USB adaptors & DIY antenna = "Poor Man's WiFi" ?
Make 2.4GHz parabolic mesh dishes from cheap but sturdy Chinese cookware scoops & a USB WiFi adaptor ! The largest (300mm diam)shows 15-18dB gain (enough for a LOS range extension to 3-5km), costs ~US$5 & comes with a user friendly bamboo handle that suits WLAN fieldwork- if you can handle the curious stares! DIY antenna details best followed from these pix -click on a thumbnail for full size 800 x 600 images
Note -the phrase "Poor Man" is not usually considered insulting, but indicates (possibly with a degree of DIY pride) a desire to "make it do, use it up, wear it out" while laterally solving a problem. New Zealand Kiwi's are champions of such #8 wire ingenuity, with electric fences a typical appropriate technology example. Guess our project even has East meets West cross cultural aspectsin the style of Kiwi Fruit evolving from Chinese Gooseberries !? Lab note jottings below pix rather blog style,but arose during an educational WiFi workout & are intended to stimulate others into similar DIY investigation. The author- who first wrangled antenna as a radio ham in the 1960s- is a career educator with a flair for innovation,& has had extensive hands on DIY WiFi experiences - www.manuka.orcon.net.nz has insights into "his" Sardine Can Biquad antenna. LAB NOTES text below intended to document rather than entertain- suggest you stay with images for the latter!
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21 April 2004: The long awaited NetStumber 0.4 ( + PDA MiniStumb.) is just out ! ( www.netstumbler.com~1.2MB). Of course we've been trying all sorts of Wi-Fi cards to hand! Originally NS only favoured Orinoco PCMCIA, but the latest flavour IS talking to such cheapies as the popular NZ Dick Smith Electronics (DSE) NZ$69 USB thumb dongle adaptor (cat XH6822). This DSE sweetie is based on a ZyDAS chipset,& seems to perform almost as well as esteemed Orinocos under XP. Yah! Can't say things look bullet proof with NS 0.4 yet, but it's certainly a tempting way to go, since USB cables & active extenders are dirt cheap,& being just digital are lossless compared with COSTLY microwave coax cable & connectors. Will maybe do a roof top "sweet spot" trial from here in central Wellington, New Zealand & perhaps upload a NS file,but picked up a AP ~500m LOS away OK. 25th April 2004: Well - ANZAC day dawned fine here in Wellington (NZ), so in best military tradition we ran a few LOS(Line Of Sight) scouting trials,supporting the USB device on a broom handle tied to the roof,fed by ~5m of regular el cheapo USB cable from an XP laptop running the new NS 0.4 inside. As always LOS means just that at 2.4GHz, & assorted in line trees & buildings caused massive signal losses, so ~100m was all we managed while walking around the house/yard/street with a Dell Axim PDA & a Socket low power CF WiFi card. We'll give it a further trial tomorrow across the inner city Basin Reserve to Mt.Vic, where a standby Orinoco Sardine can biquad easily handles the 2km from work ( Massey University). Experiences however indicate already that such simple food can reflectors at each end look only good for ~2km LOS, & this USB receiver doesn't seem as sensitive as an esteemed PCMCIA Orinoco. Sniff ! That USB adaptors ceramic antenna may be the culprit - anyone fancy a "hack" & installation of say a Biquad ?! THOUGHT - fit this thumb at the focal point of a directive antenna? Quick trials with NS 0.4 showed useful gain with even a bare metal plate behind it. Perhaps the classic "Sardine can" biquad reflector? Simple metallic plates behind the unit gave significant weak signal boost, espec. when spacings were ~32mm ( which of course is 1/4 wavelength at 2.4GHz). With DIY dishes (each 1520dB ?) then range increases to say 5-10km may result - dB maths says each 6dB gain will double the range. The real attraction with USB of course is the jelly bean cheapness of cable & connectors-we paid NZ$95 for just a 1/2m Orinoco pigtail in 2002 that eventually broke it's tiny connector! Grr... In contrast the entire box of tricks used here today came to ~NZ$75, & with a USB active extender (~NZ$30) cables could be run on to the basement. With USB cables in place you can swap out the WiFi unit for a golf ball web cam up there for an improved view too- cheaper than moving house maybe ! USB cables are so cheap that they're almost worth cutting up as DC hookup wire - 5m USB 2.0 extension cables( the USB 1.0 limit) wholesale here for under $NZ4 each. Woops- broom handle still outside in the dark. Stay tuned... 26th April 2004: Rustled up a simple corner reflector (folded aluminium)to good effect & NetStumbler 0.3/W98 Orinoco detected OK ~1km LOS away. Gain of such quickee antenna typically 5-8dB,& a simple open mesh dish (bird netting etc) will usually be MUCH better. The eventual idea of course is to have a lowish profile antenna that can be mounted inside something like an empty plastic blank CD "cake" tin or bowl. Mmm-recall a movie where the hero linked to a satellite via a chopsticks supported homemade antenna! It might have some merit- what WAS that movie called? 28th April 2004: Update- predictions on use with a dish confirmed, since we noted a (nameless!) AP some 8km LOS away when positioned at the focal point of an old 600mm parabolic reflector (~21dB). Compared with the expense & lossy cable runs of regular devices, this USB approach just COULDN'T be easier. ~1/2dB loss per m is typical with microwave coax, with maybe another 1dB at each connector. A 10m cable hence may "cost" you 7dB of gain that spiffy roof dish provides... We'll try next some DIY smaller reflectors, with aluminium foil coated curved plastic lamp shades ($2!) showing particular promise. Only downside seen so far is that the USB units run rather warm, although an overnight soak test gave no hassles. Surely we're not the only ones evaluating these USB adaptors - any other feedback ? With their tiny size & bargain NZ$69 (~US$40) price (plus jelly bean cheap lossless USB cable/fittings) they look a winner. 30th April 2004: Have contacted DSE (Aust.),who inform these XH6822 dongles are a NZ only item, & they've no plans to retail in OZ- yet! However they DO sell a similar USB WiFi adaptor, the Spirit XH4268 @ A$59. Anyone had experience with these? Can they use NS 0.4 ? 1st May 2004: Poor Man's WiFi ? You can thank an impromptu visit to a Chinese emporium for our latest variation- a 300mm diam mesh parabola (gain ~15dB ?) that fits this USB dongle beautifully. It's based on a NZ$8 Chinese cook vat scoop c/w bamboo handle. Asian students here inform this classic Chinese cookware item is known as a "Spider Skimmer", & is usually made of brass rather than cheaper galvanised mesh. Sizes are 6", 8", 9", & largest 12" (300mm) as we used. Total setup B.O.M < $NZ80 (~US$50 ) & that includes the ZyDAS ZD1201 WLAN adaptor, USB cable,& dish antenna with environmentally friendly bamboo support handle. Field trials anyone ? 2nd May 2004: While in the Asian Emporium diverse other cookware was noted, much of it stainless steel. Customers gave sideways glances as assorted woks, lids and pans were measured up& focal points calculated! Although tempting, normal woks are of course TOO solid & have serious wind resistance - a major factor here in Wellington even when closely attended ! Have just
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hilltop trialled that spider skimmer mesh scoop & managed an AP 5km LOS away ( NS 0.4 showing -80dB ). The whole development suits "Poor Man's WiFi", since for ~NZ$100 (~US$60) one could have the works ! Being appropriate technology fans, it's envisaged such a setup could have immense appeal in less developed, rural areas or schools etc. Naturally USB connectors are easy to maintain too. 5th May 2004: Finishing off quest & prowling hardware stores for antenna supports & tripods. The very thing-a garden hose mender makes a PERFECT mount for the USB socket, & only modest mesh trimming needed. To allow USB cable placement hack saw an angled slice cut in the hose mender- the screw on rings will secure OK. The plug in adaptor even fits in the recess at just on the desired 94mm too when internal joiner plastic trimmed/drilled off. As a "just how far can USB cables go " trial today, we had 5 x 5m cheap USB 2.0 M-F extenders cobbled together for a 25m ( 75') run, for which the USB adaptor never missed a beat. Yah ! Visions of WLAN PC at ground level & USB adaptor/antenna in a tree top sweet spot arise. Well - why not ? There's been a similar but corporate Power Over Ethernet (POE) approach for some time of course. EXTRA: US contacts inform Texan outlet =>www.axiontech.com sells for ~US$25, this exact ZyDAS adaptor as a ZONET ZEW2000C. Apparently NZ outlet Computer Dynamics also sell a similar EDIMAX WL7117U (ZyDAS) unit ~NZ$65,but have not tried. At these prices a user group could buy a box & sell them at a modest profit while still in stock!? 7th May 2004: Phew- we spoke too soon- is this ever a fast moving field. Dick Smith NZ inform this XH6822 adaptor, after a store life of only months, is about to be replaced by a similar ZyDAS (cheaper ?)XH6859, & that a faster 54MHz IEEE 802.11"g" USB unit (cat XH8227) is on the horizon, but at ~twice the "b" price. With antenna such as we've developed, simply swap out the old & insert the new units as they arrive (or you can afford them !) With 54 Mbps "g" being so rapidly adopted, 11Mbps "b" hardware may become almost free to a good home. 11Mbps is naturally MORE than enough for many users, since even if only 1Mbps achieved with weak links & USB decoding overheads,it's still equiv. to ~20 times the speed of a wired dial up connection, & thus suitable for streaming video/Internet sharing/voice traffic/games/Netmeeting or even impromptu event/sports day/ emergency WLANs etc. 19th May 2004: Sacre Bleu- this DIY Kiwi WiFi idea seems to have struck a worldwide chord, since ~10,000 hits in a week & numerous global links & citations. French,Spanish & even Polish mentions are "readable", but the Hindi version, while most exotic, defies our translation! Site overhaul needed, with proper DIY instructions instead of lab notes? Thoughts? 25th May 2004: In spite of wind susceptibility & carrying weight, pressed steel parabolic woks have also emerged as suitable homemade WiFi dishes. Woks sell cheaply & are easily drilled/chassis nibbled for mount holes. Gains ~17dB reported from a North Otago (NZ) user-enough to use an AP 4km away. Having come this far we may as well explore other suitable dishes-cooling fan mesh screens & even umbrellas have caught our eye.Publicity from yesterdays Dominion Post Infotech article shows NZ interest is keen, with schools especially enthusiastic-one had bare APs with just 50m LOS range... Yikes! 27th May 2004: Gadzooks-SlashDotted! Our humble WiFi lab notes went ballistic following a SlashDot mention,with ~43,000 global hits yesterday afternoon. Amazingly the Orcon server & Extreme tracker survived,even at hit rates ~200 a minute. To those who emailed & have yet to get a reply- responses have near swamped us,so please follow DIY instructions-shown as text notes on many pix- while we consider a site rewrite( perhaps a Wiki ?)! Several mirror sites now exist too (US & France). As a tribute to the democracy & efficiency of the Internet, "old conference junkie" Stan reflects that the info we've gathered here would have taken kilobucks & decamonths to circulate traditionally, with far fewer eventual recipients... 30th May 2004:As well as gunpowder & the compass, perhaps the ancient Chinese even stumbled on microwaves & these "scoops" may have been antenna all along? To prevent their secrets falling into barbarians hands,they were disguised as cookware! This could explain the Ming dynasty fascination with ceramics (= semiconductors ?). Such jests aside, parabolic reflectors uniquely have the property of a fixed focal point-unrelated to frequency. Hence our visible light technique in bringing the sun to a focus is valid for showing the WiFi sweet spot. Aha-this means any microwave wireless device at the FP could be enhanced! Bluetooth (also on 2.4GHz) is an obvious swap out, but quick checks indicate GSM cell phones (900/1800 MHz) & even Wellington's new Woosh IPWireless (~2GHz) indeed show better performance. Downlink signal levels came up ~2 bars on the latter, although Woosh signals failed to connect when ~10km LOS! Small cell radius (apparently 6.5km) maybe? Naturally a cradle to hold these devices would be needed, but it could allow indoor coverage in marginal regions without costly external antenna. See pictures above 7th June 2004: Trials with Aluminium foil glued to the fabric of assorted (~600mm diam) umbrellas gave mediocre WiFi results (as did metallic spray paints) even though the resulting dishes verified as bringing the sun to a good focus. No doubt the resulting poor electrical continuity to blame-silver paints of course have aluminium particles finely distributed. Such antenna are VERY wind prone & thus hazardous anyway - suggest insect screen mesh used instead if outdoor umbrella dishes developed, even if short term & well attended ! New DSE NZ XH6859 adaptor,also a ZyDAS ZD1201, tested as identical to their original XH6822. Darwin Dave's dinkum Aussie blog covers a similar (?) DSE Oz. XH4268 Spirit.
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30th June 2004: WiFiFoFum (WFFF)just tamed for our Dell Axim X5 & Socket CF WiFi card. PDAs of course normally have inbuilt antenna & hence the only viable way to boost weak WiFi reception is to gather signals & concentrate at a dish FP where the PDA (or cell phone!) is placed. WFFF looks ideal for organising such PDA signal boosters- recommended ! 19th July 2004: Case studies ? Confirmation tests ? Check web sites, inspired by our insights, that outline 3-5km LOS WiFi links via Greg's wok, Paul's cover & Pete's scoop (all in Ch.Ch -NZ), & also Ecrivain's dish (900mm DIY) & Anthony's scoops (both eastern US). All verify mesh scoops are indeed impressive performers, in spite of the USB adaptor's ceramic antenna just "spraying RF all over the place". Updating our own pattern field tests, using a rotating Lazy Susan kitchen support, confirms reception improvement ~15dB when directed at the distant signal source,but outgoing transmission gain may be less due to dish reflector "under illumination" ? Scope exists to gather this signal (small parabola, sardine can ?) for a more efficient directive spray feed? Even a telescope style Cassegrain? Perhaps microwave lens experiments too? Stay tuned ... 7th Sept. 2004: Wall Street Journal -page A1!: WSJ mention/pix (& /. again) yielding VERY solid feedback & indicates Kiwi #8 wire mentality still rather unique. NZ is full of such lateral thinking in fact, epitomised by our productive farmers ! Silicon Chip , the popular Australian electronics monthly, features this DIY WiFi antenna in their Sept. 2004 issue. 28th Sept.2004: This really made our day - a relief organisation in Afghanistan rustling up WiFi links via our USB "scoop" ! 30th Sept.2004: USB adaptors, without extra antenna, can solve short range commercial LAN needs quickly & cheaply. 10th Oct. 2004: USB antenna ideas continue to roll in, including a Dragonfly Yagi & commercial lamp shades ! 14th Oct. 2004: US$10 ? Hamiltonian (NZ) Geoff.Thornburrow's superb USB + DIY mesh dish looks a winner. 17db ? 20th Oct. 2004: Fine wire mesh (re)covered umbrella reflectors look promising -inspired by a UK ham radio idea. 24th Oct. 2004: Further mesh covered umbrella frame trials, especially with inverted umbrella & windproof golf types - handle & struts thus at dish rear! In fact NASA used such inside-out umbrella antenna with late 60s Apollo moon missions 6th Jan. 2005: Check recent DIY scoop dish pix from a Malaysian hi rise , & swivel mounted on an Oregon RV camper 2nd Feb.2005: Neater BOUTIQUE versions (12~15dB gain) suiting visually demanding indoor desktop use? Raw cookware can look -ah- "somewhat industrial" of course (!), so for a more professional look & mount, attach a scoop or large mesh sieve/food cover to a modified flexible stalk budget desklamp & base. Kitchen sieves aren't usually very parabolic, but if spray painted black both they & scoops look appealingly "invisible" indoors, & clamp versions conveniently grip shelves,desks, poles, office partition tops & even (PARKED!) car roof rails. Although more costly, a small salvaged set top TV dish can look particularly classy too ! Such designs almost merit production as a road warrior laptop accessory, particularly suiting areas with otherwise marginal WiFi signals (college dorms/libraries/fringe urban areas etc). Mmm - cottage industry anyone ? 10th March 2005: Brief Popular Mechanics mention - the 10 miles range claim was INCORRECT however, as just 3 miles (5km) LOS is more typical ... 17th March 2005: Small combo USB adaptor/"soft" AP dongles look appealing for impromtu APs, perhaps cookware antenna extended & directed. Typical on sale are the ZYAIR G-220 (~US$80) & slower B-220 (~US$40) units, with the 16dBm (40mW) JAHT WN-4054U 54Mbps "g" only ~US$30 from Newegg etc -offering WEP/WPA security & bridging too. These cheap "noAP" AP combo units use an attached (always on) PC to act as the software based AP, & promise multiuser laptop based WLANs in moments- suit on-the-road meetings, events etc. (Soft AP programs- HostAP etc -are popular under Linux of course) 15th April 2005: "g" adaptors now taking over from "b", & as well as being faster (54Mbps verus 11Mbps) they offer superior weak signal reception! A Genius GW-7200U "g" (~US$40) showed ~10dB better Netstumbler signal levels to an obscured AP 100m away when trialled beside our classic Zydas "b". Scoop "g" tests across Wellington harbour found many APs(~-80dBi) ~10km LOS away that'd never before been detected as well. HOWEVER- the limiting factor now looks ones weak outgoing signal (this Genius is 16dBm ~40mW), meaning powerful remote APs may be heard, but NOT connected to. Argh! Just because you can detect them (via NS etc) doesn't mean they can hear YOU! Obviously a transmitter booster now needed, or improved focusing for outgoing signal? A deeper reflector,or Cassegrain design , may also help better illuminate the dish 28th April 2005: Don't know if we've coined a new term, but "WOKFI" is increasingly being used for parabolic cookware antenna
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such as ours! A compact commercial "keybola" version has been released in the Slovak Republic (Central Europe) @ ~US$30,but verification of their claimed 19dB(?) system gain awaited, since their reflectors 140mm (~6") diameter seems too modest for such a boost! It certainly looks most professional however! 18th May 2005: Before throwing $$$ around setting up a longer range (~several km?) community/commercial WiFi link,it's suggested an initial signal audit be done with a cookware parabola & WiFi PDA (or USB laptop) running NetStumbler etc. 2.4GHz wireless signals are often "all over the place" & even a few handspans can make a BIG difference when mounting more professional antenna & installing costly cable runs. This approach is akin to the classic use of a small portable TV set to find reception sweet spots around a property when installing a terrestial TV antenna. Best signals may NOT be where you think- site survey FIRST!Theoretical maths link analysis - perhaps via Electro-Comm G.B.P.P.R. web calculations - may also assist, BUT might not give the true picture in built up areas. 12th June 2005: "Sleeper" Bluetooth (BT) has finally arrived & range extensions to ~1km also look feasible using USB BT adaptors & parabolic cookware ! 21st June 2005: Passive repeaters may offer slight signal boosts in difficult conditions - trees/buildings in way etc. Solar powered "repeater" AP probably better? 8th Sept 2005: Check a 5 sector multi USB dongle "Pentenna",developed by a Massey Uni post grad student to help explore WiFi security zoning issues.
FURTHER APPLICATIONS,INSIGHTS & FEEDBACK welcome! Use of material & pix "copyleft", but credit to this site appreciated Refs: Diverse antenna texts, guides & WLAN handbooks festoon library bookshelves & Google. Perhaps the best known at present arePractical Antenna Handbook -3rd Ed.- Joseph Carr. Recognised as the antenna builders bible. Very 'nuts & bolts' hands on! ARRL Antenna Handbook-19th/20th Ed.- R.Dean Straw. Ham radio orientated, with mostly low freq. shortwave designs Antennas for all Applications 3rd Ed.- Kraus and Marhefka The classic 'maths' text, but very readable with many diagrams. Seattle Wireless (Wiki) & FreeAntennas Both sites feature many DIY WiFi links,including NEC simulated & tested 2.4GHz antenna Wireless Networking Starter Kit - Engst & Fleishman An esteemed practical WLAN "how to" book (2nd Ed- Amazon ~US $25). Pix & quick web page via Olympus 1.3Mpx digital + Notepad by Stan - email => email@example.com Ver Sept 8th 2005 usbwifi Browse Archives at groups.google.co. nz
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