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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reinvented Two-Way Radio Could Double Wi-Fi Performance

Radio waves are fast. Real fast. Speed of light fast. But what if they could be faster? A breakthrough experiment with radio waves from Stanford University doesn’t actually make radio waves faster, but it could let us use them twice as quickly and efficiently as ever before.

Normally radio has to use a frequency to transmit a wave and then receive the response, but the geniuses at Stanford have developed a way for radio waves to transmit and receive over the same signal simultaneously, effectively offering double the performance in two-way radio applications like Wi-Fi. (Updated with video)

Stanford’s assistant professor Philip Levis equated radio communication to verbal communication: simply put, if two people are shouting at each other, neither person’s going to hear what the other is saying. Typically, if radio was trying to transmit and receive simultaneously, it would come out all garbled.
"When a radio is transmitting, its own transmission is millions, even billions of times stronger than anything else it might hear [from another radio]," Levis said. "It's like trying to hear a whisper while you yourself are shouting."

So they developed a workaround: use two transmitters in both pieces of hardware. Essentially, the signal is canceled out on one of the transmitters, meaning it can “hear” an incoming signal without listening to itself babble.
“The two transmit signals interfere destructively at the receive antenna to create a dead signal that the receiver can’t ‘hear’,” said Levis. “So you create this null position where the receiver can’t hear that signal and so is able to receive packets from other areas.”

This technology holds the potential the double the performance of any radio communication; its creators are currently work to secure a patent and improve signal strength. While that means it’s not quite ready for prime time Wi-FI use just yet, we hope it makes its way into the Wi-Fi standards sooner rather than later.

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