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RFocus, MIT announces "smart wall" that increases signal strength by 10 times. Beamforming at Path Wall-Engadget Japan

MIT RFocus beam form surface

Researchers at MIT have announced "Smart Surface" RFocus, which increases the signal strength of wireless communications such as WiFi and cellular networks by an average of 10x.

By reflecting the radio waves reaching the wall with a small RF switch or by narrowing it down like a lens, the communication speed and range can be increased without increasing the power and the number of antennas for transmission and reception. In short, "soft control antenna that beamforms along the path."

From wireless base stations to smartphones, or from WiFi routers to IoT devices, wireless communication devices that require high communication speeds, wide communication ranges, and low power consumption require the use of multiple antennas to improve directivity. Technology is widely used.

However, in principle, multiple antennas are required, and the size of the antenna itself is determined by the frequency band.Therefore, it is difficult to mount the sensor especially on IoT sensors that require both miniaturization and low power consumption. The challenge is that the range, drive time, etc. will be limited.

Therefore, RFocus, announced by MIT researcher Venkat Arun et al., Is an idea to provide a beamforming antenna function in the environment of the path where radio waves reach, without relying on both ends of transmission and reception.

MIT RFocus beam form surface

Specifically, it is a sheet-like sheet with small elements that perform the function of a simple RF switch, and uses an external controller to control only whether a particular switch reflects or transmits radio waves.

It is not amplifying and transmitting like a so-called WiFi extender, and it also features that it does not use power other than the operation of the controller and the rearrangement of switches.

The controller only needs the signal strength of nearby receivers. There is no need to obtain three-dimensional position information for each device. Using a proprietary algorithm, the software controls the RF switch group on the “wall” to change it into an optimal beamforming antenna (works like a mirror or lens for the radio waves that hit it and concentrates on a specific device).

The configuration of the RF switch can be changed dynamically in about 1 ms, so it can be used for multiple communication devices and mobile terminals. It is also possible to switch between devices when communication is required to control overall performance.

MIT RFocus beam form surface

In an experiment using a prototype RFocus sheet for proof of concept, the median signal strength was increased to 10.5 times and the channel capacity was increased to 2.1 times.

(More than 10 times in places not blocked by thick walls and elevators, and 2 to 4 times in places that are blocked).

MIT RFocus beam form surface

From the dissertation. The figure which shows the improvement ratio (dB) of the signal strength and the wall and surrounding communication equipment where RFocus was installed. The closer to blue, the smaller the effect, the larger the effect: purple, red, yellow.

In essence, it's an antenna, so you don't have to make the entire building wall RFocus. The interesting thing is that radio waves follow a complicated route, so they are intuitively distributed near or far, with or without walls.

In the experiment, we used a prototype in which clunky sheets laid out by handmade boards were connected by hand wiring, but in principle the structure was simple, and each element was a simple mechanism like a passive RFID tag. It is said that it can be put to practical use by printing it as wallpaper at low cost and connecting only the controller.

It is expected to be used in any places where wireless communication is used, especially indoors. Especially, it is said that it can be applied to an environment that requires efficient communication with a large number of small IoT sensors, such as a factory.

Click here for the original paper.

RFocus: Practical Beamforming for Small Devices (arXiv: 1905.05130 (cs.NI))

Of course, it will be adopted in facilities where radio waves are difficult to reach, but if it becomes a product that can be installed individually, it will be very popular for digital gadget lovers who want to power up their homes in an environment where radio waves can reach.

For now, there are products that can be used for WiFi.

Make your home network fast with mesh Wi-Fi. I tried a topical router “ VELOP '' at a house

Mesh Wi-Fi is also managed by its own OS. Synology router “ MR2200ac '' has too many functions

Google announces mesh router "Nest WiFi". Also equipped with smart speaker function

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