A site about the radio listening hobby and my activities therein - longwave, mediumwave, shortwave, FM, and television DXing. A site about the radio listening hobby in all its forms, or at least the forms that interest me.

I am also a licenced amateur radio operator, callsign VE3LXL. Information about my amateur radio station is found on my station website.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

WiFi DXing

I am wondering if it is possible to turn the search for Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) Wireless Access Points (WAPs) into a branch of the DXing hobby - WiFi DXing. Wireless networks communicate by radio, using two bands in the 2.4 and 5 GHz range. Each network's base station can be thought of as being a tiny, micro-powered radio station. By scanning for wireless networks with your computer, you can get a list of the nearby stations of this type. So is there a form of DXing possible here? Is it possible that under certain conditions signals can propagate long distances, becoming DXable targets?

As an experiment I used software called inSSIDer 2.0 that I installed on my station computer to scan for wireless networks in my neighbourhood. The network card has a small antenna on the back of the computer; I didn't try augmenting it. Since I live on the 12th floor of an apartment building I have the advantage of height. There are also other apartment and condo towers nearby, and two main streets with office buildings and businesses, which gives the potential for numerous wireless networks. The advantage of using inSSIDer is that it gives you the number of the channel the WAP is using, which allows you you to know the exact radio frequency. That's not really important for most purposes but it's something you'd want to know if you use a frequency-based logging system.

The results of this experiment were interesting. I did a single scan at 16:36 UTC on Oct. 24, 2010. InSSIDer listed 66 WAPs nearby. Clearly there's no shortage of targets. It's safe to assume all are within a few hundred metres of here. InSSIDer tells you the network's name, the type of device and the network speed it supports. What it does not tell you is where the WAP is actually located. (Or maybe it does - inSSIDER does seem to have an option for attaching a GPS to it, so maybe it can identify the network's location if you do that. But I don't have a GPS). Without knowing the WAP's location, there's no way to tell if a new network you're seeing is a DX reception or just a new nearby network.

I think there's potential to this, although clearly it's not radio DXing in the conventional sense. There's nothing for you to listen to, and you use the computer's wireless card as the receiver, not a conventional radio.

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