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Software to make Web browsing at coffee shops faster

Customers surf web at a coffee shop.
In this file photo, customers at the Canvas Cafe take advantage of free wireless wi-fi internet access in San Francisco.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The joy of surfing the Web in a coffee shop or a packed conference hall quickly fades when the wireless network slows to a crawl. New software for wireless access points that serves as a data traffic cop promises to keep these networks zipping along at rocket speeds.

Wi-Fi networks get bogged down in busy coffee shops and conference centers because everyone is trying to connect to an access point that sends data back and forth via a single channel. The software, called WiFox, monitors this traffic and, when there’s a backlog, gives priority to clearing the backlog.

More than half of the data traffic analyzed by the software’s developers is related to people trying to access Web pages such as Facebook. This requires a user sending out a small amount of data and receiving a larger response back, resulting in users waiting in frustration for Facebook to load. 

The software gives priority to this incoming data stream “and thus enables more requests to get served and … faster,” Arpit Gupta, a graduate student in computer science at North Carolina State University who developed the software, explained to NBC News in an email.

The traffic prioritization also “avoids packet drops [and] thus avoids traffic overhead due to duplicated requests and thus further helps in improving performance,” he added.

Lab tests with up to 40 users showed the software boosts the performance of congested Wi-Fi networks by up to 700 percent. That translates to web pages loading an average of four times faster than on networks without the software.

The boost in performance does, however, come at a slight decrease in performance for real-time applications such as chatting via instant message. “They will have to wait a little longer at the cost of fair and improved web browsing experience for all other users,” Gupta said.

The researchers will present a paper on their software at the ACM CoNext 2012 conference next month in Nice, France. The open-source software will be available to improve speeds at your favorite coffee shop by the end of this year, Gupta said.

– via Extreme Tech 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.