Boost Your WiFi Range With Cookware

WiFi was the killer technology that made home networking easy. No more messing around with hubs and cables and drilling holes in walls, simply turn the devices on and hit connect. Over time the speed and range has increased, but those with larger houses or granny flats out back have suffered. There are tricks to boost range however, and some of them involve cookware.

The clever hack here is to use a metal strainer as a parabolic reflector, to capture signals and focus them onto the PCB antenna in a USB WiFi dongle. The strainer is drilled out, and a USB extension cable has its female end glued into the base. This allows the dongle to be positioned inside the strainer. For best results, the dongle should be positioned so that its antenna elements are sitting at the focal point of the parabola; this can be determined through mathematics or simply by experimenting with positions to see what gives the best signal strength.

It’s a design that is quite directional, and should help boost signals as well as block out those from unwanted stations. The build is simple, and can even be tripod mounted which helps with aiming and looks cool to boot.

For many, WiFi antenna hacks are old school, but it’s always good to keep the techniques in mind as you never know when it will come in handy to solve a new problem. Some crazy things are possible with the right gear, too.

One Man’s Journey To Becoming His Own ISP

America is a BIG country. There are pockets all across the land where broadband Internet is slow-to-nonexistent, and many individuals are left with wireless cell service as their only means of internet connection. This is the situation [Brandt Kuykendall] found himself in upon moving his family to Dillon Beach, CA. So he started up his own fiber ISP. (YouTube, embedded below.)

“Cell phone service was really our only option, but that proved to be extremely expensive. My wife came home with the bill (of) $707, and that was the last straw.”

Despite being a mere two hours from the technological hub of San Francisco [Brandt] found himself dissatisfied with the level of service he was receiving from his provider. However, instead of shredding his current contract altogether he decided to go directly to the source. He tracked down the location of the AT&T cell tower in his area and made every call he could in order to find out who was in charge of “opening up the taps”. Months of negotiation between AT&T and [Brandt] ensued and eventually resulted in a fiber line being installed directly into his garage.

The story didn’t stop there, because [Brandt] took it upon himself to spread the wealth by providing his neighbors with Wi-Fi access to the fiber optic line in exchange for a small monthly fee. Employing the use of industrial-grade small cell transmitters he essentially created a point-to-point network along his neighbors’ roofs. [Brandt’s] garage serves as the network monitoring hub enabling him to diagnose any traffic issues. What began as one man seeking decent internet speeds burgeoned into a journey to becoming his own ISP which now serves over 100 other residents of the Dillon Beach area.

Continue reading “One Man’s Journey To Becoming His Own ISP”

Retrotechtacular: Olivetti Net3

If you sign up for a European hacker camp such as CCC Camp in Germany or SHA Camp in the Netherlands, you’ll see among the items recommended to take with you, a DECT handset. DECT, or Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, refers to the set of standards that lie behind the digital cordless telephones that are ubiquitous across Europe and some countries elsewhere in the world. These standards cover more than just the simple two-way telephone calls through a base station that most Europeans use them for though, they define a fully functional multi-cell 3G phone and data networking system. This means that an event like SHA Camp can run its own digital phone network without having to implement cell towers.

Olivetti promotional net3 image
Olivetti promotional Net3 image

Reading the history of DECT, there is the interesting snippet that the first DECT product on the market in 1993 was not a telephone but a networking device, and incidentally the first wireless LAN product on the European market. Olivetti’s Net3 provided 512kB/s wireless networking to a base station with Ethernet or Token Ring interfaces for connection to a LAN. In its original form it was an internal card for a desktop PC coupled to a bulky external box containing radio circuitry and antenna, but its later incarnations included a PCMCIA card with a much smaller antenna box. The half-megabit speed seems tiny by today’s standards, but in the pre-multimedia world of 1993 would have been perfectly adequate for a Novell Netware fileserver and an HP Laserjet 4.

Heinz Wolff swallows a condom in another Olivetti promotional picture.
[Heinz Wolff] swallows a condom in another Olivetti promotional image.

Mystery Technology

So DECT is an interesting technology that can do more than just a simple cordless phone, and its first product was unexpectedly somewhat groundbreaking. It then becomes even more interesting to find that Net3 has left very little evidence of itself to find that can be found on the Web, and learning more about it requires a little detective work.

The Wikipedia entry has the bare bones, but it speaks volumes about the obscure nature of the product that the encyclopedia’s only picture of it is a tiny thumbnail-sized promotional image of the PCMCIA variant in a chunky mid-1990s laptop. A further search reveals a 1993 British Olivetti staff newsletter (PDF) carrying another promotional image of the desktop Net3 device featuring the then-well-known TV personality and academic [Heinz Wolff] demonstrating the technology bizarrely by swallowing a DECT medical instrumentation transponder wrapped in a condom. Some press releases remain in the fossilized remnants of the 1990s internet, and a Net3 design team member’s LinkedIn page led us to the patent covering the system, but that’s pretty much it. We can’t even find a high enough resolution image of a Net3 card for our featured image slot.

Wireless Things Before Their Time

It’s obvious that Net3 and DECT networking as a high-end wireless LAN before a need for wireless LANs existed never made it, but what is perhaps more interesting is that it seems to have left no legacy for other more mundane applications. We are in the midst of an explosion of hype around the Internet of Things and it seems new short-range wireless networking technologies appear almost daily, yet the world seems to have overlooked this robust, low power, and mature wireless network with its own dedicated frequency allocation that many of us already have in our homes. It seems particularly surprising that among the many DECT base stations on sale at your local consumer electronics store there are none with an Internet connection, and there is no market for IoT devices that use DECT as their backhaul.

In the open-source community there has been some work on DECT. The OsmocomDECT project for example provides a DECT software stack, and deDECTed.org states an aim to “better understand DECT and its security and to create an Open Source implementation of the DECT standard”. But there seems to have been very little hardware work in our community on the standard, for example there are no DECT-specific projects on Hackaday.io.

Net3 then was a product before its time, a herald of what was to come, from that twilight period when the Web was definitely a thing but had yet to become the world’s universal information repository. Public wireless networking was still several years in the future, so there was no imperative for road warriors to equip themselves with a Net3 card or for computer manufacturers — not even Olivetti themselves! — to incorporate the technology. It thus didn’t take the world by storm, and unusually for such a ground-breaking computer product there remains little legacy for it beyond a rarely-used feature of the protocol Europeans use for their cordless phones.

Did you have a Net3 card? Do you still have one? Let us know in the comments.