A group of students at the University of Washington have developed a new technology that uses 10,000 times less power than traditional Wi-Fi. The potential impact that Passive Wi-Fi has on enabling the Internet of Things (IoT) has the channel taking notice.
Passive Wi-Fi could potentially save tremendous amounts of energy, thus making IoT devices cheaper to develop and more widespread. And a bigger IoT market translates to greater margins for resellers and service providers that sell, install, service and manage those devices.
Weak signals and other restraints associated with traditional Wi-Fi can cause unnecessary battery drain and connectivity loss, rendering even the most sophisticated devices unable to function. Wi-Fi energy drain can also make it more expensive to run IoT-connected devices, and can make the possibility of home sensors and other IoT devices too expensive to justify. Researchers say Passive Wi-Fi can generate effective signals using 10,000 times less power than traditional Wi-Fi and 1,000 times less power than a Bluetooth connection.
To understand Wi-Fi, think of devices passing signals between them like old-school radio transmissions. Every device has an RF transmitter that creates a radio wave, and a baseband chip that then encodes that radio wave with data. This means every device uses the same amount of energy to transmit data packets.
With Passive Wi-Fi, only one device creates the radio frequency. It’s then passed to passive devices that only contain the baseband chip and an antenna. When the passive device receives the signal, it simply reflects it, or “backscatters” it, to the receiving device.
If you’re still unclear how it works, check out this handy video from the student researchers:
We’re not off to the races just yet. For starters, the technology would still need to be widely implemented into existing devices. Some have also pointed out that even though backscatter hardware may be more energy efficient, the Wi-Fi routers generating the signal are not. Researchers say that Passive Wi-Fi will enable devices to talk up to 11 megabytes per second. Translation? The technology won’t support streaming Netflix, but it’s well-suited to the IoT.
If Passive Wi-Fi is successful, channel partners may soon see the market for IoT-enabled devices swell as enterprise demand grows. This could also greatly affect the networking industry, as traditional Wi-Fi channels could be freed up for more resource-intense work, such as large-scale downloads, uploads and video.