A Relay is Born: the Missoula Valley Internet Co-op Grows One Radio Link at a Time

PNW Rural Broadband
5 min readApr 9, 2021

As we’ve discussed in prior articles, and in our previous community call, the success of this community owned and operated network that we are building hinges upon two things:

1.) Active participation from the community itself.

2.) Individuals willing to volunteer to host relays.

These relays are the lifeblood of our network. They allow the service area of our network to grow out from our fiber connected gateways, connecting neighbor to neighbor, and one neighborhood to the next.

During this past week we brought on-line the first sets of relays that bring full coverage to the lower Grant Creek area, and (eventually) the entire Missoula and Bitterroot valleys. With just a few property owners volunteering to host an additional small, inexpensive antenna on their home, our network coverage has expanded, from covering around 75 homes, to over 200.

To provide prospective relay operators with an idea of what the anatomy of a relay looks like we’ll start with some images of our first relay; sending a signal roughly 243 meters up the street, it helps provide more comprehensive coverage to the lower part of the neighborhood.

It starts with the receiving antenna on the customers home:

Customer Antenna: Ubiquiti Litebeam

From this antenna, a cable runs into the customers home, connecting to their router, and connecting the customer to our network. Once that connection is wired up, we’re ready to setup the antenna that will allow other customers to connect to our network through this customer’s relay.

The relay antenna, in this case, is mounted on the front of their home at the top most point, to ensure the signal will travel the furthest possible distance:

Relay Antenna: Ubiquiti LiteStation AP GPS

This particular antenna, known as a “sector antenna” allows multiple customers to connect to this single relay antenna, delivering fast speeds…

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PNW Rural Broadband

We are The Pacific Northwest Rural Broadband Alliance, a non-profit foundation dedicated to building fast, affordable, community powered broadband networks.