Monday morning started with a meeting at Telecom Niue's switching room. All of the administrators had stepped out of the way at this point, so it was us, senior engineer Carlos Tukutama and a handful of technicians and junior engineers. Among them was Toki, who we had met in the airport in Auckland a few days earlier. The switch manager was out sick and couldn't make the meeting, but for the most part, this was the Telecom technical staff. It was time to actually start doing something.
The plan for the week was
- Establish an IP link between Sekena and the Telecom switch room.
- Set up an Asterisk box in the switch room.
- Strip the equipment rack and set up our power supply.
- Put the antenna mounting hardware in place on the TV tower.
Now, here are two important parts of the story that become the foundation for a lot of what happened over the next week and a half:
First, there is a group called the Internet Users' Society Niue (IUSN) that runs a public WISP on the island, the "free" one that costs NZ$25 to join and blocks outgoing mail and UDP applications. The history of the relationship between IUSN and the Niue gov't is messy, but that's tangential to our story here. We knew they were running a lot of 2.4 GHz gear in Alofi because we could see it on our laptops, but we didn't know much beyond that. As it turns out, neither did anyone else on the island.
Second, we were told that our client had a license for the GSM-900 band. We were also told several times that we were acting with "cabinet authority". According to IUSN's reading of Niue law, "cabinet authority" means that we don't actually need radio licenses. IUSN also claims that since Niue is not a member of the ITU that there is no spectrum regulation, but we were told that Telecom Niue's senior engineer, Carlos, was the official spectrum regulator for the country. I know that Telecom Niue does issue amateur radio licenses; their telephone book says so. It seemed prudent and respectful to coordinate our radio activities through Carlos, whether we had a legal obligation to do so or not. We presumed that IUSN were doing the same.
Back to the narrative...
I showed Carlos our Nanastations and told him that we would need spectrum in the 5.2, 5.3, 5.7 or 5.8 GHz band and that we would prefer the 5.2 GHz band. He said he was not aware of anyone else in the country using that band and we were free to do so. He asked what our fading margin would be. We said we were expecting 20 dB. He said that sounded OK. Easy enough, right? So the first order of business Monday morning was to put up the Nanostations, one on the TV tower and one on the utility mast at the Telecom office.
(James Mataele and Kone Magatogia on Telecom's utility tower.)
Word of the project was spreading. When we got to Sekena Monday afternoon to install the other Nanostation, the BCN TV crew was not far behind.
The Telecom guys put the NS5 on the tower and routed us a cable. We used an unshielded cable because our shielded cable was in a box in Auckland and would have been too short anyway. Tim started some connectivity tests.
(Tim, Frank and Taiichi Fox, the private investor in the project.)
The link was flakey as hell. The first problem was cable length. We fixed that later in the day by cutting out a lot of excess line. The second problem appeared to be interference. One minute we'd have our expected 20 dB margin, the next minute the link would disappear completely. A band scan didn't show any 5 GHz 802.11a systems, but there are plenty of possibilities beyond 802.11a. We tried lots of different frequencies in the 5 GHz band, but there were drop-outs on every one of them. We turned off the NS5s for a while.
We figured that if IUSN were running 5 GHz, surely they would have told Carlos. So maybe the interferer was a non-comms system, something outside of Niue's control, like a mobile radar. We went to the Dept. of Fisheries and asked about marine radars, but they said there were no ships in the area that day. What the heck? Were our radios just broken? Was there a configuration problem? Some resonance from the broadcasting equipment in our unshielded ethernet cable?
We were also on the hunt for u-bolts. We could not get mechanical data on the TV tower before we got here and from what we now understood, we would need some large galvanized u-bolts and a 1.5 meter section of 5 cm pipe. After a day of driving all over the island and collecting several plumbing samples, Taiichi and I found a spare fence post at the airport that looked perfect for a pipe, but the u-bolts were a problem. And everywhere we went, we got the same two questions, "When will my phone work?" and "How much will it cost to call New Zealand?"
Meanwhile, the IUSN WISP was failing badly in Alofi. We considered the possibility that IUSN had 5 GHz gear after all and just never bothered to tell anyone, but the WISP failures did not correlate with the state of our NS5s. By Tuesday, the IUSN service was just unusable, regardless of what we were doing. But to be safe, we stopped by the IUSN ground station and asked the technician there about 5 GHz equipment. He said he had no idea what kind of equipment was out there. Everyone who knew was out of the country. He also said they were having problems with their satellite equipment.
(IUSN's ground station near Avacele.)