FM Backscatter: Enabling Connected Cities and Smart Fabrics


Anran Wang, Vikram Iyer, Vamsi Talla, Joshua R. Smith, and Shyamnath Gollakota, University of Washington


This paper enables connectivity on everyday objects by transforming them into FM radio stations. To do this, we show for the first time that ambient FM radio signals can be used as a signal source for backscatter communication. Our design creates backscatter transmissions that can be decoded on any FM receiver including those in cars and smartphones. This enables us to achieve a previously infeasible capability: backscattering information to cars and smartphones in outdoor environments.

Our key innovation is a modulation technique that transforms backscatter, which is a multiplication operation on RF signals, into an addition operation on the audio signals output by FM receivers. This enables us to embed both digital data as well as arbitrary audio into ambient analog FM radio signals. We build prototype hardware of our design and successfully embed audio transmissions over ambient FM signals. Further, we achieve data rates of up to 3.2 kbps and ranges of 5–60 feet, while consuming as little as 11.07 μW of power. To demonstrate the potential of our design, we also fabricate our prototype on a cotton t-shirt by machine sewing patterns of a conductive thread to create a smart fabric that can transmit data to a smartphone. We also embed FM antennas into posters and billboards and show that they can communicate with FM receivers in cars and smartphones.

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@inproceedings {201552,
author = {Anran Wang and Vikram Iyer and Vamsi Talla and Joshua R. Smith and Shyamnath Gollakota},
title = {{FM} Backscatter: Enabling Connected Cities and Smart Fabrics},
booktitle = {14th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI 17)},
year = {2017},
isbn = {978-1-931971-37-9},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {243--258},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = mar

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