Engineers crack Wi-Fi that drains 10,000-times less power

24 Feb 2016

As part of a major breakthrough in telecommunications and Wi-Fi, a team of engineers has developed a system that generates an internet signal that uses 10,000-times less power than current methods.

As part of the current and future internet of things (IoT) rollout in terms of smart city and agritech development, the need for low-power sensors capable of transmitting continuous data has driven advanced research in the area of wireless transmissions.

But what if this could be applied to, not only industrial-scale sensors, but your own devices at home, too?

Future Human

As many people will know from experience, a continuous Wi-Fi connection on devices is often one of the main contributors to batteries losing power on a daily basis.

Wi-Fi that is 1,000-times better than Bluetooth, too

Well, now, according to the University of Washington (UW), a team of engineers there says it has achieved a major breakthrough that allows for Wi-Fi signals to be transmitted that use 10,000-times less power than your own router at home.

Called Passive Wi-Fi, the system is also incredibly more energy efficient than many of the existing low-power transmission means, including Bluetooth and Zigbee, with Passive Wi-Fi consuming 1,000-times less power than these systems.

With a paper outlining the team’s findings to be presented at a conference of the team’s peers, the researchers revealed that, at its current developmental stage, Passive Wi-Fi is capable of transmitting signals at bitrates of up to 11Mbps capable of being decoded on any current Wi-Fi connected device.

This would put it at transmission speeds considerably lower than many household routers, but 11-times faster than can be achieved using Bluetooth.

Great for IoT in short-term

At least in the short-term, this will offer great potential for IoT sensor networks, which only require the ability to send tiny packets of data using the least amount of energy and over a long range.

To achieve such a considerably-low power consumption, the Passive Wi-Fi architecture takes the power-intensive processes – like producing signals to certain frequencies – and confines it to a single device in the network that is plugged into the wall.

By doing this, the sensors can then get on with their work much more efficiently, with distances achieved of as much as 30m.

“Our sensors can talk to any router, smartphone, tablet or other electronic device with a Wi-Fi chipset,” said co-author of the study, Bryce Kellogg. “The cool thing is that all these devices can decode the Wi-Fi packets we created using reflections, so you don’t need specialised equipment.”

Wi-Fi sign image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic