FM radio can be used to prevent clashes in the broadcast spectrum between different wireless networks which often results in slowdowns, according to researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Residents of densely packed areas, such as those living in tower blocks, frequently suffer from inconsistent Wi-Fi performance, which the researchers blame on too many networks being located in a small area.
"Most people think it's a mystery," said Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, a professor with the university. "They get upset at their routers. But what's really happening is that your neighbour is watching Netflix."
When network data is sent at the same time from different networks, it can ‘bump’ into each other. This results in data packets failing to reach their destinations causing unexpectedly slow Internet speeds.
Kuzmanovic and his team of PHD students have created a solution called Wi-FM that allows wireless routers to use the FM spectrum to determine the ‘quietest’ areas that will cause the least signal interruption.
The technology also identifies the usage patterns of other networks in order to detect times with lightest and heaviest traffic, helping to harmonize Wi-Fi signals that are transmitting on the same channel.
"Our wireless networks are completely separate from each other," said Marcel Flores, the lead author of the study.
"They don't have any way to talk to each other even though they are all approximately in the same place. We tried to think about ways in which devices in the same place could implicitly communicate. FM is everywhere."
The team had a number of reasons for using FM technology. Most smartphones and mobile devices are already manufactured with an FM chip inside. FM signal is also able to pass through walls and buildings without being obstructed, increasing its reliability.
This could all be achieved through minor upgrades to software to allow phones to take advantage of Wi-FM, without the need to upgrade hardware.
Kuzmanovic said the system solves network clashes without the need to discuss wireless channel capacity with those operating networks in the near vicinity.
"Are you going to knock on 30 doors to coordinate your wireless network with your neighbors? That is a huge management problem that we are able to bypass."