Engineering milestone: Wi-Fi uses 10,000x less power

Wi-Fi that uses 10,000x less power? Uh, that's amazing.

2 minutes & read time

How many devices do you have in your house that use Wi-Fi? I'm sure there's at least a few, and if you're like me and many others - you'll have over a dozen devices with Wi-Fi, so when engineers reach a breakthrough with Wi-Fi that uses 10,000x less power - it'll make you sit up and pay attention.

Engineers from the University of Washington have achieved speeds of 11Mbps on the new connection, so it's not breaking speed barriers - but they're working on getting the speeds faster, and faster. The new Wi-Fi transmissions use 10,000x less power than conventional methods, so battery life savings on smartphones and mobile devices will improve by a considerable margin in the future.

One of the engineers, Shyam Gollakota, explains: "We wanted to see if we could achieve Wi-Fi transmissions using almost no power at all. That's basically what Passive Wi-Fi delivers. We can get Wi-Fi for 10,000 times less power than the best thing that's out there".

Passive Wi-Fi - How Does It Work?

At the moment, Wi-Fi signals require information sent over a digital frequency, as well as the older analogue radio frequency. These two frequencies send packages between each other, and are decoded on your device.

Digital baseband technology has improved over the years in leaps and bounds - not requiring much power at all. But, analogue radio frequency technology is ancient, and still consumes hundreds of milliwatts of power. Wi-Fi requires both digital and analogue signals, so passive Wi-Fi is a great solution for that.

But how? The new system decouples the analogue and digital signals, pushing all of the ancient analogue RF functions into one single plug in device. This device generates Wi-Fi signal using an "array of sensors, and those Wi-Fi packets are then reflected and absorbed using a digital switch known as the 'passive Wi-Fi' device, which runs on barely any energy at all. The passive Wi-Fi bounces the information to your smartphone or router, where it can be received by consuming only 15 to 60 microwatts of power - 10,000 times less than current devices".

Engineering milestone: Wi-Fi uses 10,000x less power |

In real-world tests, the passive reflectors were capable of working with off-the-shelf smartphones at up to 100 feet (30m). Vamsi Talla, an engineer on the team said: "All the networking, heavy-lifting and power-consuming pieces are done by the one plugged-in device. The passive devices are only reflecting to generate the Wi-Fi packets, which is a really energy-efficient way to communicate".

As the source Science Alert points out: "Not only could this save your phone's battery life, it could also finally make that 'internet of things' we've all been hearing about so much more feasible - in the past, it would have cost huge battery life to have things like your fridge and washing machine connected to the internet".

Fun times ahead for the future of Wi-Fi, that's for sure.


Anthony joined the TweakTown team in 2010 and has since reviewed 100s of graphics cards. Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering and has recently taken a keen interest in artificial intelligence (AI) hardware.

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