Scientists Promise Ten Times More Bandwidth With No New Hardware

By Jamie Condliffe on at

A team of researchers promises it can increase wireless bandwidth by an order or magnitude, without any new hardware whatsoever. All that's required, it claims, is a little extra maths.

Technology Review reports that the scientists have been developing algebraic techniques to eliminate the task of resending dropped packets of data—something that really clogs up networks. Creating a new way for devices to solve the problem of missing data eliminates the wasted effort of resending data—but also means devices can weave data streams from Wi-Fi and LTE together, instead of having to use one or the other.

Apparently several companies have already licensed the technology, developed by researchers at MIT, the University of Porto in Portugal, Harvard University, Caltech, and Technical University of Munich. But it's still under development and, as such, its secrets are subject to nondisclosure agreements. Technology Review explains how it works the best it can:

The technology transforms the way packets of data are sent. Instead of sending packets, it sends algebraic equations that describe series of packets. So if a packet goes missing, instead of asking the network to resend it, the receiving device can solve for the missing one itself. Since the equations involved are simple and linear, the processing load on a phone, router, or base station is negligible...

More rigorous lab studies have shown large benefits. Testing the system on Wi-Fi networks at MIT, where 2 percent of packets are typically lost, Medard's group found that a normal bandwidth of one megabit per second was boosted to 16 megabits per second. In a circumstance where losses were 5 percent-common on a fast-moving train-the method boosted bandwidth from 0.5 megabits per second to 13.5 megabits per second.

That is some increase, so it's not surprising people are already interested. Of course, whether those gains observed in the lab would materialise in the real wold remains to be seen, but the magnitude of the improvement suggests that it would bring some benefit. As mooted solutions to the forthcoming spectrum crunch go, it's certainly one of the most promising. [Technology Review]

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