How To Get WIFI Signal From 1/4 Mile Away [or more] for less than $60

Picture of How To Get WIFI Signal From 1/4 Mile Away [or more] for less than $60
Yea I know, you don't believe me. 1/4 mile? Shenanigans.

Still reading? Great.
The whole thing started when I dropped my friend off for Horse lessons and didn't want to drive all the way home only to drive back to pick her up in an hour and a half. So what did I do? Drove to the closest neighborhood and got on an open WIFI network.

[NOTE: Connecting to someone’s WIFI without their permission is illegal in some areas!!!]
The network I connected to was a local realtor’s OPEN HOUSE FREE PUBLIC WIFI network…so I didn’t break any laws.

The problem was, the signal was very weak and I had to hold the computer at odd angles just to do a simple google search.

So after about twenty minutes of searching and finding things like “wokfi” and “parabolic asian cookware” I had the basic idea of what I needed to do; Concentrate the signal onto the antenna using a parabola. After a bit more searching I found out how to build a parabola out of a cd and a glass pot top, but I figured that it would be too weak for the distances that I am looking for [I would like to be able to connect right from the parking lot at the stables] Then there was the world record holder who had built a reflector out of a 10 foot diameter dish but that was WAY too big. So I compromised and picked up a rooftop satellite dish from a guy on Craigslist.org.

Long story short I built the thing and drove out to the stables, turned the rig on, started netstumbler, and started looking it took a little bit but I got the right angle to lock onto a signal and SHAZAM! I was connected!

So I knew that I had working signal, not just a fizzled connection from the router. The noise was at -100 and the signal was hovering around -75 or so. Not the fastest connection but based on the fact that I was ¼ of a mile away from the router I would say I was doing pretty darn good!

Ok enough with the stories, how do you build the darn thing!

You need:
A satellite dish [and the four screws holding it to the roof [YMMV]
A pair of scrap 2x4’s
A tin can [green bean sized]
A usb extention cord 
A usb wireless adapter [in this build I am using the cheapest adapter I could find [$30 at target]
Two wood screws long enough to screw your two 2x4’s together
Some hot glue
An unwanted cd [I picked up a free netzero disk at Wally’s]
A glass pot lid shaped like a parabola
Some spray paint to make it look pretty
And some carpet of you are going to be mounting it to the roof of your car so It won’t scratch it.

The total cost for the build was only the $30 for the usb adapter, I had everything else on hand.

If you bought everything new it would cost around $60 [Not counting the dish]
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Form The Rear Reflector

Picture of Form The Rear Reflector
Step 1:

Take your parabolic lid, remove the handle, it should just be a screw.
Take your CD, place it mirror side up in the glass lid.
Place the CD in the oven THEN set the oven to 300 degrees [faren if anybody is wondering]
[WARNING: If you put the cd in a preheated oven the cd will crack and the foil will wrinkle! This is bad for signal reflection! Start with a cold oven.]

Leave the CD in there for about an hour to an hour and a half [I just put it in there while I was building the rest of the rig]

After it is done forming take it out of the oven and IMMEDIATELY depress the center of the disk with something heat resistant like a spoon to form the CD to the parabola.

Let cool.

Step 2: Form The Rear Reflector Mount

Picture of Form The Rear Reflector Mount

Step 2:
Take your tin can and measure halfway and draw a vertical line around the can.

Cut the can in half leaving the entire bottom intact, you need it that way.

Now cut a hole in the back of the can in the center at the top of the ribs. Make sure the hole is large enough to fit the female end of the extension cord.

Drill a hole in the bottom of the can so that you can attach it to the satellite dish. [don’t mind the second hole that was v1.0 of the build.]

Attach the can to the dish open side facing in.

If your CD is cool then bend the can open and hot glue the parabolic CD to the can with the hole of the disk and the hole in the back of the can line up.

Step 3: Build The Support Rig

Step 3:
Attach the two scrap boards to form a “T” and sand them down to prevent splinters. The length of your boards is dependant on your dish, make sure that it is as long as the widest part on the dish on every side to prevent tipping.

Now line up the dish on the board a little farther back than the intersection at the T [looking back it would be more stable if you mounted it about halfway] and mark the four holes where the screws go. Pre-drill the holes. [You may skip this step if your screws are small but mine are ¼” thick.]

Mount the dish to the rig and check for stability, adjust as needed.

OPTIONAL: Apply a coat of paint over the wood and the back of the parabola CD. Do not spray the front as it will interfere with the signal concentration.

OPTIONAL: If you plan on mounting it to the roof of your vehicle, cut out a strip of carpet the size of all the points where the stand touches the ground and staple it to the bottom of the rig.


Step 4: Bring Everything Together

Picture of Bring Everything Together

Step 4:
Attach the USB adapter in the hole in the CD and run the wire down the arm of the dish.

Plug everything in and turn on the WIFI adapter.
I use a program called Network Stumbler to find the best angle for the dish, it has a refresh rate of one second so I can watch the signal strength in near real time. [You cannot connect with Network Stumbler, only see data on the signal. Once the correct angles have been found, close the program and connect with your default configuration program.]

Another program I like is inSSIDer, it can show you a graph of the signals coming in and how they interfere with each other. It’s neat but it doesn’t refresh as fast as Network Stumbler.

Like My Instructable? Visit my blog!


I would like to thank these wonderful businesses for donating to make Project Upcycle possible!

Ranco Roofing and Insulation
Lubbock Texas
Call Kirk A Cooper
Fax: 806-793-0673
Phone: 806-786-4867

Jackson Brothers Meat Locker
Post Texas
David Hernandez & Jose Hernandez
806-495-2898 & 806-495-2631
Eantonio85064 months ago
One question what is that cable you insert at the end of the dish

USB extension cable

My music studio only has windows into a small square court yard in the cennter of a building with corridors and outer offices....many walls. And even attaching it outside in the courtyard might raise questions from others in the building.

zikzak14 months ago

WIFI using a dish can surpass what most people think are capable. If you were to use a circular polarized antenna at the feed point, and aim it at a second dish retrofitted in the same manner, you could get line of sight without a minimum of interference from other signals as well as reduce rain fade. Over water, a good 30 miles could be realized... Nice instructable BTW :)

Hey great article, i am gonna try this once it warms up outside. One question, instead of going into a laptop or pc is there some way I can connect to a router so I can make my own network?

Great stuff. Love the DIY and the reuse of the sat dish. Got a question though, isn't there a simple 8 db type of directional antenna one could purchase and simply mount. Noticed some of the RV forums run into this issue and have found some solutions Will be talking to Wilson Electronics ( known for cellphone boosting ) , and Dlink about antenna.

The solution I am thinking off is an antenna mounted at roof line - 50 ohm cable in to house - 50 ohm adaptor to USB converter - wireless adaptor.

Also noticed some mention of Ubiquity modems , these usually work in pairs and are not addressing the issue you have provided.

Will paste what I find unless others post products they found off the shelf.

kelvinwop9 months ago

keep in mind that the IEEE 802.11b maximum LEGAL limit for a 21 dbi gain antenna is 20 mW. so make sure your power is not interfering with aircraft. that may be bad.

gcevaer10 months ago

my sister is moving to the other side of the property. Is line of site going to be a problem??? It's less than a 1/4 mile. More like 100 yards...but a lot of trees? I think you have came up with a great project but not sure if it will work for us or not...

ga. savian1 year ago

The USB adapter are a 3g modem ? What you used ?

Pfarmkid1 year ago
Fleetwood Mac didn't like the oven to much. Put it in a cold oven then set to 300°F. Only was in there for 15 minutes before I checked it. Cool effect though. Reacted to the heat almost like lexan!
13, 9:27 AM.jpg13, 9:27 AM.jpg13, 9:27 AM.jpg
betula1 year ago
Great project! Gonna build one this weekend. Do you know wether the distance of the "feedhorn" / CD reflector in relation to the main dish makes any difference? If the USB wifi adapter/CD is closer to the dish, would you get a better signal? I'm trying to build something like this to use on an island we own. Mainland is aprox 3/4 mile away. Wide open between island and wifi spot on land, just water... Thanks for your instructable!
shortw2 years ago
I like your CD parabolic and how you mounted it on the arm.
However, a satellite dish like this is a offset antenna. If the dish would be mounted at 90 degree (vertical) ....straight up and down, then it would receive a signal from about 26 degrees up the skies. To receive a signal from a horizontal source then the dish has to point about 26 degrees toward ground.
Project Upcycle (author)  shortw2 years ago
That is about how it worked :) the adjustment bolts were loose enough to move the dish around and find the sweet spot using a program called ssid to measure signal over noise.
One more question.
Did you ever try to use a cd reflector shaped like a cone ?
It may trap more signals inside the cone and unto the wifi.
Project Upcycle (author)  shortw2 years ago
You aren't trying to trap the signal, you are trying to concentrate them on the antennae of your card, hence the parabolic shape.
Thank you for your response.
Where did you find the program ssid and how much money was it.
In the near future I like to build something like you did.

Project Upcycle (author)  shortw2 years ago
Google, it was free.
Project Upcycle (author)  shortw2 years ago
That is about how it worked :) the adjustment bolts were loose enough to move the dish around and find the sweet spot using a program called ssid to measure signal over noise.
cdillard2 years ago
So in your experiment the router is sending the signal a 1/4 mile to you, but your laptop could not see it without the dish?
Project Upcycle (author)  cdillard2 years ago
It was more like 1/3 of a mile. But yes.
cdillard2 years ago
The wireless router is sending the signal a mile away?
Project Upcycle (author)  cdillard2 years ago
Probably more, its just waves
Project Upcycle (author) 2 years ago
you would be supprised how far that signal goes, i have picked up connection with a 9 foot dish over a mile away.
cdillard2 years ago
How does this work if the router is not able to send wireless signal that far back to you?
sfry23 years ago
I just followed your formula with a slight variation with OUTSTANDING results. I live in a house in the country and there was no internet. I followed your instructions for building the rig..EXCEPT I took my Verizon USB (760) WAN data card and substituted that for WiFI.

When I started I had ZERO bars.. nothing.. after I build this rig.. I got FOUR BARS.. plugged it into my Cradlepoint mobile broadband router and now I have internet in my whole house. Once I get a broadband connection I will use this as a backup but you guys are lifesavers.. brilliant use of physics to solve problems.

Project Upcycle (author)  sfry23 years ago
AWESOME! I'm glad I could help!
TNThieding4 years ago
I am very excited to try this when I get all the materials. This will be a godlike tool to wifi dead zones in my house. Can't wait to build.

Do you think you could connect the end of the antenna to a wireless bridge instead of a USB port? I think it would work, but I would like to know what you think.
Project Upcycle (author)  TNThieding3 years ago
Yes, I have also used it to concentrate tv and radio signals, if you were to polish the dish you can also use it to heat up cans of soup [physics is fun!]
NeuroPulse4 years ago

I am not clear about the angles of the CD. Where is the focal point of the CD supposed to be? On the USB stick or on the satellite dish?

Would this work without the CD? What is the reason for two dishes?

How do I know if a pot lid is a parabola?

Project Upcycle (author)  NeuroPulse3 years ago
if its curved lid, its a parabola, 99% of lids are.

The focal point of the satellite dish is supposed to be on the CD, it will usually be several inches across. The focal point of the CD is where you want your antenna.

This way you get two passes to catch the packets. The second parabola concentrates the signal to the size of a dime as opposed to a CD sized signal pattern.

You can find the focal point of your cd by aiming it at the light and moving your hand away from it until the light is as small as it can get [every parabola will be different]