Scores on the Doors.

Every so often, people ask us 'how many'.. So as of today, we have:

  • 370 live antenna in the field
  • 215 paying customers, and 260 sites in total
  • Tallest mast structure we use - 40m. 120 feet. And yes - the least fit member of the team - me - has climbed it.
  • We now cover from Temple of Fiddes down to Memus, near Montrose.
  • 18 ADSL lines, giving well over 1gb of internet traffic, with three more lines on order
  • Ashley, Liam and Karl look after support and equipment
  • We installed 24 new customers in October - a new record.
  • Andy and Norman do the installations. (Their business - Standard Security in Stonehaven - are available for other TV, CCTV and ethernet work)
  • Euan and Neil also work on an ad-hoc basis
  • I still travel 1,000 miles a week for the day job and am basically unavailable Monday-Thursday during working hours.
  • We finally broke-even in July - after three, long, long hard years.
  • Our longest wireless link is around 12 miles.
  • Our largest device - the Ubiquiti NB620 - is 62cm in radius, or four feet across. We have four in operation with another two in the workshop ready to install. 
  • Our most expensive device - The Mimosa B5 - is around £1,400 for a pair. We have 6 pairs in operation. 
  • Best way to contact us is to email support at marykirk.com. Someone will get back to you during business hours. Next best way is to call the support number - 01674 439 777. It rings all our mobile phones. 

Power outage - Craig of Garvock - Friday 11th November.

Around 10am, the SSE power supply to the entire Craig of Garvock area - basically the bit between Johnson Tower, Ecclescraig and Craigo - went down. This resulted in a 8.5 hour power outage, where we ran on generator, with a number of 'blips'. 

One of these blips took out our main RADIUS server - the thing that authenticates your router to our network - and resulted in outages for some people which lasted into the night.

Apologies for all the inconvenience. We have as usual taken away a long list of things that have been improved, so when it happens next time there'll be less - or no - outages at all.

The transformer outside the Craig of Craig of Garvock farmhouse blew up - and I'm impressed that SSE managed to get a crane, a crew and a replacement transformer in place in such a short period of time. 

Did I mention it was cold on the hill that night?

EDZELL WOODS

We're very sorry but we do not provide service in EDZELL WOODS. We understand that the new BT Fibre Cabinet is reporting it has no capacity, but unfortunately we cannot provide service there. (We tried five different routes, and all were blocked by trees). Please email your MP and have him escalate this with BT.

Meet our new backbone

We've been running for 2.5 years now, have around 200 antenna in the field and cover around 300 square miles of very hilly, covered in trees, rural Scotland. So cold and wet too. And thats just in summer.

We have all the same growing pains that every other WISP has. The balance between cost and reliability, distance and throughput, performance, etc.

Our network Backbone is the bit that joins all the small bits together. Just like a spine. In January this year, in response to continued Ubiquiti AC firmware issues, I took delivery of the first three pairs of Mimosa B5 devices here in the UK. Within days they were up, working and have not given serious bother in 11 or so months. 

These dishes are around £1,200 a pair, and can reliably shift in excess of 800mb/s. We now have four pairs linking some of our largest transmission sites.

When Patrick at MS Distribution called and told me about the Mimosa B5 Lite - a smaller, cheaper brother but still capable of shifting 500mb or more - I immediately ordered six pairs. (Oh - can't praise MS Distribution enough. Without their support, we would have long folded. Good guys).

We took delivery of the first pair of Lites on the 28th of August. Nice little devices - physically much smaller than the Nanobeam 400 (400mm diameter) units they will ultimately replace. The pair comes in a single HUGE box, complete with mounting kits, coach bolts, jubilee clips, cable glands and a suspicious tube of 'Super Lube' (No, I have no idea either).

So far so good. This is what it looks like on the wall:

The dish to the right is a Ubiquiti PowerBeam NB400 (M5) with an RF Elements shielding kit on it. The one on the left is the Mimosa Lite, obviously. The wall is around 150 years old. Both cost around the same.

In this case, I've just re-used the Ubiquiti Mounting Arms (It was already on the wall). The Mimosa supplied ones are white. And a bit on the flimsy side, but I do test the arms by dangling myself off them, so my definition of 'flimsy' is 'I don't think it'd take the weight of an overweight man'. 

You can see from the photo that it's more akin to an NB300 in size. And since it's mostly plastic and shielding is very light. Ever tried to mount a 1m+ sized Rocketdish weighing 17kg? This comes in at less than 1kg. No problem.

What does it really look like?

Excuse the cable lashing - I hadn't actually finished tidying up before I took the picture. The important thing to understand from this that the vertical adjustment in the dish is provided by the bracket itself. 

This itself is a bit of a pain. Okay, in this case, the wall the bracket is mounted to is almost perfectly perpendicular to the desired target. But thats not always the case. If the wall was at only 45 degrees, and we used the vertical of the bracket to adjust it, the dish itself would be pulled off of a perfectly vertical axis.

So with this dish - plan ahead.

The other thing to note is that all the Mimosa dishes are 48v. The bigger ones use all 8 cores in a PoE ethernet cable, and the lights only use four cores. Don't mix up the PoE blocks. Or do as I do and use Netonix Switches everywhere - they can cope with traditional Ubiquiti 24v devices, standard 24v PoE as well as non-standard and standard 48v devices like these.

Just be careful what power you run to your remote device. Label the cables!

Lets talk about performance.

Size: You can see that these Lites are physcially small. The B5's are more akin to NB400's in size (400mm or so diameter dishes). We found that 10 miles was a good maximum usable range on the B5's, and we're guessing that 5 miles or less is a good working maximum on the Lites. (You can get connectorised B5's that bolt onto the back of Ubiquiti Rocketdishes - they go right up to 5 feet in diameter if you really want to transmit 50 miles).

Throughput: The B5's have GPS built right in. Why? It's not as if they're going to drive around and get lost, right? Well, the B5's use the GPS timing signal to predict exactly when the transmission packet will end - and give far better timing resolutions to the signals in general. This works because both ends have access to the same clock which has a resolution measured in millionths of a second. The Lites do NOT have GPS built in, so we're surviving on just the excellent radios. So give the little brothers a break. 

Performance: Here's a screenshot from one of these Mimosa Lite Links.

A few things to explain. The graph at first glance looks terrible - look at how much it's bouncing around? Wait. Look at the scale. Its holding between 299 and 301 mb/s of ACTUAL transmission performance - not the carrier. So actually its very very stable. And it's been stable for 7+ days (last time we worked on this link).

This little Mimosa Lite link is the link that just keeps on working, day in, day out. It's only really got 20db of SNR - the noise floor isn't the usual -100db we see on empty air - its in a quite busy area. And we're using (at this point in time) a whopping 0.9% of the link capacity.

I don't know about you, but £200 for this link? Bargain.

The screenshot is from the Mimosa Cloud management platform - there are similar graphs on the device, and since it's a full SNMP client, you can use other packages if you have them.  The Mimosa Cloud is being upgraded so it keeps more than 24 hours of figures - we're buying into that as soon as it appears.

Pros: 

  • Cheap. 
  • Easy to handle
  • Robust, Reliable
  • Built in shielding
  • It all comes in one box

Cons: 

  • Funky bracket assembly
  • Not yet Point to Multi-Point. Backhaul only. PTMP is coming, but like all things Mimosa, they don't release code till they're convinced it works. After all the scar tissue down my back from Ubiquiti, I'm also quite happy to wait for it to work. Soon, perhaps.

They've solved a number of issues in my network. I think they'll probably help you too. 

 

IX Scotland

I went to a meeting about IX Scotland yesterday - basically setting up a regional internet exchange here in Scotland. ISP's such as ourselves can connect to it, meaning that traffic for Scotland stays in Scotland. So that's the good news. 

 

The bad news is that gaining connectivity in any meaningful way from non-Urban areas remains extraordinarily difficult and expensive. For instance a 100mb/s pipe costing at least £1,500 a MONTH. Scary  

our current 'Bonded' solution over an uncontested link remains the best option till BT Openreach - the part that does the lines - finally offers 'fibre to the premises' outside the FOUR exchanges that it's offered at already. This reinforces BT's monopoly on the market and forces large data consumers into expensive connections or Urban areas. Even the Scottish Execcutive person in charge of Superfast Internet in Scotland couldn't offer a solution.  

We shall of course keep plugging away at this 'first mile' issue. 

In other news, the chaps from B4RN in Lincolnshire presented on their fibre solution. Gigabit to every house, 700 houses, costs at £3.5m so far, all raised privately. It basically costs £1,000 a house to put fibre in, so expect a 20 year break even.  

Oddly their 700 houses peak load was only 340mb - double our nightly peak with 90 properties. I shall have to investigate more deeply.  

Community Broadband Scotland

After six long months of paperwork, I'm proud to announce that the Mearns Internet Initiative CIC has been granted funding by Community Broadband Scotland in order to provide even more rural internet service in our area. 

The full press release can be found here, and reads:

Bothies to businesses get better broadband in Angus community

30 June 2014

A rural community between Aberdeen and Dundee is celebrating the introduction of faster broadband to over 50 homes and businesses thanks to a partnership led by local volunteers and supported by Community Broadband Scotland (CBS).

The community network has been developed in the Howe of the Mearns and is based around the village of Marykirk. Most properties in the area have received broadband speeds of less than 1 Mbps via their landlines.

The broadband network, Marykirk.com, was designed by a team of community volunteers and a pilot system was rolled out in July 2013. The project started off with a handful of houses connected as a test bed to prove the network design which uses a wireless link from Montrose to repeater stations.

The community then approached CBS for advice and support on how the network could be expanded and made substainable.

The wireless technology delivers services as fast as wired and users are achieving speed of 20 Mbps.

Project leader Bill Buchan said: “The support from CBS has made the difference, allowing us to expand and enhance our network for our customers. We now plan to install at least another 100 premises this year. The great part of this job is the look on people's faces when internet services, which many people take for granted, work for the first time. Simple things such as BBC iPlayer, Skype, Netflix, or even YouTube.

“We now have engineering businesses, farms, wind turbines, restaurants, grand mansions, small bothies, photo studios, and lots of houses connected. We have people who can now work from home.

“It’s so important for rural folks like us to get as good as, if not better access to the internet than folks in urban areas. I'm glad that we're able to redress some of this imbalance for our area. It’s been hard work, don't get me wrong - but the satisfaction it gives really makes it worthwhile."

CBS, as part of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), has been tasked by the Scottish Government to work with communities across Scotland who are unlikely to benefit from the £410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project, which aims to reach 95% of premises by 2017. CBS helps them find sustainable ways to get faster broadband. The project forms part of the Scottish Government’s Digital Scotland strategy.

Shaun Marley, CBS advisor for the area, said: “Access to faster, more reliable broadband can transform the way people in rural communities live, work and learn. We are working with across Scotland to find alternative ways for people who won’t be reached by the current fibre roll-out to get better broadband. We have already been able to help over 600 households and businesses get connected.”

If you are interested in developing a similar project you can find out more atwww.communitybroadbandscotland.org.uk