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Anatomy of a Hotspot Placement

Some­times ya just got­ta see it being done to learn it. Here’s the best I can do to bring you on the jour­ney of set­ting up a hotspot. This is the sto­ry of Thank­ful Caramel Quail.

I’d iden­ti­fied a com­mer­cial build­ing as a poten­tial­ly good loca­tion for plac­ing a hotspot. It was high (40′ or so), near a busy high­way (the 5, an inter­state free­way that con­nects Mex­i­co to Cana­da along the West Coast of the US), and near a busy bor­der. The San Ysidro bor­der cross­ing is the fourth busiest land bor­der cross­ing in the world, and well with­in the cov­er­age range of this setup.

The sur­round­ing area was most­ly flat. To the east there’s a slight rise which would block some RF waves, though they’d have plen­ty of dis­tance to spread out and bend around it by the time they got there. I ran an RF sim­u­la­tion on Helium.Vision (pre­ferred choice for pro deploy­ments) and it looked pret­ty darn good with the 4.1 dBi, MP Anten­na’s yet-unre­leased model.

Near­by was most­ly com­mer­cial and mixed use, not super dense res­i­den­tial. The area in gen­er­al did­n’t have many hotspots in it. That den­si­ty and type of real estate is good for pro­vid­ing need­ed cov­er­age and not get­ting clipped by Trans­mit Reward Scaling.

All of those things (ele­va­tion, den­si­ty, good lines of sight, lots of poten­tial for IoT use) are impor­tant for a durably prof­itable deploy­ment. You can prob­a­bly get high­er earn­ings *now* by going into a denser area, but you’re not real­ly improv­ing the net­work. Con­stant­ly improving/expanding net­work cov­er­age is how we’ll all win. Keep it WUPU, yo.

I approached the build­ing own­er through a ten­ant in the build­ing. I con­tract the ten­ant to do work for me on an ongo­ing basis, so it was a straight­for­ward busi­ness to explain how hav­ing a LoRa gate­way on the prop­er­ty would allow me to mon­i­tor inven­to­ry lev­els on the prod­ucts I store there as well as offer cov­er­age to the oth­er ten­ants and the sur­round­ing area. The build­ing own­er asked for a one pager explain­ing what I was doing so he could run it by his insur­ance com­pa­ny. I gave him a slight­ly mod­i­fied ver­sion my stan­dard tem­plate.

Then I went up on the roof to make sure I could do what I want­ed to do, and we agreed on fair compensation.

I try to keep all my writ­ten agree­ments as sim­ple and clear as pos­si­ble. You may have dif­fer­ent require­ments or a dif­fer­ent goal, and that is def­i­nite­ly NOT a legal document.

Now that I’d iden­ti­fied a loca­tion, con­firmed it was clear for my pre­ferred set­up, and got­ten per­mis­sion, I had to order the parts and put it all togeth­er. For these flat roof installs, it’s a pret­ty straight­for­ward set­up. You order what’s called a “non-pen­e­trat­ing roof mount”, assem­ble it on the roof, tilt it on it’s side, slide in the longest pole you can find, stand the whole thing up and anchor the base with con­crete blocks along with 3 sep­a­rate guy points ? up the pole and anchor those guy points with con­crete blocks. It’s super sim­ple and very sturdy. 

The pole I used was a 21′ foot tube of 4130 chro­moly with a wall thick­ness of .095″ and a diam­e­ter of 1.75″ that I got from Com­pet­i­tive Met­als over in El Cajon. You can find some­thing like it at any met­al shop near you. This is the same pole used by the old ham guys on top of their tow­ers; it’s light, strong, and tough. You can find cheap­er poles, but I’ve found that cheap­er usu­al­ly is more expen­sive in the long run. 

Of course, before we got to the roof there was some prep work to be done. 

First, I had some LMR400 cable lay­ing around which had the wrong con­nec­tor on one end (from my ear­ly days of push­ing the BUY but­ton before dou­ble check­ing what con­nec­tors I’d need). Before we jump into cables and con­nec­tors, it is WAY eas­i­er & cheap­er to just order the right cables & con­nec­tion and not do it your­self. I rec­om­mend USACoax for that. If you’re in Europe I’ve heard that McGill Microwave does the same thing. 

Still, easy ain’t always my game, and I love mak­ing things work.

Step one was to cut off the wrong con­nec­tor. Here we go!

You can do all this stuff with a straight razor blade, but I’m a “right tool for the job” kind of guy. I picked up the prop­er cable cut­ters, strip­pers, prep tool, and crimpers for both this size (LMR400) and LMR240, just in case I need to do that as well.

After strip­ping the cable sheath and the inner core, it was ready for sol­der­ing the tip onto the cop­per inner wire. I blew one tip before I got it right. Yep, I ain’t per­fect, not by a long shot.

Here’s what it looked like the sec­ond time. 🙂

From there you just slide on the con­nec­tor, then crimp it. Easy enough with the right tools. Here it is before the crimp connection:

And here’s what it looks like after I crimped it and slid the weath­er resis­tant strain boot over the whole thing. 

Now, I’ve learned the hard way (hav­ing to make extra trips to a moun­tain install) to test every­thing in the garage, so out came the VNA and I test­ed the MP Anten­na with the cable. Here’s what a loose con­nec­tion will do to your VSWR:

And here’s what it looks like when all your con­nec­tions are tight and your cables are prop­er­ly made. See how the VSWR went from 50 down to less than 2? Under 2 is what you’re aim­ing for. That’s golden.

Now that the cable was made, next up was mak­ing a quick brack­et for the anten­na. This is dead sim­ple, requir­ing just a few holes, a u‑bolt mount, and a vise to twist the alu­minum bar.

Here’s drilling the hole. This is where a drill press comes in super handy. Drilling large holes by hand just isn’t as fun or easy. 🙂 You can see I’ve already drilled the clamp holes on the end and the u‑bolt is mount­ed so I don’t lose it. 

Once I had the holes drilled it was over to the vise to give it a 90 degree twist. Keep it sim­ple, superman!

I also want­ed to test every­thing in the back­yard. As Paul over at Tour­ma­line Wire­less had drilled into me from the Ama­teur Jade Hare install, test it at home first!

In the past I’ve car­ried out my old school drill press and mount­ed it on that euca­lyp­tus stump, but I did­n’t want to fuss with car­ry­ing the 140 lb drill press out this time, so I just went with a cord­ed hand drill and sharp 1/4″ bits. It’s not quite as easy with a hand drill, but hell, it ain’t like it’s impossible.

Now comes the cool part, rivnuts! These are a way to make a super clean install on a pole, or any met­al. They can be a bit fid­dly, but man do they look clean. Here you can see I’ve got one installed and one hole drilled, wait­ing for a rivnut. Once they’re in, I just use ’em as mount­ing points for the enclosure. 

From there you just bolt on the enclo­sure and your mount­ing set­up is fin­ished! Those 2 small wires and the lit­tle black box com­ing off the RAK is a PoE split­ter. We’ll talk about that next.

My goal for any on-grid hotspot instal­la­tion is to con­nect the hotspot to the router via an eth­er­net cable car­ry­ing PoE, or Pow­er Over Eth­er­net. I don’t trust WiFi to have a sta­ble con­nec­tion and WiFi gen­er­al­ly won’t punch through exte­ri­or walls well, espe­cial­ly when they’re con­crete and/or insu­lat­ed. PoE means you can drop one cable from your require­ments (the pow­er cord), which is one less hole to drill in a wall. That’s a good thing.

In this case, we need­ed a long eth­er­net cord. I think I used 249′ of Direct Bur­ial Cat6. That’s overkill, 5e would be fine. Direct Bur­ial just means you can drop it out­side and it’ll last longer. I buy 500–1,000′ rolls for exact­ly this rea­son, and ter­mi­nat­ing your own eth­er­net cable is super easy. You can see on the enclo­sure pic­ture above that the cables just run in through the bot­tom pro­tect­ed from the weath­er by foam guides. Yep, simple.

This PoE (Pow­er Over Eth­er­net) thing con­fus­es a lot of peo­ple. Thank­ful Caramel Quail is a RAK hotspot. It does­n’t take PoE native­ly, so you need two things, a PoE *injec­tor*, which “injects” pow­er into the eth­er­net cable down by the router, and a PoE *split­ter*, which splits out the pow­er and the eth­er­net in the enclo­sure. Some Heli­um hotspots do PoE native­ly (like the Nebra Out­door), so you don’t need a split­ter. For hotspots that need both, here’s the diagram:

To make that a lit­tle more clear with a video, I shot this for ya:

In any event, with an injec­tor and a split­ter and enclo­sure and all the rest of the tools bought, it was time to get on site and haul up the blocks I’d need to sta­bi­lize the pole. 

You need 15 of these blocks to sta­bi­lize a 20–25′ pole. 6 for the stand, then 3 each for the 3 guy anchor points. All of ’em have to go up. I’ve done this by myself with a lad­der, but it’s way eas­i­er with two peo­ple. Me & @coaxialtasko switched out so we’d both get some work in; here’s me prac­tic­ing my long unused bow­line tying skills. 

With the kit hauled up and the cable ran (from the router inside through the build­ing, out a hole where pipes were already punch­ing through, then up onto the roof), all that was left was assem­bling the base assem­bly, tilt­ing it up, and wiring the guy lines.

These bases only go togeth­er one way, and it’s not always obvi­ous what way that is. Still, you’ll end up with a nice look­ing and stur­dy base using only a cres­cent wrench and a sock­et set. Love me some sim­ple tool action.

I should’ve got video of the tilt up but we were busy GSD (Get­tin’ Shit Done), so here’s the fin­ished prod­uct. Yep, that’s my $6k hair­cut by the artist Manrab­bit, all of Tijua­na in clear Line of Sight to the south. You can’t see it from here, but there’s a Prox­i­cast light­ning arrestor with ground­ing lug attached to the anten­na. Relax, ground­ing gods. Sheesh.

That’s it. The hotspot isn’t being relayed, so I’m not focus­ing (for now) on open­ing up port 44158. I’ll watch it for a while to see how it does, then I may test dif­fer­ent antennas.

My hope with this deploy­ment (and all deploy­ments) is to use­ful­ly expand cov­er­age of the Heli­um net­work while earn­ing a steady and reli­able flow of HNT. If that’s your goal as well and you’d like help doing it, I’m avail­able for hire. Here’s to the healthy and awe­some growth of The Peo­ple’s Network!

45 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Hotspot Placement”

  1. Great post and sig­nif­i­cant effort put into mak­ing it one of the best SD hotspots (96+ wit­ness­es). Hope­ful­ly HNT earn­ings will increase from the cur­rent lev­el, hard to judge with­out base­line with the stock anten­na. My only sug­ges­tion (too late now) is to make cable from RAK to anten­na short­er, as short as possible.

  2. Thanks Mike, it’s only about 5′ of LMR400. I don’t think mak­ing it short­er would make a dif­fer­ence. Am I miss­ing something?

  3. Stanley Lawton Mead

    Is a 20 mast on a one sto­ry house using a 5,8 dbi make sense? Flat terrain.

  4. Did­n’t see any men­tion of ground­ing the set­up. Any wor­ries about light­en­ing strikes?

  5. Love the con­tent and effort put into doc­u­men­ta­tion. As you began this busi­ness how did you come up with your busi­ness mod­el of com­pen­sat­ing build­ing owners?

  6. Right on Keis­hon, thanks. Noth­ing fan­cy, just looked at what an attrac­tive rental fee might look like and pro­posed it. 🙂

  7. Hi Sebas­t­ian, you should always ground your setups, I’ll get pic­tures of it next time I’m there. Stan­dard light­ning arrestor with ground­ing lug, find the build­ing ground and lead to it. Noth­ing fancy.

  8. Is the light­ning arrestor nec­es­sary? I would think only sta­t­ic elec­tric­i­ty is the only real poten­tial prob­lem. Just ground­ing the mast will prob­a­bly be suf­fi­cient? Agree?

  9. Tech­ni­cal­ly you’ll use both. A good arrestor is $50–75 and can save all your elec­tron­ics. Def­i­nite­ly would­n’t want to lose a hotspot at this point in the game due to sta­t­ic build up and discharge. 🙂

  10. Amaz­ing job!
    Shoot me a quote to set a cou­ple up (already have in hand) in Phoenix.
    Cheers,
    Rich 

  11. Hi Rich,
    Thanks for reach­ing out, Tony B called me tonight about you! I can help with place­ment con­sult­ing and opti­miza­tion to make sure you get the best result pos­si­ble, but I don’t do paid set ups (or I do, but not at a rate any­one would want to pay.) 😉 If place­ment strat­e­gy is inter­est­ing head on over to the Con­sult­ing page.

  12. Awe­some con­tent on this blog. Plan­ning to set up a few ones but on the top of the high­est build­ings in a very flat coun­try with much more wind and rain so I have to fig­ure out some bet­ter then the bricks to fix­ture that anten­na’s base.
    I real­ly just want­ed to put near the oth­er anten­nas. I thought it is enough if it’s on the top of a build­ing but yeah.… the anoth­er anten­nas are reciev­ing not send­ing so I should real­ly eval­u­ate this one… I hope they let me do still if it will be more visible 😀

  13. Right on, keep me post­ed with the mount­ing solu­tion you come up with. Those bases with blocks are pret­ty darn stur­dy, and if you put the guy-line mount points up high and move the guy anchors far away it’ll take a hur­ri­cane to move ’em.

  14. What is the that black/white cone-look­ing enclo­sure around the anten­na called? Is it for bet­ter recep­tion, weath­er proof­ing, etc? there’s a 5.8 inside that? great info, I’m in SD, and now seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing doing one of these on my roof.

  15. The cone-look­ing thing is a “radome”, and all it does is pro­tect the anten­na inside from the weath­er, which is a 4.1 dBi.

  16. Hey Nik, what is that “radome” made out of, or can u buy it ready-made some­where? thanks and great post!

  17. I believe plas­tic. It came with the anten­na, I’m sure you could shop around and pick up some­thing like it.

  18. Awe­some post Nik, much appre­ci­at­ed for shar­ing, I’ve just dis­cov­ered HNT and Peo­ple’s net­work and love it! I might need your con­sult when get my hands on one of miners.
    QUESTION: (if u know ofcourse) How sim­ple is it to change min­er’s fre­quen­cy from US(915MHz) to EU(868MHz)? Is it a mat­ter of just replac­ing dif­fer­ent anten­na and pow­er volt­age adapter, or there’s also some chips inside the machine that need to be replaced to match that anten­na? (I have some­body here local­ly in UK offer­ing me buy brand new min­er, but it’s a US version(915Mhz) and he’s afraid he might run into prob­lems with authorities

    thanks for your help, cheers

  19. Right on. I’d say that’s too dif­fi­cult to be worth it. Far more involved than replac­ing anten­na and pow­er adapter. If they have brand new US min­ers for sale they should just ship ’em to the US. Send ’em my way if they want to sell.

  20. Thanks for all the help­ful stuff Nik! I have been read­ing and shar­ing around dis­cord for a cou­ple weeks now. You real­ly help take this stuff to the next lev­el. Can’t wait to hear you on the uplink! I’m on dis­cord @skidog12 I might hit you up for con­sult­ing someday!

  21. Nik-
    I am about to do my first one sim­i­lar to this on top of my roof at home with a rak min­er and and out­door enclo­sure. I am con­fused about the ground­ing and the light­ning arrestor. Where do you attach the ground­ing wires on a set­up like this?
    Thank you

  22. Mar­tin, ground­ing wires from from the light­ning arrestor to the met­al mast, then from the base of the mast to the build­ing ground.

  23. Hel­lo Nik, so I was won­der­ing if you know how much Datavol­ume these Hotspots need. Because I was think­ing about mount­ing it on the roof of a busi­ness and they obvi­ous­ly want­ed it to use my own WiFi. I was think­ing about get­ting an out­door router with 4G Sim-Card since this would be cheap­er and way sim­pler since we already have an elec­tric plug on the roof and I could direct­ly plug every­thing in from there and obvi­ous­ly I would need a way short­er cable.
    You think this would work out?
    Best from Berlin, Germany.
    Leon.

  24. If I want­ed to build some­thing like this at my house and instead did not pur­chase a sep­a­rate enclo­sure for my Bob­cat and my router (which are inside my house), do I have weath­er­proof the LMR cable?

  25. LMR400 is weath­er­proof, just make sure you use a drip loop before bring­ing it inside. 🙂

  26. What is the box/ enclo­sure called?
    Try­ing to find it on Ama­zon, just not sure what words to use to look it up.

  27. Hi Nik! Thanks for shar­ing so much knowl­edge on Heli­um, anten­nas and the works. I have found sev­er­al types of non pen­e­trat­ing mast mounts online like the one you have in this arti­cle, but what did you use for the guy wire anchor points? Was look­ing at putting a 10′ mast on a flat roof and want­ed to emu­late what you’ve done here.

  28. 3 CMUs (cin­der blocks) con­nect­ed via a loop of wire rope, swaged the ends together.

  29. Hi John, I just anchor ’em to a cou­ple CMUs (con­crete blocks). Zero pen­e­tra­tions that way.

  30. Hi Nik,

    Curi­ous, when you go to change anten­nas, how do you ensure that the mast does not fall in wrong direction?
    How taught do the guy wires to cin­der blocks need to be?

  31. One more ques­tion. Are you con­cerned water is going to fill that mast tube? Or is it open on the bottom.

  32. The mast isn’t that heavy, two peo­ple can eas­i­ly bring it down under con­trol. The guy wires need to be taut enough to keep the mast sta­ble; it’s a “feel” thing.

  33. Pingback: What's The Best Antenna For Your Helium Hotspot? - Gristle King - A Guide to Helium

  34. Hey Nick thank you for the great Guide!!
    From do you get the tri­pod for the mast? I’m strug­gling to find a high qual­i­ty one ?

  35. Hi Leo, should be a parts list link on this page. If not, look for a “non-pen­e­trat­ing roof mount”.

  36. Hi Nik, thanks for all the knowl­edge-shar­ing. Kudos!
    When plac­ing the small gold­en tip on, did you sol­dier it or just press-crimp­ing it enough?
    With­out the PS100 ana­lyz­er (cuz I just saw it for the first time and have to fig­ure out how to get it fast) does see­ing more wit­ness­es prove that the LMR cable was well-made? Ask­ing because we put our first bob­cat out­side on top of a build­ing in Croa­t­ia (24m total with pole) 2 days ago and it went from 11 to 87 wit­ness­es, but no change to the HNT earn­ings or con­sis­ten­cy-of-earn­ings. Look­ing at the dai­ly, it only received rewards at 5 hours of the max 24 so look­ing very “thin”… If it helps: Slow Hot­pink Camel.

  37. Hi Mario,
    I order the sol­der tips and sol­der ’em. There are two kinds; crimp & solder. 

    See­ing (any) wit­ness­es proves that the cable works. Hav­ing more wit­ness­es isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly going to increase you earn­ings, as only 10 Wit­ness­es are ran­dom­ly select­ed to split the pot.

  38. Thank you Nik!
    So far we crimped ours that we ordered from https://bit.ly/2Yj7nL3 (and now hop­ing they are the crimp­ing ones). Will def­i­nite­ly con­tin­ue to read all the posts for improve­ment and trou­bleshoot­ing and will prob­a­bly reach out when we put all the setups out­side and need fur­ther assis­tance. If I may ask one more ques­tion that is a part of the last one… how come the top 10 in my city have an aver­age of 19–20 hourly rewards and, well, our two ones have 5–6: that’s a huge dif­fer­ence! (I know there is a bunch of fac­tors, but if we have clear field of view with 360 vision with no hills around… there is room for the sig­nal to spread and bounce… a sta­ble cat.5 inter­net con­nec­tion… a 5.8 dBi RAK anten­na… not too long LMR400 cable. It just bog­gles me!? I think we need the PS100 ana­lyz­er, but what can I say, the bob­cats were 2 months late and putting every effort to catch up…

  39. Hi Mario, earn­ings is most­ly a func­tion of place­ment and line of sight to oth­er Hotspots that are not scaled and on sta­ble con­nec­tions. There are many per­mu­ta­tions that look good at first glance but that don’t work well. ~75% of your earn­ings come from wit­ness­ing, so if you’re wit­ness­ing lots of low scale Hotspots that’s one rea­son your rewards could be low­er than oth­er Hotspots.

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