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Inflight wifi just got a lot better


A team of researchers has developed a method which drastically improves web browsing speeds at 30,000 feet.

Those currently paying premium prices to access the internet inflight are only getting “modem-like performance” at best. But that is about to change, thanks to researchers – led by Northwestern Engineering‘s Fabián Bustamante – who have developed an extension for the Google Chrome browser which speeds up the process.

The solution is called ScaleUp, which literally makes everything bigger. Previously the browser was simply overloaded with objects: images, fonts, videos, social sharing buttons, links, and more. ScaleUp adapts the content by increasing the size of the images, which pushes content down the page and reduces the number of objects the browser has to handle at any one time.

ScaleUp has a number of ways to speeding things up.

“Some websites load a lot of font types,” Bustamante said, “but that takes time.” A website is designed, if the fonts are not there, to render the page anyway and still look presentable, he said, so ScaleUp just drops the font-load request, and the website adjusts. You don’t see much difference, but it loads faster.

ScaleUp also increases the font size slightly, which simplifies the load even further by pushing other objects down the page.

In an example on Bustamante’s website, ScaleUp drew a CNN page four times faster, saving 60 seconds. That would add up quickly during an average web browsing session.

Bustamante’s work is ongoing and his team will continue to learn as more people use it.

“We need to better understand how else we can improve the web experience regardless of the conditions,” Bustamante said.

He added: “There’s a lot we don’t understand, and the more we learn about it, not surprisingly, the more we learn how much we don’t know. That’s the way things always go. Our list of questions is very long now.”


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