Know-how

Pimp my WLAN: A life hack gets canned

Aurel Stevens
Zurich, on 19.03.2019
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
Got a weak Wi-Fi signal? Here’s an easy fix: cut open a can and put it behind the access point. That’s what a viral video says, at least. I tested this claim in an experiment.

A weak Wi-Fi signal can be annoying: interrupted streaming, long loading times, etc. I recently stumbled upon a video on tagesanzeiger.ch. It starts with a woman looking at her phone and sighing: «Signal strength: Weak» the display reads.

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This moves the woman to act. She cuts open a common soda can, bends it into the right shape and attaches it to her router with some duct-tape. This immediately makes her happy. No wonder: Her Wi-Fi is now 72 (!!!) times quicker than without the can.

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Sounds to good to be true. As a fan of life hacks and upcycling especially, I immediately wanted to test this out for myself. Video journalist Manuel Wenk and I made our way to cellar, filled with long snaking concrete hallways. The perfect place for our experiment. There definitely won’t be any interference down there.

Does this even work?

Aluminium really can deflect and especially reflect weak electromagnetic rays. This was [cleverly demonstrated]https://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/video/?video_id=273967 by the electrosmog-handy Felix Grässli from Basel. Ignoring any tinfoil hat jokes: this principle of isolation and reflection is real and does work.

Using this parabolic mirror for the desperate you can achieve measurable successes. The high-frequency electromagnetic wave gets affected by the can. The problem is that you can’t really control the effect. There is no guarantee whatsoever that the rays will react how you’d expect from the can’s shape. This being few waves behind and many in front of the can. Even if it worked as intended, this wouldn’t be a good idea. Because in principle, you want good coverage, not a location-specific effect.

The can will often have the opposite effect, worsening your reception. This was the exact result of our test.

How to actually improve your Wi-Fi

What especially annoys me about Tagi Online’s video: the video gets shoved in my face without any context or further information. No why or how, no tips on how to try out the stunt by yourself, nothing. Just some blaring music.

Let me make up for that: what to do if the can trick doesn’t work? Here’s three actually effective tips.

Tip 1: avoid opposition.

A problem many users have is that their access point uses the same channel as that of their neighbours. This makes the signals overlap and causes them to disrupt each other. Install a network analysing application onto your PC, Mac or smartphone. I used WiFi-Analyzer on Android for my tests. The app is user-friendly and suggests channels that are not or barely used.

Tip 2: a central location.

Think about where you want fast wireless internet access. On your sofa? In the kitchen? In the bedroom? When you know your usage, position the access point in as central a location as possible. Good to know: rays can penetrate wooden doors and windows without much difficulty, concrete walls on the other hand will completely block them.

Tip 3: as far up as possible

I’m mentioning this because I often see friends hiding their routers in a closet or behind a shelf. This isn’t a good idea as it interrupts signal distribution at the source. Choose an elevated position that enables the waves to avoid objects near the ground that can interrupt your signal, such as tables, chairs and sideboards.

If, on the other hand, your Women Acceptance Factor (WAF) is at fault, I can sympathise: I wouldn’t want to install an immense monster such as this one in the middle of my apartment either

Routers
GT-AX11000 Gaming Router WiFi 6
519.95
ASUS GT-AX11000 Gaming Router WiFi 6

AX11000 Tri-band WiFi 6 Gaming Router - The world's first 10 Gigabit Wi-Fi router with quad-core processor, 2.5G Gaming Port, DFS Band, WTFast, Adaptive QoS, AiMesh for Mesh Wifi System and AiProtection Network Security.

There are more simple alternatives that are barely noticeable. Like these:

Back to the can

I wrote above that a noticeable effect definitely could be achieved using tinfoil. The deciding factor here is a shape perfectly suited to the environment. Students at the university of Dartmouth (USA) developed a software that can calculate the appropriate shape.

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This reflector shape affects this exact environment. A weaker signal on the left-hand side and a stronger one in the living area were specified:

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This works, unlike the can. To achieve a minimal 6dB improvement in signal strength, all you have to do is accurately measure your apartment, visualize this in a 3D programme, buy a 3D printer, print out the desired shape and surround it with aluminium. This is too much, even for an upcycling fan like me.

Here’s a last tip to end on: If your Wi-Fi is still too weak after following all my tips, do yourself a favour and buy a new access point. Modern routers have multiple antennas and countless tricks to improve coverage. This avoids stress and time-wasting and isn’t that expensive. It’s a good deal and your best option.

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Aurel Stevens
Aurel Stevens
Chief Editor, Zurich
I'm the master tamer at the flea circus that is the editorial team, a nine-to-five writer and 24/7 dad. Technology, computers and hi-fi make me tick. On top of that, I’m a rain-or-shine cyclist and generally in a good mood.

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