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MIT to fix your patchy Wi-Fi with antenna-filled ‘smart wallpaper’

Called RFocus, the system is claimed to boost signal strength by a factor of 10

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Patchy Wi-Fi is a nightmare for any smart home, as it means even simple devices like light bulbs and speakers can fail to work properly.

You can use a mesh network to fix this, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has come up with what it thinks is an even better idea — antenna-filled wallpaper.

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Although not wallpaper in the traditional sense, what MIT's CSAIL department has created what they call is a "smart surface," packed with over 3,000 wireless antennae. These turn the surface into a signal booster that can act as a lens to focus Wi-Fi, or as a mirror to reflect a signal around the room, ensuring it reaches every connected device.

The antennae use no power at all, MIT says, as they are passively reflecting the signal instead of producing it or amplifying it themselves. The technology is described by the institute as an "extremely promising" way to boost signal strength in homes and offices.

VentureBeat reports MIT's Hari Balakrishnan as saying: "The core goal here was to explore whether we can use elements in the environment and arrange them to direct the signal in a way that we can actually control. If you want to have wireless devices that transmit at the lowest possible power, but give you a good signal, this seems to be one extremely promising way to do it."

As well as ensuring better Wi-Fi coverage, the technology could also mean a future where wireless devices can be smaller, as they don't need large antennae when the RFocus surface is increasing signal strength for them.

MIT CSAIL RFocus antenna The 'smart surface' has thousands of antennas but uses no energyMIT CSAIL

The technology could also help with high-band 5G, also known as millimeter wave 5G. This is because, while it offers incredibly fast download speeds, high-band 5G struggles to go through objects, and can easily be blocked by its surroundings (compared to slower mid- and low-band 5G). MIT's antenna-filled wallpaper could help bounce a 5G signal around an office space, instead of it being obscured by walls.

The antennas are said to cost a matter of cents each, making even large expanses of the surface relatively affordable to produce, and no wiring or power source is required. The CSAIL department suggests how the technology could be installed in warehouses, then connected to hundreds of sensors and equipment for monitoring stock levels.

At GearBrain, we're also excited for how it could be used in the home, potentially improving Wi-Fi signal strength throughout larger properties, or in older buildings with thicker, signal-blocking walls.

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