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Will Smart Home Devices Ever Connect Beyond Wi-Fi Distance Limits?

Neil Strother
Dec 04, 2019

Connectivity 2

Connecting smart home devices or vital Internet of Things (IoT) sensors located beyond current Wi-Fi distance limits could be a problem solved. That is the promise if a new creation from Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers takes hold, anyway.

Making Wi-Fi Better

The researchers have created a new protocol called On-Off Noise Power Communication (ONPC). ONPC enables a Wi-Fi network to maintain a stable connection to a device at a very low speed, down to a mere 1 bps (bit per second). That low speed can increase the coverage of Wi-Fi and stabilize connections. The protocol makes it possible for a Wi-Fi network to extend the distance connected devices can send and receive signals by 67 meters, nearly 220 feet.

The other big benefit of ONPC is that it’s a software solution that requires no new hardware, so it can be programmed on top of the existing Wi-Fi protocol. In theory, the protocol could be rolled out to nearly all Wi-Fi-enabled devices through a simple over-the-air software update.

Caution Advised

There is a catch to ONPC. Tech writer Mark Jackson notes that the BYU team was focusing its “efforts upon trying to connect IoT style devices (e.g., remote sensors) via Wi-Fi, which tend to reflect very low powered devices with extremely low data speed requirements...if you want a real boost, including to speeds, then a Wi-Fi extender or mesh system may still be the way to go.”

For smart home devices and sensors, the new protocol could be a big improvement, if not a game-changer. Low power devices out in the yard, for instance, or in a remote part of a large home or in a commercial building could operate more efficiently and maintain more stable network connections.

What Is the Timeline?

ONPC could be integrated with a future upgrade of the Wi-Fi standard, but that is likely years away. More rigorous testing would be necessary to get it approved. In the meantime, homeowners and anyone else hoping to extend Wi-Fi signals are constrained to current products.

If and when ONPC makes its way from the lab to homes, it would be a welcome improvement for the Wi-Fi protocol. It would be another reason for consumers to stick with the technology. However, other wireless technologies, such as Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy, and LoRa are lurking, ready to make inroads in the meantime. For a comprehensive view of smart home technologies and trends, check out The Smart Home Overview report from Guidehouse Insights.