Wired Internet Options (DSL, Cable, and Fiber) for Tiny Houses
Even if one wants to live in an off-grid tiny house, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to live away from modern civilization and its amenities. Of these modern amenities, the internet has become a de facto necessity for many homes because nearly everyone uses the internet full-time to stay informed; which is why this post will cover various tiny home internet options. In this post, only wired tiny home internet options(relying on cables and wires) will be covered and wireless internet options will be covered in a sequel post.
Only tiny houses built upon a foundation should consider a wired internet option(which is generally faster and more reliable than the wireless counterparts). If the tiny house is on wheels, a wireless connection should be primarily used instead. Then, one can look for a appropriate plan to purchase from an ISP or carrier.
In this post, the pros and cons of wired networks will be covered; and then the individual options will be covered. But first, I will go over the concepts of data usage and its relation to data caps as many internet plans utilize data caps.
How Data Caps and Data Usage Related?
While are several internet-related terms worth taking the time to learn(i.e. bits, bandwidth, throughput, and etc.), I will only specifically go over data caps and its relation to data usage as understanding this can play a major role in choosing your connection plan.
While several ISPs(internet service providers) still offer unlimited internet for a monthly fee; recently, an increasing number of ISPs are considering offering plans with data caps. Data caps are when a subscriber is allotted a fixed number of bytes(1 byte = 8 data bits) per month. If the subscriber uses more bytes than allowed, he/she may have reduced internet speed and/or may have to pay an overage fee; in rare cases, the internet can be cut-off until the start of the next billing cycle.
The only reason any ISP should consider utilizing data caps is if the ISP’s limited bandwidth(←link to definition) is burdened. In this context, limited bandwidth refers to the fact that an ISP cannot create nor provide infinite amounts of data. The ISP may no longer be able to provide unlimited data plans and the ISP may want to discourage excessive bandwidth usage by subscribers by instituting data caps.
To be prepared to deal with data cap plans, it’s important to determine how much data one uses in order find a data plan who’s data usage falls within that plan’s data cap. Here is an example to calculate monthly data usage:
Text-based webpages: (1 pages/2 min)*(60 min/hr)*(1 hrs/day)* (30.5 days/month)*(0.1 MB/page) ≈ 91.5 MB
Multimedia webpages: (2 pages/min)*(60 min/hr)*(4 hrs/day)* (30.5 days/month)*(0.32 MB/page) ≈ 4684.8 MB
Emails: (2 emails/day)*(30.5 days/month)*(0.015 MB/email) ≈ 0.915 MB
Emails(w/attachments): (0.5 emails/day)*(30.5 days/month)*(0.1 MB/email) ≈ 1.525 MB
Short Clips(ex:YouTube in SD): (120 min/day)*(30.5 days/month)*(60 sec/min)*(480 kBits/s)*(0.125*10-3 MB/kBits) ≈ 13176 MB
Long Videos(ex:Netflix in HD): (4.5 hrs/week)*(4 weeks/month)*(3600 sec/hr)*(2500 kBits/s)*(0.125*10-3 MB/kBits) ≈ 20250 MB
Social Media(ex:Facebook): (45 min/day)*(1 hour/60 min)*(30.5 days/month)*(10 MB/hour) ≈ 228.75 MB
The above total would add up to about 38.43 GB/month usage. On the left side of the conversions are educated guesses of my daily usage quantities(i.e. hours, emails, and pages) of the noted online resources. The used data rate values were based on the presumed rates found on a pop-up screen that can be opened by clicking on any blue boxes with the ? symbol from the following web page(data calculator).
30-50 GB of data usage is considered standard usage by most; which is where my guesstimated data usage falls in. However, “hardcore” internet users who love partaking in HD streaming and online gaming several hours a day can easily eat up 100-200+ GB/month. To demonstrate this, if I changed the Long Videos(ex:Netflix) usage in the above calculation from (4.5 hrs/week) to (3.5 hrs/day) and converted accordingly, that monthly usage becomes 120 GB per/month. If one curbs his/her HD video streaming to only few hours per month, it will be much easier to live with a data capped plan as unlimited plans slowly become fewer.
While monthly data usage can be estimated by hand calculations, it is hard to get an accurate total because of the varying nature of data usage and difficulty of accounting for all internet resources. An alternative would be to use a software/firmware to monitor and measure the monthly data usage. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Many ISPs already enable their subscribers to track their monthly bandwidth usage via logging into an account on their respective ISP’s website. Otherwise, the subscriber can directly phone/email the ISP regarding the monthly data usage and most ISPs will answer. Before trying to figure out the monthly data usage through other means, it is strongly suggested to try to figure out your monthly usage from your current ISP to avoid having to resort to time and effort consuming software/firmware. Finally, if one is switching over to a new ISP, consider making sure that the new ISP provides a means to check data usage for bandwidth budgeting
- Specialized software can be used to measure data usage on individual computers; these software can either be commercial or downloaded for free. However, while some can work on multiple operating systems(OS), others can work on only one OS. Here are some links on software used for the three most common OSs:
- Windows(5 Free Windows Programs to Monitor Internet Usage),
- Mac OS X(How to Monitor Bandwidth Usage on a Mac), and
- Linux(18 Commands to Monitor Network Bandwidth for Linux).
These links are only the starting point. One has to research how to properly use any of these tools to accurately measure the monthly bandwidth usage.
- If one needs to know the total data usage ALL computers and devices in a local network, one has to analyze all the data that passes through a central router which sits between the internet and the local network. One way is to upload a software(if there already isn’t one) onto the central router’s firmware which can read and analyze the local network’s total bandwidth usage. If central router cannot run any such program; one will have to resort to summing the individual data usage on each computer via data usage programs loaded on each computer(as explained earlier).
As the number of ISPs putting forth data capped plans increases, the more incentive there is for the prices of unlimited plans(that still exist) to be increased. Before jumping into an unlimited plan, consider that if one’s data usage falls within a data plan’s cap, it may be better to purchase that data cap plan than the unlimited plan for long term saving costs. On the other hand, if personal data usage exceeds any available data capped plans, then it would be better to purchase the unlimited plan if one cannot cut usage to fit underneath the highest available data cap.
I.Wired Tiny Home Internet Options
Wired internet options are most preferable for tiny houses that are built upon a foundation instead of a trailer. Folks with tiny houses on wheels should only consider a wired option if he/she plans to settle the tiny house on wheels at a location for a long period of time as reinstalling wired internet from location to location is a hassle. Here are some pros and cons to using wired internet options:
- Wired connections are faster than wireless connections. This is due to the fact that wired offers higher data rates, lower latency, and none of the interference issues that comes with wireless.
- Not too many data capped plans at the moment. However, data caps in plans offered by wired ISP’s are often much bigger than wireless data capped plans for
- Lower monthly data plan costs than for wireless services.
- Wired connectivity may not be easily available to many rural locations(which are often suitable for off-grid living) as it is not profitable for many companies. This results in needing to install extensions which are incredibly expensive.
- Tiny houses on wheels are not really compatible with wired connections as they’re “temporary structures”.
A.DSL(Digital Subscriber Line)
DSL(Digital Subscriber Line) is a technology to enable internet connectivity through the telephone network; which means that the DSL utilizes the twisted copper wires in traditional phone systems to transfer data. Unlike dial-up, DSL can operate using a single phone line without preventing normal use of the telephone line for voice phone calls; basically, the service is always on.
The reason DSL services are possible is because the twisted copper wires which carry the phone signal aren’t being used to its full bandwidth capacity when carrying the phone signal. This means that the leftover “space” within the wire that isn’t carrying the phone signal can be used to carry the internet signal; this allows both internet and phone signals to travel in the same wire.
At the central office(or telephone office), the PSTN switch receives phone signals from the public telephone network. The DSLAM multiplexes any received internet signals; it then converts the one signal into an analog form that can travel through the copper wires just like the phone signals. Then the combiner(opposite of a splitter) merges the two signals before sending it down the copper line.
The DSL filter(a.k.a. splitter) splits the combined signal back into separate phone and internet signals. The splitter splits the signal based on the frequency of the signal(s). The lower frequencies(< 3.8 kHz) contain the phone signal is directed to regular telephone use while the higher frequencies(≥ 3.8 kHz) reserved for internet usage is sent to the modem.
The modem finally converts the higher frequency(ies) analog electrical signal into data bits that can be used by the local router(s) and computer(s). The modem can also convert bits back into analog electrical form when data is sent upstream.
The router here is optional because the owner can connect directly to the modem. A router is needed if one wanted to stay connected to the local area network(LAN) or if the computer is wireless(like a laptop).
Before considering or having expectations regarding DSL service, only a limited number of telco offices are able to provide DSL services to customers because the following restrictive factors make DSL difficult to implement:
- Distance from DSLAM: While phone signals usually travel a much greater distance thanks to amplifiers called loading coils; these loading coils also suppress high frequencies as “noise” and are thus incompatible with DSL signals. 5.5 km(≈18000 feet) is the approximate limit the combined DSL + phone signal can travel from the DSLAM without dissipating; the optimal distance for maximum signal strength is about 2 km.
- Fiber-Optic Cables: Some telephone companies have replaced their copper wires with fiber-optic cables because of the benefits of being able to carry multiple phone signals in each fiber-optic cable; however, this disqualifies the possibility of any DSL(especially ADSL) service because DSL signals cannot pass through the conversion from analog-to-digital and back to analog without losing integrity.
- Bridge Taps: Bridge tap is excessive wiring that often left over from a previous configuration. Even if the physical distance between the computer and DSLAM is less than 5.5 km, a DSL service may still not be viable because the excess wiring underground may make the ‘actual’ length over 5.5 km; the DSL signal will either be weaker than expected or non-existent.
Whereas the physical distance from the telco office(and thus DSLAM) can at least provide some idea of DSL viability, the fiber-optic cables and bridge taps are not obvious in comparison; so it is important to contact the DSL company or check its website beforehand to determine the DSL service viability even if you know one of the company’s telco office(w/DSLAM) is nearby.
Despite there being several types of DSL, one type in particular is so commonly used for residential use(thus tiny houses) that it is almost synonymous with DSL itself. The most commonly used DSL type is ADSL.
I. ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line): It is called ADSL because more bandwidth is devoted to sending data downstream than receiving data upstream. This split bandwidth is “asymmetric” as a result.
ADSL and its asymmetric bandwidth was designed with the assumption that consumers will download much more data than they will upload data. This assumption holds true for most cases because of the one-way nature of most multimedia where consumer simply view and listen to the high volumes of video and music, respectively. In comparison, common activities that send data upstream like sending emails, sending URL webpage requests(web surfing), and etc. will require less bandwidth because less data is being sent.
With ADSL, the bandwidths are usually around 9+ Mbps for downstream and 700 kbps for upstream. In reality, getting data rates anywhere near these values is only possible if the computer is within 5.5 km(or ideally 2.2 km) of the DSLAM. Since not every customer can get this kind of bandwidth, the telco allocates from the overall bandwidth more evenly to all customers at a lower individual bandwidth for each.
For most folks, the throughput for downstream and upstream will look more like ≤1.5 Mbps and ≤256 kBps, respectively. While the telco can offer ADSL packages with slightly better data rates, the availability can be based on distance. In practice, a bandwidth of 1.5 Mbps/256 Kbps is practical despite it being seemingly low. It is enough for nearly all basic internet uses like email, webpage uploading, standard internet surfing, watching short YouTube clips, and even some applications that can utilize relatively low bandwidth streaming/conferencing, like Skype, can be used.
However, certain kinds of video conferencing services and HD streaming (from places like Hulu and Netflix) can easily require a bandwidth higher than the usual 1.5 mbps/256 kbps in order for the maintain consistent speed and quality. One can either purchase a DSL package with larger bandwidth(if possible) or one may have to seek an internet option with higher bandwidth like cable, fiber-optics, or etc.
The main devices, which are the DSL modem, filter/splitter, and the cables, can usually cost around $120-$200+ depending on the quality of the devices. Lastly, there is the monthly bill for the internet from the ISP. This bill varies depending on what kind of mbps plan was purchased. The monthly internet bill is usually around $30-$50 depending on plan and usage.
II. Other DSL Options: Other DSL types not commonly used in residential(let alone any tiny houses) maybe used for other specific purposes. I will not cover these since the average consumer will very likely not need these types and are beyond the scope of this post. However, here is a starting link for those who are interested in doing their own research(Different Types and DSL short descriptions).
III. Final Considerations: Ultimately, DSL(or ADSL) should be considered by those whose normal internet usage doesn’t consist of high data-rate activities(like HD streaming) but would like to avoid having to pay extra for bandwidth they don’t need. Other internet options like cable and fibre whose bandwidth can easily be 10 Mbps-50+ Mbps which is excessive and costly for those who internet needs can already be satisfied by ADSL.
One last thing to consider is to see if the ADSL(or any other DSL) service plan utilizes data caps. Currently, relatively few DSL providers utilize data caps compared to other internet services like cellular and satellite.
One famous company that provides DSL data cap plans is AT&T. AT&T currently provides 3 different DSL plans(←see link) ranging from $30-$50 and the data cap for each of them is 150 GB. There is a penalty of $10 for each extra 50 GB used for up to $200. If you plan to get a data cap plan from AT&T or any other DSL service, please review the in-depth section on data caps found earlier this post.
With this option, an internet connection can be established via cable modem over television cable lines. Analogous to DSL, the extra “space” in the TV cables not used to carry upstream/downstream data transmissions for channels can be used for the upstream/downstream data transmission for the internet. Also, similar to ADSL, the bandwidth is greater downstream than upstream.
The first major reason to consider cable internet is that it provides a higher bandwidth than DSL. For those who prefer doing high bit-rate activities like HD movie streaming, cable internet can deliver because many base packages offer bandwidths of 2+ Mbps upstream and 20-30+ Mbps downstream. There are even packages offering companies with downstream bandwidth as high as 100+ Mbps. These numbers certainly ensure faster internet speeds.
Topologically, cable internet is mostly similar to DSL as shown in the diagram below:
On the right-hand side, to setup topology looks similar to that of DSL. Instead of starting from a phone jack, the connection starts from a cable wall outlet. The splitter is a cable splitter instead of a phone line splitter and is thus only compatible with received cable TV signals; the cable TV set receives the TV channels and the cable modem receives the internet signal originally outputted by the CMTS at the headend. From there on, the cable modem, router, laptop, and PC tower operates analogously as explained for the DSL network diagram from before.
On the left-hand side is the headend where signal(s) for the cable network(and thus the cable outlet) originate from. The headend is similar to the telco office(w/DSLAM) used for DSL. Included within the headend are the CMTS and combiner. The CMTS is analogous to the DSLAM in terms of functions. The CMTS multiplexes together incoming internet signals into one signal; the CMTS then converts the multiplexed signal into an analog form resembling that of TV channel signals. Also, like in DSL, the combiner merges the TV channel signals with the analog-converted multiplexed internet signal and sends it downstream in the cable network until it reaches the subscriber at the cable wall outlet.
The first major difference between DSL and Cable is that cable bandwidth is generally shared among subscribers using the same cable network. This is because the headend connects to several nodes which are situated in different neighborhoods; these nodes then branch out to the subscribers within their corresponding neighborhood. The bandwidth of the node is the bandwidth shared by all the subscribers within that neighborhood. For example, during peak-hours where more subscribers are active, one’s raw 30 Mbps bandwidth can drop to 20+ Mbps or less together with a lower throughput. If fewer subscribers are active, then each subscriber gets more bandwidth and more throughput.
In comparison, because DSL generally offers a more dedicated connection(no bandwidth sharing) between the telco office and the subscriber, DSL offers more consistent data rates than cable; on occasion, DSL can perform better than cable. However, cable generally offers a better throughput performance than standard DSL even under peak-hours.
The other major difference between DSL and Cable is that Cable is not as distance sensitive as DSL. This is due architecture of how cable networks are designed. The cable networks used today are either made of coaxial cable or hybrid-fiber coaxial line(←link for visual representation of difference in architectures):
- Coaxial Cable: Some cable networks are entirely made of coaxial cables. Since the cable’s inner conductor is made of copper, there is attenuation. Amplifiers can be used on the merged signal within the coaxial cables because the amplifiers are compatible with the high frequencies of both the tv and internet signal portions. However, each amplifier also slightly distorts the incoming signal. As a result, the cable distance between modem and CMTS is usually not much more than 100 Miles.
- Hybrid Fiber Coaxial (HFC): This is the other kind of cable network used. Starting from the CMTS is a long fiber optics backbone. The fiber backbone has almost no attenuation for long distances and preserves the integrity of the signal; also, the bandwidth is bigger which means more channels can go through. Coaxial cables extend from the fiber optics and into the modems of the homes. While HFC is superior to just coaxial cables, it is expensive to upgrade coaxial cable parts to fiber optics; so only a few cable ISPs utilize HFC at this time.
Finally, because bandwidth is shared, some cable companies have implement data caps to keep data usage under control; they’re usually pretty high. For example, Xfinity(cable division of Comcast) offers a data usage cap of 1 TB(1 terabyte = 1024 GB) for cable in some areas. Another cable company called COX also offers a data usage cap of up to 1 TB depending on the plan.
Fiber(or fibre) optic technology works by converting electrical signals carrying data into light pulses which travel through transparent glass fibers which are about the diameter of a human hair.
Resulting benefits include much less signal degradation. Since the conductor is glass and cannot carry electricity, fiber is heavily resistant to all sorts of interference. This means that it can come in direct contact with(interference from) high-voltage electrical equipment, power lines and lightning, all while still putting out superior performance. This means that fiber optics is not anywhere close to being distance-dependent like DSL. Lastly, fiber connections are symmetrical meaning that data rates are generally the same in both upstream and downstream; this is different from cable and DSL connections are asymmetrical(meaning that downstream data rates are faster than upstream data rates).
The lack of signal degradation also means fiber optic data speeds are quite fast and greatly exceeding current DSL and cable modem speeds. The bandwidth easily ranges from 50-100+ Mbps for upstream and downstream. Fiber has also been reported to have even reached as high as 1 Gbps. The high resulting throughput can easily satisfy any high data rate applications like HD streaming that DSL(and cable in rare cases) can’t.
I. Fiber Network Topology: Fiber optics doesn’t utilize or rely upon existing network frameworks like the telephone or cable network. Instead, fiber optics has to be installed from scratch; which takes a great deal of time.
A diagram of a fiber optics network is as shown:
In the above diagram, it starts with the Fiber ISP’s central office and inside the office is the OLT(Optical Line Terminal). The OLT is a device which receives electrical signal data from different service nodes and then aggregates and convert the signal into light pulses for travel over the fiber optics network. OLT is similar to what DSLAM and CMTS does for DSL and TV cable networks, respectively.
When the signal travels down the fiber optics line, it reaches a passive optical splitter(s). A splitter divides the incoming optical signal for up to 16, 32, or even 256 ONU/ONTs depending on manufacturer. This helps save the number of available ports on the OLT.
An ONT(Optical Network Terminal) converts the incoming light pulses into a router-readable signal; this makes ONT similar to a modem. Because the ONT is attached to a house/building, it also has ports to connect to the router and other devices.
Like an ONT, ONU(Optical Network Unit) also converts light pulses into a router-readable signal; but an ONU is essentially a fiber cabinet and is often placed away from any buildings or community. After the light pulses have been converted, cables/wires extending from the ports of the ONU fiber cabinet connect to the NT(network terminals) attached to each house/building within the vicinity of the ONU. The network terminals are the ones that take the incoming converted signal from the ONU and relay to the its respective house’s router and other devices through its own ports.
In the above diagram, there are different network configurations that determine the placement of the ONUs and ONTs within the fiber optic network. When a fiber service is installed, it can be part of one of these common installation configurations. The above shown configurations for installation are:
- FTTH (fiber to the house): The ONT is connected directly to the house and its ports connect to the router(s) and other devices within reach.
- FTTB (fiber to the building): The ONT is connected directly to the building; this building may have several suites/rooms. In this case, the ONT is like a large cabinet with enough ports for all devices within the building.
- FTTC (fiber to the cabinet): The ONU cabinet, where the fiber is terminated, is placed about ≤300 meters (≈1000 ft) from the premises. An FTTC ONU cabinet can usually support a few houses or buildings at once.
- FTTN (fiber to the network): In this case, the ONU cabinet is placed ≥300 meters from the premises. Where as FTTC is meant for a small lot of buildings, FTTN is meant for a large community of several houses/buildings.
It helps to know what configuration one’s fiber installation belongs to when doing trouble shooting. Collectively, these configurations are called “Fiber to the X” (FTTx). More about different configurations can be found here.
The fiber optics network shown is specifically called a PON(Passive Optical Network). The distinct feature of PON is the use of passive optical splitters to distribute data for more ONTs and ONUs than otherwise possible due to limited number of ports on the OLT.
The other type of network is called AON(Active Optical network) which is architecturally similar to PON except that each port on the OLT is a dedicated line to a home/building. Also, there are no splitters and instead there are repeaters to keep the signal traveling for longer distances than on PON. Here is a table explaining the differences:
Learning from one’s ISP the underlying fiber network(AON or PON?) and the installation configuration (which FTTx ?) will help in both troubleshooting and utilizing ones fiber network connection properly over the long term.
II. Site Location & Costs: When finally selecting a site to build a tiny house, you must make sure the site is near an active fiber optics cable or a fiber distribution box(ONU) because a fiber connection is created via installing a fiber extension into either distribution point; the extension costs will be explained in the next section.
Assuming one gets past installing the cable extension, the rest is cheaper in comparison. The costs of the modem, router, and auxiliary equipment is about 100$-$400+. The higher costs in comparison to the routers and modems used for cable and DSL is because the higher data rates of fiber require more powerful processing and thus more expensive routers and modems.
If one is purchasing only high bandwidth internet, the monthly bill is around $50-$80. However, fiber is also capable of supporting phone and TV services; the monthly bill increases to $80-$150+ depending on if one adds one or both services on top of internet service. However, the risk of tying all three services into 1 connection is that if the connection fails in an emergency, all three services will be gone at once.
Finally, regarding data caps, there are some data cap options as well as unlimited options. Available data cap options are similar to those of cable service; data caps often range from 200-500 GB. However, there are a few fiber options with data caps as high as 1-2 TB. With such huge data caps, running out of data shouldn’t be a concern.
II.Extensions and Costs (Very Important!)
All the costs for DSL, Cable, and Fiber Optics explained so far only referred to the device costs(i.e. routers and modems) and monthly subscription costs. However, there are also costs associated with installing wiring/cabling extensions from the nearby network/distribution point all the way to the house.
Before discussing the extensions’ costs, I will first go over tiny house building site selection(since it plays a major role in extension costs), the anatomy of extensions, and lastly the potential costs itself.
I.Site Selection & its Role in Extension Costs: After finding a potential site for tiny house building, then comes determining what ISPs’ networks are available in the local area(how to find the local ISPs will be explained in the last major section of this post).
After determining what the local ISPs are, contact each of the local ISPs to see if they can provide internet service to the potential building site. Each local ISP(or one of the branches of a large ISP) presides over a network and can provide internet services to subscribers within the region depending on its network’s reach. Some ISPs might respond that the site is close to its network’s reach; others might respond that the site is too far. After considering other factors like the available plans’ bandwidth and monthly bills, one would ideally choose the ISP whose network reach is near the potential site.
After considering an ISP plan, then comes determining the network extension costs(if needed). The costs of an extension are heavily dependent on how long the extension is; this is because the cost of installing the extension is in $$$ per foot(or meter). If there are obstacles like roads and neighbors’ properties, there will be additional costs with installing the extension through these obstacles. Thus, one must make sure that the building site is as close to the distribution point as possible to minimize the extension installation costs.
A common mistake many folks make is that they build their homes first without properly analyzing the costs of plans and extensions from the local ISPs. Many people underestimate the costs of extensions; as a result, the home owner may be unable to obtain a decent wired ISP plan without paying exorbitant costs for extensions. Here is an example of a man who was told to pay $117,000 for extension costs after finishing his home(the ISP did give him incorrect information by mistake; however, if the man was more aware regarding extension costs, he could have noticed).
If extensions costs are too high regardless of the local ISP network choice, one can try a wireless option(to avoid any extensions cost) if available. Otherwise, one will have to look for a new building site(i.e. new property) where one can hopefully purchase a plan with lower extension costs.
II. Anatomy of Extensions:
After finally subscribing to a wired internet plan and building the tiny house, then comes installing the extension. The extension starts at one of the distribution points of the network of the selected plan’s ISP. The possible distribution points are:
- Telephone poles: Although network wires/cables predominantly travel via ground, telephone poles can also used to carry network wire(as in telephone wires for DSL)/cables. While telephone poles have been traditionally used to carry phone lines(and thus DSL services), they have recently been fitted with TV cables and fiber because telephone poles help avoid costly digging. If the site is placed close to the distribution point telephone pole(and it should), an extension wire can be installed between the relevant wires/cables section on the pole and the potential tiny house’s network terminal(which interfaces with the modem and other devices inside the house); this wire/cable will overhang above the ground which helps avoid costly digging.
- Direct extension from ISP’s network: When a new subscriber to an ISP network is out of its reach, an extension needs to first be attached/installed to a section of the existing network and extend all the way to the destination site. Ideally, a potential site would lay right next to an active wire/cable section of the ISP network that one has subscribed to.
- Distribution Boxes(or Cabinet): A distribution box could either function as an interface to “convert” one medium to another as the signal travels though and/or to split a larger wire/cable into smaller ones to distribute within a neighborhood. If the distribution point for an ISP service involves a distribution cabinet, confirm whether the extension has to first connect to a port within the cabinet or can the extension can be connected to one of the “split-off” cables/wires; extension costs will vary as a result. For telephone wires, there are small green boxes to split up and distribute wires in neighborhoods without telephone poles. For fiber(in FTTC and FTTN), there are cabinets which interface fiber into copper. Distribution cabinets are rare for coaxial cables in comparison; but may function similarly to a splitter.
Regarding the cable laying itself, a general idea of how the cable is buried during an extension is shown in the above-left diagram. It first starts with digging the trench at a certain depth depending on local building codes and other specifications; usually about 1-2 feet.
At the bottom, there is the bedding. The bedding is usually made of sand or fine gravel to help keep the moisture away from the cable/PVC-pipe to prevent eroding. In some cable extensions, dried cement is used instead to encase the protective conduit(like PVC pipes). However, any extensions from a nearby distribution point to a private home won’t likely use any concrete as “bedding”.
Within that bedding at the trench’s bottom , you may then notice that the wire/cable is within a PVC(plastic) pipe. This is done because the PVC pipe acts as a layer of protection since most wires/cables are not meant to be underground. At times, instead of a wire/cable through a conduit(PVC pipe or other materials), there are cables that can be directly called direct-bury cables(DBCs). Due to higher tolerances to heat, moisture, and pressure, DBCs can be buried directly without the need of any protective conduit.
Lastly, inside the backfill, there is the cable cover and warning tape. The cable cover is used to warn diggers about the buried wire/cable and to help protect the cable/PVC-pipe from seeping fluids. In other cases, only a warning tape(not shown) may be used instead to warn diggers; but it doesn’t protect the cable/PVC-pipe. The tape would be at 6 inches to 1 feet in depth.
The above description is only a simplification about cable burying. Albeit possible and can save hiring costs, it is NOT recommended to do the cable laying and burying yourself unless you REALLY know what your are doing. If the cabling laying is done wrong, the buried wire/cable(or even the distribution point) can be damaged and may end up having to be dug up and replaced. Also, due to digging and possibly high voltages, cable burying and laying can be dangerous if not done right.
III. Materials & Costs: An extension may or may not be needed depending on where the potential tiny house building site is. If an extension is required, it will easily cost far more than the combined costs of the routers, modems, other auxiliary devices, and the monthly bills. As mentioned earlier, it is best to find a tiny house building site closer to an active cable or distribution box of the chosen wired internet option because the cost of the wire/cable and installation is per foot(or meter).
Wired networks tend to be bigger and better established in cities, urban, and even suburban areas due to larger populations(and thus higher demand). A bigger network means that it will be easier to find a tiny house building site near an active wire/cable or distribution box of the chosen internet option. In outer suburban and rural areas, because wired networks are less established due to lower population(and demand), a good tiny house site may be several hundred feet to few miles from the nearest active wire/cable or distribution box. If this is the case, a wired internet option may be not doable because buying a longer extension would be incredibly expensive.
Some ballpark costs for the main components(excluding sand and concrete) in extensions:
- Conduit Pipe: If a conduit is used(metal or PV), the costs would be around $0.40-$3.00 per linear feet(LF). pipe connectors can cost around $1-4 each. The price tends correlates to the thickness of the conduit. A 4″ thick pipe could cost $2.50/LF whereas a 1′-1/2″ thick pipe can cost $0.75/LF. Here is a link to give you an idea about conduit prices.
- Telephone cable(for DSL): Telephone cables consist of shielded/unshielded twisted pair copper wires(STP or UTP) with common gauge values of 19, 22, 24 AWG. The price can range from $0.50-$2.00/LF for cables with 6-50 pairs, respectively. Here is an example of telephone cable prices.
- Coaxial Cable: Coaxial cables consist of a copper core surrounded by insulation and then shielding. While there are a large number of standards, the most common ones are RG6 and RG11. Coaxial cable tends to cost less than telephone and fiber cables at time because there aren’t large number of wire pairs or fiber count involved, respectively. The cost of cables that are not commercial backbone cables can range as little as $0.20-$0.80/LF.
- Fiber Cables: The value of fiber cables depend on the number of fiber strands and its length. The thicker the fiber cable, the more it costs per foot. For example, fiber costs in Charlotte, NC(2004):
288 Count Fiber cable = 5,000 ft at $5.87/foot
144 Count Fiber cable = 5000 ft at $2.98/foot
24 Count Fiber cable = 70,000 ft at $0.68/foot. Despite the fact that a fiber cable’s strand count can reach hundreds, such a thick cable should not be needed since 24-48 strands should usually be enough.
- Trenchers: The trenches for cable laying can be dug by hand or shovel if the extension’s length is small. Otherwise, a machine called a trencher is used to automatically dig trenches. A small trencher usually costs $2500-$5000. Instead, for a lower cost, a trencher can be rented from Home Depot or Lowe until the cable laying is finished.
- Sand: There are several varieties of fine sand that can be used for the bedding in cable laying. For long cable trenches, few to several tonnes of fine sand will be needed. Sand costs about $20-$60/tonne.
For example, there is a fiber cabinet(or any distribution point) 500 feet away. The parts list would be:
- The fiber cable is 48 strands and it cannot be directly buried; it costs $0.90/LF.
- 10 feet conduit pipes of 1′-1/2″ is used and it costs $0.75/LF.
- Forty-nine 1′-1/2″ connectors are used and they cost $1.50 each.
- A trencher is rented to dig for 500 ft; renting for 2 weeks would cost $750.00.
- For a 500 ft trench, about 2.5 tonnes of fine sand can cost about $40/tonne.
Rough Cost = 500*($0.90) + 500*($0.75) + 49*($1.50)+ $750.00 + 2.5*($40) ≈ $1750.00
The costs are not too high if the 500 ft of cable trenching and burying is self done. However, having to do the trenching, laying of sand, putting the cable though the conduit(s), and burying them with back-fill would take tremendous effort to finish within 2 weeks. Some costs not considered are the costs of having to attach/weld the cable at the distribution point; and the greater costs of having to bury cables around obstacles.
Some might think that self-installing the 500 ft of cable extension for a relatively low $1750.00 is too tedious and would rather prefer to hire and pay for complete installation. The hired installation cost is usually around $20-$80/LF; there are those who claim to have received rates well over $100/LF. If a cable company offered to put in 500 ft of extension for a “modest” rate of $30/LF(rates will usually be higher), the total cost would be equal to $15000(=500*$30)!!!! If you have read the article from earlier, you would have figured out that many people easily underestimate the costs of extensions. Unless you have plenty of money, it is recommended to have the distribution point and building site apart from each other for several dozen feet at most to keep the total price down.
Rough Cost = 500*($1.00) +
500*($0.75) + 49*($1.50) + $750.00 + 2.5*($40) ≈ $1250.00 (end of example)
IV.Last Note: After reading the above costs example and everything else, you should now have an idea regarding how much extensions can cost. When considering a nearby ISP, remember to ask if any extension(s) is needed and, if so, where is the distribution point located with respect to the potential building site. If the distance is long, consider asking for a different distribution point closer to the proposed tiny house site; or find a site closer to the given distribution point(if possible). If all fails, consider looking for a tiny house site and ISP in a new area or go wireless.
III.Choosing Your Wired Internet Connection
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned what brands are available to choose from for DSL, Cable, and Fiber. Even though there are well known ISP brands like Verizon, Comcast, Time-Warner, and etc., the ISP of choice will come down to what ISP brands are available within the vicinity of the (proposed) tiny house site.
Thankfully, if one is considering a tiny house site within an area, it is possible to look up what wired ISPs are available in that area. With the help of Google, there are at least two ways to look up the available local wired ISPs.
A. Finding Internet Providers by Address or ZIP Code
There exists several sites where one can type in a ZIP code or address and the website will return a list of ISPs available within the vicinity of said ZIP-code/address. For example, if one types “find internet providers by address” into Google, the 1st page of the search term results already list several such websites. Similar websites are also shown for similar search terms like “find internet providers” or “isp in my area“.
After trying many sites, I found that broadbandnow.com has been to best one because this site presents its results in a clean and easy to understand format the enables fast and easy comparing of different ISPs.
To demonstrate, the ZIP code of 20147 for Ashburn, VA will be used:
Before using this service, one should scroll down and read though the entire home page before first. Anyway, the results of the above input are shown below:
To the right, there are five tabs where all local ISPs are organized. When looking for wired internet providers, the results of the ‘Residential’ tab should be looked upon first.
What is convenient is that all the choices’ attributes are shown to make an easy comparison between them. The ‘Provider’ and ‘Customer Rating’ are self-explanatory.
‘Availability’ means what percentage of the area under the ZIP code can access this provider; the higher the availability, the greater chance the tiny house site can access it. ‘Fastest Speed’ is the fastest likely speed for all of the provider’s plans based on a survey. ‘Lowest Pricing’ is the cost of the cheapest plan from the provider.
Finally, if one clicks the down button to the far-right of the ISP option, a drop-down shows all available plans(and its prices) from that provider. Finally, there are links to the fully-detailed plans on the ISP’s website; and a phone number for direct contact.
Hypothetically, if I were to consider the above internet options(based on the above attributes) for my tiny house site, I would lean towards ‘Fios by Verizion’ first and ‘Xfinity by Comcast’ second.
The former has great availability and customer ratings, but the 5 Mbps seems slow for a $49.99/month plan. However, the former may still be worth buying because the high availability and customer ratings implies high connection reliability and 5 Mbps(if that’s the case) is workable because 5 Mbps is enough for standard internet surfing and minor waiting for standard-definition downloading/streaming if it suited my needs; I would then click the drop-down to further study the available plans and contact the ISP regarding extensions and other things.
The latter still has decent availability and a great speed of 150 Mbps for $49.99/month. I can consider this option if I wanted the 150 Mbps to perform high definition streaming/downloading; however, I would have to take into account the poor customer ratings. I decide to go though with this ISP anyway, I would go to the drop-down to further study the available plans and also contact the ISP regarding extensions and other things.
On the results page, there were two non-wired plans listed underneath the wired plans which are:
The ‘All Points Broadband’ plan to the right is wireless internet access for residents in the region. This plan has 100% availability, decent customer ratings, and a solid speed of 15 Mbps. However, I would cross-out this plan as an option next to ‘Fios from Verizion’ and ‘Xfinity from Comcast’ because this plan costs $199.00/month which I consider too expensive.
Lastly, there is the location of the publicly funded internet access at the Ashburn Library. This is not really a plan per se. If one situates his/her tiny house near a place with public internet, it would be worth knowing in case a need ever arises to use said publicly funded internet.
Now you should have an idea on how to use broadbandnow.com (and other similar sites) when searching for any local ISPs.
B. Finding Internet Providers with Google Map
If one uses Google map, one can simply type in “internet service providers near address” into the Google map search textbox and the map will be covered with large red dots(with squares inside) generally representing local ISPs within the address‘s vicinity; and the small red dots represent software companies. The address can be written as city,state or the full street address.
In this example, I’ll show Google Map output for the input “internet service providers near ashburn, VA“:
Within the vicinity of Ashburn, VA in the above Google Map screenshot, some locations associated with the ISPs found in the previous example(using broadbandnow.com) like Comcast Service Center and All Points Broadband are shown.
However, some ISPs not shown in the previous example are now visible; two new ISPs found are Equinix and Suddenlink Communcations(as seen on the scroll-bar and map). I suspect that in the previous example, BroadbandNow didn’t list these companies because they were exclusively local ISPs which weren’t as well established as some other companies that were listed on BroadBandNow.
By scrolling down the list of companies on the left, one can quickly separate all ISPs from software-related businesses. Hovering the mouse arrow over the ISP on the scroll bar will mark the location on the map with a red pin. This will help determine what ISPs to check out first as the most proximate ones to the tiny house site will likely yield a better connection than the ISPs further out; one should still check all ISPs within few miles of the presumed tiny house building site if possible.
Lastly, if one clicks on an ISP on the left scroll-bar, the ISP details will be shown including address, ISP’s website link, phone number, and open hours. Note that not all ISPs are geared for residential subscribers as some ISP are specifically for businesses. The Equinix ISP sells mainly to businesses while the ISP Suddenlink Communcations sells to residents.
Ultimately, I recommend using Google Map as a supplement to BroadbandNow. If one uses BroadbandNow, he/she will most likely chose one of its ISP results of the input ZIP code. To ensure there are as many ISP options possible due to possibility of complications, Google Map can help locate local ISPs missed by BroadbandNow.
IV.Recap and Ending
Because wired ISPs primarily provide DSL, Cable, or Fiber connections, learning the characteristics of each of these will help one to decide between the different plans available from these ISPs.
The issue of extensions was then covered. If the nearby ISP’s network didn’t reach the tiny house site, the customer would have to pay for the network extension. If the extension was too pricey, the customer would have to move the site closer to the ISP’s network distribution point(if possible), try a different nearby ISP, move the tiny house site entirely if there are not good ISPs nearby, or resort to a wireless options.
While one can do all of the above when trying to evaluate a property for tiny house building site, the best thing to do is to ask the property seller about what kind of internet availability does it have(he/she should likely know) as this would save a tremendous amount of guesswork.
Lastly, besides wired tiny home internet options, there are also wireless tiny home internet options which I have yet to discuss. I will do some follow-up posts covering wireless tiny home internet options within a few months; this will take a while because I have college courses and I am also doing a major revamp of this site during the coming weeks. Be sure to stay tuned.
Image Attributions(You may skip this):
- Post Header Image: Fiber Optic Cable Laying (CC BY-SA 3.0 AU) by Bidgee via Wikimedia Commons
- Data Usage and Cap Discussion Image: “data usage” (CC BY 2.0) by Knick! via Flickr
- Section I Header Image: Composite Image made up of several smaller images:
- DSL Network Diagram Image: Original Image created and owned by this website. You may use if you give proper attribution as explained in this site’s “Content Reuse & Attribution Policy” from the bottom.
- ADSL Diagram Image: Same copyright as stated in image source #4
- Cable Internet Network Diagram: Same copyright as stated in image source #4
- PON Fiber Optic Network Diagram: Same copyright as stated in image source #4
- AON vs PON Comparison Chart: can’t be copyrighted
- Section II Header Image: conduit pipe rolls from Pixabay.com under Public Domain
- Cable Laying with Different Distribution Points: Same copyright as stated in image source #4
- Buried Cable Cross-Section Diagram: Same copyright as stated in image source #4
- Section III Header Image: The thinking man by Henry Söderlund via Flickr under CC-BY-2.0
- All Screenshots afterwards: not bound by any copyright
- Hidden Pinterest Image(visible only with Pinterest Browser Button): I reserve ALL RIGHTS to this image as I created this for my Pinterest sharing needs. This composite pin image consists of :
- Facebook/Google+ Post Header Image: I also own all rights to this composite image as I made this for my other social media sharing needs. The composite image is made up of: