How does aluminium foil help in boosting WiFi speed?

Researchers at Dartmouth University have found that a 3D printed shape covered in aluminum foil can improve wireless range and increase Wi-Fi security. The project, which appeared on Eurekalert, involves placing a reflector on and around a Wi-Fi router’s antennae to shape the beam, increasing range and preventing it from passing through to unwanted spaces.
“With a simple investment of about $35 and specifying coverage requirements, a wireless reflector can be custom-built to outperform antennae that cost thousands of dollars,” said Xia Zhou, a Dartmouth assistant professor.
In their paper, Zhou and her colleagues tested multiple styles of directional antennas and also tested an “anecdotal” solution that involved sticking a soda can behind a router to shape the radio waves towards a target. After a few iterations, they were able to create specific shapes to increase Wi-Fi reception in specific rooms. They then created a program called WiPrint that 3D prints the exact shape needed to form the beams for better coverage and security. Once printed all you have to do is cover them in aluminum foil.
The team found that their reflectors could accurately shape Wi-Fi beams to avoid some spaces and favor others, thereby increasing security and coverage. For example, you could shape your beam to avoid going out a window into the street but be stronger in a room nearby.
They haven’t yet released the software but rest assured that your grandpa was right: aluminum foil and antennas do mix.
Abstract
Judicious control of indoor wireless coverage is crucial in built environments. It enhances signal reception, reduces harmful interference, and raises the barrier for malicious attackers. Existing methods are either costly, vulnerable to attacks, or hard to configure. We present a low-cost, secure, and easy-to-configure approach that uses an easily-accessible, 3D-fabricated reflector to customize wireless coverage. With input on coarse-grained environment setting and preferred coverage (e.g., areas with signals to be strengthened or weakened), the system computes an optimized reflector shape tailored to the given environment. The user simply 3D prints the reflector and places it around a Wi-Fi access point to realize the target coverage. We conduct experiments to examine the efficacy and limits of optimized reflectors in different indoor settings. Results show that optimized reflectors coexist with a variety of Wi-Fi APs and correctly weaken or enhance signals in target areas by up to 10 or 6 dB, resulting to throughput changes by up to -63.3% or 55.1%.

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