Finally back online after 3 weeks

On November 30, 2013, in My Technology, by wx4sno

Latest view of the WX4SNO Communications Tower overlooking Copper Valley

Since we moved into the house on April 1st our internet service has been with Millenicom, a mobile broadband company based out of Washington-state.  The monthly cost was around $80 for unlimited use and our service was provided over the Sprint 3G network.  Sprint is notoriously unreliable here in Snowville and surrounding communities simply because Verizon has more towers and more of a footprint (and choke-hold) across this part of the Commonwealth.  However, I installed a directional yagi antenna to help boost the signal from one of the nearby Sprint towers down towards Christiansburg and this worked rather well.  We were pleased with the internet service…after all, we figured the choice was between dial-up, satellite, or mobile broadband.  With the horror stories I have heard about satellite (and since they have data caps), we had no choice but to go with a mobile broadband provider and thus we settled on Millenicom which had the best plan and price available.  The 3G service provided us with everything we needed.  Sarah could easily access Facebook and YouTube, I could continuously update my weather station data online, and we could both enjoy playing Battlefield 3 and CoD on the PS3 (without much lag surprisingly).  Here’s a typical speed test of the 3G service we had for 8 months:

Sprint 3G mobile broadband speed test

However, on October 30th Sprint decided against renewing their contract with Millenicom as a gateway provider, thus our service was terminated.  We were offered an alternative to switch to another company (Blue Mountain Internet or BMI) which offered the same exact service…so I initiated the transfer.  However, after waiting 3 weeks without internet service, I gave up on BMI since they couldn’t get their act together and activate my new aircard device.  Luckily Millenicom offers another mobile broadband plan, except it has a cap of 20 GB per month and runs on the Verizon 4G network.  I knew we could easily get signal on the Verizon network, but 20 GB a month was really going to limit what we could do on the internet.  Again, thinking it was the only option, I called up Millenicom and within 3 days I had a new device and was online again!  The service is great and much faster than 3G through Sprint…take a look:

Verizon 4G speed test

However, I simply couldn’t believe that I was having to pay nearly the same price ($69.99/mo.) for this as I was the unlimited plan.  The speed, while being much faster, simply meant we were going through the data at a faster rate and 20GB per month wasn’t going to get us anywhere…then I remembered NRV Unwired.

I first encountered NRV Unwired while I was an undergrad student at Tech and living at home with the parents.  Having dial-up internet, I needed something better for my studies and asked NRV Unwired to come out to my folks house to see if we could get service.  Unfortunately they couldn’t provide service because mom and dad’s house wasn’t within sight of any of the company’s wireless access points.  I muddled through and survived dial-up for more than eight years in both high school and college.

With the recent happenings here at our new place, I decided to give NRV Unwired a call to see if we could get signal here on Flinchum-Montgomery Mountain.  After all, we live in the second-highest elevation home in the county…surely we could be within sight of some of their internet towers.  I emailed them on Monday, November 18th and two technicians arrived the next day to survey our location.  Within minutes they were able to receive signal from a wireless access point located on the water tower behind the old Hill’s shopping center in Christiansburg and a second signal from another water tower down the road.  However, they weren’t pulling in the best signal from 13 miles away or the best speeds (3 Mbps down/1 Mbps up) and they decided to try for another wireless access point located across Route 8 from Sinkland Farms.  This access point provided better signal and was much closer in distance.  They told me to get back with them in a couple days and they’d review things with the company’s engineer.

The new 2.4 GHz yagi and webcam

The communications array including the new 2.4 GHz yagi and webcam

On Friday, November 22nd I got a call from NRV Unwired and they agreed to provide me with service and asked what day would be best for an install.  The following Monday was scheduled and they arrived on time and started getting things setup.  Since I have a 10 meter tower near the house, they installed the 2.4 GHz antenna atop it and ran the necessary ethernet cable into the house, through the crawlspace, and into my structured wiring distribution panel.   Here’s a video of the install:  http://youtu.be/odjRY5i0jNs It was the same two gentlemen who came out to do the site survey, and they were extremely pleasing to work with…they even installed a weather webcam up on the tower for me, which saved me from having to rent a lift myself.  It wasn’t long until they had everything installed and ready to go.  They ran several speed test, getting up to 10 Mbps down/3 Mbps up which was extremely pleasing.  However, at times there seemed to be some sort of interference causing the speeds to crash down to 2 Mbps down/0.5 Mbps up.  Thus, I opted to go for the 6 Mbps plan since they couldn’t guarantee the 10 Mbps deal.  The tech did set the cap at 8 Mbps down/2 Mbps up…which was more than fine with me.  They also provided me with my own static IP address for making FTP much easier.  I’m thinking the interference is either because of the large hickory tree in the line of sight of the antenna or some other phenomenon between me and the access point.  Apparently the best signal was with an access point located in a subdivision just off of Fairview Church Road and the intersection of Childress Road.  Here’s a recent speed test of the new service:

Speed test of NRV Unwired on 2.4 GHz

To put these speeds into comparison…here are some speed tests I took while at Ball State University in Indiana and from the office at Virginia Tech:

Speed test from Ball State Univ.

Speed test from Virginia Tech

While not as fast as university access, I’m looking forward to enjoying internet service with NRV Unwired for many years to come!  It’s more than adequate for our needs, plus their prices are very reasonable and cheaper than what I was paying.  For my BBB review of their service, click here.  I’ll also likely hold on to the Verizon 4G service for a while.  Since it’s a mobile hotspot device, I can take it anywhere I go…dad and mom’s computer is in need of some service updates anyhow.

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Amateur radio tower install – Part 2

On November 28, 2013, in My Technology, by wx4sno

 

It’s been over two months since I installed the radio tower and I can’t be more pleased.  The video above is a time-lapse of the install.

Dad looks over the tower before we raise it.

It took a few days to paint and prep the tower, plus get the antennas installed.  I had to wait on a few parts and supplies, mainly coax cable and some support mounts for the 2m antenna Carter sold me.  The coax and other supplies came from KF7P Metalworks out of Utah; I recommend him for his excellent work especially with entrance panels, two of which I have.  After getting the 2m and scanner antennas mounted, coax ran, and the Davis anemometer installed at the 10 meter height it was time to raise the tower.  Dad and I got things ready the morning of September 14th, mainly getting a set of scaffolds setup to help steady the tower.  Sarah’s dad and brother also came over and helped us raise the tower just after 10:00 am.  The tower wasn’t too hard to raise by hand, the hardest part was getting it to vertical, especially after we got it about half-way up…

Cable entrance panel and weather station

Once the tower was up I simply had to finish installing the weather station and hook all the cables up.  Of course everything had to be grounded as I didn’t’ want to take any extra risk of a lightning strike.  Two entrance panels have strike arrestors and grounding plates to help reduce the risk.  I’ll likely add another post to the blog describing all the weather equipment I installed.  This included an extra temperature sensor to measure the ground conditions in asphalt as well as a separate soil temperature and moisture station which measures temperatures and moisture content at various depths in the soil in a patch of woodlands above the house.

I’m extremely pleased with the investment in the tower and weather equipment.  It’s been extremely rewarding working on things anytime I get a chance.   Not to mention it has already came in handy.  Our 3G internet through Sprint was recently discontinued and we had to find an alternative.  Decided to go with NRV Unwired out of Christiansburg and they installed a antenna and webcam high on the tower recently.  Without the tower, we would likely not have been able to get internet service because of all the forest surrounding the house.  More on that later…

Radio tower, weather station, and ground station

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First snow flurries/showers of the season

On October 24, 2013, in Latest Forecast, by wx4sno

We got our first bout of snow showers for the 2013/14 winter season here in Snowville early last night and some of those showers continued into today.  The video above was shot around 4:15p this evening with temperatures holding around 40° F.  Not expecting any accumulations, compared to last year when we had a half inch or so around this time.  More flurries and snow showers are upstream into West Virginia and will slide eastward as the evening goes on…

Snow showers across SW Virginia and SE West Virginia

Another couple nights of really cold temperatures for this time of year…the normal high temperature is 63 and the normal low is 37.  Records are in jeopardy.  Freeze Warnings are out for all of the NRV and Mountain Empire tonight with a Freeze Watch in effect for Friday night.  If the area gets a hard freeze tonight, I don’t expect the warnings will be re-issued tomorrow night as the growing season will end if we see temps below 32° F tonight.

 

We’ll be 10-15 degrees colder than normal Friday night/Saturday morning with a low around 25 here in Snowville!  Temperatures return to normal for next week…next 7-10 days look average with no really strong cold intrusions on the GFS model run out to the first of November…will have to keep watch though.
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Snow showers later this week

On October 22, 2013, in Uncategorized, by wx4sno

Sunday morning was the coldest day thus far this fall, we dipped to 36.3° F here in the higher elevations of Snowville. I was expecting even lower temperatures the next night, but conditions didn’t setup for it. Here at 2,600 feet we had some light winds which kept the air mixed and didn’t allow for good radiational cooling, thus we didn’t even fall below 39° F.

Looking towards mid-week…conditions turn even colder as Canadian air drops into the Midwest and pushes eastward.

850 mb Temperatures plunge late-week

Snow showers possible later this week

Temperatures overnight will fall into the upper-20′s with high’s in the 40′s.  There is also the likelihood that we’ll see some snow flurries or possibly snow shower in the higher terrain of the NRV and Mountain Empire Thursday night into Friday with northwest flow.  Not expecting any snowfall amounts unless you’re in the WV mountains…but still our first sight of snow since last winter!

We’re definitely in the fall transition period.  Over the next couple weeks we’ll likely see several rounds of cold Canadian air trying to push into the lower 48 separated by warmer periods of a few days.

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