Long-Distance Wi-Fi With Steam Deck Server

It’s no secret that the Steam Deck is a powerful computer, especially for its price point. It has to be capable enough to run modern PC games while being comfortable as a handheld, all while having a useful amount of battery life. Thankfully Valve didn’t lock down the device like most smartphone manufacturers, allowing the computer to run whatever operating system and software the true owner of the device wants to run. That means that a whole world of options is open for this novel computer, like using it to set up an 802.11ah Wi-Fi network over some pretty impressive distances.

Of course the Steam Deck is more of a means to an end for this project; the real star of the show is DragonOS, a Debian-based Linux distribution put together by [Aaron] to enable easy access to the tools needed for plenty of software-defined radio projects like this one. Here, he’s using it to set up a long-distance Wi-Fi network on one side of a lake, then testing it by motoring over to the other side of the lake to access the data from the KrakenSDR setup running on the Deck, as well as performing real-time capture of IQ data that was being automatically demodulated and feed internally to whispercpp.

While no one will be streaming 4K video over 802.11ah, it’s more than capable of supporting small amounts of data over relatively large distances, and [Aaron] was easily able to SSH to his access point from over a kilometer away with it. If the lake scenery in the project seems familiar at all, it’s because this project is an extension of another one of his DragonOS projects using a slightly lower frequency to do some impressive direction-finding, also using the Steam Deck as a base of operations.

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WiFi Alliance Introduces 802.11ah

For the last decade or so, wireless networking has been entirely about short range, high speed communications. The type of networking needed by an Internet of things is fundamentally incompatible with WiFi, and the reason for this is due to the frequencies used by WiFi networking gear. 2.4 and 5 GHz are very fast, but cannot penetrate through walls as easily as lower frequencies.

This week the WiFi alliance introduced IEEE 802.11ah into the WiFi spec. It’s called WiFi HaLow (pronounced like angel’s headwear), and unlike other versions of 802.11, WiFi HaLow uses low frequencies for low bandwidth but a much larger range.

WiFi HaLow uses the 900 MHz ISM band to communicate, divided into 26 channels. The bandwidth is low – a mere 100 kbps, but the range is huge: one kilometer, or about four times the approximate range of 802.11n.

This is not the only WiFi spec aimed at the Internet of Things. In 2014, the WiFi alliance introduced 802.11af, a networking protocol operating in unused TV whitespace spectrum between 54 and 790 MHz. 802.11af has a similar range as 802.11ah – about one kilometer – but products and chips utilizing 802.11af have been rare and hard to find.