The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Building Personal Infrastructure (Part 2)

Phil TrubeyPhoto: Phil Trubey, RSF Tech Committee Member
Last week, I wrote about how someone willing to undertake an ambitious project could connect their house here in Rancho Santa Fe to sewer or natural gas. This week, I'll tackle poor cellular reception and slow Internet.

Cellular

Many houses in Rancho Santa Fe suffer from poor cellular signals. Over the years, I've had to learn which rooms in my house and where in my yard I can carry on a cell call. More than once, I've stopped outside my house, idling in my car, carrying on an important call sitting there for fear of dropping the call if I were to move.

These days are now over for me and they can be for you too.

Last year, the major carriers (Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T) along with the latest smartphone makers, rolled out something called Wi-Fi Calling. With Wi-Fi calling, calls made to and from your cell phone are carried over your wired Internet connection over Wi-Fi rather than the weak cellular network. Since a voice call takes very little bandwidth, this works even if you have a slow 2 Mbps (or worse) DSL Internet connection. And it hands off smoothly (called soft hand-off) from the cellular network to and from your house Wi-Fi network. This allows you to start a call on the cellular network and walk into your house, with the phone seamlessly switching to the Wi-Fi network while you are on a call.

With Wi-Fi Calling, cell phone calls are now 100% reliable anywhere in my house even though I'm in a very poor cellular reception area.

There are two things you need to make this work. A relatively recent smartphone, and a half decent Wi-Fi network in your house.

On the smartphone side, you need an iPhone 5s or later, or a fairly recent Android phone. Here a list of phones and FAQs by carrier to get you started:

If you don't have a Wi-Fi calling capable smartphone, maybe now is a good time to upgrade your phone!

Your next challenge might be to get strong Wi-Fi signals working throughout your house. A single Wi-Fi hub, router, or access point typically only covers 2,000 square feet, so a larger house could easily need 4 to 6 access points. Picking out where to put the access points, how to hook them together and creating a seamless Wi-Fi roaming network gets technical very quickly. I won't get into it here, suffice it to say that you have two basic choices: wire all the access points together using Ethernet (use high quality cat 6 or better cabling for eventual gigabit speeds), or use one of the many new mesh network systems that are out there.

If you aren't technical, I'd suggest calling in a computer expert. And here's where I'm asking for your help. If you've used and recommend a company that provides in-house computer help in Rancho Santa Fe, please mention it in the comments to this article.

Internet

Here we go, the most complained about piece of infrastructure in Rancho Santa Fe: High Speed Internet. The only provider that can provide Internet to all houses in RSF is AT&T, and they provide only slow speed DSL to most houses they serve. So to get high speed access (these days, I'd consider 20 Mbps the minimum acceptable speed), you need to go on a hunt for alternative providers.

I've compiled a list of all your options over on my site (http://myrsf.net/internet.php). There are actually ten different companies that can provide high speed Internet access in RSF. The problem is that none of them provide high speed access to all houses. So you have your work cut out for you as your hunt through the options.

Here, I'll give a brief overview of what some of the options are, see my link above for links to these providers.

The network that will solve all our issues isn't built yet. RSF Connect will be the Association owned all fiber optic network that will initially provide a 1 Gbps Internet link, with upgradability to 40 Gbps or more in the future. Hopefully construction can start on this network this year, but in the meantime, here are the options available now.

AT&T has selectively upgraded parts of their network to give people access to 20 Mbps speeds. They should always be the first provider to call to see what is possible at your house.

Orion Broadband can provide speeds from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps depending where you live. Unless you've had Orion in the past, they usually charge a connection fee to cover their labor and materials cost to pull coax cable to your house.

I'm personally using San Diego Broadband, which delivers 20 Mbps over a wireless point to point link from a tiny dish on my property pointing to Black Mountain. You need line of sight access to either Black Mountain or two other mountain tops in the area. A tall antenna pole is sometimes an option, or a rooftop antenna mount. I've had my service for five months and it has been rock solid.

Both Cox cable and Spectrum (was Time Warner) provide access to some parts of RSF. They are definitely worth a call to see if they can get to your house.

If your smartphone shows LTE coverage in your house, then you could just use Verizon or AT&T's cellular offerings. LTE provides decent Internet speeds averaging around 10 Mbps. These days you might even be able to get an unlimited data plan.

The choice of last resort if all else fails is Internet over satellite through ViaSat Excede. You really don't want to do this unless you have no choice. The data rates aren't great, they have data caps, and latency is very, very slow (meaning that Internet gaming is out of the question). But for basic web browsing, it will be better than a slow DSL connection.

This is part 2 in a series. CLICK HERE to read part 1.