it. The advantage of having a private WLAN is that it extends your router's network out into your outbuildings, into your fields, and even into your tractor cab, so you can access file shares and print to your office printer from the other side of your farm. At the same time, you can have IP cameras that you can individually make available on the Internet, so you can check the farm when you're away without compromising the security of everything on your network. At Ayrstone Productivity (ayrstone.com), we sell a meshing WiFi system built specifically for farm use called "AyrMesh." It uses high-power long-distance 802.11s/802.11n access points called "AyrMesh Hubs" to create the network and small devices called "AyrMesh Receivers" to connect non-WiFi devices and bring the network into buildings. We have just introduced the "AyrMesh Cab Hub" to bring the network into the cab of your tractor, sprayer, combine, truck, or other vehicle. Because the system uses all standard Internet Protocol (IP) networking technologies, there are a huge number of standard devices that can connect and communicate on the network. Grain dryers, irrigation controllers, pumps, thermostats, and many, many other devices can easily connect to the network. The best thing is that the components are just purchased - there are no subscription fees to pay - they use your existing Internet "drop" to provide Internet connectivity, and connect everything on the farm together. -Bill Moffitt, Ayrstone Productivity

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