Sunday, August 22, 2010

Froyo on a stick

When faced with an impossibly weak cell signal and an Android phone, what can you do?

Recently while on holiday in the Glengarriff valley, west County Cork, I was faced with this problem.

Android 2.2 (aka "Froyo") has a cool feature that allows the phone to become a WiFi access point. This is intended to be a convenient way to allow a laptop to use the phone's internet connection. Normally the phone would be sitting right next to the laptop. But it doesn't have to be so close. A line-of-sight range of more than 20 meters is possible.

At my location I was getting tantalizing brief connections to the cell network (Vodafone IE), and occasionally the odd GPRS IP packet might make it through. But nothing close to usable.

As a rule of thumb you can improve a weak radio signal by raising the height of the antenna.  So I got several planks of wood. Strapped them together with duct tape to form a make shift antenna mast  about 8m in height. I switched the mobile hotspot feature on, taped the phone to the top of the mast and raised it.

And sure enough I was able to get a usable [*] connection where none existed before.

[*] The connection was only GPRS and there was still packet loss... but sufficient to get email in and out. Perhaps another few meters might have made the difference.

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