BYU Researchers Boost WiFi Range By 200 Feet With Easy Software Update

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When it comes to home Wi-Fi routers, the newest trend is the prevalence of mesh routers, which allows you to more evenly spread coverage thanks to the use of a base station and one or more satellites. In the recent weeks, we've seen new low-cost mesh routers like the Netgear Orbi Dual-Band and the Nest Wifi.

The folks over at Brigham Young University, however, have developed a new software protocol that modifies Wi-Fi signals in order to greatly extend range. The protocol, which is called On-Off Noise Power Communication (ONPC), abandons that usual convention that speeds of at least 1Mbps are needed to maintain a Wi-Fi signal. With ONPC, speeds of just 1 bit per second are sufficient to maintain a Wi-Fi signal.

By dramatically ramping down the speed needed for a device to communicate with an access point, BYU researchers were able to extend the range of devices by roughly 67 meters, or about 200 feet. “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 Phil Lundrigan, assistant professor of computer engineering at BYU. “We could apply this to cellular or Bluetooth as well."

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Now there are some caveats to such an approach, however. Speeds of 1 bit per second obviously wouldn't be enough to make Wi-Fi on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop usable. However, the growing army of IoT devices that don't need to send much data (and don't need a high-speed connection) could thrive with ONPC. Think of devices like motion sensors, garage door sensors, sprinkler systems or leak detectors which only need to send an on or off 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,’” added Neal Patwari of Washington University. “It’s basically sending 1 bit of information that says it’s alive.”

The best thing about ONPC, however, is that it is all software-based, so it could technically be applied to existing routers and devices with a firmware update.

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