Enhance Wifi Hotspot Reception with a Home-Made Dish Antenna

Updated: June 01, 2007

Almost every wireless vendor sells a variety of high-gain antennas designed to optimize 802.11 connectivity in a range of environments. Options include special outdoor antennas, bi-directional and omni-directional antennas, panel antennas, antenna stands, high-performance antenna cables, and so on. This might seem like flim-flam, but the true fact is that your network is only as good as your antenna system.

Even so, very few people know that some of the best, cheapest, and most effective reception-enhancing antennas can be built at home—from your vegetable strainer, for instance.

No, this is not a joke. Nor is it April Fool's Day. The fact is, if you want to maximize your ability to find and lock onto wifi hotspots, and you don't want to spend a huge amount of money doing so, you may find yourself becoming unexpectedly intimate with some of your larger bowl-shaped kitchenware.

Wifi antennas and extenders

Our preliminary tests show that an antenna/extender made from even a small kitchen strainer can boost signals by about 25 percent although it should be noted that the new antenna is directional - meaning that you have to point the opening of the bowl in the direction of the hotspot to pull it in. In practice this means that wifi signals that are NOT being pointed at come in weaker than before. So take the time to move your antenna around to get the best positioning. You can download an application, NetStumbler, that helps find signals and shows you their relative strengths here.

It IS Rocket Science

Creating the perfect shape for an antenna or wave guide is actually pretty close to rocket science. Fortunately for us, the rocket scientists have already done those calculations, which is why all the big radio telescopes are built around bowl-shaped antennas. Bowls turn out to be the best shape for capturing and concentrating RF signals, such as the ones that allow Access Points, wireless routers, and wireless clients to talk to each other.

And while there is, no doubt, some group of scientists that's prepared to tell us precisely how to shape those bowls for the absolute maximum range and performance, it turns out that almost any bowl antenna is nearly as good as any other bowl antenna—including the best bowl antenna ever built. The only really noticeable differentiator is size - the bigger the better, but also the bigger the less portable.

This means that while an old wok nailed to the end of a board might not be the Platonic ideal of a wifi antenna, it's probably close enough for government work. And a wok costs quite a bit less than a precision-engineered radio telescope antenna. (Of course, you may need to prepare yourself psychologically before you walk into the local coffee shop and start waving around your new range-extender--which will look just like an old wok nailed to the end of a board. But cutting-edge users of new technology always catch a certain amount of social static.)

In any case, you'll find quite a variety of do-it-yourself antenna construction projects online. Some use woks. Some use large metal-mesh Chinese dumpling strainers. Some use cheap spaghetti drainers. Some use deep-fry cookware scoops. Some use free-form parabolic reflectors made from cake-cooling racks. Some use ... well, you get the idea.

You're welcome to hunt around online and check out a few of the on-line tutorials, but to save you time here's the basic drill.

Instructions So Easy Even a Child Can Do Them

You will need to go to the store and buy...

1. The dish. As noted above, this can be almost any bowl-shaped metal object like a steamer, strainer, or even a salad bowl. The one requirement is that it either has a small hole in the middle, or is made out of mesh or metal light enough to allow you to drill a hole in the center yourself. The antenna will eventually be inserted into this hole. It's also nice if the bowl-shaped metal object has a handle (for instance, a wok with a wooden handle) so you can aim it at various hotspots more easily. You can always attach a handle, but why make work for yourself?

2. A USB wifi adapter. This need not be expensive. For instance, the Belkin wireless USB network adapter. This guarantees that the system will work for anyone. There are other methods but they rely on your laptop or your wifi PC Card having a socket for an external antenna.

3. A broom-handle, wooden slat, or other handle if your dish doesn't already have one.

4. A drill, and a metal drill bit (if your dish requires you to drill a hole).

5. A USB extender cable (if your wifi adapter didn't come with one).

6. Some epoxy cement.

7. A short, cheap mini-tripod from the camera store that is big/strong enough to hold up the wok/strainer you chose. IF the whole assembly is light enough you could also use a strong bulldog clip to clip it on to any convenient spot.

The procedure is so simple you can almost deduce it from the parts list.

Step One: If your dish doesn't already have a wooden handle, make one from an old broom handle or a wooden slat and mount it on the dish. Depending on the nature of the dish, this step might involve drilling a few holes and tying on some wire, or the handle may just slip right into the mesh—assuming your dish has mesh.

Step Two: Now you have to find a way to mount the USB adapter at the center (or focus) of the dish. If there's already a hole there, go on to Step Three. If there isn't a hole already there, or if there's a post in the way, take necessary steps to remove obstacles and drill or cut a hole that's a tiny bit larger than your range-booster.

Step Three: Slide the range-booster into the hole, and apply liberal amounts of epoxy cement to hold it in place. Put aside for 24 hours to let the epoxy harden.

Step Four: If you like, you can now find a way to attach the tripod to your dish. This saves you the necessity of holding the dish up over your head to get a signal, but it sacrifices some flexibility in aiming.

Here are some sample photos from an extremely easy and small antenna put together as a demonstration:

Related Categories
Featured Research
  • On-Demand Webinar - Smarter@Sales Operations: Automation to Maximize the Buyer’s...

    This on-demand webinar looks at what best-in-class companies are doing in terms of sales enablement to ensure that the buyer’s journey through the sales operations process is efficient and more satisfying for the buyer, so that the seller can in turn close deals more often and more efficiently. Download the on-demand webinar to learn how you can help your sales operations function perform more effectively in 2013 and beyond. more

  • Texting. Smartphones. Tablets. Oh my! Business Communications in a Mobile World

    Today, people communicate for work anywhere, anytime, and on any device. Even with undeniable business behavior changes, the vast majority of companies haven’t optimized their communications infrastructure for mobile workforces or BYOD. Join this webinar on June 20, 2013 at 1:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time to get ahead of the pack and learn the benefits of a cloud communications solution that supports the new world of work. more

  • Mobile Workforce Management: 7 Key Benefits for Growing Companies

    This white paper from ClickSoftware will take a brief look at current trends and the real business benefits behind adopting a software solution for the automation and management of the mobile workforce. more

  • The New Mobile World: Changing the Way You’ll Service Your Customers

    On-Demand Webinar Join us for this no-cost web event where you’ll get an extensive look at how companies can take advantage of the mobile revolution to deliver improved and expanded service experiences for their customers, both inside and outside the contact center. more