OK, so we've managed to power some laptops in developing countries. Now what? Using a computer these days means getting onto the Internet, and that means having access to broadband connectivity. Unfortunately, many people don't have that luxury. In places like South Asia, there are only 9 million broadband subscribers compared to 294 million and 211 million in the European Union and North America, respectively [source: Kim].
Wireless technologies offer a promising alternative to people living in rural communities, allowing residents to tap into conventional telecommunications infrastructure. This, however, requires an inexpensive way to increase the range of a wireless signal. That's where a tin can waveguide antenna -- or cantenna -- comes in handy. You can make one of these devices using an old soup, vegetable or coffee can (cleaned out, of course), an N-type female chassis connector, copper wire, a USB WiFi adapter with removable antenna and a special cable known as a "pigtail."
Assembling a cantenna is easy. First, cut a piece of copper wire about 1.25 inches (3.2 centimeters) long and solder the wire to the N-type chassis connector. While it's cooling, drill a hole in the tin can just large enough to accept the chassis connector. Then pass the connector through the hole so that the copper wire is inside the can. Bolt or screw the connector to the can to keep it secure. Next, remove the factory antenna from the USB WiFi adapter and screw the smaller end of the pigtail cable onto the adapter. The other end of the pigtail should attach to the N-type female chassis connector. Finally, insert the USB adapter into your computer, mount the can outside, point it to a likely signal and, voila, you have wireless Internet.
You should note that the reception of the cantenna depends on the dimensions of the tin can you choose. This Web site has a calculator to determine where the chassis connector should be located based on your can's diameter. Another important note: You may need a fairly long piece of pigtail depending on the distance between the cantenna and your computer.