Wireless networking is nothing new. WIFI has been around in modern form since at least 1997, according to this History of WIFI Technology. Over the years, standards have changed, frequencies have been updated, manufacturers have come and gone. But one thing hasn’t changed: the physics how frequencies function and work.
When discussing WIFI and wireless networks, one of the first terms we hear, other than speed, is “Line of Sight” (LOS), or “Non-line of Sight” (NLOS). What this basically means is whether the WIFI antennas on both ends of the connection have a clear view to each other. If there are any obstructions, such as buildings, land, trees or foliage, then it’s considered Non-line of Sight (NLOS). If there is a completely clear view, without anything in between antennas, it’s considered Line of Sight (LOS).
Why does NLOS vs LOS matter to anyone?
Unless consumers want to put up huge antenna towers, or pay to install antennas in elevated locations such as trees or tops of buildings, then long distance transmission of WIFI signals will be Non-line of Sight (NLOS). Most critically, this includes many rural locations in national forests, mountainous regions. NLOS requires a certain frequency to work.
For over two decades, consumer WIFI operated on 900mhz and 2.4ghz. Then 5ghz and other frequencies were added. Generally speaking, with many variables which could make these statements untrue, it goes like this: Lower frequency, lower Lower frequency, lower speed. But, lower frequency, a lot more resilience for NLOS installations.
Massive step backward for modern connected world.
In the past few years, without much fanfare, the FCC quietly eliminated authorization to operate WIFI on 900mhz. Manufactures instantly stopped selling equipment. Existing equipment that once was readily available new for less than a few hundred bucks is now going used for thousands. If WIFI was the only way to get internet access, without 900mhz equipment, there is literally no other technology to get WIFI through truly NLOS installations.
Just get your internet from somewhere else.
While most of the population in the United States lives in urban or suburban areas, a good number of people are in rural or geographically distant locations. Those locations often include NLOS situations. Even some places that are considered “most connected” in the country have pockets of no connectivity. Take Henderson County, North Carolina, for instance…
North Carolina’s ‘Most Connected’ Internet Scandal
Several years ago, massive grants were offered to fiber internet contractors to install “dark fiber” throughout several North Carolina counties, including Henderson County. This Dark Fiber is basically like a huge digital freeway, it’s literally just physical infrastructure, like a power line, or telephone line. After installation of all this Dark Fiber throughout the county, the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office, along with other bureaucrats – most too old to know what any of this means, call Henderson County one of the most connected counties in North Carolina. Only one big problem: There is almost nothing connected to this Dark Fiber! There were no grants provided to allow individual broadband users to connect to this brand new infrastructure crisscrossing throughout Henderson County. What really happened is AT&T and other broadband providers got money to install this Dark Fiber ‘freeway’, but no end users have ever connected to it. It’s all a scandal. When contacting the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office, they are of little to no help, only suggesting to visit https://ncbroadband.gov/map and report what access you have. Ridiculous.
Our Homeowners Association even tried contacting our local cable provider, Morris Broadband. What a waste of time. We follow up every six months for years, only to be ignored or met with more stonewalling.
Federal Communication Commission Universal Service Scandal
On every telephone bill, there’s several taxes added, including the “Universal Service Fund” tax. This tax is supposed to support building communication infrastructure to rural areas. In 1996, this was expanded to include “high speed communications” such as internet. Regretfully, during the Obama administration, most of these funds were diverted to pay for low income “lifeline” cell phones rather than rural community infrastructure build out. Since then, bureaucratic effort after effort, with big bold steps after big bold steps, little to nothing has been done for most consumers.
Other rural internet solutions might be available ‘someday’
Yes, we’ve considered and looked at other technologies, such as satellite internet – Elon Musk’s Skylink Internet is promising, but those deep in the valley won’t have LOS to the satellite. We’ve looked at Television White Space (TVWS) technology, but it’s cost prohibitive, and even when it works, it’s said to not be fast enough to stream video like NetFlix or Amazon Prime Video.
Some places have no communication access at all
In our mountain subdivision, over half our neighbors have no access to DSL, high speed internet, no cell phone service – only 1 bar when the wind blows right. No access to satellites because they’re in a valley. Even copper wires providing landlines aren’t available. Even the governments own maps about what broadband service is available is a lie, the providers listed here for our address aren’t available!
We’ve lived on this mountain since about 2015. We just in the last few months got access to a regional WISP, after spending over $1000 with multiple tree climbers going up to cut limbs and place an antenna. And our neighbors own in the valley below us were excited, we thought it would be simple to throw up a few 900mhz WIFI bridges, like the Ubiquiti NanoBridge M9 NBM9 M900, and off they’d go. Nope.
One step forward, five steps back
So, through all the various options the bureaucrats – again, most of whom have little to no understanding of what they’re regulating or legislating – many still have no access to high speed internet.
In 2017, I visited rural Taiwan. I had faster internet on a moving train in rural Taiwan than is available in 2020 to most of my neighbors in Henderson County, North Carolina.
There are lots of people who should be ashamed of themselves, lots of leaders who aren’t doing much leading.
Do you have a solution for NLOS WIFI bridge
Maybe you know of another solution for NLOS WIFI bridge, something that will work just like the previous 900mhz WIFI bridges by Ubiquiti and other providers used to have. If you do… won’t you share it with us?