Wi-Fi cAntenna Deluxe 10

Admin - 2007-03-11 10:24:25 in Networking
Category: Networking
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: December 9, 2003
EtherDesigns
Price: $30.00 - $35.00 USD
Introduction
Today we're looking at a rather unique product, a product that you would usually not find on a hardware review site. The product we are looking at today is a cAntenna, and that isn't a spelling mistake. cAntenna obviously comes from the word, Antenna and a cAntenna is basically an Antenna made from a Can (Pringles chip can, soup can, or what have you) hence the name. cAntenna's are mainly used for WiFi war drivers, freenet operators, and system administrators to run WiFi assessment tests. cAntenna's are very inexpensive compared to commercially available WiFi antenna's, but cAntenna's are just as good and some people would argue that they are better. cAntenna's, while may be new to the Wi-Fi industry, is not a new idea. Ham radio enthusiasts were the first ones to start using soup cans for antennas, long before the modern computer. The two inventors from Japan, Hidetsugu Yagi and Shintaro Uda were the first two people to ever come up with the idea. If you have ever looked at commercially available RF Antenna's, then you have probably seen the name "Yagi". You now know where that name came from.

We're going to be reviewing the 10" cAntenna III and it's little brother the 5" Mini-Tenna from EtherDesigns. EtherDesigns carries directional Antenna's (like the two we are reviewing today) and also Omni Antenna's. They also sale pigtails, tripods (to mount your cAntenna on), Wifi Detectors (A Handheld device that detects WiFi networks in the area), and mounting kits that allow you to mount your cAntenna on a stationary object.




Wi-Fi Crash Course
For those of you that are totally left in the dark, I'm going to give you a brief description of what Wifi is and how it works. Wi-Fi, short for Wireless Fidelity, is the term used for a high frequency wireless local area network (sometimes referred to as a WLAN). Wi-Fi has several different IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) specifications such as; 802.11, 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11i, and 802.11x. You have probably seen some devices (Wi-Fi cards, routers, access points) with these specifications advertised on TV or have seen them at your local computer store. The mostly widely used specification is 802.11b & now 802.11g. Both of these standards operate on the 2.4 GHz spectrum, the same frequency as some cordless phones. The 802.11b standard offers data speeds up to 11 Megabits a second, while the new 802.11g standard offers speeds up to 54 Megabits a second. In order to setup a WLAN, you will need a Wi-Fi card for your computer (Laptop or Desktop) and you will also need a device that either allows an entry point in to your current network (Wireless Access Point) or a device that connects directly to your Internet connection (Wireless Router).

Wi-Fi give you the freedom to connect to the Internet or your LAN from your bed at home, a hammock in your backyard, or a conference room at work without any wires. The two major draw backs of Wi-Fi is the limited range that you can be from an Wireless Access Point or Router, and Security. The product we are reviewing today should relieve the range problem, the latter will not be discussed in this review. However, you can find excellent security information for Wi-Fi networks on google.



cAntenna Uses
  • Wireless Security Assessments
  • War Driving*
  • Share High-speed Internet*
  • Extend High-speed Internet & LAN's Services
  • Create a network between your house & a friend's (Share files, game, ect)


  • * You should read your ISP's TOS and the local laws in your state for legalities associated with sharing your Internet and war driving.


    cAntenna Projects
  • Military used the cAntenna for some A-10 pilots in Afghanistan (81st Flight Squadron at Bagram AFB), so that they could use wireless back to their base.
  • Castle in France has four cAntenna�s installed to form a network. They had to do this since they couldn't drill into the castle walls to run Cat5.
  • Model rocketry group in the Midwest is using them for high altitude telemetry feedback
  • Community wireless project in Oregon (www.oofwan.org)
  • Several ISPs are using them in for different purposes
  • Several boaters use them for internet access at their dock, and/or while on the water
  • cAntenna Specifications
    Frequency: 2.05-2.67 GHz
    Gain (10"): 15-18 dbi
    Gain (5"): 10-12 dbi
    Beam Width (10"): Approx. 55 Degrees
    Beam Width (5"): Approx. 75 Degrees
    Impendence: 50 Ohm
    Wattage: 10W
    Connector Type: N Female
    Polarization: Vertical & Horizontal


    In-depth Look
    The Deluxe cAntenna is about 10 inches in length and is made from a custom tube with weatherized N-Female Bulkhead connector with gold-plated contacts and solder lug ring for attaching a ground wire. O-rings inside and out provide a weather-proofing seal. It has a powder-coated high-tech, wrinkle black finish that gives it that weatherized feel. You will also find a universal tripod mount on it, that fits all types of camera tripods.



    The opening of the can is capped off by a plastic cap, which is glued on.


    There is a warning that states: "You should not open the can as it is vacuumed and sealed and could possibly harm the strength of the cAntenna." It also states to NEVER open the can or look in it when the device is operating. The cAntenna produces harmful microwaves that could damage your vision. However, being curious as I am I just had to open it up and snap a picture. The connector within the can seems to of been sealed fairly tight to prevent water and moisture from entering.



    On the so-called bottom of the can, we find the tripod mount and the N-Female connector. As I said above, the tripod mount is universal so you shouldn't have any problems finding a tripod for it. The instructions state that you should be very careful when screwing on the pigtail to the N-Female connector as to not over tighten or not to cross thread it.


    The Mini-Tenna is exactly the same as it's bigger brother, but it's shorter. The Mini-Tenna also has a different "beam" width and reach. More about this later on in the review when we test it.

    The Mini-Tenna has all of the same features as the Deluxe; Weatherized construction, wrinkle black finish, universal tripod mount, and N-Female connector. One advantage I found that the Mini-Tenna has over the Deluxe, is that it fits on my Mini tripod better.


    The pigtail that was included for me to review, is the 60 inch model (Remember the pigtail is sold seperately). When purchasing a pigtail you should keep in mind that you loose some performance (dBi gain) for every inch of cable. While the 60" model is great for mobility, it does hinder the performance somewhat. The pigtail (RF Cable) has a N-Male connector that connects to your N-Female connector and a connector that connect your Wifi Card (I believe is called MC Card Connector?).


    Lastly we have the two-sided instruction guide that was provided. One side has a lot of helpful hints to help you understand more of how the cAntenna works and how to better use it. The other side has some setup information, precautions, and warnings.

    Setup the cAntenna
    As I said earlier in the Wi-Fi Crash Course, you will need a Wifi card that can connect to your cAntenna. Not all Wifi cards have an external antenna jack so when purchasing one, make sure it has one. I just grabbed a "Dell TrueMobile 1050" off eBay for $30 bucks, and it's been working fine. Setting up the cAntenna's was a piece of cake. All I had to do was insert my WiFi card in my laptop, and then connect the pigtail to the external antenna jack on the WiFi card. Lastly, I screwed the other end of the pigtail on the bottom of the cAntenna. It was easy as that.


    Software
    There are many types of WiFi software and what you use will greatly depend on what your Wi-Fi purposes are. For security assessments and war driving, then I would recommend a free open source project called Kismet. Kismet is a wireless network sniffer that separates and identifies different wireless networks in the proximity. I have found that Kismet is the most advance wireless assessment tool that is available. It is capable of channel hopping, decloaking hidden SSID's, graphical mapping with a GPS, identification of equipment (Manufacture information of the AP), multiplexing of multiple capture sources, and much more.

    I tested Kismet out around my Access Point to see how well it worked. Kismet was able to capture packets on my network in real time and I could even set Kismet up to only grab readable text only. This just goes to show how wireless can be insecure if not setup properly (even then so). When WEP was turned on my Access Point, Kismet could no longer grab readable text since the packets were being encrypted. However, the 128bit encryption algorithm is flawed on the 802.11b standard and allows some "weak" packets to leak. Kismet is able to grab these weak packets, and with enough of them you could run a separate program to crack the encryption password. This may obviously be way over your head and since it goes behind the scope of this review, it will not be discussed here.


    A couple other wireless assessment tools include Airsnort and Netstumbler. Netstumbler works with Windows (and also works on Pocket PC :P) but is no were near advanced as Kismet. I also found that Netstumbler would not pick up my Access Point everywhere that Kismet could pick it up at, odd I know.




    NoCatNet is a very interesting project that allows you to give other users access to you wireless, allowing you to setup your own ISP so to speak. NoCatNet is a centralized authentication system that does not trust any gateway or firewall and therefore it uses a more complicated authentication system. It also is intended to provide differing levels of service to classes of authenticated/unauthenticated users. Keep in mind that when you share your Internet via Wi-Fi you could be breaking the TOS with your ISP (Be sure to read the TOS before it's too late).

    There are many other software programs that you can use in junction with a cAntenna. I recommend you search on SourceForge, Freshmeat, and ofcourse Google.
    Testing
    I'm not a WiFi expert and I don't claim to be one, but I will try testing the cAntenna to the best of my ability. I will be comparing both the 10" Deluxe cAntenna and the Mini-Tenna cAntenna. I will also be comparing the results, without any external antenna. I tested the signal on three channels and recorded the signal strength and the noise (dBm) on each channel (1,6,11). After gathering the results, I calculated the overall average of the signal strength and the noise. The building that I tested this at, is surrounded by concrete walls and also a hill. I was unable to go very far away from the Access Point since there wasn't much line of sight (which is required with Wifi). Here is the results I came up with:



    Device
    Signal
    Noise
    SNR
    No Antenna
    -53
    -119
    49
    Mini-Tenna 5"
    -43
    -117
    74
    cAntenna III 10"
    -39
    -105
    79



    Device
    Signal
    Noise
    SNR
    No Antenna
    -51
    -107
    54
    Mini-Tenna 5"
    -43
    -119
    75
    cAntenna III 10"
    -44
    -118
    71



    Device
    Signal
    Noise
    SNR
    No Antenna
    -49
    -94
    41
    Mini-Tenna 5"
    -39
    -114
    70
    cAntenna III 10"
    -41
    -116
    66


    Device
    Signal
    Noise
    SNR
    No Antenna
    -51
    -106
    48
    Mini-Tenna 5"
    -41
    -116
    73
    cAntenna III 10"
    -41
    -113
    72



    Conclusion

    I did more tests (real world tests) over the last month that I have had the cAntenna's and I have learned that I like the Mini-Tenna better than the Deluxe. While war driving in my local city I found that the Mini-Tenna is much better at finding Wireless networks abroad, than the Deluxe model. The reason behind this is because the Mini-Tenna has a wider "beam" where it can take in more radio waves than the Deluxe model. I believe the Mini-Tenna would be more suited for war drivers and the Deluxe would be more suited for Point-to-Point connections and security assessments. I also took the cAntenna's with me on a trip up to Virginia and I set the Mini-Tenna on the dash of my car to see how many networks it could find while driving down the interstate from Alabama to Virginia. It found 957 wireless networks (one-way) and only 36% had encryption turned on.

    I did a search on some price comparison engines to find out how the cAntenna's compare (price wise) to commercially available 2.4Ghz Antenna's. I quickly found that you could easily pay well over a $100 bucks for an Antenna with the same dBi gain as these two cAntenna's. At $30 for the 5" Mini-Tenna & $35 for the 10" Deluxe, they're much more cost efficient way to expand your wireless network, use for war driving or for security assessments. Sure, you could probably make a cAntenna yourself. I even found some guides on google that shows you how to do just that, but if you're not that great with a soldering iron then the cAntenna's from EtherDesigns is your best bet.

    I have never tested any commercially available 2.4Ghz Antenna's before, but for the cost and the performance of the cAntenna's I can't help but highly recommend them.

    Pros

    Cons