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

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

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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.



Etnaaf (author)2017-08-22

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)

adamf663 (author)2017-08-06

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.

S.A.M1 (author)2014-08-22

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.

gardnr (author)S.A.M12016-11-25

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

cell-guy (author)2015-06-18

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.

SnarkJ (author)cell-guy2016-10-02

I would love to speak with you regarding the business aspect

Chatty_Matty520 (author)2016-09-17

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.

Luuke (author)2016-07-08

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.

PlasmaTech225 (author)Luuke2016-08-14

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.

PlasmaTech225 (author)2016-08-14

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.

Toga_Dan (author)2016-07-26

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

spark master (author)2016-01-12

so you stick you head in the dish to use the phone?

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.

Ajamesf89 (author)biochemtronics2016-07-23

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?

champ singh (author)2016-05-08

Col me +917728066240

Sorry. No calls.

champ singh (author)2016-05-08

Col me +917728066240

alfwc (author)2015-11-17

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.

dani6757 (author)alfwc2016-02-16

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.

spark master (author)2016-01-12

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

MareeJ1 (author)2015-07-22

This works for me!

abuansatellite (author)MareeJ12015-12-07

Is this method need a power voltage source for getting a signal?

the dish reflects the rf signals like a mirror onto the focal point. Think of it as a lens, BUT it concentrates rf instead of light. You could make a similar antenna by cutting the right sized pattern on a sheet of plywood and covering it with glue then aluminum dust then polishing it, or aluminum spary paint, or cover it in foil or cut it out of cooper clad circuit board material. The rf would hit the edge and bend in to the focal point, (think prism edges). A gent made a satellite antenna back in late 60's/ early 70's using a sheet of plywood, it was in Popular Electronics.

If you covered the thing in foil you might be able to use it to make solar burner/hot plate

No power needed.

MareeJ1 (author)abuansatellite2015-12-07

No, my "Cassegrain"(satellite dish)does not need a power source. Like the main Post says, I had to use trial & error method to position my mobile phone in the best place to receive signal. My (Samsung S4)phone has a function to 'open' called: "info. about device".I open it, then open "status" then open "network strength". Network strength is measured in dBm/asu. The lower the dBm number, the better the signal strength.( eg. -97dBm is stronger than -102dBm). I held my phone in different places & waited 15 seconds each time to check signal strength.

MareeJ1 (author)MareeJ12015-12-07

Also I aligned the Sat. Dish to the nearest tower used by my Network provider. The Dish boosts the signal by 40 times stronger than the signal I receive from holding the phone in my hand.

GotischN (author)2015-10-10


Thanks for this great instructable...! :-)

I have a friend who struggles with bad wifi/ mobile phone reception and was wondering if there are any ready-made versions of this kind of antenna/ booster that are *worth buying*...?

I know the point of an instructable is kinda to make it yourself... D'oh!

But it'd be cool to know if there are any good ready-made solutions too...

I know there are heaps out there to buy, but I have no idea if they are crap or not!

Thanx :-)


BarryL12 (author)2015-09-23

theressaS (author)2015-08-15

My question is how to hook up from dish to wireless router dsl. My Problem here I can only receive 2mb download and .80 upload. I tried so many companies and they won't change here for new wires yet. and I live so close to the city where the tower is 5 miles away.

mangareds (author)2015-07-03

Wow! thats very useful trick bro. I'm going to use my old satelite dish to catch the wifi signal from my ISP.

cell-guy (author)2015-06-18

Garf (author)2015-06-07

I have been searching for answer to my poor cellphone signal for months. scary thing is I am starting to understand what you all are saying. I just
moved into a metal sided mobile home. I can only get a workable signal in bedroom. No reception in kitchen. cellphone is my only internet connection and email/text.

I understand about placing phone against horn and using ear piece but how would I text and view web? I have two old dishes. One on roof and one on pole in yard I must stay on Verizon tower or there is no reception at all for anyone out here. I am on the ocean out on a point. The direction of tower depends where on
is standing. as coastline here has lots of bays and lagoons. I know the tower is at the same compass direction it's just confusing when I walk the coast It's too hot, buggy & dark at night to go outside and at night certain wildlife roams. Am I understanding. that there is no way to run a hard wire from dish to phone? That would leave me to bring dish inside. It's rather large. And still the texting & web problem. what's the answer. I really don't want to go landline

brian.furches.3 (author)2015-05-03

You never mentioned your carrier. I live in appalacian mountains of east Tn about 25 miles from NC state line in rural area also and here, Verizon(cdma) rules the rural areas while att, tmobile(gsm) is the worst.

PankajP4 (author)2015-02-28

how make any

signal catcher device me

underwhelmed (author)2009-01-19

Hey, FYI, I got an adapter and antenna for my usb computer modem at a PETRO truck stop. Reasonably priced, and if anything didn't fit, unlike EBAY, I could return it. The manufacturer was Wilson, came with a nice long mini-coax cable on the whip type antenna. Bought an adapter specific to my modem, which at the time had been out less than a month.

UmeedA (author)underwhelmed2015-02-02

are you talking about ?

StuNutt (author)underwhelmed2010-04-29

Be careful of using long cables on cellphone (or wifi) antennas.  These radios work at thousands of GHz, and even best quality coax cable gets very lossy at these frequencies.

Use the shortest cable run that you can - certainly not more than several yards, unless you are prepared to spring for something like "Andrews Heliax", which is
E X P E N S I V E !

Otherwise, all that signal that you got by using the dish will just vanish coming down the cable!

underwhelmed (author)StuNutt2010-05-23

Thanks for the words of caution, but I was speaking about an antenna that is purpose built for cellular use by a company that has been building them for use in tractor trailers. The total run of cable is approx. 3 yards, plus the pig tail adapter for the USB modem.

Here is the exact antenna I was referring to-

P.S., it is mounted above the roof line of my house and works great.

Amazing to get such awesome tech at a truck stop. 

StuNutt (author)underwhelmed2010-05-23

Sorry  about the error above - I should have said "thousands of  MHz"

The antenna has great claimed gain for its size (but remember that "dBi" is not "gain over a dipole" - the figures would be lower in dBd)

Even for a short tail, RG58 really is too lossy at 800MHz or 1600MHz, and the 3 yds extension cable advertised would double the loss! (plus the extra loss from 2 more connectors)

Having said that - it's still going to be better than the standard cell antenna, inside the cab!  But a better solution would be an antenna with something like RG8 low-loss cable, and it should plug into an antenna socket on the phone (not "couple" by a few turns of wire around the phone antenna, or through a plate stuck to the phone)

Good luck, and happy phoning!

UmeedA (author)2015-02-02

gadgets in your home that can meddle with system activity on the 2.4ghz
recurrence range. You can purchase an Amplifier who is boosting signal power
such as WILSON AMPLIFIER to help you
find the wellspring of impedance

TrevorW1 (author)2014-12-31

I would like to thank you for this instructable. This is a big issue in many developing countries such as those in Africa, where there is a great need for better cell phone coverage. I will be looking into this post on a regular basis, to see if there any updates or improvements that can be made.

JaideepN (author)2014-11-27

i tried it but it didn't work. I placed my mobile at the focus but no increase in phone signal or the wifi signal of the phone. I wonder what am i doing wrong. Can anyone help me.

biochemtronics (author)JaideepN2014-12-09

JaideepN: It is difficult to tell for sure what is causing your problem But I would guess the problem is likely related to aligning the dish antenna to the signal source. This is a bit complicated for a message so I added another step to the instructable to explain how to do it. Thanks for bring this up.

JaideepN (author)biochemtronics2014-12-16

biochemtronics: The mobile tower is located just 600 feet away. While trying this experiment i also knew about the offset thing of the dish but nothing helped. I performed this experiment just out of curiosity, to see if it really works. I also tried it with different service providers but still no luck. Is there a chance that the dish i am using can't be used for this purpose. I have also attached a picture of the kind of dish i am using.
I also have one more question. I am using a TP Link 5210g access point to connect to distant wifi. Is there any way i can use that with the parabolic dish to get even better signal?
Eagerly waiting for reply.

biochemtronics (author)JaideepN2014-12-17

I am not sure where you are, but in the USA towers do not provide service for all cell phone carriers. If you can see the tower but cannot get a signal then the tower is not providing service for your cell phone carrier. When I was using this antenna I could see a cell tower from my back porch but it did not service my telephone. That is why I used the dish antenna. From looking at your picture there should not be a problem using that dish antenna. As for the TP Link system working with a dish antenna - I doubt if it is going to offer much improvement as the TP Link already gives you a 12 db gain. If that is not enough then nothing I know of is going to help.

SueB4 (author)2014-08-21

If you have a computer and wi-fi, you can plug your cell phone into the computer and get great service. We live 5 miles out of town and the cell tower is partially blocked by a mountain. I've tried all kinds of boosters, but this one is totally free. Give it a try.

Tbus (author)2014-02-03

My instructor from school wrote an article on how to solve mobile antenna problems in the winter that cover some of reception issues mentioned here.

bruc33ef (author)2009-01-19

Great! Wonder if it would work with any household parabolic disk, such as a steel cooking bowl, bottom of a 1-2 qt beer can, etc. I've read you can use a satellite disk to do solar cooking as well.

biochemtronics (author)bruc33ef2009-01-19

I have seen other household items used as dish antennas, but I really doubt their effectiveness. One of the few things I remember from 2 years of algebra is that a true parabola is usually very shallow (like commercial dish antennas) and their point of focus is very small. Any convex surface will work to some degree, but to get a surface to focus all the signals it receives into one small focal point is a very complicated mathematical undertaking not likely to be duplicated in a common kitchen vegetable strainer. I am sure my design would work a lot better if I were to remove the plastic cover from the horn assembly and position my cell phone in the exact focus point of the parabola. Most any convex surface will work as a parabola but I feel it is best and easiest for me to let the engineers of satellite television do the complicated math, design, and construction. I will merely focus my efforts on the re-purposing of their fine work. As for cooking with a dish, if you could mirror its surface I am sure it would work great.

if u do mirror the the dich have get a crud load of safety gear.

About This Instructable




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