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Spread Spectrum Modulation Techniques

As an ex military satellite communications engineer I certainly remember working with spread spectrum modulation and also frequency hopping technology in the 1980's. Wireless Local Area Networking technology today exploits a technology which was thitherto mostly hidden inside this shadowy domain of military communications and radar. This technology comprises a collection of ideas which are termed Spread Spectrum Techniques (SST). Spread Spectrum techniques have some powerful properties which make them an excellent candidate for networking applications. To better understand why, we will take a closer look at this fascinating area, and its implications for networking.

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What is a Yagi Antenna?

Ask your average person what a Yagi antenna is and they will probably look at you with a puzzled expression. The fact is however that everybody in the UK has probably seen a Yagi antenna and in all likelihood used one at some point.

The ubiquitous TV antenna.
Example of a Yagi TV aerial.


The Yagi antenna was invented by two Japanese researchers in 1926, namely Hidetsugu Yagi and Shintaro Uda.
It is more correctly called the Yagi-Uda antenna however Mr Uda seems to have slipped off the credits somewhat.
It is an example of a subtype of antenna known as the "beam antenna" but having established that its on almost every roof in the UK, why does it interest us at Rustyice Solutions?

In recent years, telecommunications has gone through a revolution with mobile communications becoming the greatest driving force behind this. Whether you like it or not all mobile communication and by definition all radio communication requires an antenna for reception and transmission of the signal. This antenna has largely become hidden from the view of the consumer with form and function of equipments dictating that an antenna can not be visible from the outside in most equipments but they are still there and play a fundamental part in everything that we do in the mobile communications world. So what does the ugly old rooftop TV antenna have to do with todays sleek 21st century devices you may ask?

'Quite a lot' is the answer. First, lets look at the technicals of the Yagi antenna itself.

Yagi with folded dipole driven element.



The Yagi antenna is usually made up of a single driven (dipole) elelment and a reflector along with a number of parasitic elements whose size and spacing is determined by the frequencies which one wishes to receive or transmit. The size of the dipole is usually half of the wavelength (?) of the centre frequency or, if a folded dipole is used, the total length of the conductor is equal to almost 1 x ?. It is directional along the axis perpendicular to the dipole in the plane of the elements, from the reflector toward the driven (dipole) element and the parasitic elements which are also known as directors. Typical spacings between elements vary from about 1/10 to 1/4 of a wavelength, depending on the specific design and performance requirements. The lengths of the directors are smaller than that of the driven element, which is smaller than that of the reflector(s) according to an elaborate design procedure. These elements are usually parallel in one plane, supported on a single crossbar known as a boom.

Laptop USB Yagi antenna



Many of the higher end wireless networking manufacturers use emulated yagi antennas in their products today however we are sure you will agree that the coolest gizmo to get yourself a wifi signal where everybody else just simply can and will not be able to connect is this example of antenna technology at its finest over there on the left. In all, we believe, a perfect example of how technology might surge ahead at great speed every day but there really is no escape from good old fashioned antenna theory when you want to get yourself connected on the move.

At Rustyice Solutions, we have many shared years of experience in the field of HF, VHF, UHF and even SHF radio communications. If you or your business needs help getting connected on the fringes of reasonable reception via off the shelf products why not give us a call. We are sure we will be able to bring our considerable experience to bear in getting you connected. Of course you could always go for the item below which, it is said can connect to a wifi network at a range of 10 miles but youre as likely to get the jail as get connected so maybe you should just leave it to us.

The (Day of the Jackal) YAGI sniper rifle



 
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How Wi-Fi works

If you want to know how to fix your Wi-Fi, first you need to understand how it works

Before you set about fixing your Wi-Fi, it helps to know how the technology works.

That way, you can make an informed decision about the equipment you need to solve your issues, or whether a change of settings might help.

It’s a complicated subject, and we won’t attempt to cover everything (such as packet data, TCP/IP, or the ins and outs of wireless security), but by the end of this section, you should have a firm grasp of Wi-Fi’s fundamentals.

Signals and spectrum

Wi-Fi’s core premise is pretty simple – routers and adapters send and receive data using radio waves. It’s the same basic technology that’s used by radio and TV to receive terrestrial signals, mobile phones to make and receive calls, as well as video senders, baby monitors, and all sorts of other wireless devices.

In effect, all a wireless router or adapter does is translate the data it receives into a radio signal, which is decoded back into data at the other end.

Specifically, wireless routers use frequencies of 2.4GHz (or the range 2.412GHz-2.484GHz to be more precise) and, in the case of more expensive dual-band routers, 5GHz (4.195GHz-5.825GHz) to send and receive information.

But there’s far more to it than simply slinging streams of data to and fro. Each of these bands is further divided into channels, of which your router can use one or two simultaneously (when two are used simultaneously, it’s called channel bonding – see below for more details). In the 2.4GHz band there are up to 14 channels available, and up to 42 in the 5GHz band.

The idea is that by using different channels, neighbouring networks avoid stepping on each other’s toes. In an ideal world, for maximum performance and stable operation, your router should be running on a channel that no other network in range is using.

In reality, the true number of available channels is lower than these theoretical maximums, depending on where you live and which router you’re using.

In the UK and Europe, you’re legally allowed to use only channels 1 to 13 in the 2.4GHz space, and you’re restricted to 18 of the 42 in the 5GHz space. A Netgear router we use in our office, meanwhile, makes only four channels in the 5GHz space available for use.

This is compounded by the fact that when your router transmits on each channel, the effective width of its signal is about 20MHz, which, in the 2.4GHz space, means it can overlap up to eight neighbouring channels.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that when more than three wireless networks are in close proximity to one another, co-channel and adjacent channel interference can become a problem.



Channel bonding (the ability some routers have to group two channels together, doubling the potential throughput) makes the congestion even worse – with several 40MHz wide channels hogging such a narrow spectrum, it’s like trying to squeeze several 21-stone men into a small lift.

Why 5GHz?

There is a solution to hand, however – 5GHz wireless. The advantages it holds over 2.4GHz are threefold. First, it’s far less congested. Fewer people own dual-band 5GHz routers and devices, so the chances are you’ll be able to set up your network on a completely congestion-free channel, which you perhaps wouldn’t over 2.4GHz.

Second, since the channels are further apart than in the 2.4GHz band (with 20MHz between each, compared with 4MHz or 5MHz) there’s much less opportunity for adjacent channel overlap. Even in the unlikely event that many 5GHz routers and devices are in close proximity to each other, maintaining a steady signal should be much easier.

Finally, and potentially the biggest bonus of all, there are relatively few non-networking devices currently using the 5GHz space.

Where users of 2.4GHz must contend with all manner of domestic interlopers, from microwaves to cordless phones, 5GHz networks are comparatively clutter-free.



Physical barriers

It isn’t all rosy in the 5GHz garden, though. Since the signal is of a higher frequency than 2.4GHz, it deals less well with walls, windows and floors, and this hits its ability to transmit and receive speedily at long range.

In Rustyice tests, we’ve routinely seen routers perform well over 2.4GHz, flawlessly transferring files wirelessly at a distance of about 40m, with two walls in the way.

When tested in the same location over 5GHz, most suffer a significant drop in transfer speed and weaker signal reception. Some fail to maintain a solid connection entirely. That means the more objects blocking your signal path, the worse the reception in the 5GHz band gets. It isn’t only building materials that get in the way – everything from humans to heavy rain can attenuate a wireless signal.

Choosing a 5GHz router

Restricted range isn’t the only problem afflicting 5GHz routers. Many devices, such as smartphones, internet radios and games consoles, don’t send or receive signals in that band.

It’s really only laptops and PCs with premium wireless cards that will take advantage of the 5GHz band.

That’s why high-end routers typically offer the choice of 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but you should take care when choosing a dual-band router.

Some routers can transmit on both bands simultaneously, while others require you to manually flick between the two. Needless to say, the former is the better choice.
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Wi-Fi security luddite? The ICO is coming for you!

The Information Commissioner's Office today published new guidance for home Wi-Fi security after a YouGov report found that 40% of home users did not understand how to manage the security settings on their networks.

The survey also found that in spite of most ISPs now setting up and installing security on Wi-Fi equipment, 16% of the people surveyed were unsure whether or not they were using a secured network, or were aware they weren't, but didn't give a toss either way.

The new guidance includes information on managing encryption settings and how to think of a secure password. Top tip? Don't use pa55w0rd.

Giving people unsolicited access to your network could reduce connection speed, cause you to exceed data caps, or allow hordes of criminals to use your network for nefarious purposes, said the ICO.

Welcoming the move, D-Link's Chris Davies pointed out that there was no excuse for being caught out.

"There is no doubt that in the past setting up security on wireless networks could be tricky," said Chris. "But this is no longer the case with most wireless products.

"Security can be set up wiin a couple of minutes with no prior technical knowledge required. We've also been working with ISPs to help them ship products to consumers with security pre-configured."

Let's just hope the ICO doesn't start fining home users for data breaches. Or maybe that would be the kick in the butt some of them need?
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