We’ve all experienced the frustration of trying to load a web page on our phone at a busy conference with an overloaded network. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) may have come up with a solution: A system called MegaMIMO 2.0, which can transfer data over Wi-Fi more than three times faster than current options, with double the range.

Researchers explained the findings in a paper released this week. The key to the MegaMIMO 2.0 system is coordinating multiple access points at the same time, on the same frequency, without creating interference.

“In today’s wireless world, you can’t solve spectrum crunch by throwing more transmitters at the problem, because they will all still be interfering with one another,” Ezzeldin Hamed, PhD student and lead author of the paper, told MIT News. “The answer is to have all those access points work with each other simultaneously to efficiently use the available spectrum.”

According to the MIT News report, “MegaMIMO 2.0’s hardware is the size of a standard router, and consists of a processor, a real-time baseband processing system, and a transceiver board.” The software is a signal-processing algorithm that allows multiple independent access points to transmit data on the same piece of spectrum to multiple, independent mobile devices, without interfering with each other, the report stated.

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The researchers tested MegaMIMO’s performance by building a fake conference room, and strapping four laptops to Roomba robots to wander around the space. They found that the system could increase the devices’ data-transfer speed by 330%.

“Wi-Fi is a mature technology, but it’s still evolving,” said Jacob Sharony, principal consultant at Mobius Consulting, who has also studied MIMO. “This is a breakthrough in increasing the capacity of wireless networks many folds. The beauty is that we can still improve, and expect to see much higher capacities by using new architectures like this.”

Growth of MIMO

The first version of MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output), was single-user, in which one router connected to one mobile device. The next evolution, known as Wave 2, allowed multiple routers to connect to multiple users.

Interest in distributed MIMO has grown in recent years, as the ubiquity of connected mobile devices has caused crowding on wireless networks. Past research has demonstrated the ability to sync distributed transmitters and allow them to transmit simultaneously to multiple receivers without interference, but this is the first paper to show how the system can operate in real-time.

Say you are at a baseball game, and sign into the stadium’s Wi-Fi network. With MegaMIMO 2.0, as you walk around the stadium, your phone will automatically bounce from router to router depending on your location, in order to give you the best signal at all times.

Other applications might include large office buildings, sports stadiums, conference centers, and malls–anywhere large groups congregate and need a strong connection, Sharony said.

The advent of MegaMIMO 2.0 is especially important given the rise of the Internet of Things, as well as AR and VR, Sharony said. More connected devices means a need for more bandwidth, which distributed MIMO could provide.

“This will increase the total capacity of the network,” he added. “The user would not even know about it. The magic happens in the software and hardware, coordinating multiple routers and devices.”

This is an early iteration of the MegaMIMO 2.0 system. According to MIT News, in the future the team is hoping to “coordinate dozens of routers at once,” providing even more speed.

MIT’s work will likely lead to further improvements in hardware and software to coordinate routers together, Sharony said. “It will be a good push for the industry in increasing the capacity even further, especially in the enterprise, where you have many devices sharing the whole spectrum,” he added.

Although, it will likely take a few years for MegaMIMO 2.0 to come to market, Sharony said.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. This week, researchers from MIT’s CSAIL announced a breakthrough in Wi-Fi with their MegaMIMO 2.0 system, which can transfer data over wireless more than three times faster than is currently possible, while doubling the signal’s range.
  2. While MIMO is not a new concept, this is the first time that researchers have successfully developed a system for distributed MIMO that works in real time, to bounce a user from one router to another within the same network.
  3. This technology will increase capacity for businesses, sports stadiums, and conference centers, and could be useful as more companies implement the Internet of Things, AR, and VR.