Free Wi-Fi connections in public places such as airports and cafes are great. But you may have noticed that speeds usually slow to a crawl when a large number of users use the same hotspot. That’s because routers traditionally offer a single channel of data to users, and as more users send and request data through the same channel, latency and throughput starts to degrade as the maximum bandwidth is reached.
A team of researchers at NC State University believe they’ve found a solution for this. Dubbed WiFox, their solution is purely software-based, meaning it could be rolled out to existing WiFi networks.
Specific details are still under wraps as they will be presented at the ACM CoNEXT conference in December. But essentially WiFox would run on a Wi-Fi access point as part of the firmware and kick in whenever it detects the access point is developing a backlog due to congestion, giving priority to certain transmissions depending on the size of the backlog. The press release likens the technique to a traffic policeman, allowing data to flow freely in one direction for a while and then reversing the flow, all in an optimal way to clear congestion.
The research team tested the program in their lab and found that improvements ranged from 400% with approximately 25 simultaneous Wi-Fi users to 700% with around 45 users sharing the same connection. According to their estimations, this translates to the Wi-Fi system being able to respond to user requests an average of four times faster than a Wi-Fi network that does not use WiFox.
It's worth noting that the technology is not meant make existing Wi-Fi networks faster, only reduce slowdowns in congested hotspots. It’s unclear when or if WiFox will make it to public Wi-Fi networks across the world.