Scientific Breakthrough: Wi-Fi That Requires Almost No Energy

Passive Wi-Fi could revolutionize IoT

(Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso)
Feb 25, 2016 at 11:55 AM ET

Wi-Fi is a battery killer. As your phone hunts for a Wi-Fi connection it’s squandering precious life juice that you could be using to play the Kendall and Kylie game. But researchers have discovered a way to make Wi-Fi that uses 10,000 times less energy.

Engineers and computers scientists from University of Washington developed “passive Wi-Fi” signals that consume virtually no energy, but can transmit at 11 megabits per second, which is 11 times faster than Bluetooth. The signals can transmit up a distance of 100 feet so it could be used to communicate with many devices without draining their batteries.

As the team describes in a paper that will be presented at the UNENIX Symposium on March 13, a separate device plugged into an outlet does the heavy lifting, sending analog waves to highly efficient passive sensor. The sensor reflects the signal, attaching its data in the process without consuming much energy.

Jeeva Wireless, a company associated with University of Washington, has plans to commercialize the technology. The development could be a boon for the Internet of Things industry, as passive Wi-Fi may alleviate one of IoT’s greatest obstacles, short battery life.