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Deployed... how can I get better wifi signal?

by usaf_ff51 / May 17, 2010 9:39 PM PDT

I'm currently deployed to Southwest Asia and am "living" in a CHU (containerized housing unit) for the next 4 months. For those of you not familiar with CHUs, they are basically metal and wood trailer-type dorms. Therefore, the issue with my unreliable wifi signal. The current location that I am at is actually the nicest in the AOR and has free wifi throughout. However, obviously the signal is better and worse in certain areas and at certain times. It is particularly hard to receive in the CHUs.

I have a Gateway laptop with an internal G wireless and am accessing the G wifi, but would like to increase my signal. So as not to have to sit out in the 110*+ temperatures to talk to my wife. I have spent the past few hours reading over all sorts of solutions:

1) I can not access the router or it's configurations. Therefore, I can not boost the signal from the origin or ask for it to be done. However, I do know where it is (although I'm thinking omni-directional is going to be best regardless).

2) I have no PCMIA card or slot for one, or an SMA point. Therefore, I am pretty much limited to USB or ethernet. Unless someone has a far more clever idea (please, no "wrap it in tin foil" jokes).

3) I am reasonable and realize that with technology it is usually very much "you get what you pay for" and am therefore not asking for any ridiculous $2 ideas like a lot of people do. However, I am enlisted and there by fairly strapped for budget. I'm thinking less than $40 hopefully.

4) Uncle Sam has given me the OK to string an antenna out the window or atop the roof, so long as it is not interfering or dangerous to anyone/anything. So, I am open to most any/all reasonable suggestions.

So, with all that being said, I would greatly appreciate any/all input on the topic. What USB or ethernet adapter/booster/extender/whatchamacallit is the best? Obviously this list will be limited due to my budget, but please give all suggestions, particularly if you have personal experience with a particular device.

Thank you all in advance,

Steven E. Richmond, SrA, USAF
Combined Air & Space Operations Center
Undisclosed Location, Southwest Asia

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The short answer.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 17, 2010 9:56 PM PDT
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Looking for specifics...
by usaf_ff51 / May 17, 2010 10:11 PM PDT
In reply to: The short answer.


Thank you for the reply. Brevity is perfectly fine with me, and I apologize if I seem long-winded. Also, I apologize since I am aware that I am asking basically a very overly repeated question. However, having read through several other answers for similar questions, I have still not found one that subsequently recommended a particular device(s) that proved effective. That is what I am looking for. Based on the examples you posted, are you suggesting that a cheap USB dongle and a very long cable is the best solution? If so, that is good news to me since it is the easiest and most inexpensive. However, have you actually used this set-up in a similar situation with success? If so, do you personally recommend the ones you posted?

Thank you again for your help.

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Here's why no one will ever reccomend it.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 17, 2010 10:34 PM PDT

Because if it works or not depends on location, location and location. Yes I've tried it and it does help but again I can't tell you or anyone that it would solve it. I can understand that this would frustrate some but it is best to be honest here.

And why I go with the cheap solution first. In fact I have a kit with similar stuff here. See

My USB adapter is currently out on load to my brother so that may be gone for good and I'll order another when I get one that has an antenna connection. Some do and that was in my kit but I don't have a link or picture for you. I also have the Cantenna (see google) but it is a bit fragile so I don't suggest that.

Hope that helps,

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by usaf_ff51 / May 17, 2010 10:23 PM PDT

One more thing I've never fully understood... does it actually help if I get a wireless-N? The wifi is a G network and I'm aware that N is backward compatible, but if the network isn't N, then does it really do any good?

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by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 17, 2010 10:35 PM PDT
In reply to: N?

Sorry but it won't help this time.

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by usaf_ff51 / May 17, 2010 10:38 PM PDT
In reply to: No.

That's ok, just wanted to check. That just means I can stay on budget since the N won't matter.

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Keep in mind.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 17, 2010 10:44 PM PDT
In reply to: Thanks

That such things are not a sure solution. But they can help in some spotty situations but not all. This seems to upset some but what to do or say then?

Hope the picture of my wifi kit/box gives you an idea or two.

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Still a little lost
by usaf_ff51 / May 17, 2010 10:53 PM PDT
In reply to: Keep in mind.

Thank you for your expedient and honest replies. I can't stand it when people swear by something and then come to find out they never actually used it and/or it's total junk. Particularly when it's not cheap.

The picture does give me some sort of idea, based on what you've been saying. But, could you possibly elaborate a little more? Perhaps a contents list and basic set-up instructions?

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The instructions I use
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 17, 2010 10:58 PM PDT
In reply to: Still a little lost

Come with the products so whatever I write could be wrong but let's go over the basics.

1. Turn off the laptop's wifi since we'll want to use the new device.
2. Follow the device's install instructions and get it to work without the USB cable.
3. Now try the USB cable and see if it works.
4. Now put the antenna of your choice in the mix and see if it helps.

Sorry for all the brevity but like most I type my replies. I took the time to take a picture of my wifi spares box to show you that I actually do this. I only wish there was a way to give a 100% assurance but this area is one uncertainty and more uncertainty. While my success rate is "it usually works better" some get upset if the link drops. To that we have to launch into a too long for me discussion about wifi, open air and more.

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Fair enough
by usaf_ff51 / May 17, 2010 11:04 PM PDT
In reply to: The instructions I use

LOL. I completely understand the non-assurance. I'm perfectly fine with that, especially since you are up front. Since it's fairly inexpensive, I'm willing to try it at my own risk. I understand your instructions and I'm glad they're fairly simple. I don't quite understand the hardware though... There's so many different things I've come across that I'm getting overload. If I understand correctly, you are talking about a simple USB wireless adapter (that has RF), a USB extension cable, and then an antenna for the adapter. Is this correct? I understand the reasoning for starting with the simple and then adding each component. I've seen quite a few USB adapters that come with an antenna. Do you think those suffice? Or would it be better to buy a barebones type adapter and a different antenna? Not sure on compatibility with these devices...

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They make USB wifi with antenna jacks.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 17, 2010 11:29 PM PDT
In reply to: Fair enough

But those were not on the usual sites today so I skipped that.

The reason for the USB adapter is simple. We want to move the wifi "package" and "antenna" to where it may work best or better. Those adapters with antenna jacks run the risk of folk not knowing about RF cables and more so back to an integrated solution.

Your choice to try other solutions. Best of luck and I hope all this helped.

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Now I'm confused...
by usaf_ff51 / May 17, 2010 11:37 PM PDT

I'm not sure I fully understand what you're saying here. Could you possibly give a device list or run-down? What components are you talking about? I thought I understood, but now it seems that I was wrong...?

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by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 18, 2010 1:38 AM PDT
In reply to: Now I'm confused...

But at some point I have to stop supplying combinations of products. Yes there are usb adapters with antenna connections. There are wifi amplifiers. There are alternative antennas. If I begin to write about such I would confuse most and essentially enter a tar pit of issues.

Which is my way of saying I've shared the most common, easiest combination that I've used in spotty connection areas.

Let's see what others have to offer.

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Does this seem practical?
by usaf_ff51 / May 18, 2010 12:40 AM PDT

This set-up appears to be the most powerful (within budget) that I can find, being 1000 mW and 9dBi gain. And I figure on using a "low loss" USB extension cable, probably no more than 10 ft long. Only problem is that these "low loss" don't actually say what the loss is. Is there a standard formula for loss per foot or something? Because +9 is nice, but won't matter much if my 10 ft cable is -12 or something lol. And on another note, please forgive my lack of RF knowledge if this seems stupid, but would it be better to extend the RF rather than the USB? I'm not sure, but I have always thought that RF is more reliable or durable or whatever than USB. Any ideas or suggestions?

The set-up:

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Correction(s)... I think...
by usaf_ff51 / May 18, 2010 12:51 AM PDT

Ok, that particular set-up only includes the +5dBi antenna, but that doesn't matter, I can buy the +9 alone. I'd actually rather do that and then just get a barebones adapter.

However, I just realized, while looking for a barebones adapter, that I guess it's not RF. Any ideas as to the connection? I read something about SMA and RP-SMA...?

So, I figure I could get it for cheaper if I get the +9 antenna alone (about $7) and then the adapter ($?) and then the cable to extend. But, same question as previous... would the RP or SMA or whatever be better to extend as opposed to the USB?

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by bill012 / May 18, 2010 1:45 AM PDT

The limit on USB I think is 5M it is not really called RF loss. The RF loss comes between the USB adapter and the antenna. If you can use just the USB cable and use the antenna attached directly you will have not RF cable loss. If you must go further then you use mircowave cable that comes in various types with various loss per meter. You trade off cost and cable size for less loss.

The RP-SMA mean reverse polarity SMA. This is a special connector they use for wireless lan as compared to the normal SMA which is used on everything else. You just have to make sure you get a adapter to convert between these. They did this to make it a little harder to hook normal microwave antenna to wireless lan equipment.

If you get real carried away you can exceed the total legal transmit power allowed by the FCC which gets very complex since it varies based on if the antenna is direction or not. Generally the loss in the cable a normal person can afford will eat the gain of a antenna.

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In short.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 18, 2010 1:40 AM PDT

That's a spin on the same idea. You should find hundreds of such things out there but as you can imagine I can't answer each one as you find them. But sure, why not that one?

One thing. I made sure the one I noted had drivers for almost all versions of windows and was a "name". I can't find a maker or company when I first read that page.

Your money.

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another option
by bill012 / May 17, 2010 11:07 PM PDT

The above method works but if you need a more standard method.

They make USB wireless cards that have external antenna jacks. They are not common so it will mostly be what you can obtain where you are. They are pretty much all the same because of government regulations.

There are many directional antenna available and they are also fairly cheap. The cabling between the units can be expensive if you need to go any distance. Every foot of cable causes lose of signal. You have to look at the DB gain of the antenna and the DB loss of the cable.

I have not done this since 802.11 B was the only option so I cannot give you a good place to buy this. I have provided a link just to show a antenna like I used and I went more than 2 miles with it. If you put antenna like this on both ends they say you can go more than 20 miles.

I know nothing about this company so use it as a example of product available not a recommendation to buy from them

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by usaf_ff51 / May 17, 2010 11:22 PM PDT
In reply to: another option

Thanks, that makes sense with the dB gain/loss criteria.. don't know why I hadn't considered that before. I had seen those type antennae before and people are swearing by them, but I wasn't sure... for the cost. Thanks for the option though, looks good.

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by Willy / May 18, 2010 11:16 PM PDT

There are 3-ways to improve your situation:

1) move closer to signal
2) more antenna
3) ordinate your laptop

If you can buy a movable(flexible) antenna, get it. that way you can try the 3-things above. I have looked into this as college students have already done similar things. The basic fix is a bastardized antenna dish using some mesh. Usually, the mesh is a kitchen straining sleeve with a hole to route the antenna into it. Google for examples using "Koegi(sp) effect" or wifi antennas. If you look out your area, find squarish antennae, these are probably wifi ones. Get one if you must for true best reception, sell it when you leave.

good luck -----Willy ex-USMC

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(NT) Yagi, not Koegi
by Willy / May 19, 2010 12:11 AM PDT
In reply to: Checkout...
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