There's a New Kind of Wifi That Uses 10,000 Times Less Power

By Bryan Lufkin on at

Wifi is already a very great thing. Problem is—especially for mobile devices—wifi is also an energy suck. But now, scientists have come up with a way of connecting to wifi that requires about as much energy as a Bluetooth connection.

It’s a system called “passive wifi,” which aims to consume at least 1,000 less power than typical wifi portals. As an idea, it’s been around for a while—but this is the first time it’s been proven. At top performance, this new wifi system can actually use 10,000 times less energy than usual.

How’d they do it? Scientists at the University of Washington reimagined how radios work. Radio transmissions involve two operations: digital and analogue. Over the last couple decades, the digital part has become much more energy efficient, but analog remains a nasty energy drain. So the team simply separates the two functions.

First, a single device plugged into a wall—this part uses most of the power in this whole process—sends analogue waves to special passive wifi sensors. These sensors require practically no energy to run. They then pick up those waves, reflecting them with a digital switch, which creates what the team calls “wifi packets.” Those beam low-energy internet at bit rates of up to 11 megabits per second to devices like phones, routers, and more.



There's a New Kind of Wifi That Uses 10,000 Times Less Power



The researchers says this method was successfully tested in actual situations on campus. Even cooler? Those special sensors can communicate with phones up to 100 feet away.

This low-energy development will come in handy as your house gets filled with more wearable sensors and internet-connecting kitchen appliances. Nonprofits like Wi-Fi Alliance have been searching for a far-reaching, low-energy internet solution. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the University of Washington, and Qualcomm, and the results will be shared next month at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation. Inevitably, it could take some time before this research becomes a new wifi standard, but this could be a big step in the right direction.

[University of Washington]

Image: University of Washington YouTube