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Thread: Wi-Fi Booster For Extended Range Internet Access

  1. #1
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    Default Wi-Fi Booster For Extended Range Internet Access

    I've mentioned this in another comms thread but as that seems to be mostly devoted to atmospheric conditions etc it is probably appropriate to open a new thread and help the original stay more on that particular target. BTW I have a ham license but my primary mode of communication is via the internet. This is not intended to supplant all other modes of communication, but rather to supplement them. Frankly, I hate the way radios screech, squawk and babble... my ears have become sensitive to the noise and it quickly gives me a headache - decades of unprotected hearing in noisy environments is probably to blame but that's water under the bridge now. I use subtitles on the TV quite a bit these days and miss half the conversation that happens in noisy restaurants. I'm intrigued with the modes of pure digital transmission such as PSK31 etc but that's a topic for another time. I like the idea of being able to transmit from the trailer and have my wife receiving at home, with zero intervening grid dependency. After I get the wi-fi situation handled, that will probably be a project the following year.

    My exploration into this arena was spurred by a particular need that arose out of my summer gunsmithing school off-grid camper lodging. The primary need was for me to be able to telecomute to an early-morning part-time gig I have, which requires internet service. The school I attend has free wireless access, but it is really only provided inside the facilities. Usually from the parking lot where campers are allowed, you can "see" the wi-fi but rarely get a connection, and a bad one at that with horrendous bandwidth and frequent drop-outs. My first year there was terrible - basically no signal at all - and I had to go to considerable inconvenience to meet my employment obligations before class each day. The second year, I came back with a six foot wi-fi antenna and a wi-fi repeater. For the most part, this worked well, with the antenna picking up signal outside the trailer, then boosting and repeating it inside the trailer. This past year, the system worked well for one week and then gradually degraded to the point that it was borderline unusable. I suspect the campus has made some changes to their system or some of the equipment may not be functioning as well as it once did. Simply moving a steel file cabinet may change the way that the signal travels via bounce or reflection. One thing I noticed on the most recent trip is that there are THREE nodes of the network, all identically named, within reception distance of the parking lot. I monitored these signals for a while and they all seemed to fluxuate a bit from moment to moment. I believe what is happening is that the router is getting confused and is shifting back and forth from one node to another, and the transition between nodes is what's impacting the usable bandwidth.

    Most people looking to boost their wi-fi coverage are those looking to cover under-served areas of their own home. There is another subset which I will refer to as "pirate" (arrrr, matey) users who tap into wi-fi signals that they are unauthorized to use, such as tapping into the local Starbucks wi-fi from the comfort of their own living room, two blocks away. So my situation of having authorized access, yet zero control, is a bit of a niche that isn't covered in much detail out there. (Yes, I have reviewed the college's network use policies and what I am proposing violates none of the terms of service) However, the internet has always proven to be a gold mine of information so that is where my hunt began. It wasn't long before a vision of system began to come together that would allow me to have all the internet access I want or need for the 3 weeks I attend the school each year.

    Because I have authorized access to the classroom interior, I can place a device there that will repeat the signal... using a directional antenna, I can then beam that signal out through a window of the concrete building, toward the lot where the camper will be. In order to prevent unauthorized access (both to preserve my own bandwidth, and to prevent unauthorized access to the college's network) the boosted signal must be an encrypted signal. There's a trailer park in the same general direction as the camper will be, and I shudder to think the complications that might result if someone were to use the college's system for some unsavory purpose... with a trail leading right back to MY router - NOPE.

    The vision here is of some kind of container... a plastic tote or even a humble cardboard box... to contain the system as a unit and provide a bit of "cover" from prying eyes who otherwise might start to ask questions I'd rather not be bothered with. Specifically, there's presently no rule against this, and I'd prefer not to give them a reason to come up with one. My primary use of the system will be early morning and late in the day - while the business use of the college systems occurs between 8 am and 6 pm. I really wouldn't be generating a noticeable amount of traffic on the system. This container will contain a booster unit and a directional antenna, and maybe, at some point, a power-supply for applications where a power source is unavailable.

    The unit I chose as a Wi-Fi extender is the Amped Wireless REA20 which offers the feature-set I am looking for, and the Hawking HOA12DP 12db directional antenna. Both of these units provide support for both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz bands. I presently only need 2.4 but it's nice to have the ability to use both. This combo should be enough on it's own to address my issues but just in case I need even MORE signal strength I've ordered a signal booster that goes between the router and the antenna - the Sunhans SH-2500 34db (2.4Ghz only). This combo should allow me to enjoy a steady and usable connection just about anywhere within line of sight of the antenna from the unit. The features that drew me to the REA20 were that it allows you to re-name the wireless node it is repeating (so that I can definitively lock onto the signal), and also allows encryption of the repeated signal. Those are HUGE for what I am trying to do and I haven't found another system that offers these.

    These items are on order, and the first two should arrive later today. Once I have them and can take some actual measurements, I can source the container and begin building and testing.

    http://www.ampedwireless.com/product...PwUaAqLY8P8HAQ



    http://hawkingtech.com/products/hawk...c/HOA12DP.html

    Last edited by bruss01; 09-10-2016 at 03:59 PM.
    In a crazy world, it's the crazy man who can get by - and it's about to get cray-cray up in here.

  2. #2
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    Wow!!!

    I am not into WiFi but what you posted is interesting. I did not realize WiFi operated that high in the frequency spectrum...line of sight.

    One of the VHF/UHF mobile radios I have has a repeater function..but I have never used it. My friend across the river with such an function and the same radio....uses his a lot. He can run around his yard or not to far away in his vehicle and get into his mobile radio at home on his base station..and then repeat his signal out on another frequency.

    Interesting concept...

    I have just never set mine up...but understand how it could be beneficial.

    Hadn't thought of it in Wi Fi terms but understand what you are contemplating.

    thanks,
    Orangetom

  3. #3
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    OT - the "line of sight" qualifier is for maximum signal over distance. The 2.4 Ghz band has better penetration than 5.0 Ghz through standard construction (drywall & 2x4) - but they are both in the microwave part of the spectrum meaning they are absorbed by water molecules... not a lot of folks realize it but materials like plaster of paris and concrete don't actually "dry", they "set" - the water actually becomes crystalized into the matrix as the material hardens. That water still blocks/absorbs microwaves. Drywall is made of gypsum, which is basically hardened plaster of paris. Surprisingly to a lot of folks, wi-fi will penetrate a brick wall better than a concrete one, because bricks are ceramic and have the water baked out when the brick is kiln-fired.

    I did a bit of research and a pane of standard glass will cost you about 3 db to punch through. I'm going to have to live with that as an acceptable loss unless I place my repeater outside. I've discovered ONE place where I could do this but would prefer to keep the repeater indoors for security.

    The parts arrived on Thursday and I was able to get a box that will contain everything. I'm presently missing a couple of small bits needed for the final configuration but I did some testing yesterday and was able to set it up to repeat my home wi-fi as a different network name, using an encrypted signal, and project it through glass/blinds (2 panes), across the street... about 75-100 feet I would estimate. I was able to walk across the street, right up to the neighbor's garage, and stand there and stream Netflix (crude bandwidth test) on my tablet. There doesn't seem to be any appreciable signal loss through the side of the plastic box the gear is housed in... that was an important finding. So although this project is in the early stages, we passed an important "proof of concept" test today. Once the final mounting configuration is completed, the next test will be to see if it will work with a public wi-fi spot that has a TOS page (where you agree to Terms of Service before you can access the network). The school has one of these, so not being able to flow-through from personal devices and access that page is a deal breaker. For that test I'll probably purchase a coffee at Starbucks (thus "qualifying" as an authorized user of the network as a customer) and see if I can re-broadcast that signal across the parking lot. One of the things I haven't worked out is how to get power to the unit for that test... if there is an outlet available, great, but if not a different approach will be required.

    I have an old Ryobi 18v cordless tool battery charger that I've owned since before the lithium batteries were available, which only charges the old NiCd batteries. I'm thinking of sacrificing that to canibalize the housing, combined with a power regulator to down-convert to 12v, so I can use my Ryobi lithium batteries to power the unit off the power grid. I'll get some pics up soon of the gear and how I'm mounting everything in the box. Right now it's all kind of just thrown in there for initial testing. This is a fairly small tote ("Store-It-All"), the 20 qt model - I got it for $10 at The Container Store (just opened one near us). It's the 2nd smallest in the photo here - I intentionally wanted the smallest box possible for ease of placement out in the wild. The smallest here is not tall enough to accommodate the Hawking HOA12DP antenna. One of the pieces I'm waiting on is a pair of 90 degree adapters for the cable connection to the antenna, so I don't have to put a kink in the line due to the sharp bend and tight quarters - may change my mind about how I plan to mount it, this is a work in progress after all. The red handles on the lid snap-lock onto the bottom, which will keep the lid from falling, blowing or getting knocked off accidentally. And it's not transparent like some totes, to keep the gear away from curious eyes - again, rather have a generic tote than one that raises eyebrows and causes folks to wonder what the electronics stuff in the box is doing. Pretty nice little box for the money.

    http://www.containerstore.com/s/stor...uctId=10027414

    Last edited by bruss01; 09-10-2016 at 03:53 PM.
    In a crazy world, it's the crazy man who can get by - and it's about to get cray-cray up in here.

  4. #4
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    One of the remaining pieces arrived yesterday and was tested today.

    This is a stand-alone antenna base. It's magnetic and designed to be remotely mounted. I have no current use for the magnetic feature. The reason I acquired it is because my preferred orientation of the REA20 is to be mounted vertically on one of the interior sides of the box. In that position, the antenna would be folded over sideways in order to clearance the lid. Although this will work in a qualified sense, it is less than optimal because of polarization. Two vertical antennas will communicate wonderfully... one of them 90 degrees offset, not so much. Does it work? Yes. Is it as good? No, it isn't... there will be diminished reception and bandwidth. I don't want to just drill a hole in the lid for two reasons... first, I may decide to use this contraption outdoors in which case it would be nice if it were reasonably weatherproof, which drilling a hole in the lid obviously circumvents. Second, because I would like for this box to appear as non-descript as possible in order to avoid arousing curiosity. A hole with an antenna sticking out... well, who WOULDN'T ask about that? As a bonus feature, this base gives me the ability to mount the antenna outside the box if necessary to get a decent connection.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    Last edited by bruss01; 09-12-2016 at 05:23 PM.
    In a crazy world, it's the crazy man who can get by - and it's about to get cray-cray up in here.

  5. #5
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    A directional antenna on either end should suffice. You're proposing one in the classroom which would work, but also one at your end should be sufficient.

    The original directional wifi antenna is the "cantenna" made out of a pringles can. You can buy them now or still find plans online to build one.

  6. #6
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    I remember plans for a cantenna in 2600 magazine back in the day. Pringles would work but tennis ball cans (especially the slightly oversized version) were alegedly the bomb. Those types of directional antennas typically have a very tight beam, and are excellent for fixed-position to fixed-position transmitting where you can zero in on a transmitter/receiver that isn't going to move. This would likely work for my intended application (the summer school scenario) but could be limiting if I want to use it for something else, such as coverage of a general area. The omnidirectional antennas are good at providing general coverage in the area near the transmitter, if you are not talking much distance and don't mind wasting signal strength by broadcasting in directions that aren't needed. The directional antennas of the type I chose (the Hawking) are good at keeping your coverage concentrated in a general direction without being too tight a beam (generally 30-45 degrees).

    A directional antenna on either end should suffice. You're proposing one in the classroom which would work, but also one at your end should be sufficient.
    You are correct, although, with a few caveats.

    Simply putting a high-gain antenna on the trailer was the first strategy. That did help, but it wasn't enough of a solution. The reason is the type of construction of the classroom building and the interior placement of the wi-fi node for that classroom. The buildings were all built back in the 60's with poured concrete walls, metal roof, and high vaulted ceilings (which is where the wi-fi node is mounted of course). The windows are few, and are the tall, narrow variety. This is a "perfect storm" for lousy wi-fi outside the building. Unless you happen to be situated close to the building at an angle where the signal from inside can shoot out through a window, you aren't going to get much in the way of signal - some bounce really is about all. The area where we can camp is rigidly specified so just moving the trailer really isn't an option.

    Here's a shot of one of the buildings - they are all basically this same construction style:



    The chief benefit of my approach here is that (aside from boosting signal strength) I can control the position of the repeater inside the classroom, so that it lines up through a window with the designated area for the trailer camping. In this way, I have direct line-of-sight from the classroom ceiling node, to the repeater, to the trailer. Just putting one on the trailer wouldn't allow for that direct line of sight hand-off - you'd have to punch through the concrete wall to connect directly to the classroom node, which will cost you lots of db. Much better to only have to penetrate a single pane of glass for a cost of 3 db.

    It occurs to me that a quick diagram might do a better job than a description alone, so...




    I showed my wife what I was working on and she was quick to remind me that we have a "dead zone" in our house, namely, her side of the bed. Our primary wireless router is directly opposite of the furnace which blocks all signal from that unit. I had installed a repeater in the living room which I thought would have a better angle to the bedroom but I had forgotten there is a closet packed with clothing the signal has to penetrate, making it next to useless. I put my "repeater in a box" up on top of a cabinet we have in the living room, pointing right through that same closet of clothes... what do you know, she gets marvelous signal now. Wife is very happy at the moment but she will not be smiling as much when I "steal" the unit back for my excursion next year!
    Last edited by bruss01; 09-13-2016 at 02:08 PM.
    In a crazy world, it's the crazy man who can get by - and it's about to get cray-cray up in here.

  7. #7
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    ah yes... that kind of construction does call for "special measures".

    One thing you can do at home (especially with a multi-antenna router) is get a higher gain omni-directional antenna and several feet of good feedline. The gain from the antenna will likely be countered by the losses from the feedline, but you might get a different enough angle on it to make a difference. Either that, or a short chunk of feedline and not lose the antenna gain to feedline loss and let the gain help you through the closet.

  8. #8
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    The signal booster unit arrived today, drop shipped directly from China via Amazon.







    This little Sunhans unit amplifies 2.4 GHz signal with an output signal of 2500 mW (34 db) and amplifies received signal 12 db. The output of the REA20 is around 700 mW so this is quite a boost beyond even that worthy number. I don't expect to need it in Susanville, but it's nice to have in case I ever have a longer distance or a more problematic situation to contend with. This unit is also powered by 12v DC so my battery-power conversion scheme for the REA20 can serve dual duty if needed.

    It's a seemingly very lightweight, durable, compact form-factor. Hard to tell from the pic but that case is milled aluminum not plastic. I'm not sure, but I think it may be designed for drones, to improve their control range and punch through obstacles that tend to interfere with line of sight signals. Suits me fine! I doubt I'll ever test it's mettle on the field of honor, but it's nice to know that getting knocked off a shelf isn't likely to kill it.
    Last edited by bruss01; 09-21-2016 at 02:36 PM.
    In a crazy world, it's the crazy man who can get by - and it's about to get cray-cray up in here.

  9. #9
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    A cantenna or wokfi would give you even more gain...
    Good medicine in bad places

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fidel. MD View Post
    A cantenna or wokfi would give you even more gain...
    Yes, at the cost of a narrower beam, which is typically fine from one fixed point to another. I wanted a bit more leeway with directionality for other situations. That costs you a bit in signal strength, but I don't want to be without signal for a weekend if someone happens to bump my booster box 5-10 degrees off kilter on Friday just before the classroom doors lock until Monday morning. It will be in a secure but shared space area that will be locked up overnight.
    Last edited by bruss01; 09-21-2016 at 05:38 PM.
    In a crazy world, it's the crazy man who can get by - and it's about to get cray-cray up in here.

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