Another technical post, this time as I try to determine how to get internet access at Bistro Breizh. In this post, I’m just trying to define what the problem actually is. In future posts, I’ll detail how I solved the problem.
Having internet access from the trailer this will allow me to use the least expensive credit and debit card processing options that allow use of chip-and-pin, maybe even NFC (a.k.a. “tap”). At the moment I’ll probably be using Helcim as a credit card processor, as I’ve heard good things about them and they apparently don’t rip off us little guys. They also put their prices out front, without requiring that you talk to a high-pressure salesperson as other outfits do. That said, I’m still looking around.
I’ve solved 2 of the 4 issues facing me:
- an internal WIFI network in the trailer. This is easily done, with any variety of products.
- access to an internet hotspot like Shaw Open or a campground WIFI. If none are available, be able to turn my cell phone into an internet hotspot. Also easily done from a single specific device.
- some way to connect the internal WIFI network to the selected internet hotspot. Need to be able to do it without fiddling with settings all the time. At most I should have to set things up one per location. At each one I’d just select the appropriate hotspot, enter the appropriate passwords, and never have to worry about how to set up at that location again.
- drive a WIFI signal through the metal cage that is the trailer, then make that signal go much further than is normal for a “standard” WIFI setup. This will probably require the use of an outdoor WIFI antennae of some kind.
This is where it gets a bit murky. Technically what I really need is “wan over WIFI”. But products marketed as “extenders” seem to do this as well. There are even several products that claim to do it all for you, but when you look at the details they’re either being misleading, or just outright lying. Or they’re way overpriced! I saw one for US$6500, whereas I know I can do the whole setup for CDN$300 or less, probably even under $100 and some extra time.
Some products come with “wan over WIFI” built in, but they seem to start at fairly high prices. An alternative would be to get a cheaper WIFI router, then “upgrade” it using DD-WRT or Open-WRT, open source firmware that allows router hardware to do much more than what was originally intended by those who made them.
The (DD / Open)-WRT trick depends on the fact that manufacturers will deliberately hobble perfectly good hardware in order to get people to pay more for extra features that already exist in the basic models, but can’t be accessed by the software provided. DD-WRT and Open-WRT give full access to all the hardware features of any model they work on. The trick is to purchase a model they work on.
But that’s only part of the problem. I also need to solve the whole “the trailer is a metal shell” issue. This will probably require some form of external antennae. I found a couple of products that are “outdoor range extenders”, but if you look closely they aren’t meant to hook into a local WIFI network, they only actually work if you hook them up to a SINGLE computer. Which defeats the whole purpose.
So I’m currently sorting through the murkiness and marketing mud and trying to determine how to solve all my requirements.