In a boon for the mining industry and internet users everywhere, University of Sydney telecommunications researchers are developing a safe and cost-effective technology that could be a wireless internet game changer. They are developing an industrial long-range WiFi system that transmits signals to hard-to-reach places while maintaining high data rates.
Supported by an $800,000 grant from the NSW Physical Sciences Fund, the system is being created for mission-critical applications in underground mines that require remote monitoring of workers and control of sensitive mining equipment, with signals extending as far as several kilometres underground. The system could also be used in places such as airports, shopping centres, university campuses and large industrial or agricultural settings.
Existing WiFi systems have mainly been designed for indoor applications and therefore have short communication ranges of less than 100 metres, as well as random and high latency. This makes them unsuitable for mission-critical applications.
Latency, in computing, electrical and information engineering, is the delay between a user's action and the time it takes to be transmitted or reproduced.
The Centre for IoT and Telecommunications researchers have designed long-range WiFi systems for ultra-low latency and high data rates, which allow wireless signals to travel several kilometres, while carrying more data without dropping out or experiencing lag.
Leading the project is Professor Yonghui Li, who said the research was a breakthrough for the mining industry, but would have a positive impact on many industries that rely on low latency and high data transmission.
“Australia invented WiFi – and how terrific and transformative an invention it has been – except for the fact that it has been plagued by short range and high latency, rendering it patchy and prone to dropping out. To deploy these systems in large areas such as underground mines is expensive, and often the signal quality is poor,” said Professor Li.
“Our system is the world’s first long-range high-rate WiFi system that is compatible with conventional WiFi and supports both mobile and multiple-access terminals.”
“It provides a cost-effective solution and opens up new possibilities for real-time surveillance, image and data transmission, all while guaranteeing low latency, which means it doesn’t experience lag and can be used for highly sensitive, mission-critical work.”
The team’s system integrated new protocols with off-the-shelf WiFi chips, so they could be used with existing WiFi infrastructure.
“Adaption of existing WiFi systems is central to our project as there are billions of dollars’ worth of WiFi infrastructure already deployed in underground mines around the world,” said Professor Li.
Long-range, low-latency, and high data rate WiFi networks will be a central facet of 6G technologies and the Internet of Things economy. The technology has many emerging applications, such as drones used for video surveillance of crops and control of vehicles and robots on farms.
“Existing short-range technologies simply do not meet the requirements of up-and-coming IoT applications. The coverage of large areas is typically achieved by mesh networks – which help to extend the coverage of wireless networks – with a high number of nodes and relay hops, which cause congestion and severe latency,” said Professor Branka Vucetic, the project's co-lead.
Australian Internet of Things company Roobuck will manufacture and certify the low-cost, ready-to-use WiFi system, which is expected to be available within the next two years.