Old San Francisco Housing A Bane To Wi-Fi

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News Posted: Sat, Jan 2 2010 1:14 PM
Looking at this, one could imagine this might be the perfect excuse for AT&T to use for its sub-par San Francisco wireless coverage.  After all, the company has already admitted that both New York City and SF need some upgrades.  With this story getting publicity, perhaps AT&T will choose to use it as an excuse.

It's probably not something many have thought of, but it's something that people living in older houses might want to consider: your house's walls may prove to be the perfect blocker of wi-fi, and other wireless signals.

It's something that San Francisco resident Galen Pewtherer discovered. His old Edwardian house and wi-fi just didn't get along. The reason: before drywall became a popular in the 1950s, walls were made out of plaster applied to lath. In Victorian and Edwardian-era homes, lath was often was made of wood stapled to chicken wire. Unfortunately, this creates an almost perfect Faraday Cage, doing a great job of blocking wireless signals.

In fact, according to the report, the fencing is perfect for catching 2.4 Ghz wi-fi. Karl Garcia, who is in charge of Google's free Wi-Fi projects said, "It turns out that chicken wire is almost perfectly the right wavelength of a Wi-Fi signal. It acts just like a solid piece of metal." It's unclear from the report if 5 Ghz wi-fi, as in 802.11n might be able to make it past the chicken wire.

It does point out that Google was probably best served when it dropped its plans for free municipal wi-fi in San Francisco. One can only imagine the problems the company would have had getting wi-fi to work in The City.

In terms of fixes, one can always knock out the walls and put up drywall, but there's an obvious alternative: running Ethernet cable through the walls. Truth be told, nothing beats wired Ethernet cabling for speed, security, and less error loss. However, in the case of Pewtherer, the walls also blocked out cellular signals as well. He's since moved.
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realneil replied on Sun, Jan 3 2010 12:08 PM

The walls in my prior California home were old style brick and were 24" thick. The interior walls were covered in Lath and Plaster about 3/4' thick using a tight wire mesh that had tiny little 1/8" diamond shaped holes in it. Any reception was a nightmare in that house unless you were in front of a window. I drilled holes and ran Ethernet Cable throughout the place to solve the problem.

Those thick walls turned out to be a great thermal insulator. The place stayed cool in the summer and retained heat well in the winter.

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All the houses in my area are made of dry wall. They won't last a tornado or even a minor earthquake, but the wifi signal is great!

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Soupstyle replied on Thu, Jan 14 2010 6:27 PM

It might be bad for WiFi, but great for keeping people out of your business!

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acarzt replied on Thu, Jan 14 2010 10:54 PM

good wireless security will keep people out of your business too.

I don't broadcast my SSID, and I have MAC filtering enables, and encryption :-) I didn't go as far as setting manual IP addresses and turning off DHCP tho. I think i've done enough lol

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