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Farmstead hotspot: Outdoor wireless system for the farm

Outdoor wireless systems can be used to share Internet connections between farm offices and shops to create a farmstead-wide Wi-Fi hot spot.

The Wi-Fi technology also makes it possible to install wireless monitoring and video systems that turn the home office into a networked farmstead command center. A hot spot also enables rapid transfer of precision planting, spraying and other data directly from the tractor cab to the office computer.

Falling prices and improved designs are making building your own hot spot more affordable than ever. Initially designed for corporate and college campuses, point-to-point systems that would have cost about $1,600 a few years ago now can be purchased for $200 or less.

“The technology is way better and the price is way down,” says Eje Gustafsson, president of the online retailer, which sells wireless networking equipment to businesses and a small, but growing cadre of consumers.

Wired vs. wireless
In theory, you could build a point-to-point network with wires. High-end Cat 5e Ethernet cable can be used to connect computer devices up to 100 meters apart. Cat 5e cable costs about $200 for 1,000 ft. at online retailers. But the cable must be protected from the elements, which can make installation costly.

A wireless system can bridge much greater distances. Even low-cost systems can connect points several miles apart, assuming there’s a line of sight between antennas.

Wireless systems also have the advantage of being relatively easy to install. Newer designs are plug and play, although many units require some technical know-how to get up and running.

“With newer plug-and-play units, you don’t need to understand how they are configured,” Gustafsson says. “If they can get line of sight, they can make it happen.”

Wireless access
You’re unlikely to find the needed equipment at local brick-and-mortar retailers. Some Internet service providers may sell and install outdoor wireless systems. But online retailers offer the widest access to outdoor wireless equipment.

To find online wireless equipment retailers, search for “outdoor wireless bridge.” A warning: Many online retailers specialize in high-end systems and market their wares primarily to businesses and institutions staffed with IT professionals. They may or may not be set up to offer sales support to consumers with limited technical knowledge.

Like most outdoor systems, the systems described at right operate in the unlicensed 2.4-GHz radio spectrum. These systems include weatherproof enclosures and integrated directional antennas with relatively wide beam widths to simplify establishing connections between units. Two units are required to establish a point-to-point network.

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