Instructables

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.  ; )    

 
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Tbus5 months ago

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.

http://www.ciebookstore.com/solving-mobile-antenna...

bruc33ef5 years ago
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)  bruc33ef5 years ago
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.
Parabolas (or paraboloids) aren't necessarily shallow. The steepness of the curve is related to the distance between the focus and the vertex and can vary over an infinite range.
solar energy is easily harvest to cook and/or be converted with parabolic dishes ....
Various bowl shapes you find around the kitchen probably won't have a parabolic shape, and as a result won't properly focus the radiant energy at a point. A properly designed parabolic antenna might provide 18 dB to 22 dB of gain, while an improvised dish might only achieve 5 dB to 7 dB, but, hey, if that stainless steel mixing bowl or wok only cost you $2 at a garage sale and it boosts your signal enough to achieve your aims, go for it!
swyatt11 year ago
I wouldn't do this but if you got a tv box to descramble the signals couldn't you use this to get free tv?
yes but some unit will send out a location feed. but if u unlock the box then go 4 it.
spylock10 months ago
Cool,my Pops and I have Sprint,and have to go outside to talk,its unreal,it reminds me of Green Acres.
WifiWLanMan11 months ago
I live in a semi populated city (Town of 20,000) do you think if I stuck a wifi card in where you said to put it I would get a lot of signals? (I also live on a hill)
biochemtronics (author)  WifiWLanMan11 months ago
The answer to that question depends on how many neighbors you have within range of the dish. It will also depend on ho many of the networks are not password protected. I have seen more than 30 Wifi networks in one place, but not one of them was unsecured so I could not use any of them.
cool. i was wandering if this would work, as i have basically no phone signal at my home. however im wandering for the next step. if you could make a wire antenna at the focal point of the dish that runs and can be attached to your phones actual antenna, through some sort of connection. there for the dish can be out side and your phone inside. though the wire antenna in the dish would probably have to be wound the the right shape to pick up the appropriate frequency for the phone. but its just a thought :)
biochemtronics (author)  dcarter-davies1 year ago
There is no reason why your idea won't work. However, I would use a commercial external antenna if one is available for your phone. A quick internet search will let you know if one is available. They are not available for some phones. Most cell phones today have internal antennas so you can't connect directly to them. Only a few have external antenna jacks. Just attaching a length of wire to your cell phone's antenna probably won't work, will likely reduce your reception even more and could damage your cell phone's transmitter circuit. Antenna lengths and shapes are extremely critical at the frequencies cell phones use. On top of this you would have to use special coax cable (not the television type) to connect the antenna to your cell phone. If you can get a commercial external antenna then you are set to go. If not then you are going to have to mount the antenna indoors. It works fine in stick built homes even through walls. When I was using this method years ago I lived in a metal mobile home so I could only get a signal through windows. Infact, with an external antenna you may not need the dish. Good luck.
Thank you for your help , im now gonna have to experiment with some bits and bobs and see what i can come up with. :)
lkruger3 years ago
Hey, wonder if you could help me, I am in the middle of now where and saw what you have done with the dish, just want to know do you think it will work with a USB Modem for internet aswell
Replace the LNB with a cantenna (dongle inside), have a look elsewhere on this site, there are many things like that.
Just place an external USB WiFi antenna infront of the horn. Just glue it there or use double sided sticky tape. Point to the source.
onemoroni11 year ago
I have seen these antennas thrown away and wondered how to re purpose them. Now you have given me a great idea.
wiseboy2 years ago
Solar Energy is easily harvest to cook and/or be converted with parabolic dishes ....
To get cellular and wi-fi signals is not an option I tought possible ... I have to see to believe ... be sure I'll make some test soon !
Don't we have to line-up with a tower ?
TNThieding3 years ago
Very good thinking! I now know where to look to get good signals for a vareitiy of reasons!
sk8er14523 years ago
Ok, so I have like the minal signal level for calls in SOME areas of my house, and I would like to increase the signal. Before trying something like an expensive amplifier, I would like to try just an antenna. Is it possible to just connect 2 dual band antennas (one being linear the other omni-directional) and put the linear out side to recieve, and the omni inside to transmitt the signal? This is, as I understand, the same setup as a system with an amplifier, but without the amp.
I forgot to add the frequency that the Pantech PX-500 works on is 1.9Ghz. I have a cell phone that is iDEN service approximately 860Mhz and I do the same with it also using a second antenna. The bowtie for 1.9Ghz is smaller that the bowtie for 860Mhz, one of those physics thingys. I had my regular land line number transported to my cell phone. I use a Doc-N-Talk interconnect to connect to all of the phones in the house via bluetooth to the cell. So when someone calls my home phone number no matter if I am at home or away I am always able to answer, if I want to. Thank God for caller ID!
Yes this can be done. The thing to keep in mind is the outside antenna should have a directional beam or as in this Instructable a modified dish with a high gain like 15db or better. I have a dish modified where the shroud encases a bowtie antenna cut to the frequency I want to receive. I use Pantech PX-500 cellular data card for my internet connection. I live rural area about 6 miles from the nearest tower of my service provider. Without the antenna I show a -124db signal on my computer internet connection is impossible. When I connect the antenna the signal increases to -78db that is about a 45db gain on signal. The coax cable should be 100% foil shielded like LMR400 for the least amount of loss of signal in the coax. The end of the coax is then adapted with various connectors to plug into external antenna jack of the PX-500 which is a SMA connector.
XOIIO4 years ago
Dude! I just bought that same dish for $20! Gonna make a wifi extender with it.
so do you have to stand next to it every time you make a call?
biochemtronics (author)  thatfamousguy4 years ago
With a Bluetooth headeset I don't have to stand next to it. I am the first to admit that this is not the most convient device in the world but in my case it saves me having to drive a mile from my home in order to get a cell signal to make a call. I did not build this because of a weak signal. I built it because I got no signal at all without it.
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.
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!
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-
http://www.wilsonelectronics.com////ViewProductB.php?ID=1

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. 
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!
RusticRick4 years ago
Off Topic Perhaps:  Welcome to the Carolina's and congratulations; it is great to see you have truly assimilated to this neck of the woods.  By this I mean your mastery of Southern Mechanical Engineering; duct tape usage, ROFL

On Topic:  My wife now lives in a rabbitbox or as some refer to them, a tornado magnet (mobile home).  Forget getting a wireless signal in there; but by going outside she receives marginal one.  I will be trying this out, probably this weekend.  Thanks for the tip, and, again, welcome.  Will advise about reception.  RR
P. S.  I forgot to thank you for the reply.  Thanks, Rick
biochemtronics (author)  RusticRick4 years ago
RR - I can tell you that this setup worked great inside a mobile home with a cell phone. The signal in that area was so bad that I could not even get a signal in the yard without the dish. Hopefully this setup will work well for you. Let me know what you come up with. Also, I am a native of NC and glad to be home.  
Kinnishian4 years ago
Isn't there the same problem for the signal back?

I've had success before getting wifi signals far away...but my problem was always trasmitting data on my side back to the routers.

Does this solve that?
Peggy Hand4 years ago
How would I increase my wi fi signal with this.  My laptop would be inside an Motor Home on the fringe of wi fi signal in rv park. I use the steering wheel as a table for my laptop.  There is a window by steering wheel.  How close would the dish need to be to the window?  Thanks
biochemtronics (author)  Peggy Hand4 years ago
The WiFi antenna MUST be at the focus point directly in front of the dish. That is not possible using a laptop with a built in WiFi antenna. Your only option would be to purchase an external USB WiFi  unit and place it in front of the dish. You could then use a USB extension cord to connect the unit to your laptop .
cyrozap5 years ago
How do you talk on it?... Speakerphone? You could also just mod your phone to give it an external port to plug the coax cable from the dish into so you could leave the dish on your roof and not have to carry it around with you.
biochemtronics (author)  cyrozap5 years ago
A direct connection between the dish's coax and my cell phone would not work. The dish's horn is not just an antenna with a coax lead coming out. It contains lots of electronics which include band pass filters and amps for the specific satellite frequencies and the unit also requires an external power supply which is provided by the indoor television converter box. Using a speaker phone does require that I be within a few feet of the dish and phone, but I do not have to carry it around with me. Using a bluetooth headset would allow complete freedom of movement. And besides, after a quick check of several cell phone external antenna manufacturers and distributors, I learned that the external antenna port on my Motorola phone is "unusable" for whatever reason? I know this is not the best or most ideal setup but it requires no modifications to the phone or the dish antenna, it is free, and it works great in places where the only other options start at around $50.00 for an external antenna and go up to several hundred dollars for a repeater system.
It might be worth it to invest in a cheap cellphone signal booster (they run around 100$ with some deals around 60) and mount that in the dish instead.
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