Empowering Connectivity in Times of Crisis with CIN's Rapidly Deployable Large-Area WiFi System

On Thursday 31st August the Connectivity Innovation Network (CIN) hosted an event to showcase the second of our pilot projects. This stage 1 demonstration marked the culmination of months of collaborative effort, unveiling a unique technological offering that holds the potential to innovate connectivity in NSW, particularly in moments of crisis.

Co-led by Professor Yonghui Li from the University of Sydney and Associate Professor Peiyuan Qin from the University of Technology Sydney, in collaboration with industry including Pivotel Satellite, NBN Co., OneWeb and Real Access, the project team showcased the Rapidly Deployable Large-Area WiFi (LAWiFi) System.

An Innovative Project In the Works

The project team set out with an objective to develop a cost-effective and reliable large-area WiFi system, being able to be rapidly deployed in times of crisis. With an end goal of supporting 100 users at high speeds over a 2x2km area simultaneously, the team innovated long-range WiFi protocols and multi-beam high-gain antennas to integrate these into a testbed for demonstration at the stage 1 demonstration.

Revealing Technical Ingenuity

In an event held at the Fire and Rescue Training Academy in Orchard Hills on 31st August, the project team demonstrated their progress at the halfway mark. In outdoor settings emulating emergency conditions, the system seamlessly established high-speed connectivity, demonstrating the efficacy of the technology in a 300x300m range, at speeds of close to 10mb per second.

Succeeding Where Current Solutions Fail

Existing WiFi solutions thrive in indoor close-range scenarios and are impractical and costly for large-area deployment. Devices spaced far apart are unable to sense each other which leads to collisions and low data-rates. By developing a novel WiFi protocol stack, the Large-Area WiFi project team tested distances of up to 1x1km successfully at high speeds. In conjunction with this innovative WiFi protocol, the team developed high-gain antennas with a narrow vertical beam and a wide horizontal h, distinctly different from those currently on the market. This antenna plays a key role in ensuring strong signal quality over a large-coverage area. In addition to this, the team has connected with Pivotel Satellite, who have developed an efficient backhaul service that is reliable, resilient, and portable with interoperability with nbn™ and OneWeb satellite networks. This de-centralised WiFi technology, combined with antenna innovation and Pivotel’s underlying backhaul, maximises network performance over large-areas, with the potential to be rapidly-deployed in times of crisis. 

Bridging Gaps in Connectivity

There are many practical applications for the LAWiFi project in its final form. Potential markets include agriculture, remote education and learning, large warehouses, underground mines, large industry settings and emergency services. Particularly, the project team is working with NSW Telco Authority to demonstrate the capabilities of the WiFi system to support emergency services and broadband for regional communities. Envision remote disaster-stricken areas,  such robust large area WiFi system could play a pivotal role in facilitating communications, coordination, and access to critical resources.  

Next Steps

This project marks a significant advancement in cost-effective and reliable WiFi over large areas, with the potential to be commercialised in future. The ability to utilise this technology, particularly in emergencies, present a paradigm shift in disaster response. Beyond immediate applications, the system promises to play a major role in improving NSW’s connectivity in rural and regional areas. The project team will demonstrate the system’s full capabilities at the project’s final demonstration anticipated for later this year.