Science & Technology

Aluminum Foil Really Can Boost Wi-Fi Speed. Here's How.

Aluminum foil has often been associated with the delusional and conspiracy-minded, so the idea it could boost your internet speed might sound pretty dubious. It's a claim that's been all over the internet for at least a decade, but in 2017, a team of researchers put it to the test. Not only did they prove it works, but they figured out a way to tailor it to any indoor space.

Signal Boost

Search the internet for "aluminum Wi-Fi," and you're bound to come across images of some very weird contraptions. For years, certain people have sworn that you can boost your Wi-Fi signal strength and speed by rigging up a metallic contraption of one sort or another — creating a kind of satellite dish out of aluminum foil, for instance, or unrolling a soda can and placing it behind your router. The results are often mixed, with some people claiming huge signal boosts and others barely noticing a thing.

The idea isn't all that ridiculous in theory. A Wi-Fi signal is a particular type of radio wave, except instead of broadcasting audio to play on your car speakers like AM radio waves or energizing water molecules to heat your dinner like microwaves, it encodes the 1s and 0s that your computer reads as internet content. The signal broadcasts from your Wi-Fi router in all directions, but it has its limitations: It can't go more than about 150 feet (46 meters), and it's easily blocked or absorbed by building materials like metal and concrete. You might be able to use that to your advantage, however, by putting up aluminum foil or soda cans to reflect the signal where you want it to go.

Wi-Fi Antenna Booster Dish

Foiled Again!

A team of researchers led by Dartmouth University tried the aluminum can trick themselves, but they wanted to see if they could improve upon the DIY design. They wrote an algorithm and fed it data about their building layout and which rooms the signal should target. That helped them create a custom 3D-printed reflector "composed only of plastic and a thin layer of metal," according to the press release (translation: they covered the plastic in aluminum foil), which successfully boosted Wi-Fi where they wanted it and shielded it where they didn't. In the end, the little contraption only ran them about $35 — quite a discount when you consider that specialized Wi-Fi antennae can cost thousands of dollars.

The team has yet to make their software available to the public, so you'll have to wait for your own custom shape. But if your Wi-Fi drives you up the wall, it may be worth trying some homespun solutions in the meantime, like the one in the second video below. Time to crack open a cold one!

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WiPrint: 3D Printing Your Wireless Coverage

Written by Ashley Hamer December 19, 2017

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