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  * Integra   * Integra (business-only)

So, you want to be a Node?

Personal Telco gets quite a few emails from individuals and businesses who have the same question: "What does it take to 'become a node'? I think I want this, but how do I do it?". This page aims to answer these questions, and hopefully in a helpful, clear, and concise way. This document is part of a Wiki, a web-page that anyone can edit, so if you think you can improve it - please do!

This page can't answer every question. However, there is an accompanying page: PotentialNodeOwnerFaq, which aims to answer all the questions that this page didn't. You might want to look there if you are left with a question.

Preliminary Requirements


First things first, you will need a "high-speed" internet connection. DSL is preferable to other service types because it is slightly less monopolistic (for example, than Cable), providing you more choices.


Although any high-speed internet connection with reasonable Terms of Service (TOS) will suffice, here are a few DSL Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that we can recommend. The expression "reasonable Terms of Service" in this context means that they are okay with you sharing your connection.

Phone Line

In addition to an ISP, you will need to have a phone line to carry the DSL service. Most likely you already know who your phone company is. Qwest and Verizon are the largest "consumer" phone companies:

It is common for a phone company to be an ISP too. For instance, Qwest will try to give you the "hard-sell" on their ISP service, but you don't want that - you only want a phone line from them. Sometimes you can get a "naked" phone line that is for DSL, but cannot be used for voice calls. This is often a cheaper method if you wouldn't have a phone line otherwise.

If you can, get a "static IP". Your ISP will know about this. It is not necessary, but is a little easier to work with in the long run.

Note: Stephouse and Speakeasy do not require you to get a line from your phone company, and offer "Naked DSL" (branded DSL SOLO).

Now you are ready to choose Option 1 or Option 2.

Option 1: Just in your house/business

This is the simplest of the two options. It doesn't require considerations of weather conditions or antennas mounted on your roof. If you have already done some combination of the following steps, skip over what you already have done.

Buy an Access Point (AP)

An Access Point (AP) is a networking device that connects wired internet access with a wireless networking radio. There are lots and lots of options for access points. Price tends to correlate with quality. It is probably not a good idea to buy the cheapest thing you can find. On the other hand, you don't want to spend too much. Following are a few APs under $100. This list is not exhaustive and is entirely subjective, but it can get you started. (Since this is a Wiki and anyone can edit this page, hopefully this list will evolve over time).

  • Buffalo WHR-G54S -- This is inexpensive (can be found for around $40), has a detachable/replaceable antenna, and can run an alternate firmware
  • Linksys WRT54GL -- Usually a little more expensive and has two detachable/replaceable antennas for diversity, otherwise similar to the Buffalo
  • Netgear WGT634u -- This is a very flexible device with a replaceable radio (though the stock one is fine) and a USB host port, can run an alternate firmware, but they are no longer being manufactured and have become scarce

The list above is motivated primarily by how customizable a product is, and the experience Personal Telco has had with it. That said, if these features aren't terribly important to you, then almost anything will do. Sometimes your DSL ISP will provide you with a DSL modem that can act as an access point too. While this piece of hardware isn't usually as flexible as one of those above - you already have it.

Decide how you will run wires


The phone company will install a phone line. Attached to this will be a modem, which they will provide. You will need to attach your AP to the modem with a length of networking cable (called ethernet or Cat 5). The AP needs to be in a location with a decent vantage point, ideally with line of sight to anywhere you would want to connect to it. The better located your AP, the further the signal will extend, but also perhaps the further away from your modem and the more networking cable to run. You might have to make a tradeoff.


With your DSL installed and your AP plugged in, all it takes to "Be a Node" is to set the SSID to "www.personaltelco.net". The SSID is the name that your AP will use to advertise its service. Each model of AP tends to have its own method of configuration, so your best bet is to read the user guide that came with it.


Does it work? You will need a wifi client device (for example, a laptop) to connect to it. There is plenty of information elsewhere on how to do this, and it is outside the scope of this document.

Now your ready to move on to Final Considerations.

Option 2: Share with more of your neighbors

With Option 1, depending on how well situated your Access Point is, you may be sharing your connection with a few of your closer neighbors. But, if you want to share your connection with more of your neighbors, or neighboring buildings of some sort? Good for you! The further you want your signal to extend, the more it is going to require, either in effort or in money, or possibly both. You either need a more powerful and sensitive radio in your Access Point, more favorable placement (like on your roof), better antennas that focus the signal in the directions that are useful, and/or more Access Points.


If you are going to put gear on your roof, you need to consider weather conditions. You also will want to use more powerful antennas. There are many hardware configurations that would work. PTP as a group has no brand allegience. For the sake of choosing something, I am going to model the suggestions off of the hardware we are currently using for the MississippiGrantProject.

At the bottom of this section there are a few hardware scenarios compiled by RussellSenior which bring all requirements together into something cohesive.


No reason to reinvent the wheel. The AntennaInfo page will tell you everything you need to know about antennas. When you are ready to buy one, check out EquipmentVendors.

Access Point (AP)

In the MississippiGrantProject, we are using Metrix Mark IIs. See here MetrixCommunicationLLC for some direction on where you might get one. You can also "weatherproof" consumer hardware, if you are considering this there are plenty of options. [TomHiggins One of our members] accomplished this with a Army Surplus Ammo Box and a Diaper. You can also keep the AP inside and run a long piece of antenna cable (maybe LMR400?) to the antenna.

Mounting Hardware

You will need to attach everything to your chimney or wherever it will fit. The AntennaMounts page has a little more info on this.

Scenario 1: Metrix Mk I (the drop-in solution)

  • Metrix Mark I with atheros a/b/g (with PTP discount) ($250.00)
  • Soekris POE injector ($30.00)
  • Shipping ($20.00)
  • Pacific Wireless 9 dBi w/ 7 degree downtilt (InvictusNetworks) ($44.00)

  • 18-inch LMR-195 Jumper Cable (InvictusNetworks) ($14.50)

  • Tacky Tape (InvictusNetworks) ($9.95)

  • Chimney mounting straps (RadioShack) ($21.99)

  • Antenna mast (RadioShack) ($15.99)

  • Outdoor UV Cat5 (50' at ~$0.15/foot) ($7.50)
  • TOTAL: $413.93 (estimated)

Scenario 2: Netgear WGT with better radio and omni antenna

The idea here is to use a hackable Access Point, and replace the radio with one a little higher powered. The Mississippi Grant Project may be able to sell one that has a defective radio already and is otherwise destined to be sent back for our cost (~$40). The installed radio would be an 18 dBm a/b/g similar to what comes in the Metrix. We would install the AP in a NEMA enclosure and run a pigtail to a bulkhead mount N connector. On the outside, it would be similar to the Metrix scenario. As a consumer-grade product, this solution is likely to be less reliable/robust over time.

  • Netgear WGT634U ($39.95)
  • NEMA4X Polycarbonate Enclosure 10x7x3-inch (InvictusNetworks) ($25.00)

  • Universal PoE 12V (InvictusNetworks) ($40.00)

  • Atheros CM9 a/b/g radio (Netgate with 10% discount) ($45.00)
  • 12-inch u.fl to bulkhead N-female pigtail (Invictus) ($9.95)
  • Pacific Wireless 9 dBi w/ 7 degree downtilt ($44.00)
  • 18-inch LMR-195 Jumper Cable (InvictusNetworks) ($14.50)

  • Tacky Tape (InvictusNetworks) ($9.95)

  • Chimney mounting straps (RadioShack) ($21.99)

  • Antenna mast (RadioShack) ($15.99)

  • Outdoor UV Cat5 (50' at ~$0.15/foot) ($7.50)
  • TOTAL: $273.83 (estimated)

Scenario 3: Netgear WGT with stock antenna

The idea here is to skip the external antenna at the cost of good coverage, but saving the expense of the external antenna. For this, we'd need a fully functional WGT which are around $70 retail. This scenario represents just about the cost floor.

  • Netgear WGT634U (~$70.00)
  • NEMA4X Polycarbonate Enclosure 10x7x3-inch (InvictusNetworks) ($25.00)

  • Universal PoE 12V (InvictusNetworks) ($40.00)

  • Chimney mounting straps (RadioShack) ($21.99)

  • Antenna mast (RadioShack) ($15.99)

  • Outdoor UV Cat5 (50' at ~$0.15/foot) ($7.50)
  • TOTAL: $180.48

Logistics, Configuration, Testing

This really varies for each hardware setup. Regarding logistics, you will need to consider how to get (a) power and (b) ethernet to your AP. One novel approach is to "inject" power into the ethernet cable (see PowerOverEthernet).

Now you are ready to move on to Final Considerations.

Final Considerations

A few more things you might consider.

Do you want a Captive Portal?


Often businesses and individuals would like a way to prevent users from using a wireless network until they have agreed to some terms - specifically an AcceptableUsePolicy. If this is something you want (and most of our business nodes seem to), you need a CaptivePortal system. A CaptivePortal system is usually a PC that runs the Linux operating system and is always on, acting as a server. Personal Telco has quite a few PCs that were donated to us by various organizations (The City of Portland and FreeGeek are two) which we can use to build a CaptivePortal for you, which you can use, on long-term loan from us. If you have your own PC, or want to purchase one, then we can probably configure it for you. As a group, Personal Telco has a lot of experience maintaining and configuring such hardware and it makes little sense for you to re-invent the wheel (unless you want to - which can be quite fun!).

If you decide you want a captive portal, and have completed everything in Option 1 or Option 2, and would like our help building one, then you should contact us and let us know.

Do you want your Wired Network Isolated?


If, for security reasons, you want your wired network isolated from your wireless network, this is certainly possible. The solution is to put a firewall in between your wireless users and your wired users (see the diagram above). This can be accomplished two ways. If you are already getting a CaptivePortal, then the captive portal can do this separation (you will need to ask us when we are configuring the Captive Portal - if we are doing it for you). The second option is to use a cheap consumer wired router/firewall. Here are a couple that are decent:



Created by CalebPhillips, named by DonPark, mostly maintained by CalebPhillips, and hopefully improved by EveryoneElse. The three scenarios for the second option were compiled by RussellSenior.


PotentialNodeOwner (last edited 2013-11-15 04:29:46 by RussellSenior)