Cellular Router With Wifi Test in Eagle Pass

Our port of entry (POE) locations, use Cisco 819 routers that have a cellular connection for the data service. This has allowed us to reduce the complexity of our border circuits by not having to worry about a physical connection. It’s also way cheaper from a cost perspective.

Our current setup at the POE locations has an 819 with a separate wifi access point so the handhelds that are used to collect the taxes can sync over wifi and run credit cards. Because the 819 routers do not have power over ethernet to power the access points, they need to run through a power injector, which is plugged into the wall.

The basic setup we have is an 819 router whose data connection is over cellular, has a wired connection a power injector (that is also plugged into the wall) and then a wired connection from the power inject to the access point. The access point is also hooked to an antenna. This means to make the whole setup work, there are a bunch of different components that can cause issues. These include 2 different network cables that can become unplugged, a power injector that can become unplugged, an antenna can become unplugged, or the router itself that can act up and cause issues.

With that being said, there’s a lot of points of failure. Another challenge is these border locations are often in remote locations and the people working there are not technically savvy. There also can be a language barrier that can add an extra challenge. This makes troubleshooting these things super hard. The crazy thing is, compared to how we used to do it with wired data connections, this setup is a more simplified version. As you can see by the picture below of the box of components I collected after this trip, there are a lot of components.

Another project I am looking to do is replace a bunch of 5505 routers that are out of date. We found that the 819 router can function either with cellular data connection or also on a wired data connection and is also capable of supporting a small office. I also found out that they now make 819 cellular routers with built in wifi and they only cost a couple hundred more than their non-wifi counterparts.

The plan was to swap all the border 819’s without wifi and install the ones with wifi. Then I’ll take those non-wifi routers and replace the obsolete 5505’s (I’ll have many more blog entries coming up on the travel required for this). Also, we could reclaim the access points and install wifi in a bunch more of our offices that currently do not have wifi.

This shuffling around of routers would simplify the POE locations, as well as free up equipment that could be used elsewhere. Everything would be built into the single router and it would save space in the POE booths. It would be much easier to troubleshoot and maintain the setup. If you compare the picture below with the picture above, you will see a night and day difference.

Now, I had done a proof of concept with a test router on my Odessa and El Paso trip. Everything worked and the wifi had the range we needed. We ordered a bunch of routers from Cisco to proceed with the project. I decided that Eagle Pass would be a good pilot site to first test this out. It was the closest POE in travel time and also it wasn’t as high volume as some of the other ports can be. This would minimize my travel time as well as prevent any major disruptions.

I hit the road and drove through San Antonio. Once I got to Highway 57, it was pretty much middle of nowhere.

The speed limits were high for cars, but obviously farm machinery doesn’t move that fast.

I got to the booth and swapped the SIM card out from the current router. I was happy when everything came up and worked. I did a few tests and it performed to expectations. I put the router in the corner of the desk where the old one was.

The work got done soon enough and I was on my way to the hotel. I didn’t go to Piedras Negras this time, but I was still welcomed to Texas as I left the POE site.

I didn’t want to go to Mexico because it’s a decent walk and it was very hot that day. When I reached the hotel, it was 95.

I checked into my room and worked a little while to get a full day in. A while after I got done working, I took a coworker’s recommendation and headed to Rodee’s Country Fried Chicken. By then, it was 100 out.

The chicken was great at Rodee’s. On the way back to the hotel, I noticed a sketchy food stand by a carwash.

The next morning I had breakfast. Another unusual thing I saw was a cop giving the traffic report on the local news.

When I left for Austin, it was already 77 degrees. I could see it was going to turn out to be another hot one.

Of course, coming back from the border, I had to stop at an inland border checkpoint.

And by stop, I meant wait a while in line.

From there, it was pretty smooth driving…

…until I hit Austin. Traffic was literally backed to the I35 exit to 290. They decided during the middle of the day would be a good time to cut concrete and close down a couple lanes. For me to get to 3 miles to 360, it took almost an hour. This was definitely not fun.

At least there was a car ahead of me that had a bunch of bumper stickers that made it entertaining to read as I sat stuck in traffic.

The traffic jam took a normally 3.5-4 hour drive and turned it into an over 5 hour drive. I was happy when the road finally opened up and could get back to the office. At least the trip itself was a success and so far the router has been working flawlessly. This pilot is going well and soon I’ll be on the road to deploy the many more routers sitting at my desk.

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