Using public Wi-Fi is a hit-and-miss endeavour: sometime's its perfect, at others it's bogged down so much as to be worthless. Fortunately a team of researchers has hit on a solution that can improve throughput by 700 per cent — and because it's software-based, it won't even need any new hardware to have us all contentedly online.
You can think of every Wi-Fi access point you use as a single-lane highway to the internets: each one operates at a single frequency, so every device which uses a hotspot has to send and receive its data along that single path. At home you're the only user, so there's nothing to get in your way, but throw in tens or hundreds of people and — ugh — suddenly you're competing.
The obvious way to improve the situation is to ramp up the bandwidth available to that channel: jump from, say, a connection of 50 megabits per second to 100 and the same number of connected users will notice a massive difference. But there are upper limits on bandwidth due to hardware — and while they're gradually increasing, it's a slow procedure.
That's where a team of engineers from NC State University come in. Essentially, they've developed new software that runs on a Wi-Fi access point to monitor and deal with congestion. Called WiFox, the software monitors traffic on the network: when there's congestion on an access point, the software grants that single channel high priority and gives over all the bandwidth available to it in order to alleviate congestion as quickly as possible.
The details of how all this works are a little scant, though it must be able to detect congestion and allocate bandwidth extremely quickly in order to work. And work it seems to: tests at NCSU loaded up a Wi-Fi access point with devices and demonstrated throughput improvements of 400 per cent with 25 users and up to 700 per cent when there were 45.
That's pretty mind blowing, and would turn your Starbucks wireless connection into something, like, useable. The good news is that, because it's all software-based, there's no reason this can't be rolled out in firmware updates. What are you waiting for NCSU? [NCSU via Extremetech]
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