New low-priced device developed to boost wireless signal strength

Pablo Tucker
November 10, 2017

The affordable contraption was created by scientists from Columbia University and Dartmouth College who teamed up to develop a "virtual wall" that helps to improve a Wi-Fi signal inside an indoor space with multiple rooms.

"Not only do we strengthen wireless signals, we make those same signals more secure", Xia Zhou, assistant professor at Dartmouth College, said in a press briefing. The researchers, whose findings were earlier reported on by TechRadar, first tried aluminum drink cans and cut them into a circular shape to reflect a signal towards dead areas.

"Through this single solution, we address a number of challenges that plague wireless users", explained Xia Zhou, who worked on the study.

The reflectors are made out of plastic and covered in aluminium foil, with a unit's shape determined by data fed into the WiPrint system. The reflector can then optimize the WiFi signal in the given room. While this solution doesn't necessarily expand the coverage area of your router, it does ensure that you get a much stronger wireless signal in the areas that you need it most, without losing any of your signal to obstructions, deadening walls and alike.

Second, it gives users control over their Wi-Fi signal, which to the layman sounds like a useless option but actually yields some pretty cool benefits. After assessing interior layouts and the target areas to strengthen or weaken signal strength, the researchers placed a "computationally optimised" signal reflector around a wireless router. Surprisingly, signal strength in desirable areas increased by 6dB, while the areas where the signals were not wanted witnessed a decrease of up to 10dB. How cheap it is. "With a simple investment of about $35 and specifying coverage requirements, a wireless reflector can be custom-built to outperform antennae that cost thousands of dollars", the team says. At the moment, however, the WiPrint software is not yet commercially available.

After testing the reflector in two different rooms, the team found it was able to increase the strength of coverage by a whopping 6dB, the equivalent of one thick wall or ceiling. This also leads to reduced interference.

The reflector developed by the Dartmouth research team was tested with a plethora of routers, including the ones with the latest Wi-Fi protocol 802.11ac.

The Dartmouth team will be presenting its innovative research this week at ACM's BuildSys 2017 in Delft, The Netherlands.

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