Algebra Boosts Wireless Network Bandwidth Tenfold

coded-tcp

Algebraists are promising to improve wireless bandwidth by an order of magnitude, not by adding base stations, but by using algebra to eliminate the network-clogging task of resending dropped packets of data.

This technology will eliminate wasteful processes and will seamlessly weave data streams from Wi-Fi and LTE, which is a step forward from other approaches that toggle back and forth instead.

Several companies have licensed the underlying technology in recent months, but the exact details are subject to nondisclosure agreements. Elements of that technology were developed at MIT, the University of Porto in Portugal, Harvard University, Caltech, and the Technical University of Munich. The tech is being licensed through Code-On Technologies, a MIT/Caltech startup.

The underlying problem is huge, and growing. In Boston, 3% of data packets are dropped due to interference or congestion, causing delays, and generating new back-and-forth traffic to replace those packets, compounding the problem even further.

The benefits of this technology, known as coded TCP, were used on a test run on a New York to Boston train, notorious for poor connectivity. By increasing their available bandwidth, the scientists were able to watch YouTube videos without any lag. Testing on the Wi-Fi network at MIT, where 2% of packets are typically lost, the group found that the normal bandwidth of one megabit per second was boosted to 16 megabits per second. On a train where losses were 5%, the method boosted bandwidth from 0.5 megabits per second to 13.5 megabits per second. In a situation where there were no losses, there was little if any benefit, but these scenarios are rare.

The method promises significant bandwidth for cellular data users experiencing poor signal coverage. The technology will be widely deployed within two to three years. Instead of sending packets, this method sends algebraic equations that describe series of packets. If a packet goes missing, instead of asking for it to be sent again, the receiving device can solve the missing one. The equations are simple and linear, so the processing load on a router, phone or base station is negligible.

If coded TCP works in large-scale deployments as expected, it could help forestall a spectrum crunch. By 2016, mobile data traffic will grow between 18- and 25-fold and the spectrum of available wireless frequencies could run out within a couple of years.

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[via MIT Technology Review]

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