Setting Up Your Own Wireless Network
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.