March 1, 2020 · home

Getting a year's free internet with a dish antenna

Back in 2015, my girlfriend and I rented an apartment in Auckland CBD that happened to have line-of-sight to the University of Auckland Law school.

Our apartment (purple highlight); University of Auckland Law School (orange highlight).

I thought it'd be interesting to see if we could get reliable WiFi from the university's UoA-WiFi network and avoid paying $100/month on fiber. I ordered the Ubiquiti PowerBeam 400mm dish to try it out. The dish costs $195, so you'd get a return on investment in 2 months time.

The Ubiquiti PowerBeam - PBE-M5-400.

After precariously mounting it on a camera tripod and configuring the dish we got a connection! A pretty good one too, typically somewhere between -40dBm to -60dBm. Speed test results were around 100 to 200Mbps, certainly not gigabit fiber fast, but comparable to a good VDSL connection.

There were however a few gotchas every now and then. Since the dish locks onto a specific BSSID, occasionally the uni AP would go down and we'd have to reconfigure the target AP and spend a few minutes re-aligning the dish. NAT and port-forwarding would've also been an issue as the dish was plugged into a OpenWRT router which double NAT'd and firewall our devices.