DIY Wireless Network Antenna (semi-directional)

I’ve been meaning to do this project a long time, since it is so unfathomably easy, cheap and totally kick-ass cool. Or geeky. But I love it. This has been done a thousand times before, you can find other and better tutorials over at www.wireless-warrior.org if you look at their FAQs/Guide section.

I have wifi at home since I was sick of having to open the door and roll out the ethernet cable every time I wanted to check my e-mail. So I already had a CNET Wireless-G USB dongle, my laptop didn’t have a built-in wireless card. Today I’d rather want a PCMCIA card with antenna, but that’s another story. The dongle is USB 2.0 and works pretty well, although my single USB connector has become very worn, but it is really sensitive to movement. I was anxious, then, to check out how this would work, and if it would work at all.
Good thing about this particular dongle is that it supports WPA2 encryption.

What you’ll need:
CNET Wireless-G USB dongle (or other)
USB 2.0 extension cable
Ordinary kitchen sieve
Wirecutter, pincher, knife or scissors

Click for large version

I was initially going for 5 metres of USB cable, but I couldn’t find it at the store, so I ended up with 3m to 80 NOK. I’m glad I did, since 3 metres is more than enough, and any longer in that would take the less out of wireless :)
I took the cheapest sieve I could find, cost me 20 NOK. Project total: 100 NOK.

The first thing I did was to remove the white, plastic handle. This is naturally optional, but I had other things in mind for the handle, so the plastic had to go. I used a bread knife and the back of a spoon to remove it. Almost cut my hand off. When you’re done just cut a hole in the middle/center of the sieve:
Click for large version
Don’t make it too big, since you don’t want your female cable end falling out.

Then I thought that the sieve might get too worn by the weight, and the USB cable scratched – since I will probably use it for other things too. So, what I did was coating the hole I had made with some rubber. Vanity, for sure, but I still think it stabilizes the cable.
Click for large version
I used some rubber from my aquarium days (the small tube going from the pump down into the water) and cut it in half, carefully placing it along the edge. It was harder than I had imagined, so it took a few re-fittings and tries. I guess you can use all sorts of things, like Tack-it or, if you want it permanently placed, electric tape or make a base that you solder on or something. Hot glue? Whatever.

When all of this was done I did my best to bend the handle. Why?
Well, I wanted it to stand for itself. This is not a mobile unit (which I’ll try making later) so I didn’t want to having to hold it myself. I bent the handle first, which was stupid, since I realized that it was too narrow to balance correctly. I bent it half-way back again and pushed the handle over a wine bottle to widen it before bending it back to place. Ideally it should form some sort of a square, but I’m too weak and it worked all right as it turned out. Here it is:
Click for large version
After some calibration it stood well, the wire didn’t jiggle because the hole wasn’t too big and everything had worked out as I had hoped. I must admit that I think it looks really cool. My very own sci-fi antenna.

Then I recalled that it wasn’t all about looks, but whether this could actually boost the signal or not. I decided to try it right away. I normally have a Normal signal, but for some reason I had a Low one when I decided to test it. Great, I thought, now it should be easier to see if it works. I waited for it to "settle down" so to get as accurate a reading as possible. Check it:
wifi status w/o antenna   wifi status w/antenna

The first picture is the poor signal I got having the dongle connected directly into the laptop. It is a good link, but poor in strength, and only 11 Mbps. The one to the right is when I attached the antenna, which immediately boosted the signal up to 54 Mbps where it stayed. Success!

This is the first time since I installed wifi at home that the Ralink Wireless Utility has given me a green thumbs up. It was three o’clock in the morning when I finished, so I didn’t get to test out how sensitive it is to where the antenna is aiming.
I haven’t tried any of the neighbours’ networks yet, but I will. There’s an unprotected Linksys AP not far from where I live, and it’ll be fun to see if I can find the direction from where it’s coming with this thing. If nothing else, it gives me the freedom to sit in my chair without loosing the signal, when I’m skyping or downloading. And it looks really cool:)

I’ve decided to make a smaller one you can carry around with you, so stay tuned.

EDIT 16.05.06:
I just found Linux drivers for the CWD-854 USB 2.0 dongle.

3 thoughts on “DIY Wireless Network Antenna (semi-directional)”

  1. Sweet :D
    I’m gonna make myself one of those.. i can see my school.. and I even get a signal from there… but its too weak for conection. But now i see a cheap :D
    hope that I can get conected, and then have internet at home :D
    thank you sigg3 :D
    oh, did i mention my smiley :D

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