Thursday, May 08, 2014

Wireless disabled on router, still broadcasting?

This happened a few months ago. I signed up for a new internet service and had to get my first modem and router for the first time -- either someone else took care of it or the telecom company decided for me previously. Being 2014, a major issue I was having was finding a router that was wired-only.

A wired-only router?
What I wanted was a router that did not remotely have any ability to broadcast a radio signal. Software switches to disable the wireless function were available on most routers that I checked out, but I wanted certainty. Part of the reason was security, the other part was radiation from WiFi. The science does not appear to be clear on its safety so I try to mitigate my exposure to it if convenient -- I still have a cell phone and wireless devices.

Luckily, I was able to find a few wired-only routers -- after I bought a wireless one. The Linksys E900 ended up being what I settled on, and I did not want to spend more on another one when I was perfectly content with the one I had. I ended up disabling the wireless feature on the router by logging into it through a browser, but the question kept eating away at me: is it still broadcasting a radio signal?
Routers and Modems
Router with wireless disabled still broadcasting radio signals?
This was the big question and I spent a few hours googling the answer. The answer appeared to be "no". It's the logical answer as there's no point in wasting energy, processing, or system resources to doing something if it's not going to be used. But how can you be sure? And how can you possibly be right across the board?

My research left me unfulfilled specifically because I didn't find anyone who independently tested their devices for radio signals. Even if they did, they probably weren't doing it for the make and model that I was looking for.

Testing for WiFi or radio signals?
The next question to be answered on Google was how to test for radio signals. An activated wireless router with SSID broadcast enabled would show up on a compatible device. Even with no SSID broadcast enabled, I found warnings online about it being possible to see the connection anyways. And what if it's just "on" and broadcasting garbage signals?

It turns out that there is a community dedicated to safety concerning radio frequency (RF) signals and electromagnetic fields (EMF). I am definitely not as dedicated to avoiding RF and EMF as members of some of these communities. However, there was a major takeaway from this: RF meters.

Radio Frequency Meters
Electronics are foreign to me. I can do things with computers and that's about it. Open the box and I will be lost most of the time. My familiarity with things related to electronics like RF signals and EMF is much more limited.

Nonetheless, I found out that relatively low cost meters were available for picking up RF and EMF signal strengths. Various grades of meters were available with different degrees of sensitivity, frequency responses, and accuracy. One example is this Radio Frequency Meter (Acoustimeter) for about US$ 450.

I found one website (Electric Sense) that had reviews of a number of meters. What I ended up getting was a Cornet Micro ED-78S online for a bit under CAD$ 200. With a limited understanding of RF and EMF meters, I just wanted something that worked and that would react to radio signals.

Testing My Router: Does it still broadcast with wireless disabled?
Again, limited understanding of RF, EMF, and electronics in general, so my interpretation of data is spotty at best. I'll just describe my observations and show the "experiment" then.

Here is a video of the RF meter with an advertised frequency range up to 8 GHz sitting beside a wireless router with the wireless function disabled. It's a Linksys E900 N300 router and according to the official website, it uses the 2.4 GHz band.

Laziness overcame the person setting things up so he did not go into the router configuration and re-enable the wireless. Instead, the meter was left on while the router with wireless disabled was still on and after the router was turned off. The meter did not appear to measure any significant drop in its reading after the router was turned off. Compare it with this modem with wireless enabled.

Got my answer?
I'm generally content with what I found using the meter. It's not a perfect test setup or remotely scientific, but good enough for me?

In no way should the readings from the meter be considered accurate as it has not been independently checked for accuracy. And more importantly, the operator is not trained and not knowledgeable concerning radio frequency related matters.

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