What is a good wifi extender solution for Windows laptops in Europe?
My college-age daughter is traveling in the summer to visit old-school relatives in Europe who are still on dialup, but they live next door to my sister in law who owns the apartment next door with basic WiFi but it has a very weak signal at the grandparents location.
My inlaws (her grandparents) are fine with dialup access, but she (my daughter) will be bored to death if she has no laptop wifi access without visiting my sister-in-law in law next door (which is effort, especially since she is working while the grandparents are pensioners).
My daughter's phone is T-Mobile, which has 2G wifi access in Europe, which is dog slow, and which is not complete and it's not a laptop besides.
So, I'm trying to work out a good solution for the Windows laptop. Maybe a router for the apartment? Maybe a wifi extender for the computer?
Is there something I can plug into her laptop which will give her much better access to the weak signal from my brother's router in the next apartment over?
Or, is there something I can leave with the grandparents, like a router which will pick up and amplify and repeat the signal from next door?
The SSID and password aren't the problem. The problem is getting a better signal strength. The distance is about 20 meters through thick concrete walls.
I won't be there to set it up, but I'm looking for a good device to have my daughter pack on the trip to Europe to extend the wifi range of the laptop any way we can.Traveling in Europe (need good WiFi extension for Windows)
Just google for wifi repeater or wifi range extender and take your pick.
BTW, when using T-Mobile overseas it is possible to buy a short-term data package which gets you a quantity of high-speed data over and above their normal slow roaming data. I used this when I was in Ireland last spring and it worked out very nicely and the coverage was superb over most of the country. I don't know if this could be used to tether a phone to a laptop but it seems likely that it might work.
There are regional differences. USA is Channel 1-11, with 1,6,11 giving nice non-overlapping coverage. Europe allows usage of Channel 12 and 13. A visitor from USA to Europe, if the European router is set to Channel 12 or Channel 13, then a USA Wifi adapter may not be able to connect (immediately). So don't let a failed result cause you to conclude it cannot work.
A user here has a solution. While there is the notion of a Region setting, according to a person here, an amendment allows the Wifi system to use country information to select channel range. And remain compliant with the RF emitter rules of the country you are in.
What I found weird, is I could find lots of instances of "1-6-11" information, for the rational North American choices, but I couldn't find examples of how the Europeans choose their default channels when they have two more channels total available.
The grandparents could experiment with a laptop or mobile device, in the apartment in question. If the sister-in-law has a Wifi router, then the sister-in-law has some Wifi device she uses. Take that device and use it for a site survey, in the apartment in question. If a "normal" device works fine (i.e. the device is already primed and set up to work with the router anyway), then there is no reason to panic and look for ways to augment the USA laptop (except for the details of region setting or enabling 802.11d).
If no signal is available through the concrete wall, since it's an apartment, you would be looking at balconies as a way to pick up a signal.
The higher the frequency, the poorer the penetration capability. For example, at 5GHz, you definitely won't go through multiple concrete walls. At 900Mhz (a frequency used by the fire department for radio equipment), they stand a better chance of going through concrete (but not, say, a web of steel beams). In the office building I used to work in, absolutely no signals used to go through the windows with the aluminum frames, and the steel framework of the building. Only the multitude of 100MHz base clocks for computers could be detected (in other words, the RF leakage from computers inside the building, presented a powerful carrier at 100MHz of the FM band).
If you want a wacky solution, if you're in an apartment building, the Wifi may still work if there is an adjacent building across the street, and you can "bounce" the signal off that building. After all, if multipath can affect Wifi negatively, it could also work positively to connect two devices.
You can use powerline adapters, but it depends on how electrical distribution is done in the buildings, as to whether the signals imposed on the power wires, will "reach" the other apartment. For example, in North America, when this first came out, some people were screwing around with bridging the two phases on 230V AC with a small capacitor, so that a powerline adapter on one phase in the house, could communicate with a second powerline adapter elsewhere in the house. (The capacitor is selected so as to not conduct significantly at 60Hz.) Apparently, European power distribution is done differently than here, and it changes the best practices for using these.
Ham radio operators hate those things, and really, given their crude design, I don't blame them. That's why I picked an article which discusses the issue.
There will always be at least one person in the crowd to recommend one of these.
Unlicensed operation of Wifi devices, works in terms of this measure.
When you slap a parabolic antenna on the Wifi device, it squirts the power out into a "beam". The power is more concentrated in the center of the beam. The Wifi regulations use the power in the center of the beam, to set the limit. The Wifi normally comes with a low gain (omnidirectional) antenna, so it doesn't beam very much. The transmitter can use more power at its level, because the antenna has no large gain to speak of.
When you use the parabolic antenna, now the signal is a hundred times stronger in the center of the beam. Without too much effort, you can exceed the unlicensed limits. Now, end users never worry about this, and in the real world, it takes a "complaint" to a radio regulating body, to have someone kick down your door. No radio amateur would expect to pass a signal at the same frequency as Wifi, so the only person who might care about your excessive power, would be another Wifi user who cannot use their gear. So for the most part, "you're safe".
If the router had a dish like that, and the laptop had one, you might get some signal through the wall. But a better prospect, would be pointing both antennas at the building across the street, and using it as a reflector.
The higher the gain of an antenna like that, the narrower the beamwidth. I built my own antenna for OTA digital TV reception, and it had a beamwidth of 15 degrees or so. And it was a bit hard to "aim" at the TV transmitter and get the signal level maximized. If you use two antennas, and try to aim them at one another, it can be tricky to complete the alignment process. You really want a signal strength meter that works in real time, and gives good feedback as you wave the things around.
Personally, for a person traveling, I would only consider a tech solution that fits in the laptop bag, as a candidate. And I don't really see any solution that is *guaranteed* to work when you get there. If the people living there can do the site survey and setup of a technology solution, then that would work for a traveler. But expecting to bring half of Radio Shack in your suitcase, and try and cobble a solution together when you get there, you know that's not going to work.
You could look at what it would cost to set up a wired service in the apartment in question. Like, could a broadband modem be rented and service set up with a local provider for two months ? If so, that may be a more practical solution than playing "radio engineer".
If it's truly next door, I'd be tempted to take along an Ethernet cable and an access point, after checking with the S-I-L to make sure there's an Ethernet port available in her apartment.
Connect one end of the Ethernet cable to your S-I-L's network, then run the cable out the patio door or window, across to the next apartment, and inside. There, connect the Ethernet cable to the access point and you're done. Pay attention to the type of power plug on the access point, as well as the power itself, if bringing networking hardware from another country.
It won't win any beauty prizes, but it's temporary and it avoids trying to cram a usable signal through all that concrete.
Char Jackson wrote in email@example.com:
I'm sure there are ports on the router, and, since they don't seem very high tech, I'll assume (for now) that there is an open Ethernet port.
Funny that you mentioned it, but there *is* a balcony connecting the two flats (how did you know?) so, the cable would work, albeit, it's probably the worst case from an aesthetics standpoint.
But, the idea has merit that, maybe, I shouldn't try to boost my daughter's laptop signal so much as boost the signal coming out of my sister in law's home broadband router.
Maybe there is a device I can plug into the port of the home broadband router that will directionally boost the signal to the other apartment?
I happen to have a spare Ubiquiti Bullet M2 which maybe I can use with a decently small antenna so as to be somewhat unobtrusive connected to the home broadband router. I can leave it with them, if it works.
Paul wrote in mj3dko$kfr$ firstname.lastname@example.org:
This is a great point that the European bands might be different, which has to be considered.
I have set up, in the past, a router for WISP, and they always ask the first time what country you are in. I called up Ubiquiti once and asked why, and they said that is so that the laws are never broken.
That is, you can *set* the power to anything you like, but, it won't
*transmit* power any higher than the laws in that country allow.
So, the trick, of course, if figuring out whether the laws allow for higher or lower transmit power in Europe than in the USA.
Googling, this web site says the maximum power in the USA is 1Watt (30 decibels) while in Europe, it's a puny 250mW (24 decibels).
Given that the USA allows four times the power that Europe allows, it's probably best to set up a radio for the USA, but, we'll lose the two channels you're speaking of as a trade off against that power gain.
On Thu, 14 May 2015 20:13:15 -0400 "Paul" wrote in article
Hams for years have been subverting Linksys routers to form ad-hoc mesh networks. The 2.4 GHz band where (some) WiFi happens is shared with the hams. They've built high-gain antennas and amplifiers to hook to the Linksys open source routers. All legal.
Having balconies opens a world of possibilities. Now you're no longer dealing with an impenetrable concrete wall.
A person could sit on one of the balconies and attempt to receive Wifi from the other apartment.
You could use a 15 foot USB cable and a Wifi dongle, to extend reception from the balcony area, to inside the apartment. In my old apartment though, there would be no way to get the cable through the balcony sliding glass door.
In Europe, they have one other way of extending a network from one place to another. FSO or Free Space Optical :-)
This isn't all that practical, but it's another way to get networking extended from one apartment building to another. Requires a line-of-sight setup.
IRDA is an older optical method, of connecting a peripheral like a printer, to a computer. With the FSO projects, this idea is extended to 1KM distance.
I haven't read what country where the two apartments are next to each other but if they are both being serviced from the same electrical transformer here is one more option for you to consider.
Try a Google search for "ethernet over power line UK" minus the quotes and change the UK to what ever country the apartments are located in.
Provided both apartments are being serviced by the same power company transformer there is a good chance one of these pairs of devices will work for you and no need for wireless at all between the two places.
You need to make sure the power plugs on the devices match what is in the two apartments as not all European electrical wall plugs are the same from country to country and sometimes even with in a country.
"Very weak" suggests it is just about detectable (presumably using the laptop's built-in aerial), so we're not on a total loss trying to use it. 
 Or, less bulky just a Yagi
(seem to be about $10), or even less a minidish
Note that any of these that terminate in just a screw-plug are just aerials, and you'll need something to connect them to; the wifi built into most laptops doesn't have an external aerial socket. You'll need a wifi dongle that has such a socket. The cheapest "From USA" one I could find is
(you'd discard the aerial that comes with it). Or, some of the little dishes actually include the wifi adapter
I found the little Hawking one quite satisfactory (with an old [Windows 9x!] laptop that didn't have its own wifi).
Note you'd need to figure out how to turn off the laptop's internal wifi (at least I think you would).
Any of these would remain useful to the laptop owner.
Having such a gain-improving device just at the laptop end will still help; also, putting one at both ends (even assuming SIL's router _has_ an external aerial socket - many, I'd say most, don't) would make the signal in the rest of that household weaker, which wouldn't be wanted.
You'd need to know how to move around to find the best signal. Unfortunately I haven't found anything _graphical_ to run under Windows that comes anywhere near what's available for Android 'phones (that might be useful in finding the best spot, using the 'phone); I've only found tabular things (that show you a table of what networks it can see, with their strengths and channels). (Often provided as part of the driver for the dongle/dish.) There's also a lag: you have to move the aerial, then wait a few seconds for the software to refresh. But for the application you're considering, this'd only need to be done once to find the best spot and orientation.
I'd say, if a weak signal _is_ detectable, then some sort of gain aerial
- probably one of the little dishes-with-dongle, since that avoids needing to buy two things
- will work. Ethernet cable via the balcony will be the best solution in terms of performance, but both the grandparents and SIL may not be too keen on the idea, and it wouldn't be that useful afterwards.
That much channel spacing is needed, according to this article. I wish they'd shown the skirt overlap with the final channel choices. If they'd jammed four assignments in there, the thruput would drop in the city (competition).