Can you use a SIM card or phone charger as an antenna?

The other day I was mindlessly scrolling through reels and TikToks, as one does in 2024, and I came across a couple of them that seemed both interesting and a little weird. I won’t link them here because honestly I don’t want to give them the exposure. But if you are interested in antennas you have probably seen them too.

The videos are basically the same. Someone solders a SIM card to a USB cord or to an RG6 cable and bingo, they get fantastic results. Sometimes it’s not a SIM card. Sometimes, it’s just the charge cord itself or some other random piece of gear. No matter what, the end result of these videos is amazing reception of hundreds of channels, just by doing this:


There’s only one problem.

It doesn’t really work.​

Or, I should say, it doesn’t work as well as a real antenna. So let me drop some knowledge on you as to why it looks like it works in the videos.

Antennas aren’t terribly complex things. Anything can be an antenna. Experts on this site have created antennas from coat hangers and random bits of wire. Any time bare metal is out there, not shielded by anything, it has the capability of being used as an antenna.

When I’m testing antennas, I have a piece of coax cable that I cut open to expose the bare copper connector inside. I take measurements of it that I then compare to the actual antenna, to see if the antenna is doing anything at all. Sometimes it isn’t.

How antennas actually work​

An antenna is a metal rod that, by design, receives signals transmitted from some distance away. The basic theory of radio frequency transmission goes back to the late 18th century when it was proven that electricity that travels from one metal rod to another keeps its basic characteristics when it gets to the receiving metal rod. Over the years, we came to understand perhaps the most important thing about broadcasting. You can take a signal and attach it to a radio wave of a specific size, and it won’t interfere with signals on radio waves of other specific sizes. Then you can take a piece of metal that is the same size as the radio wave, and it will do a good job of receiving that signal.

There’s really not much more to it than that.

SIM cards and charge cables as antennas​

If you are trying to receive signals from a wave that’s 6 feet long (by the way, that’s about the size of the waves on VHF channel 7) you would ideally want an antenna that’s 6 feet long. But you’ll also get pretty good performance with one that’s 3 feet long, 1.5 feet long. .75 feet long, or any even fraction like that. The smaller the fraction, the less effective the antenna is, but it can still be enough to do the job.

Not only that, an antenna that’s 1.75 feet long or 1.25 feet long will also do a “pretty good” job in that scenario, in other words it doesn’t have to be exact. It’s better if it’s exact, but it doesn’t have to be. This is good news for cell phones because they have to receive a whole lot of different frequencies. They use a very small number of antennas that are “pretty good” for the purpose.

What this ends up meaning is that literally any piece of metal attached to the antenna input of a television is going to receive some signals, and that leads me to the next point.

If you’re close enough to the towers, it doesn’t matter​

You might notice that a lot of these videos are recorded by people in Europe. Why? Because more people live in denser areas in Europe than do here in the US. If you’re under 5 miles from a broadcast tower, you can use virtually anything to get TV reception. Those videos actually prove that point.

In Europe, people live in cities and are often closer to towers. It’s also very common in Europe to use repeaters to add TV signals to distant cities, instead of using massively powerful towers like we do there in the US. So the end result is that a lot of cities and towns, even rural ones, have good TV reception.

So does this work here in the US?​

Just for fun, I took a SIM card and hooked it up to a sacrificial bit of RG6 cable, similar to the picture above. It looked so messy that I don’t even want to show it. I then connected it to the input of my TV and scanned for channels. Guess what?

Of course it didn’t work. My home is too far away from the broadcast towers to bring in much of anything. This “life hack” won’t work for you either, probably, and most likely you’ll just end up destroying a perfectly good RG6 cable like I did.

What you really need to do is to get a TV antenna from Solid Signal. We have the best selection of TV antennas and accessories that actually work, as opposed to what you see on TikTok. We also have a staff full of antenna experts who can help you find the right antenna for your situation. Give us a call at 888-233-7563 or fill out the form below.

The post Can you use a SIM card or phone charger as an antenna? appeared first on The Solid Signal Blog.

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