Making the best of overlapping WiFi

2012-08-21

in Economics, Geek stuff, Internet matters, Security

Most of the places I have lived during the last few years have been permeated by more than ten overlapping WiFi networks. Apartments and businesses each have their own internet connection which they connect to their own devices via a wireless router.

Unfortunately, the effect of so many simultaneously operating networks can be one of disruptive interference between them. Everyone gets slower and patchier internet access as all the routers compete for the relatively small number of communication channels that are part of the WiFi standard.

It would be really neat if people could develop software to allow routers to engage with each other intelligently. Consumers could program in their preferences regarding total bandwidth usage, whether to let strangers use their network, and so on. The routers could then make intelligent use of the infrastructure that is available: turning off less capable WiFi hotspots to reduce interference, directing traffic through the connections of those with large bandwidth caps, and deploying encryption technology to foil some of the illegal surveillance that has become commonplace around the world. There could even be a quid pro quo system implemented; people who are willing to share their internet connection with strangers could be granted priority access by the routers of others. By sharing my home internet connection in Toronto, for instance, I might be given a login credential that I could use with appropriate routers in other cities. With a big enough network of users, such connection sharing could be very useful.

This isn’t a system that would need to be deployed all at once by all router manufacturers. A few could adopt a voluntary standard for cooperation between routers. That would allow for some real-world testing and the identification of any problems related to functionality or security. In the end, the result could be the bottom-up development of a more effective and secure mechanism for wireless internet access in high-density environments.

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. November 15, 2012 at 10:15 am

New WiFi Protocol Boosts Congested Wireless Network Throughput By 700%

“Engineers at NC State University (NCSU) have discovered a way of boosting the throughput of busy WiFi networks by up to 700%. Perhaps most importantly, the breakthrough is purely software-based, meaning it could be rolled out to existing WiFi networks relatively easily — instantly improving the throughput and latency of the network. As wireless networking becomes ever more prevalent, you may have noticed that your home network is much faster than the WiFi network at the airport or a busy conference center. The primary reason for this is that a WiFi access point, along with every device connected to it, operates on the same wireless channel. This single-channel problem is also compounded by the fact that it isn’t just one-way; the access point also needs to send data back to every connected device. To solve this problem, NC State University has devised a scheme called WiFox. In essence, WiFox is some software that runs on a WiFi access point (i.e. it’s part of the firmware) and keeps track of the congestion level. If WiFox detects a backlog of data due to congestion, it kicks in and enables high-priority mode. In this mode, the access point gains complete control of the wireless network channel, allowing it to clear its backlog of data. Then, with the backlog clear, the network returns to normal. We don’t have the exact details of the WiFox scheme/protocol (it’s being presented at the ACM CoNEXT conference in December), but apparently it increased the throughput of a 45-device WiFi network by 700%, and reduced latency by 30-40%.”

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