Extend Wi-Fi Range Using Software

An easy software update allows researchers to extend Wi-Fi range by 200 feet

Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah have found a way to send and receive Wi-Fi signal over a significantly extended distance just with an easy software update.

The new protocol, which is called as “On-Off Noise Power Communication (ONPC), can extend the range of Internet of Things (IoT) devices like door sensors or motion detectors by more than 60 meters, according to test results. The new protocol is programmed right on top of the existing Wi-Fi protocol using the same hardware.

“That’s the really cool thing about this technology: it’s all done in software,” said Phil Lundrigan, assistant professor of computer engineering at BYU. “In theory, we could install this on almost any Wi-Fi enabled device with a simple software update.”

Currently, Wi-Fi requires speeds of at least one megabit per second (1 Mbps) to maintain a signal, but the new ONPC protocol created can maintain a signal on as low as 1 bit per second — one-millionth of the data speed required by Wi-Fi.

According to Lundrigan, 1 bit of information is sufficient for many Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as a garage door sensor, an air quality monitor or even a sprinkler system, that simply needs an on/off message to function.

The protocol does this by allowing Wi-Fi-enabled devices to transmit wireless noise as well as data. The researchers programmed into the Wi-Fi sensor a series of 1s and 0s, essentially turning the signal on and off in a specific pattern. The programming done is enough to tell the Wi-Fi router that the device is still transmitting something (even if data wasn’t being received) and maintain the signal.

“If the access point (router) hears this code, it says, ‘OK, I know the sensor is still alive and trying to reach me, it’s just out of range.’ It’s basically sending 1 bit of information that says it’s alive,” Neal Patwari of Washington University in St. Louis said.

According to test results, when the ONPC protocol was paired with an application called “Stayin’ Alive”, it was able to extend the range of an off-the-shelf device 67 meters, or about 200 feet, beyond the range of standard Wi-Fi.

“We can send and receive data regardless of what Wi-Fi is doing; all we need is the ability to transmit energy and then receive noise measurements,” said Lundrigan. “We could apply this to cellular or Bluetooth as well.”

The best thing about ONPC is that it is entirely software-based and could technically be rolled out to existing routers and devices through a simple software update. However, the researchers clearly point out that their ONPC protocol isn’t supposed to replace Wi-Fi or long-range wireless protocols like LoRa. It is mainly intended to “supplement Wi-Fi.” Particularly, only when Stayin’ Alive finds out that the Wi-Fi device has lost its connection, it starts transmitting data using ONPC.

The research was presented at the International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in Los Cabos, Mexico on October 22nd.

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