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NEWS
New Ultra-Low Power Wi-Fi Radio Developed
March 26, 2020

More portable, fully wireless smart home setups. Lower power wearables. Batteryless smart devices. These could all be made possible thanks to a new ultra-low power Wi-Fi radio developed by electrical engineers at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego).


A set of ultra-low power Wi-Fi radios integrated in small chips, each measuring 1.5 square millimeters in area (grain of rice shown for scale). Credit: David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

According to information, the device, which is housed in a chip smaller than a grain of rice, enables Internet of Things (IoT) devices to communicate with existing Wi-Fi networks using 5,000 times less power than today’s Wi-Fi radios. It consumes just 28 microwatts of power. And it does so while transmitting data at a rate of 2 megabits per second (a connection fast enough to stream music and most YouTube videos) over a range of up to 21 meters.

The team presented their work, “A 28µW IoT Tag that can Communicate with Commodity WiFi Transceivers via a Single-Side-Band QPSK Backscatter Communication Technique,” at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) 2020 conference.

“You can connect your phone, your smart devices, even small cameras or various sensors to this chip, and it can directly send data from these devices to a Wi-Fi access point near you. You don’t need to buy anything else. And it could last for years on a single coin cell battery,” said Dinesh Bharadia, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

“This Wi-Fi radio is low enough power that we can now start thinking about new application spaces where you no longer need to plug IoT devices into the wall. This could unleash smaller, fully wireless IoT setups,” said UC San Diego electrical and computer engineering professor Patrick Mercier, who co-led the work with Prof. Bharadia.

“It could also allow you to connect devices that are not currently connected—things that cannot meet the power demands of current Wi-Fi radios, like a smoke alarm—and not have a huge burden on battery replacement,” Prof. Mercier said.

The Wi-Fi radio runs on extremely low power by transmitting data via a technique called backscattering. It takes incoming Wi-Fi signals from a nearby device (like a smartphone) or Wi-Fi access point, modifies the signals and encodes its own data onto them, and then reflects the new signals onto a different Wi-Fi channel to another device or access point.

The UC San Diego team’s improvements to the technology also feature a custom integrated circuit for backscattering data, which makes the whole system smaller and more efficient, and thus enables their Wi-Fi radio to operate over longer communication range (21 meters). This is a practical distance for operating in a smart home environment, the researchers said.


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