Potato on the Jetty – Range testing PCB Antennas

Today we made some phone calls over a 400m link using PCB antennas.

We want to use etched PCB Wifi antennas for the Mesh Potato. However we have heard that some companies have had problems with PCB antennas, such as variable results in production. So before committing to PCB antenna we wanted to do some more tests.

Joel is a local hacker here in Adelaide who happens to live at the top of a 4 story apartment block in a beach side suburb called Henley Beach. This gives him good line of sight to points on the ground several hundred meters away. Much easier than testing at my place which is on dead flat terrain and requires masts for any Wifi range testing.

Before heading out to Joel’s place I tried some tests in my backyard. I set up two MP01s about 10m apart. First I connected conventional sleeve dipole (rubber ducky) antennas and measured the signal strength. I then connected a couple of PCB antennas and repeated. To monitor signal levels I wrote a simple script to dump the Received Signal Strength Indication (RSSI) levels (in dBm) from MadWifi:


while [ 1 ]
wlanconfig ath0 list | grep 56:ac:90 | awk ‘{ print $6 }’
sleep 1

The grep filters out the last few MAC digits of the MP we are interested in, otherwise you get RSSI measurements of all nearby Wifi devices.

However the results were inconclusive and after an hour I became frustrated:

  • On a good test both MPs would receive about -30dBm, however if I moved a MP 20mm a level could drop to -44dBm. Lots of multipath in my back yard!
  • One MP was consistently around -30dBm, whereas the other would move between -30 and -48dBm. Maybe they had different diversity antenna settings. Or maybe the RSSI measurements can’t be trusted.

I had much better (and less frustrating) results using the spectrum analyser to measure signal strengths, as explained in the previous post on PCB Wifi antennas.

In the end I figured it was sufficient to test from a system level rather than attempt more measurements of antenna performance and signal strength. The $64 dollar question is can we make phone calls over a reasonable distance with these antennas?

On the Beach

We placed one MP01 on Joel’s balcony. I then walked down to the end of Henley Jetty (Joel has previously managed to pick up his home Wifi there). There is (just) a line of site between the two points – through a gap in a couple of buildings. The distance was 375m. We used two calibrated V1.2 MP01s (same design as the Beta units). An “iwlist ath0 scan” showed 9 other Wifi networks in operation.

Google Map of Range Test - 375m

One MP01 on Joel's Balcony

I tried a bunch of antenna combinations, starting with regular sleeve dipole (rubber ducky) antennas then moving to PCB antennas first at one end, then both ends of the link. From our previous tests both the sleeve dipole and the PCB monopole antennas have an estimated gain of 2dBi.

We had a total of 4 PCB antenna samples (a mixture of the 17mm and 20mm monopoles) as we wanted to get a feel for performance spread over multiple antennas of the same design. Here are the results:

MP01 #36MP01 #38Call Quality
Sleeve DipoleSleeve DipoleGreat
Sleeve Dipole#3 17mm PCB monopoleGreat
Sleeve Dipole#2 20mm PCB monopoleGreat
Sleeve Dipole#4 20mm PCB monopoleGreat
#1 17mm PCB monopole#4 20mm PCB monopoleGreat
no antenna#4 20mm PCB monopoleNo Call

The final test was just to make sure we weren’t kidding ourselves.

MP01 on the end of Henley Jetty

At one stage a fisherman assisted in my propagation experiments by standing right in my line of site and lowering a metal net as I talked to Joel!

For each call I tried moving the MP01 (with PCB antenna attached) around. For example upside down, side to side, rotated it. No break up of signal, good audio in both directions. Only problem was wind noise. Joel suggested we add digital noise suppression but I figure there isn’t much wind noise inside village homes!

Here is the view of the far end from either side of the link. The arrow shows the location of the other end.

View of Jetty from Joel's Balcony

View of Joel's Balcony from Jetty That's him with the brown eyes.

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