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Researchers have found a way to extend Wi-Fi ranges by almost 200 feet

New research indicates that the signal range of your favorite smart home devices can be boosted, and you might not have to install new hardware to do it either. According to a press release published on Tuesday, October 22, researchers at Brigham Young University have recently developed a new protocol that can boost the Wi-Fi signal range for IoT devices, which in turn may allow such devices to be installed further away from a given Wi-Fi access point. The new protocol is expected to let IoT devices be installed more than 60 meters (or nearly 200 feet) away from an access point, without the addition of new hardware.

Normally, Wi-Fi requires at least one megabit per second (1 Mbps) to maintain a signal. But this newly developed protocol, known as On/Off Noise Power Communication (ONPC), is apparently able to maintain a signal with just one bit per second. And it turns out that one bit per second is just enough to allow many Wi-Fi-enabled devices “that simply need an on/off message” to function. The press release mentioned a few examples of such devices: garage door sensors, sprinkler systems, or air quality monitors.

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Photo courtesy of BYU.

The protocol works by letting Wi-Fi-enabled devices transmit wireless noise along with data: “They programmed into the Wi-Fi sensor a series of 1s and 0s, essentially turning the signal on and off in a specific pattern. The Wi-Fi router was able to distinguish this pattern from the surrounding wireless noise (from computers, televisions, and cell phones) and therefore know that the sensor was still transmitting something, even if the data wasn’t being received.”

One of the researchers involved, Neal Patwari of Washington University in St. Louis, described how the router interprets the code sent by a Wi-Fi-enabled device using this protocol: “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,’” Patwari said. “It’s basically sending 1 bit of information that says it’s alive.”

When ONPC was tested, the protocol was managed by an application called “Stayin’ Alive” and was able to extend “the range of an off-the-shelf device 67 meters beyond the range of standard Wi-Fi.”

It is worth mentioning, however, that according to the researchers, the ONPC protocol isn’t supposed to replace Wi-Fi or long-range wireless protocols. It is primarily intended to “supplement Wi-Fi.” In fact, when it’s used in tandem with the Stayin’ Alive app, the protocol is only activated when the app “detects that the Wi-Fi device has lost its connection.”

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