How 'smart antennas' could boost Wi-Fi performance

By , Network World |  Mobile & Wireless, NSF, wifi

 We've all had the problem of going into a crowded Starbucks and suffering through a substandard Wi-Fi signal, most likely caused by too few access points and too many end users. But what if Wi-Fi antennas could do a better job of detecting how many devices were in a given room and could push data out to them more rapidly on a one-by-one basis? That's what researchers at Gonzaga University are trying to accomplish by testing "smart antenna" technology in their new research lab that just received a federal research grant worth nearly $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation. In this interview, we ask Gonzaga electrical engineering associate professor Steve Schennum to outline the basics of smart antenna systems, to describe how they'll improve Wi-Fi performance and to describe how a smart antenna lab would help out small wireless companies.

What problem is your research into wireless technology trying to address?

The problem is interference. Right now the airspace is full of lots of people trying to communicate over the 2.4GHz band, which is used for Wi-Fi. Our goal is to design a smart antenna that can zero in on a desired signal and reject the others. We're designing software-defined radios that work with the access-point antennas to optimize the signal-to-noise ratio.

So the software will try to optimize the transmission between your computer and the access point wherever it is while also minimizing what you're receiving from other computers. The access point would focus itself on one radio at a time. Access points are typically "dumb" in that they radiate some power in all directions at once. So when one computer has a weaker signal or different polarization, a smart antenna could adjust the polarization and would form a beam directly to the laptop it wanted to talk to.

Coping with Wi-Fi's biggest problem: interference

Wouldn't this necessarily degrade the quality of signal being sent to other laptops in the area?

The access point would do this very quickly, and actually it would take less time dealing with each radio one at a time than trying to push out data to them all at once. It'll be far less likely that you'll have to retransmit something or have a frame error in your transmission if you do it this way.

So tell me a bit about what the smart antenna lab does


Originally published on Network World |  Click here to read the original story.
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