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Author Topic: Antennas for emergency cell service  (Read 11206 times)
KB1ML
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Posts: 14




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« on: September 15, 2011, 01:37:53 PM »

I'm a ham who got clobbered by Hurricane Irene, and spent the last three weeks running on emergency everything - generator power, minimal cell service, and no internet (and I need internet to work).

This may seem like the wrong board to post this on, but nowhere else can I get the expertise that i'd get here.  I'm trying to prepare for the next Armageddon, and get my home set up for emergency cell service and internet service.  I live in a section of Vermont with very limited cell service, and was able to get intermittent cell service, plus very limited internet using an air card (most of the time email only, if I got that), via a mag mount antenna that I put on a small steel roof on a dormer, about 10 feet above ground.  The antenna claims to provide 7DB of gain, and is made by ProComm.  The frequency range is 824 to 896 (I assume that is MHZ).

I operate almost exlclusively on HF, so I know very little about antennas in that frequency range.  I'd like to install something higher up on the roof that will provide more reliable cell and air card internet service.

Does anyone have any recommendations on how I can do this, and if it is likely that I'll get much improvement, without going to huge expense?

Thanks,

Alan, KB1ML
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W8JX
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« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2011, 02:54:35 PM »

Many year ago (over 10) when cell service was limited and they were just starting to roll out digital I used to use a commercail yagi for cell service in fringe areas. Back then I had it hooked to a bag phone and with yagi of a 20 foot pole i would zero in on strongest signal and roll. So yes it does work. Biggest problem will be adapting/interfacing antenna feed line with modern phone or air card. I still have my yagi in storage somewhere with about 30ft of RG393 on it in a box. Have not used it for many years. 
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KB1ML
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« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2011, 04:19:53 PM »

Interesting, although I don't have a Yagi.  To what frequency was your Yagi tuned?

I have only multi-band HF dipoles, plus an FM antenna.  Is there any way that either would work at a frequency in the 850 MHZ?  If so, I'm sure I can figure out some way to plug them into my air card with some type of commercial or homemade adapter (although impedance matching will probably be out the window).
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W8JX
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« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2011, 06:18:09 PM »

It is a Maxrad BMYA 8256,  6 element, 9dbd gain, 824 to 896 cellular, N connecter (PL 259's are worthless at that freq). The  BMYA 8256 is no longer made only the MYA 8256. The "B" is for black anodized. Very rugged antenna and the pole it is on is likely to fail in a storm before it does. I is a end mounted antenna too. Mine still looks like new
 
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KB1ML
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« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2011, 06:45:31 PM »

Thanks - I found what I think is the same item at Hutton Communications for $21.40 (is that a typo?).

What kind of results did you get with it?
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W8JX
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« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2011, 09:21:32 PM »

I would need to see link. As far as results, it helped a lot. Could not even get a signal sometimes without it and I can remember before there was wireless broad band using cellular dialup for hours at a time using beam. Not fast but reliable. Try to get it at least 20 feet in air and even more is better. Feed line loss is not too big a concern because you gain more with height than you loose with feed line loss first 30 or 40 ft of elevation. When you get it up, swing it and check for towers and best signal.
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K1CJS
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« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2011, 12:37:08 PM »

Just a reminder--you may want to verify the frequency that your cell phone works on before you do purchase such an antenna.  You may also want to check with your cell phone/internet cell card manufacturer as to how--and if--you can connect such an antenna to your phone/card.
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W8JX
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« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2011, 03:05:55 PM »

Just a reminder--you may want to verify the frequency that your cell phone works on before you do purchase such an antenna.  You may also want to check with your cell phone/internet cell card manufacturer as to how--and if--you can connect such an antenna to your phone/card.

Well if you have a Verzion phone or Altell or like it is 800 mhz but AT&T, Cricket, Sprint, Team mobile and so on 1900 mhz spectrum. WiMax/4G (like Clear wire) is a whole new ball game on spectrum on does not use cellular frequencies.  Not sure were Verizons 4g LTE is in spectrum either.
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N6AVY
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« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2011, 11:06:58 AM »

FWIW:
Internet: for various antenna options some representatives are offered at www.cyberguys.com.  I have ordered other things from them, but not Internet items.
Cell Phone amps/antennas: have a look at www.wilsonelectronics.com.  I have been using one of their dual band amps at the house for 2-3 years.  The packages are meant for mobile use so I had to buy a wallwart for home use.  I just use their dual band whip antenna but they make other (directional) antennas.  The amp uses an inductively coupled antenna since our Motorola phones do not have antenna jacks.  They do not sell direct, but are very helpful on technical issues.
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W8JX
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« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2011, 02:35:52 PM »

Check out "www.antennagear.net" they have best selection I have found for cellphone and broad band adapters and have proper adapters to allow you to use antennas too.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2011, 03:15:27 PM by W8JX » Logged

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KD7JNW
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« Reply #10 on: September 19, 2011, 12:47:13 PM »

Maybe I'm missing something here, but...

If the cell towers are damaged due to the storm, or inoperative because their backup batteries have died, a better antenna will be of no help to you.

If the cell system is overloaded because of call volume, a better antenna will be of no help to you.

The only conceivable scenario in which it would be a help is if the closest cell tower has been damaged, and there is another cell tower within your line-of-sight that is still usable but on the fringe of your range. Of course, with everyone else in the same position, and all of them now using that one tower, it puts you right back to the above scenarios: that site will likely be overloaded, or may quickly drain its backup batteries because of the increased use. Back to square one!

Fact is, you've been rather vague: what do you mean by "minimal cell service"? You state that it was "unreliable" - WHY was it unreliable? Only when you can answer those questions will you be able to logically prepare. Based on what you wrote, it sounds like your whole area was without power. Given that cell sites almost never have backup generators, relying instead on mains-charged batteries, the situation seems clear.

« Last Edit: September 19, 2011, 12:49:21 PM by KD7JNW » Logged
KG4NEL
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« Reply #11 on: September 19, 2011, 01:21:17 PM »

Fact is, you've been rather vague: what do you mean by "minimal cell service"? You state that it was "unreliable" - WHY was it unreliable? Only when you can answer those questions will you be able to logically prepare. Based on what you wrote, it sounds like your whole area was without power. Given that cell sites almost never have backup generators, relying instead on mains-charged batteries, the situation seems clear.

For about a week or so after that, I was working part-time as contract support for AT&T's backup power efforts in the Northeast - you're right, although some do have permanent generators, not as many do as one may think. We had a hellish time getting generators into some of these sites where the access roads were simply gone. Or a refueling team would show up to a site and realize they'd need a Zodiac or canoe to get in Cheesy

If things are really that bad for that length of time, I'd have to imagine your work is just as affected.
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KB1ML
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« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2011, 01:48:57 PM »

To clarify:  cell service has always been poor where I live, before and after the flooding.  The cell towers were unaffected by the flooding, and have remained fully operational through the emergency, although they have become overloaded at times.  You’re right – if the cell towers become disabled in the next Armageddon, I’ll be out of luck.  However, they’ve repaired the landlines in this area literally by stringing fiber optic cables through the woods, tree-to-tree, because the land where the poles were previously located has been washed away.  Most likely, the service disruption will come to the band-aid repairs they’ve put in before they can, over the next couple of years, restore landline service to their previous pathways, and that’s what I’m going to prepare for.  I'm more worried about a tree falling on a landline in the woods than a cell tower going down, although you never know.

I live at an elevation of 700 feet, in a notch.  As best as I can tell, the closest cell tower is about 6 miles away at about 1500 feet high and another is about 8 miles away at 2000 feet high.  Whether there are obstructions to line of sight between here and there, I can't tell, and there isn’t an easy way to determine if there are any.  Based on my research, it appears that the only towers within range are in the 850 mhz range (my phones can work on both 1900 and 850, and my carriers use both, depending on the nearest tower, as best I can tell).  

I get unreliable cell service in my house, and slightly better service with an exterior mag mount 19" antenna on my steel roof.  Service improves in my front lawn, but is still unreliable.  Oddly enough, I generally get a steady cell connection in my car (but never anywhere near 5 bars), which has an exterior, glass mount antenna.  I just ordered an adapter to see if I can use my car antenna to feed my air card so I can get internet.  

I tried a cell phone amplifier, and it didn’t do much.

I work from home, and need telephone and internet to work (I've been making phone calls from my car, but that's not a terribly efficient way to work).  

I just ordered 50 feet of LMR-400, and will run that from my car to my house to see if that gives me a decent signal in my home office.  I will probably also try the Yagi antenna that is mentioned here or a 14 DBi gain Yagi sold by Wilson (http://www.repeaterstore.com/products/antennas/wilson/yagi-800-301111.html) - #301111 – does anyone have any experience with that one?

If anyone else has any suggestions or can tell me about their past experience, please let me know.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2011, 05:07:11 PM by KB1ML » Logged
KA3NXN
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« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2011, 01:04:45 PM »

Before you go and spend money on an 800MHz yagi, make sure that you know what band your phone uses. Some phones like Sprint phones are on 1900MHz

Jaime-KA3NXN
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N9LCD
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« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2011, 06:30:04 PM »

Go to www.mpantenna.com.

They have a discone that's rated up to 6 GHz.

N9LCD
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