Researchers at NC State have developed a virtual traffic cop that will make public Wi-Fi networks easier to drive.
NC State University (NCSU) reports that a team of researchers have discovered a way to improve wireless data throughput by up to 700-percent on congested public networks. The solution is software-based, meaning that manufacturers of routers, network bridges and other networking hardware could implement this virtual "traffic cop" in a firmware update.
In a typical home network, a router broadcasts a lane of Internet access on a specific channel, typically Channel 11 or Channel 1. This lane is wide open, making it easy for several users to send their data packets to and from their device at the highest speed allowed. The only real disruption to the fast lane is the high bandwidth stemming from Netflix and other slow-moving data 18-wheelers, but many networking products offer a service to keep those services at bay so that everyone can zip down the Internet with a smile on their face.
But public Wi-Fi networks used in an airport or large convention area are different. Imagine that same, open lane, but this time it's 5 o'clock and everyone in the vicinity is trying to drive down the same road. Data packets distributed by multiple access points are backed up, bumper to bumper, and everyone is seemingly getting nowhere fast. That's where WiFox comes in, serving as a traffic cop that directs access points and their flow of data.
"WiFox 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 university reports. "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."
NC State said on Thursday that WiFox was tested on a Wi-Fi network established in the lab which could handle up to 45 users. The program was actually able to increasingly improve throughput performance as more users jumped on the network, showing a 400-percent improvement when the connections reached 25 users, and 700-percent when there were 45 users connected.
"One of the nice things about this mechanism is that it can be packaged as a software update that can be incorporated into existing WiFi networks," said Arpit Gupta, a Ph.D. student in computer science at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the work. "WiFox can be incorporated without overhauling a system."
The team will present a paper, "WiFox: Scaling WiFi Performance for Large Audience Environments," at the ACM CoNEXT 2012 conference being held in Nice, France, Dec. 10-13. The paper was co-authored by Jeongki Min, a Ph.D. student at NC State, and Dr. Injong Rhee, a professor of computer science at NC State. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.
To read the study abstract, head here.