While hardware capabilities tend to evolve at a yearly rate (think the incremental bumps of smartphones/PCs), progression in connectivity tends to be slower. Wi-Fi capabilities have increased over the last decade, but arguably not in proverbial leaps and bounds. A new development by Dartmouth University could make a significant change to Wi-Fi performance.

Researchers at the university are able to improve the wireless range and security of Wi-Fi. The team found that covering a 3D printed form with aluminium foil can improve range and protection.

The project was published on Eurekalert and works when a reflector is placed on a Wi-Fi router antenna to shape the beam. Researchers say this improves range by stopping the connection passing through unwanted spaces.

“With a simple investment of about $35 and specifying coverage requirements. A wireless reflector can be custom-built to outperform antennae that cost thousands of dollars,” said Xia Zhou, a Dartmouth assistant professor.

“Through this single solution, we address a number of challenges that plague wireless users,” said Xia Zhou, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth. “Not only do we strengthen wireless signals, we make those same signals more secure.”

3D Printing

Zhou and the team tested numerous styles of directional antennas in an effort to shape the radio waves. Researchers also tested what they call an “anecdotal” solution, a soda can behind the router. Through these tests, the team eventually created specific shapes that increased receptions across rooms.

To take advantage of this, the group created a program called WiPrint. The 3D printing software printed the exact shape for the beams to improve security and connectivity. Once the models are printed, they just need to be covered in aluminium foil.

“With information on a specific interior space, locations of wireless access points and the desired target area, the system computes an optimized reflector shape in only 23 minutes. Researchers found that the reflectors can decrease strength by up to 10 dB. Where the signal is not wanted and increase strength by 6 dB where it is desired. The reflector is also relatively easy to place.”