Got a wireless LAN? Finding the range from point to point a bit limited? Wondering how to extend the reach outdoors! Here’s the answer. Pringle tins. Yep that’s right those tubs of crisps that you can eat in just ten minutes after opening. Pringles is the answer. Read on to find out more..

First off let’s set the scene. Couple of student flats in Aberdeen City Center. Distanced about 500m from each other. For something to do, we tried to establish a direct link between the two local flat LAN’s. First idea was Wireless LAN adapters. So after many months of searching, a pair of PCMCIA wireless LAN cards were sourced from the most reliable source ont eh net. eBay! Not having any previous experience with Wireless LAN’s, this was going to be a challenge. Getting a wireless LAN connection to span over 500 meters past many buildings made of Granite (Well Aberdeen is known as the Granite City).

Initial tests weren’t so good. Once the devices were successfully installed a connection was attempted. even resorting to hanging bit’s of PC’s out of windows to try and get the best line of sight (wasn’t quite line of sight there was a bend on the road) no connection could be established. Not surprising given the distance trying to be achieved. 500meters when Wireless LAN connections were only rated up to about 100 meters. Oh well.

For a while the project went on hold. At the time a laptop would have been handy to walk down the street and figure out just what sort of range we were dealing with would have been handy bit for two reasons

  1) Walking down a central street of a City Centre with an open Laptop in your arms probably isn’t the most sensible thing to do.
2) Didn’t know anyone with a laptop…

So without having much necessary equipment to experiment, not knowing much about what was inside the wireless LAN cards and not having any clue as to how to even attempt to boost the signal, it was decided that a Wireless LAN connection wasn’t going to happen.

At the time ADSL Broadband was just arriving and instead of using a wireless connection to connect the student flats together a Virtual Private Network (VPN) was set-up instead. Great! everything worked, we had the two flats working as one Network interconnected via the ADSL Broadband lines provided by BT and eclipse Internet. But even with that, the VPN meant extra data being transferred for the VPN which took away from overall download speeds. And really, at the end of the day a 2Mbit Wireless connection would have been quicker and would even open up the possibility of bonding the two DSL lines together ont eh same network (now that’s just getting silly).

As the months passed and many University projects finished in eh early hours of the morning with help of cans of red-bull. A website was found randomly which searching for extending the reach of Wireless LAN adapters. Previous searches had come up with solutions of laser transmissions and all sorts of other wonderful gizmos which required lots of cash. Until one day out of the blue a solution was found. A guide on how to dramatically extend the reach of a ZoomAir PCMCIA Wireless LAN card using empty pringle tins as antennas. Sounding so stupid it had to work!

So before doing anything else, I picked up one of the ZoomAir PCMCIA Wireless adapters off the shelf and ripped off the plastic outer sleeve and discovered the basic electronics that made up the antenna. Realising just how easy and cheap this could be we set about getting parts for two antennas:

Parts List:

  • All-thread, 5 5/8″ long, 1/8″ OD
  • two nylon lock nuts
  • five 1″ washers, 1/8″ ID
  • 6″ aluminium tubing, 1/4″ ID
  • A connector to match your radio pigtail (we used a female N connector)
  • 1 1/2″ piece of 12 gauge solid copper wire (we used ground wire from house electrical wiring)
  • A tall Pringles can (any flavour, Ridges are optional.)
  • Scrap plastic disc, 3″ across (like another Pringles can lid)

So with a spare afternoon, and all the parts required we set of following the instructions on the website on how to make our very own wireless LAN antennas using home made pringle tins.

Few hours later and we were ready to go. Realising that this probably wouldn’t work at all let along first time were plugged the newly modified adapters into the back of a couple of spare PC’s and hung the pringle tins out the windows vaguely pointing the right direction with a ping request being sent out. To out completely amazement! A connection could be established!! Admittedly it wasn’t too reliable with many packets lost, but if held in the right position/angle long enough a connection was definitely made. Not believing it we were stunned and thought that it must have been a stray wireless connection that was interfering. But in fact it was a direct connection, between the two locations, approximately 500meters away without direct line of sight surrounded by Granite buildings. Very impressive accomplishment. After finding a suitable resting position on the window sills that allowed a reliable connection to be established we once and for all discovered that the connection was true. With speeds of a measly 1 Mbit/second file transfer could be accomplished wirelessly. Absolutely stunning achievement from everyone involved! We suitably christened the new connection PringleNET.

Sadly the live of PringleNET was short lived. After a week and having everything set-up nicely and making plans to make the antennas more permanent and waterproof I accidentally knocked the connector off the antenna located at my end. Unfortunately that was the end. Despite getting another empty pringle tin and rebuilding the antenna the connection could not be established again. Very very sad. Was it a fluke that the fist pair of antenna’s worked? Possibly. internal alignment has to be fairly accurate. But sadly with the Virtual Private Network connection of the ADSL Broadband connections working suitable and the end of the University year coming to an end, the pringleNET equipment was packaged up and kept in the history books.

But despite the sad ending the PringleNET project as a whole was a success. A stable Wireless LAN connection was established using home made antenna’s on the cheap and hacking a pair of PCMCIA Wireless LAN adapters. Out of all the projects i’ve ever been involved with this was by far the most enjoyable to work on.. Anyone can put a website together but to have a problem where there seemed like no possible solution then to build a solution from small parts and see it working, you cant get a better success story than that!…

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