Repurposed Satellite Dish Antenna Captures Wi-Fi and Cell Phone Signals


Introduction: Repurposed Satellite Dish Antenna Captures Wi-Fi and Cell Phone Signals

About: After a career in industrial electronics I went back to college and now do DNA research.

When I moved from San Antonio back to rural North Carolina, I found myself completely unable to get a wi-fi or cell phone signal where I lived. The only way for me to get a cell signal at all was to drive over a mile in either direction from where I liveed. I first thought my problem was my cell carrier. I decided to change carriers so I had several friends check out their signal strength while they were visiting me so I could better decide which carrier to go with. Of the three other major carriers we checked, not one could get a signal at my house. It was apparent that my problem was my location. I was at the bottom of a shallow valley. It was uphill in nearly any direction from there.

I had to find a solution. I checked into an external antenna for my cell phone but found they cost nearly $50.00 and there was some question about whether they actually work. I knew there had to be a better way. While working in my yard one afternoon I noticed an old satellite TV dish on top of a pole in my backyard. It had been left there by the previous residents. Suddenly a light bulb came on. I grabbed some wrenches, took down the dish and held my cell phone next to the antenna's horn and pointed the dish in various directions. I was amazed to find that I got full signal in one direction. I could not believe my eyes. I went from no signal to full signal and had not spent a dime or changed anything on my cell phone. Just to make sure I made a call using speaker phone and found that this thing truly did work.

The next test came when I took the assembly inside the house to try it. With aluminum siding on the house I have problems even getting a television signal using a rabbit ear antenna. To my surprise, I got two to three bars inside so long as I pointed the dish at a double window in my living room. I no longer missed calls and I didn't have to leave home to talk on my cell phone. Using a blue tooth headset really worked well. It isn't an ideal setup but it worked and it didn't cost me anything. It was also a great way to recycle that old satellite antenna that would have ended up in the trash otherwise.

I had a friend give me another old dish that I used for wi-fi. I mounted it on the pole the other dish came off of. After some tweaking I found several really strong wi-fi signals that I could not get without the dish thanks to some really great neighbors with unsecured networks. ; )



Step 1: Pointing the Dish Antenna at a Signal Source

You would think it would be simple to align a dish antenna with a signal source, but it isn't. Even trying to explain this without a lot of complicated math formulas is a bit difficult. The problem is that satellite dish antennas, like the one I use, are of the offset design. This means the dish doesn't "look" where it would seem to. In the graphic there is one line that shows the apparent view of the dish. That one comes right off the front of the dish. That is not where the dish is "looking" so don't try to use that to align the dish. If you do you won't get any signal. The other line shows the "actual view" of the dish. Notice this line is a bit offset from the center. This is the line you must point towards the signal source (wifi router or cell phone tower). Keep in mind that dish antennas are very directional. Even moving the dish an inch or two in either direction can make you go from no signal at all to five bars. Also, the further away the signal source is the more difficult the alignment will be. It is a lot easier to find your neighbor's wifi signal than it is to find a cell tower 3 miles away. You will need to play with the antenna alignment to find the signal and fine tune it for maximum signal. Patience is a must.

Step 2: Fine Tuning the Dish Antenna

After my initial eureka moment, I started tweeking the antenna / cell phone assembly a little. First I held the cell phone in front of the dish's horn and turned around in the yard to see which direction I got the strongest signal from. When I found that sweet spot I held the cell phone against the horn while moving it up and down, left and right in front of the horn to see which position provided the strongest signal. For my phone I got the best signal with the bottom edge of the cell phone near the bottom of the horn. I also found that the signal was even stronger if I tilted the phone a little to the side.

Step 3: Finishing Up

With that information I went in the house and made a small foam core holder for the cell phone and used duct tape to attach it to the dish's horn. I kept the front of the holder pretty short so I could still access the buttons to dial a number. I sat the whole assembly on top of an old radio cabinet and pointed the dish at the double windows in my living room. Now I never miss a phone call.

Step 4: Taking It Further

If for some reason (like you live in the mountains) and you need to mount the antenna booster outside to get a signal, it would be a simple matter to weather proof the cell phone with a plastic sandwich container. You could still use a bluetooth headset to receive your calls.

Also, I found that this setup works even better with Wi-Fi. Just use one of those little USB WiFi antennas with a USB extension cord. Place the USB antenna in front of the horn like I did with the cell phone, tweek the position, and then mount it using duct tape and some plastic to weatherproof it. Again I went from no signal to a usable signal.

Hopefully someone else can benefit from this instructable as I have. Best of luck with all of your projects.




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    1 Questions

    sir what if we don't use wifi antenna just place smartphone on the pointer is the signals come still


    i have a different type of dish one of the ones from hacking software aka the parablic type htat has like a 35 mi range for hacking wifi

    id like to use this to boost m wifi from my cell phone
    (ok i live in the middle of NO WHERE no ppl houses or towns for miles in all directions i only have 4g cell phone internet but i get SHIT signal out here .3 down .1 up and i get dc every 2 min .. annoying after the first hr or so id love to know a good way to plug a cell phone into this or a normal dish attenna and then be able to get my signal up i already pa for everything just not being allowed to use it ;/

    conttact me directly at etnaaflonne123@gmail woulda pls could use your help or anybody with dish knowledge (by the way im super poor i cant buy new things i basically only get this cuz its paid for for me so dont ask me to buy new stuff)

    Next -- use an lna and cable. It won't look nearly as stupid and you'll be able to use the phone without a damn dish taped to it.

    Would this dish antenna work if I have a signal booster to capture the signal from dish antenna. I have a signal booster installed but I think it does not get enough signal from outside antenna so it doesn't have anything to boost. I wonder if dish antenna can capture enough signal to work with booster.

    1 reply

    It would be fun to experiment with a dish like above and a passive booster like this:

    Home Cellular solutions are really cost effective now, how ever it does make sense to have a tech come out there and pop an amp in real quick as oppose to fighting to through an amp in your self. I just launched a business around it. They work great.

    1 reply

    I would love to speak with you regarding the business aspect

    This concept is very effective when I first encountered this article it kinda seemed like it could be total BS!! But it absolutely works!!!! There is one thing I think he forgot to mention and that is this works best with the old school mini dishes that are perfectly round not the new HD models that are oval shaped. I also took this concept a step further instead of using a usb net adapter I used a wireless range extender and mounted it to the collector. By doing so you create a wireless AP that you can connect multiple devices to simultaneously. But in order to do this you have to manually configure the range extender since I'm assuming you will not have direct access to the intended network which requires a little bit of know how but nothing too technical. You will need the SSID, subnet mask, gateway, and the channel. After that it is just a matter of taking the time to fine tune your alignment for the best transfer rate. if you have knowledge of the exact placement of the router you intend to bridge that will allow you to get about 90% of your potential signal.

    Hi, great instructable, thanks for posting.

    I was wondering if you or anyone else in the forum knows if it's possible to somehow wire the antenna? I other words, I'd like to setup the dish on top of a tree or a pole and have a wire coming down to my house that would transmit the signal.

    I realize that cellphones require both sending and receiving of signals, so this might be too much for a simple DIY setup.

    1 reply

    You can cut the antenna coil out of the phone and solder it to a headphone wire, doing the same for the antenna wires inside the phone. Then, put the antenna coil up on the dish, and then you can plug it into your phone when a signal is needed.

    I have a way to make this a little more convenient. Open the phone casing, and remove the antenna coil. Cut the two wires attached to the circuit board. Find an aux cable (like a headphone jack, with the plug on both ends), cut one end off, and solder the wires into the phone's circuit board where you cut out the antenna. Now, get the input part of a headphone jack, and solder your antenna to it. Realign the antenna so you get a signal in the dish, and glue it down. Now, you can plug in your phone whenever you need a signal, without carrying the dish or needing a Bluetooth headset.

    your photo got a giggle from me. I appreciate the rapid prototyping. nice linedrawing, too. a pic is worth 1200 words.

    No you don't have to stick your head in the dish to talk on the phone. Ever heard of a speaker phone or Bluetooth.

    Sorry to reopen a question on an older thread but I had some questions. I live in the country, there is an old satellite in the yard on the farm we purchased. For the wifi side of things you would just plug in the coax cable to the router correct? It has a LNF on it right now. Would i need to take that off? Then I could point it and see if there are any unsecured networks near me?

    The cell phone side I would just stand near it and move it around until I got something. There is a signal less than a half mile away, the problem Is I am surrounded by trees as I am in a national Forest. Do you think the old dish TV satellite could maybe pick up something without any modifications?

    Thanks for this great idea. I live on Vancouver Island in BC Canada, so trying to improve cell service has become an ongoing project of mine and my son in law. I tried your idea but using a Wilson cellular booster and low and behold we went from one bar to full service. We will be going one step further with this and will be heading into the mountains to see if we can get the same results Will let you know how it works if at all.

    1 reply

    Hi alfwc! I need to do the same using a Wilson cellular booster but with the dish mounted on the roof, and am confused on how to do this. Is your Wilson booster mounted inside the home with a cable that runs up to a usb cell modem that is mounted on the dish? Any help would be appreciated.

    try making a heliostat for it, same concept concentration. Look it up on wiki or in a good physics book.