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The Computer Corner

REG COMPUTERS

By Charles Miller

People frequently ask me if they can simply get a higher-powered Wi-Fi router to give them better wireless range. I tell them that there is no such thing as a high-powered Wi-Fi for consumer use but, as with many tech issues, there are exceptions. My answer is “No,” but in fact the technically correct answer could be yes. I will relate the experience of a friend whom I shall call John Doe:

Fifteen years ago John lived in a rural area outside San Miguel de Allende where he was communication-challenged, having no high-speed internet access. John realized all he needed to do was drive into town carrying his laptop computer, and it was easy enough, in those days, to poach off of someone’s open Wi-Fi, though that made him unwelcome in some places. Soon enough he learned he did not even need to drive all the way to town because at a scenic overlook he was able to detect several wireless signals in the town below. The problem he quickly discovered was that while the Wi-Fi signals from the base stations in people’s homes were just strong enough to reach his laptop, the weaker signal from his laptop was not strong enough to talk back. Now John is an extremely smart guy and knows all about the 50 milliwatt power limit on 802.11 consumer Wi-Fi equipment, and he also knew that there existed industrial hardware up to 200mw though never intended for personal computer use. Not a problem for him because he just spent several weeks writing his own software and soldering connections. And never mind that using such high-power radio equipment without a government license, as he intended to do, is probably illegal.

The first time he tried to use his new creation to surf the Internet while sitting at the scenic overlook, the high-powered Wi-Fi hardware sucked his laptop battery dead in minutes. Next he tried connecting his laptop to his car cigarette lighter but that kept blowing fuses. What was needed was a higher capacity voltage inverter connected to the car battery. That seemed to work but caused the laptop to seriously overheat. John’s next innovation was a flexible duct to redirect cold air from one of the car’s air conditioner vents directly onto the laptop. Did I mention the 150 dollar directional antenna on the car roof?

So for a period of time, before broadband Internet service came to his rural home, John was able to drive into town whenever he wanted to access the Internet. He would sit in his car at the scenic overlook, engine and air conditioner running, using his Rube Goldberg creation.

The point of this is that with skill, time, patience, and money it is possible to overcome many obstacles. The larger question, though, is whether or not it is practical to go to such extremes. This is why whenever someone asks me if there is any way to install a high-powered transmitter to increase the range of their Wi-Fi, I know the technically correct answer could be “maybe” but I am going to say “No, not really.”

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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