Researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed a "smart surface" of compact antennas which, they claim, can boost both the range and the throughput of a Wi-Fi connection considerably — pushing data through an otherwise-unmodified client device twice as quickly.
"You can stick this on your wall like a painting to improve Wi-Fi connectivity in your home or office," claims Dinesh Bharadia, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, of the compact prototype. "You can use this with off-the-shelf Wi-Fi devices. You don't need specialised equipment to make it work."
The prototype implementation, dubbed ScatterMIMO, takes 48 compact antennas and arranges them in a 100x300mm grid. The antennas, which can be powered for a year on a single coin-cell battery, aren't directly connected to either the access point or the client device; instead, they reflect and steer the signal to boost its strength and quality.
"The key feature of this technology is that it creates a second data stream that goes to your phone or other Wi-Fi-connected device," Bharadia explains. "So not only can you get connectivity in areas that don’t have it, you also get double the data rate in areas where you already have connectivity."
The team's work echoes that of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which in February this year unveiled its own "smart surface" made up of more than 3,000 antennas and which was claimed to boost 5G cellular signal strength by 1,000 percent. UCSD's approach has one major advantage: It's extremely low cost, with a projected production cost of just $5 per board in mass production.
More information is available on the project website, along with the full paper under open access terms.