Bringing WiFi into a Mobile Hackerspace

2013-11-23-00.04.14

[Philipp Protschka] has a pretty awesome mobile hackerspace (MHS) trailer. The only problem? How do you get WiFi when you’re inside what is basically a Faraday’s cage?

He didn’t think he’d have a problem, since he has a fairly powerful router (Netgear R7000 Nighthawk), not more than 20m from the trailer. But as soon as he shuts the door, he loses all connectivity — he can’t even see his SSID. Leaving the door open a crack results in a signal with a speed of about 54Mbits — not bad, but when it’s cold outside this really isn’t an option.

The solution? Install a WiFi repeater with an external antenna. He’s using a TP link station with two antennas — he’s removed one and hooked it up to a rugged outdoor antenna that gives the MHS a bit of an FBI van look — awesome. With the repeater in place he’s suddenly got access to over 24 SSID’s in the neighborhood from inside! It’ll also be extra handy when travelling because with the extra range it means he’ll be able to hook into local WiFi networks with ease.

He also offers us a pro-tip on surface mounting devices with hole patterns on the back — just make a photocopy of the device, tape the photocopy to the wall and drill it in place! Simple, but ingenious.

2013-11-21-23.33.071

Don’t forget to check out the interior of his MHS!

46 thoughts on “Bringing WiFi into a Mobile Hackerspace

  1. I hate to be that guy but come on, this made it through the tip line? The guy bought a router, couldn’t get a signal and hooked up an external antenna. Not a hack, not clever, none of it. You writers just wanted to mention Faraday cages.

      1. The hatred may be strong, but it is justified.
        Installing an external antenna isn’t a hack, it’s installing an external antenna.
        You want to see how much of a hack it is, come back in 5 years and see how it’s doing.

        1. Luckily neither you nor Rex over there qualifies as the definite arbiter regarding the definition of a “hack” or “hacking”. I’m sure you have your own ideas and opinion about that and I’m sure you get by well enough using them that way, but that does not mean that your personal feelings regarding this subject should be universal.
          I’m fine calling this a hack, why shouldn’t I be?

          1. . . . Because it’s not a hack. This is no more of a “hack” than buying an extension cord and plugging it up to a wall outlet. He took off the shelf parts and used them as the manufacturer intended.

          2. Because it opens the door for stuff like, “Check out this crazy two-way radio installed into a CAR!” articles.
            Whatever floats ‘em I guess. I just dont see how this differs in any way from any other antenna installation into any other mobile application other than the mobile application itself is used for hacking.
            I’m sure they also needed a light source to see when the door to the trailer was closed or for at night. Does the installation of an interior light source also count as a hack?
            -or a window? -which would also be extra handy when travelling because with the extra light gathering it means he’ll be able to utilize ambient light sources with ease.

          3. I just don’t get why people are so strict when it comes to the definition of a “hack”. I mean, I see some posts here that are not a hack, and people don’t mind calling it a “not-a-hack-post” because it’s interesting, but when it comes to these kinds of “not-a-hack-post”s all of a sudden you people come out of your man caves and start bombing at the comments because it’s not interesting.

          4. @dmack “This is no more of a “hack” than buying an extension cord and plugging it up to a wall outlet. ”

            Fine, but what if it is a way of buying an extension cord and plugging it up to a wall outlet in a way that hasn’t been done before…. Simple things can be hacks you know!

            I really pity your failure to see the beauty in simple solutions.

          5. I do see the value in simple solutions and I prefer them, but just because you run into a problem and solve it doesn’t mean it involved any form of hacking.

          6. @voxnulla if the method used hasn’t been done before then it would be a hack.

            This on the other hand he could probably have found in his router’s instruction manual.

    1. Or… They could have mentioned it because it is a mobile hackerspace…

      Lighten up…. This is a free blog in which you are a ready… We have no right to complain about what the overlords want to post….

      1. I disagree. Stating an opinion on content is exactly the kind of feedback that the writers need to keep us engaged in the content. The point is to have more substance to these articles – if it’s about a mobile hackerspace write that article, don’t just put the hack up there because it has a shiny thing in it.

        1. The article is fine and if your opinion is meant to alter or dismiss similar types of articles, then consider this my opinion with the purpose of negating yours. See, we are engaging already!
          The fact that you are not easily impresses should not damage the availability of articles I find worthy enough to take a look at.

          1. You disagree for the sake of disagreeing don’t you.

            You find this article worthy to look at then just go read the manual for something you buy. I come to this site to see hacks, and in my opinion your negated opinion is dangerous to the future viability of the site and following your view of what is a hack risks turning this otherwise awesome site into the rest of the trifling crap we see already all over the internet.

    1. The photocopy tip was nice – but only quick if you have a photocopier nearby. For myself, I’d have to scan it, reprint it – then use the “template”; way too much time when a simple tape measure and a pencil will do the same job. I can see it being useful, though, for cases when you need something more complex (for example, when you need a custom gasket or something that has more than a few holes/curves).

      1. Honestly I’ve been doing this since ancient times with no photocopier.. tape paper to the bottom, lightly whip a pencil back and force across the region with the hole pattern, tape the paper to the wall and drill. Be aware of the mirroring if it’s a non symmetrical hole pattern.

        1. I’ll second this suggestion and it works for far more things than just mounting something on a wall. A pencil rubbing is a very fast way to make a disposable template of anything flat.

          I’d use a tape measure, but the old saying goes something like, “the enemy of accuracy is measurement”.

    2. The template idea is sorta clever, but if there are only two holes, then just use a tape measure.

      Seriously: measure the distance between the two holes, then mark. Re-check. Drill. Done.

  2. Instead of that one, i’d use a magnetic wire AWG 30 to enter across the door. the 3 M wire shaped in helix-like antenna.

    1. Why? A vertical helical offers no advantage over the vertical employed. Helix as a directional antenna that can receive horizontal and vertically polarized signals equally well (poorly?) would be good to have on hand for special conditions, but the antenna used here would be the better primary antenna. IMO.

  3. All commentary on the antenna install aside, a “mobile hackerspace” of any kind is to be applauded.
    I’m also hella jealous of the super-awesome trailer itself! I’d like something half that size to make into a mobile ham shack or camping rig.
    If it’s a workspace, maybe some drop-down stabilizers to stop the rock and roll when parked?

    1. ADDENDUM
      -If you are planning on playing with more RF stuff, then perhaps a plate with a number of various mobile-rated pass-through connectors with chained covers might be a good idea too. -maybe add some power connectors as well to make external connections easier for projects that require it.
      -the imagination soars with trailers.
      In my den at home I built a similar plate into my wall that allows me to access various attic-mounted antennae and also works well for my surround speaker connections that run up into the attic.
      (Yes I installed it when my wife wasn’t home. ;) )

  4. Will any router with 2 antennas act as a powered bridge between them and serve as a repeater? I never would’ve considered that possibility.

  5. I really can’t understand how this gets featured on HaD. How’s this a hack?
    Also, a color copy to get the mounting screws position? How about a blank sheet and a pencil to mark the two spots? A copy machine many times has scaling issues, so, it’s unreliable for this use.

    This is not a hack.

  6. To those complaining about the “worthiness” of a project…

    Instead of spending your time commenting on projects you don’t deem worthy of being called “a hack”, I must ask, why aren’t you out there hacking, and then sending us in your very own projects that you deem hack worthy?

    This is a community driven site, if you’re not happy with the content, then help us make it better!

    1. Why aren’t we out there hacking? It could be because of a lack of necessity. I think hacking has to have some form of necessity attached to it. Examples would be a current product doesn’t offer the the features you need so you hack one to get the features you need. Maybe you can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money for a proper solution so you hack one together from what you have, maybe you don’t have the skills and knowledge to do something the “right way “ so you hack together (kludge) something using to skill set you do have. Rube Goldberging something together just because you can isn’t hacking it’s just being whimsical. Rube Goldberging something together because that’s all the resources allotted to you allowed, is hacking. Making, diy’ing, and hacking, though related and sometimes overlap are not the samethings. Just because we aren’t hacking doesn’t mean we are not doing one of the others. One more thing, just because we don’t think something is a hack that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the work that went into it. That’s enough for now, I just moved my TV to a wall with no outlet, It looks I’m going to have to use the “extension cord hack” to get it to work. I just used the “store bought flat panel TV mounting bracket hack” to put it on the wall.

        1. I do get it. I differentiate between hacking, making. A lot of the articles on this site are examples of making, not hacking. I still enjoy most of them, but don’t considered them hacks.

        2. Prior to disability I was an accomplished jack of all trade, afterwards a lot of thing are more difficult. All in all I have what many of what would call hacks under my belt. The “hacker mentality”? In the event what I have read in the comments at hackaday is representative of that mentality, I reject that. I wouldn’t be surprised if I where alone. In the event I where I wouldn’t care, because ladies and gentlemen, this is life’s small shit not to sweat.

  7. I dont really think a router will ever work as a repeater in that way using one of the antennas for Rx and the other to Tx, that’s not the functionality of dual antennas. They will both work as Rx and Tx at the same time, so the repeater function will be “goofy”. It’s called diversity and basically the signal is combined and balanced both at the same time, depending on the phase that the signal gets to each one.

    In my case I hate using a router as a repeater, the theory states that you split the global network (not only inside the camper, but also in the “provider’s” house) into 1/2 bandwidth, and my actual experience is basically that the speed is really bad, probably worse than 1/2X
    I prefer to get another inexpensive router that can do WDS ($30) and use one as a receiver (wireless client in WDS) and wire it to the other one as an AP. That gives full speed and more control.

  8. My TP Link single antenna dongle now has a homemade “pie pan” reflector which gives me great service from grateful neighbors across the street at full speed. It’s in the side window at a very shallow angle as I have aluminum siding which makes it harder for the IR cams and spy’s.

    1. AKA passive repeater, the first thing that come to mind for me. Simply two antennas connect with low loss coaxial feed line, however in this case feed line shouldn’t be needed. I’d first try connecting 2 3/8 X 24 Thread whip mounts back to back first. low cost if new, no cost if your resource circle is wide enough.

  9. Just a moment of clarity here:

    FBI (and all other alphabet soup) use PLASTIC roofs to disguise the external antenna. You never see the antenna unlike local LEO cars.

    Why didn’t the OP set up a cantenna which would be a legit hack. Maybe even designing an omnidirectional high-gain WiFi antenna disguised inside of a plastic radome (Rubbermaid or Tupperware bowl or something?)

    WiFi repeaters? I’ve used these and they don’t just repeat SSID’s carte blanche like a 2-way radio repeater. I think you can only repeat a “specific” SSID of your choosing. I guess in his case it didn’t matter as he was only desiring one SSID (his own).

    I think I would have liked to see the inside of his trailer too. They recently posted a van conversion on Hackaday. It would have been nice to see how this guy set up mobile desks, chairs, portals, etc.

    Just want to add that any serious mobile installation simulating a federal surveillance van, WiFi (free) would not be the principle mode of data comm. Using Broadband (fee-based) makes more sense as you can TRULY go mobile while being 3G/4G connected even on the Interstate tooling down the highway. Drop outs are rare unlike WiFi which is like a small zone which disappears within a few hundred feet. WiFI is great for stationary operations if it’s present. Broadband can generate it’s own WiFi signal via a MiFi device.

    Google and Intel (and two major cell phone carriers) may be offering WiMax in specific markets which will cover entire cities or maybe even nationwide. You know with BB and WiMax you really don’t need a broadcast radio nor a 2-way radio. You can listen to your favorite music channel (i.e. Pandora) or setup a 2-way worldwide mobile communications network with only your antenna on your dashboard. You can do this with audio self-streaming sites like Zello. The base station can be anywhere in the world.

  10. In his article he said he couldn’t get a signal inside the trailer on his router or mobile (cell) phone, so now that he has the router fixed how does he get a signal on his phone?

  11. I would rather see no posts for the day instead of posts that are not hacking. As Dmack has said and a few others, this post is about making something, not hacking. There are plenty of other sites dedicated to making/creating and I don’t discredit that. I enjoy articles about making/creating and if that’s the intention of this site then maybe there needs to be a subdomain dedicated to that leaving the true hacking/hack articles to the front page. If the OP had gone out and an old wireless router – pushed one of the open source os replacements on it – and did a cantenna / power mod on it I would see this more as a hack. This is just detailing something someone did. I’m sorry there’s already millions of other places that do this, some annoyingly i.e. social media. Not to discredit the work that went into this but when random posts are made instead of posts about hacking, you start getting on this slippery slope. Pretty soon you start sliding enough to where you’re the next Gizmodo, where the original idea of the blog is no longer about gadgets and technology, but anything the posters feel like posting. End rant.

  12. A comment mentioned that the comments can be good be good feed back for the HAD staff. In the past when the not hack come up. In the event I had nothing other to say to a post I would simply comment I approve the post. Actually I don’ think there would be a post I could disapprove of. Why? Most visitors don’t yet know everything there is to know about every thing, as some commentators appear to think they do. ;) Fortunately there where comment that address the mechanics of the project, thereby lifting the whole of the comments out of the mud a bit.
    BTW; I approve of this post.

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