No matter your carrier or device of choice, waiting long periods of time for data to upload or download from and to your smartphone is a drag. And aren’t those cell phone towers that keep popping up all over town more of an eyesore than “Catwoman” Jocelyn Wildenstein sunbathing in your front yard? Almost?

Engineering researchers at Rice University in Houston, Texas have come up with what they call a full-duplex technology that lets wireless devices use the same frequency to receive and transmit network signals without requiring the building of more cell towers. By using this full-duplex method of connecting wireless devices, carriers could double their throughput, paving the way for 4.5G and even 5G networks of the not-too-distant future!

Wireless Capacity Doubled with No New Towers?Team member Professor Ashutosh Sabharwal says: “Our solution requires minimal new hardware, both for mobile devices and for networks, which is why we’ve attracted the attention of just about every wireless company in the world. The bigger change will be developing new wireless standards for full-duplex. I expect people may start seeing this when carriers upgrade to 4.5G or 5G networks in just a few years.”

Current wireless technology uses two frequencies: one for sending a signal, and the other for receiving. The trouble facing scientists who have tried, in the past, to send and receive signals on the same frequency is clearer if one imagines two people standing far away from each other and shouting to one another at the same time; it’s easy to understand how neither would be able to hear the other — only the sound of their own voice. The Rice team overcame this problem by figuring out a way to work with an older, but fairly simple theory that involves a cancellation effect.

“We send two signals such that they cancel each other at the receiving antenna — the device ears,” Sabharwal says. “The canceling effect is purely local, so the other node can still hear what we’re sending. We repurposed antenna technology called MIMO, which are common in today’s devices. MIMO stands for ‘multiple-input multiple-output’ and it uses several antennas to improve overall performance. We took advantage of the multiple antennas for our full-duplex scheme, which is the main reason why all wireless carriers are very comfortable with our technology.”

It’s in the works that Rice’s full-duplex advances will roll into a wireless open-access research platform (WARP) that will allow others to use the team’s research for their own innovations, which is exactly the way the researchers at Rice want it.

“There are groups that are already using WARP and our open-source software to compete with us. This is great because our vision for the WARP project is to enable never-before-possible research and to allow anyone to innovate freely with minimal startup effort,” says Sabharwal.

Collaboration in academia that could benefit humanity at large? That’s the spirit!