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USB Dongle as Dish Feed

Possibly the simplest antenna design is the use of a parabola to direct the output of a USB wireless device (known in networking circles as a USB dongle). By placing the internal dipole antenna present in USB wireless dongles at the apex of a parabolic dish, you can provide significant gain without the need to solder or even open the wireless device itself. Many kinds of parabolic dishes will work, including satellite dishes, television antennas, and even metal cookware (such as a wok, round lid, or strainer). As a bonus, inexpensive and lossless USB cable is then used to feed the antenna, eliminating the need for expensive coaxial cable or heliax.

To build a USB dongle parabolic, you will need to find the orientation and location of the dipole inside the dongle. Most devices orient the dipole to be parallel with the short edge of the dongle, but some will mount the dipole perpendicular to the short edge. You can either open the dongle and look for yourself, or simply try the dongle in both positions to see which provides more gain.

To test the antenna, point it at an access point several meters away, and connect the USB dongle to a laptop. Using the laptop's client driver or a tool such as Netstumbler (see chapter six), observe the received signal strength of the access point. Now, slowly move the dongle in relation to the parabolic while watching the signal strength meter. You should see a significant improvement in gain (20 dB or more) when you find the proper position. The dipole itself is typically placed 3 to 5 centimeters from the back of the dish, but this will vary depending on the shape of the parabola. Try various positions while watching your signal strength meter until you find the optimum location.

Once the best location is found, securely fix the dongle in place. You will need to waterproof the dongle and cable if the antenna is used outdoors. Use a silicone compound or a piece of PVC tubing to seal the electronics against the weather. Many USB-fed parabolic designs and ideas are documented online at www.usbwifi.orcon.net.nz.

Last Update: 2007-01-24