Researchers from MIT, Caltech, Harvard, in conjunction with universities across Europe have developed a way of increasing the speed of wireless networks up to 10 times with little more than a firmware tweak.
The problem with wireless networks, everything from Wi-Fi to cellular, is packet loss. Tiny chunks of your data are consistently being dropped or corrupted as they fly though the air thanks to interference from other electromagnetic devices, blocked by objects, or simply lost due to power constraints. Your system must then report these lost or damaged packets of information to the network which must then resend them. This causes latency or lag. Inevitably, some of these resent packets are again lost, causing cascading latency issues on your wireless connection. This is why distance to source matters so much in wireless communications and why you’ll never hit that theoretical maximum speed printed on the box of your fancy new 802.11n router.
In this new process, currently called “coded TCP”, packets are grouped together and bundled with an algebraic formula describing the contents of the group. This allows the recipient system to compute missing packets rather than asking for them to be retransmitted. For example, a group of packets may be valued at 20, 4, and 1. The network would send these 3 packets and the equation X+Y+Z=25. If the system only receives X (20) and Z (1), your own device could compute the missing Y packet to be 4 without nagging the network.
MIT’s real-world Wi-Fi connection benchmarked at 1Mbps. Switching to coded TCP, the network speed jumped to 16 Mbps. When tested on a train, a 0.5 Mbps connection reached speeds of 13.5 Mbps under coded TCP. Also worthy of note is that networks using coded TCP will have a great deal more bandwidth at their disposal as users will no longer be stuck constantly trying to get replacement packets resent which can account for as much as 5% of all transmitted data.
Coded TCP is now being licensed to hardware makers. Exact real-world effects cannot be measured at this time due to the lack of there ever having been a widespread rollout of coded TCP. Still, a new dawn may be on the horizon for wireless digital communications.