Anyone who has connected to public Wi-Fi knows that it can be painfully slow at times. Depending on the amount of users on the Wi-Fi access point, users can experience varying levels of “data traffic jam.” Those with other options (4G) can always fall back on them if the going gets too slow, but for those that rely solely on a Wi-Fi connection to power their internet-ready devices, data congestion can be a real pain in the ass.
Now, thanks to research from North Carolina State University, your prospects at that crowded Starbucks may be brightening in the near future. They’ve created new software that they say can improve data throughput by at least 700%.
It’s called WiFox, and it works by monitoring the traffic on single Wi-Fi channel and managing it by giving priority to access points with the most backlog of data.
If every Wi-Fi access point is a one-lane road, and every user has their own car, you can see how there is the potential for traffic jams. WiFox deals with the jam by acting as a “traffic cop” that allows data to move more smoothly in both directions.
WiFi traffic gets slowed down in high-population environments because computer users and the WiFi access point they are connected to have to send data back and forth via a single channel.
If a large number of users are submitting data requests on that channel, it is more difficult for the access point to send them back the data they requested. Similarly, if the access point is permanently given a high priority – enabling it to override user requests in order to send out its data – users would have trouble submitting their data requests. Either way, things slow down when there is a data traffic jam on the shared channel.
Now NC State researchers have created WiFox, which monitors the amount of traffic on a WiFi channel and grants an access point priority to send its data when it detects that the access point is developing a backlog of data. The amount of priority the access point is given depends on the size of the backlog – the longer the backlog, the higher the priority. In effect, the program acts like a traffic cop, keeping the data traffic moving smoothly in both directions.
This sounds great if it works which, according to NCST’s lab tests, it does. Incredibly.
The research team says that on a Wi-Fi system load of 25 users, WiFox improved data throughput by 400%. Increase the number of users to 45, and they saw a 700% increase in performance.
The nice thing about WiFox is that it’s all software, so there’s no need for a massive hardware overhaul. Sounds good. The only question that remains is when we’re likely to see this in use.