GPS cleverness can boost mobile data speeds by 50%

One way to improve just about anything without spending too much money and/or effort on it is to just make it less inefficient. There's a lot of inefficiency in our wireless networks, and researchers at MIT have been able to use simple GPS tricks to reduce dropped calls and improve data rates.

When you make phone calls or surf the internet while you're moving from one place to another, your cellphone is being continually handed off from one WiFi network or broadcast tower to the next. And every time this happens, you run the risk of having your call dropped and you certainly lose data packets.

A group from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has developed a system that uses your phone's GPS to enable it to better select which networks and towers to connect to and when. For example, what your phone normally does is to just select the access point with the strongest signal every time. But if you're moving, by the time your phone gets this figured out and makes the connection, that optimal access point may have changed. A much better way to go is for your phone to connect to an access point that has the optimal trade-off between signal strength and the time you're likely to be connected to it, which your phone can infer from its location and the direction that you're moving.

Using this system, most users will have to jump from access point to access point about 40% less often, resulting in an increase in data throughput by about 30%. And enabling your phone to be more choosy about the bit rates of networks it connects to yielded throughput increases of between 20% and 70%. There are more ways to make the access points themselves more efficient, and the MIT team says that they've identified a further half-dozen or so communications protocols that could benefit from location awareness.

This is all pretty exciting because it has the potential to provide a significant and noticeable improvement to our cellphone experience, with hypothetically nothing more than a firmware update.


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