MIT's smarter routers promise to fight crowded networks

Programmable wired routers and coordinated wireless routers promise faster data with fewer bottlenecks.

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Jon Fingas
August 23rd, 2016
Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images
Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

MIT hates overcrowded networks just as much as you do, and its CSAIL division has made two breakthroughs that could clear up the data pipes. To begin with, it's developing programmable routers that can still keep up with bandwidth-heavy services like streaming video. Instead of trying to create an elaborate rule system for deciding which data packets get through (which could bog a router down or consume a lot of chip space), researchers broke things down into simple computing elements that could handle a wide range of tasks. You'd only have to combine different elements to achieve the intended effect, which could help networks adapt to new conditions -- that hot new mobile game might not cause chaos.

The other discovery would tackle the all-too-common problem of congested or range-limited networks. Scientists have created a "MegaMIMO 2.0" (multiple input, multiple output) system that coordinates multiple access points at once, syncing their phases so that multiple transmitters can use the same frequency slice without interference. The result? In a crowded room, transfer speeds jump about 360 percent compared to conventional WiFi -- better for both raw speed and better performance at the fringe of a network. The technology could keep things humming in particularly dense network conditions, such as a major urban area or a concert, and it'd be useful for both cellular and WiFi service -- you might not see your connection tank quite so quickly.

The challenge in both cases is getting companies to adopt the technology. It could be a while before there's something router makers could easily use. The wireless solution in particular might depend on vendors learning to cooperate with each other, since there will likely be moments when competing network tech sits close by. Nonetheless, there could be a time where network bottlenecks are relatively rare.

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