An Austin, Texas, startup by the name of M87 has come up with what will no doubt be a controversial technology to improve weak wireless signals. By using an implementation of a technique known as mesh networking, phones with a poor signal can leech signal from nearby users’ phones via Wi-Fi.
It may sound a bit absurd but Chinese Internet giant 21Vianet will be launching a wireless network based on the technology early next year. What’s more, it may be coming to other countries including the US.
It’s no secret that major wireless providers are constantly looking to improve their coverage and M87’s technology, which they claim can boost download speeds by up to 50 percent, certainly fits the bill. The company says two mobile carriers in the US are already evaluating it for potential use.
As Technology Review outlines, a typical scenario could see someone sitting at the back of a coffee shop with a weak signal connect to the device of someone at the front of the store with a stronger signal, perhaps by a window.
M87 CEO David Hampton said the technology has a range of around 30 to 50 feet indoors and up to 180 feet outside. The only real drawback to using the leeching technique is to battery life: the “donor” device will use some of its battery life to facilitate sharing. It’s a small penalty, Hampton notes, further pointing out that a device could be configured to only share if it have more than 60 percent of its battery remaining.
Pan Hui, a computer science professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the technology is feasible but would certainly present some unique challenges. Chief among them would be data security – making sure the donor phone doesn’t have access to information it is sending to the recipient.
Wireless carriers are going to have a hard time marketing the tactic to its subscribers and may have to resort to offering incentives in exchange for their participation.
That said, would you be willing to share some of your battery life with others? If so, what would it take for you to agree to it? A discounted wireless rate, extra data allowance, etc.?