Potatoes Over People

Boeing uses potatoes instead of people to test wi-fi

December 21,  2012 BBC News & Technology describes how loading a plane with potatoes is used to test for adequate wireless communication throughout the passenger seating area. It’s a creative method to assist working in the real world. I’ve faced problems while testing for coverage which could have used a little more real world simulation.

Wireless networking experimentsOf my previous wireless experience I recall being called back to review a major grocery chain warehouse in Miami. They used wireless forklift terminals throughout the facility to locate, pick and put-away items. I didn’t survey or install this specific warehouse however I learned in similar facilities you have to make allowance for liquids such as stacks of laundry detergent. Powder detergent doesn’t absorb radio waves but any liquid does. This call came to me when the summer hurricane preparation season was in full swing. All Florida grocery chains stock up on water in order to be prepared to sell out should a hurricane be targeted for the area.

When I arrived, I was shown the area of the building where wireless coverage was practically nil. They said it started to degrade and then as more stock was received the fork lift operator could only communicate with their warehouse application when they drove to the end of the aisle. I easily viewed the cause of the problem before me. It wasn’t necessary to break out the diagnostic tools to find the source of the problem. They erected 4 rows of 40 foot high cases of bottled water.

Just like the potato and human body, water is the significant component to radio signal absorption. Add more people in a plane and the ability to transmit and receive a signal is greatly attenuated. Since the human body contains approximately 55 to 60% water along with a few minerals, signals become weaker as the density of humans per given area increase. The exterior of a modern aircraft, usually aluminum, is perfect to contain almost all signal. Only the windows themselves provide a passage for wireless signal.

There are numerous tools available to check wi-fi coverage and I will include a few for you to examine. I’m not promoting any of these tools.
WiFi Mapper
AirMagnet
Nuts About Nets
Security Analysis WPA/WPA2

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