Your grandpa’s old FM radio could boost your WiFi! It’s true!



It’s happened to all of us. You’re just sitting around the house, trying to stream some video or cruise through Facebook when suddenly KA-CHUNK; your internet screeches to a halt for a few irritating seconds. It might not last long but it happens far too often, and good old FM radio might be the solution.

When there’s more than one Wi-Fi network in an area—like an apartment building—their packets of data can crash into each other, seizing up connections at the worst possible moment. But according to researchers at Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering​ FM radio could solve this problem by giving Wi-Fi networks the ability to know what their neighbors are up to.

The system, which the researchers are calling Wi-FM, would make use of the FM radio chips that are already present in many devices, using the common radio band to allow different networks to coordinate and wait for the optimal and quietest time to send their data. It’s similar to the way that autonomous vehicles could effectively end roadway congestion, except in the case of Wi-Fi there aren’t even humans at the wheel right now; packets of data are just blindly speeding into intersections and hoping for the best.

It’s a promising solution to a common problem, especially for those of us in areas so crowded that even alternative Wi-Fi bands are getting full to bursting with signals. So with any luck, FM radio will soon be helping you listen to Pandora.


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