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A Low-Cost Efficient Wireless Architecture for Rural Network Connectivity (Electronics Project)

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Project Owner : Divya Sargunarangan
Created Date : Tue, 26/07/2011 - 18:27
Project Description :


A Low-Cost Efficient Wireless Architecture for Rural Network


1 Introduction

Many rural regions around the world, especially in developing regions, do not have good connectivity

solutions which are economically viable. As a result, many of these regions remain disconnected

from both the rest of the world and from progress in general. In this proposal, I will describe

the design of WiFi-based Rural Extensions (WiRE), a new wireless network architecture that can

provide connectivity to rural regions at extremely low costs. The WiRE architecture is tailored for

the typical rural landscape in several developing regions, in which the population is spread across

small but scattered rural regions (less than 1-2 sq kms) within 100-200 kms of the city. WiRE

is designed to be a wireless distribution network that extends connectivity from the city to each


The WiRE architecture has largely been inspired by my prior work on WiFi-based Long

Distance (WiLD) Networks [42, 62, 35, 54, 64, 34], a low cost point-to-point network connectivity

solution that provides very high bandwidth (typically 6−10 Mbps) over very long-distances. While

prior work on WiLD networks [48, 5, 42, 62, 35] has made significant progress in the design of highperformance MAC layer solutions, we still lack a vision of how to design a comprehensive, low-cost,

rural connectivity architecture that can efficiently support a wide-range of applications. It is this

goal that I wish to achieve in the WiRE network architecture design. To realize this architectural

vision, we need to address several challenges at various protocol layers including the MAC, network,

transport and the application layers. We will first motivate the need for low-cost connectivity before

we outline these challenges in greater detail.

Motivation: Need for Low-Cost Rural Connectivity

As of Internet World Stats 2007 [28], the Internet penetration in North America is 69.7% of the

population compared to 10.7% in Asia and 3.6% in Africa primarily restricted to urban areas. The

fundamental problem in connecting rural regions is economics [34, 9, 8]. None of the traditional

wire-line connectivity solutions (fiber, broadband and dial-up) are economically viable for such

regions over at least the next decade due to low user densities [34, 15, 9]. Satellite networks provide

great rural coverage but at very high costs: the ISP rate for 1 Mb/s of satellite connectivity in

Africa exceeds $3000/month [3].

In recent years, many developing countries have undergone a cellular revolution with a significant penetration of cellular networks in rural areas [26, 27, 23]. Commercial wireless broadband

networks based on GPRS [55], WiMax [70, 22] and CDMA [36] technologies are also being widely

deployed [36, 27, 26]. While a sizable fraction of the rural population owns cellphones for telephony

services in Africa and Asia [46, 26, 71] the network usage is limited due to exorbitantly high usage

costs, roughly ranging from 10 cents to $1/min [2, 24, 23, 25]. Given that a large majority in rural

areas earns less than a few dollars/day, these costs are unaffordable.

For any connectivity solution to be economically viable in rural regions with low-user densities, it is essential to have small per-user setup cost and minimal recurring costs [62, 34]. Networks

with a base-station model, such as WiMAX, and cellular networks like GPRS and CDMA, have

an asymmetric design philosophy where expensive base stations (costing roughly $10K - 100K depending on range and capacity) are amortized by large number of cheap client-devices over many

users [62, 34]. Operational costs of these networks in rural areas are also high [34, 64] due to: (a)

1Figure 1: Aravind network Figure 2: The WiRE network architecture

significant power consumption to cover large areas; (b) the need for backup power due to lack of

reliable grid power; (c) high cost of physical security for expensive equipment. Together, these costs

make existing cellular and wireless broadband services not viable in regions with low user densities.

Hence, the expectation that cellular solves the connectivity problem for rural developing regions is

thus somewhat of a myth!

Prior Experiences on Rural Connectivity: Prior to this proposal, I was involved in the

design, implementation and deployment of WiLD networks [42, 35, 62, 64], a point-to-point WiFi

connectivity solution that can provide 6 − 10 Mbps over 50 − 100 kms at very low costs. WiLD

networks are extremely low-cost due to the use of unlicensed WiFi spectrum and leverage off-

the-shelf low-cost and high available commodity hardware. To achieve high throughput in WiLD

networks, we designed a new MAC protocol called WiLDMAC that addressed many of the critical

shortcomings of the conventional 802.11 protocol in long-distance environments. WiLDMAC also

improved over 2P [48], the only previously known protocol for WiLD environments, by being able

to achieve high throughputs over highly lossy network environments (20-60% loss rates). Recently,

we developed JazzyMAC [35] that significantly improves over both 2P and WiLDMAC to achieve

near-optimal throughput in multi-hop settings. WiLD networks have become increasingly popular

in the last few years with deployments in nearly 15 − 20 developing countries. Our WiLD network

deployment for Aravind Eye Hospitals [21] in South India (illustrated in Figure 1), the largest

eye hospital in the world with over 2 million patients per year, provides telemedicine services to

over 50000 patients per year in 13 rural vision centers [64, 63]. Aravind Eye Hospitals recently

obtained a Gates Foundation grant to expand their network to cover 500000 patients per year. We

also broke the world record for the longest point-to-point wireless link achieving 6 Mbps over 384

kms in Venezuela [64]. Other WiLD deployments include the Digital Gangetic Plains project [48],

Fractel [11], the AirJaldi [37], Aravind networks [64] and the Akshaya network [66, 41].

Other Connectivity Approaches: There have been a few recent WiFi-based solutions [51, 43]

which have proposed MAC extensions for point-to-multipoint networks. We discuss these in greater

detail in Section 3. An alternative economically viable connectivity approach is to use Delay

Tolerant Networks (DTN) [16, 31, 30, 19, 44, 68] which leverage physical transportation systems

to transport bits to and from the rural regions. DTNs by definition are not suited for interactive

applications which is an important focus of the WiRE network architecture.

2Research Agenda

WiRE uses a network structure (illustrated in Figure 2) that is significantly different from the

traditional cellular, WiMAX, WiLD, and wireless mesh network models. For comparison, an example WiLD network is illustrated in Figure 1. Unlike the cellular network philosophy of providing

broad network coverage, WiRE provides focused coverage within rural regions with little coverage

outside. The network structure of a WiRE deployment is optimized based on the topography and

the spread of rural regions. To efficiently reach out to sparsely spread out rural regions, WiRE uses

a combinational network structure with four important components: (a) point-to-point network

links; (b) point-to-multipoint network links; (c) local distribution mesh networks; (d) cellphones

as end-devices in addition to PCs and kiosks. Given that land and tower costs are expensive, this

network structure explicitly attempts to achieve maximum distribution with a small set of towers.

While point-to-point links with highly directional antennas provide a high bandwidth backhaul

that can cover long distances, point-to-multipoint links with sector antennas provide efficient distribution capabilities within shorter regions and mesh networks with omni-directional antennas are

primarily used in small localities to provide coverage.

The use of cellphones in WiRE as end-devices is very important especially given the mass

penetration of these devices in rural regions [23, 20, 26]. Many rural deployments which uses

PCs, kiosks and other types low-cost computing devices have miserably failed due to complex

user interfaces and the sheer lack of need [32, 33]. Nearly 100,000 kiosks deployed in rural India

are being sparingly used [33, 17]. Cellphones, on the contrary, have gained significant acceptance

among rural communities as they are simple to use, and are also accessible to the illiterate user

community. Cellphones, in rural communities, are predominantly used as a voice interface [20],

which is the main reason why telephony services remains the most important killer application in

these environments [41]. Also, according to a recent study [56], most phones in the near future

should have inbuilt WiFi capability [56].

To realize the WiRE network architecture, we need to address several challenges across different network layers:

MAC layer Challenges: Designing a unified high-performance MAC layer for the WiRE architecture

is a challenging problem. WiRE uses three different types of network links (point-to-point, pointto-multipoint, omni) each with completely different network characteristics all of which operate

on the same frequency band. To achieve this, we need to address several specific challenges: (a)

develop new MAC protocols for point-to-multipoint; (b) handle complex interference interactions;

(c) adapt to highly lossy links; (d) intelligent channel assignment; (e) adapt to fluctuating traffic


Robust Network Design Challenges: Designing robust and reliable rural wireless networks is an

arduous task due to a variety of factors: failure of cheap devices, lack of good and stable power

sources, lack of good local support, nodes in hard to reach locations. We intend to build a suite

of solutions including: (a) efficient topology design and routing to handle frequent outages while

minimizing the need for new towers; (b) efficient low-cost power solutions including solar power

solutions; (c) network management tools that can aid in configuration, fault diagnosis, monitoring

and remote management/upgrades.

Application Specific Challenges: Apart from traditional set of Internet applications, we require

WiRE to support specific applications of prime importance to the rural sectors including telephony,

telemedicine, distance learning and mobile banking services. To enable these applications, we need

to address two broad set of challenges. First, for telephony, video-streaming and video conferencing

applications, we need to address the challenge of providing statistical end-to-end QoS guarantees

in the face of fluctuating loss and available bandwidth variations. Second, to enable telephony and

3secure mobile transactions, we need to be able to support mobility of cellphones within the WiRE

network and also provide a secure naming mechanism based on the unique identity of cellphones.

Intellectual Merit: Computer science, as a field, has paid very little attention to important

technical challenges that arise in the developing world. This proposal will significantly advance the

understanding of networking challenges across all protocol layers in the developing world. This

proposal will also advance the understanding of several fundamental aspects of wireless network

design including interference, high-throughput, QoS, routing and transport issues.

Broader Impact: The WiRE architecture has the potential to significantly transform the

rural landscape by providing network connectivity at very low costs and impact billions in rural

regions who still remain disconnected from the rest of the world. We intend to do pilot deployments

of the WiRE architecture in India, Ghana and South Africa where we work with well established

local partners who have the capacity to reach out to millions in rural communities.

2 WiRE Network Architecture

In this section, we describe the WiRE network architecture and discuss important real-world challenges in deploying rural wireless networks based on our experiences. Figure 2 describes the basic

WiRE network architecture. Unlike the traditional cellular model of providing broad coverage,

the design philosophy of WiRE is to provide focused coverage within specific rural regions where

connectivity is most required. The WiRE architecture has six important network components:

1. wireless nodes which are low-power single board computers that have the capability to support

multiple wireless cards for different network links.

2. point-to-point links using highly directional antennas to provide network connectivity over

long distances in the range of 50 − 100 kms.

3. point-to-multipoint links using sector antennas to distribute connectivity to multiple endpoints

within relatively short distance lasting a few kilometers.

4. multi-radio mesh links using omni-directional links to extend wireless coverage within small

local regions.

5. cellphones or low cost computing devices with WiFi-enabled interfaces that can act as enddevices.

6. large local storage of at least a few GB at each local wireless node to perform in-network

optimizations for applications as well as store-and-forward intermittent operations in the

event of a network outage.

The basic network structure of WiRE is a natural extension of WiLD networks, which I had

worked on for the last three years in collaboration with Prof. Eric Brewer and his students at

UC Berkeley. The focus of the WiRE network architecture is much broader in scope than WiLD

networks. WiRE focuses on challenges across different protocol layers to build a complete solution

for rural connectivity including support for a wide range of applications. Even from the MAC

layer perspective, WiRE operates in a combinational wireless environment of point-to-point, pointto-multipoint and omnidirectional links, each of which have completely different MAC needs and

interference characteristics.

WiRE has the flexibility to operate in any frequency spectrum. However, for practical and

cost-related constraints, we choose all network links in WiRE to operate in the WiFi frequency

band space (802.11 a/b/g). WiFi cards are cheap and highly available, enjoying economies of

scale. The typical cost of a network link excluding the cost of the tower can be brought down to

approximately $600 (excludes the cost of tower) with no recurring cost. Since WiFi is classified as

unlicensed spectrum in most countries, a WiRE network provider does not need to pay spectrum

4costs which can be significantly high for other licensed frequency bands. The use of WiFi also

makes WiRE easy to deploy and experiment with given that the entire network is composed of

cheap off-the-shelf components. Manufacturers of WiFi chipsets (e.g. Atheros) often support opensource drivers, allowing us to completely subvert the stock 802.11 MAC protocol and tailor the

protocol to meet our needs. All these factors promotes decentralized evolution of WiRE where a

grass-roots organization can easily deploy a WiRE network without any dependence on a telecom


In WiRE, every wireless router uses a low power single board computers (SBC). The current

typical configuration of a SBC has a 466 Mhz processor, 256 MB RAM and can support upto 4

wireless cards; in addition, we equip each wireless node with a large local storage to enable innetwork application-level optimizations and also perform store-and-forward routing in the face of

network disruptions. For radios, we use off-the-shelf high power 802.11 a/b/g Atheros cards with

up to 400 mW transmit power. For long-distance point-to-point links that can traverse between

20 − 150 kms, we use high power radio cards with high-gain parabolic antennas with a gain factor

of upto 30dBi. The highly directional nature of the wireless beam allows us to have several pointto-point links at a given node given multiple radios. For connecting many specific locations within

a certain distances of upto 20 kms, we use a point-to-multipoint topology where a single wireless

router can serve as a base station for several clients. Depending on the bandwidth requirements for

each client, each node can serve upto 30 clients. The multi-radio mesh nodes within a local region

are used for extending the connectivity within a specific region; these links in outdoor settings with

200mW cards can cover between 0.5 kms to 1 km. If necessary, depending on the topography of a

region, we may require several multi-radio mesh nodes to completely cover a region.

The end-devices in WiRE can be either static computing devices such as PCs/kiosks or

mobile devices such as cellphones. It is essential for cellphones to form an integral part of the

WiRE architecture due to three factors. First, cellphones have such high penetration levels in rural

developing regions that make them natural candidates for end-devices. Many of the new generation

of low-cost cellphones come with inbuilt WiFi capabilities making them suitable for WiRE. Second,

cellphones are extremely simple to use and are accessible to even illiterate users in rural areas.

Finally, the open source movement for cellphones [65, 18] has radically transformed the set of new

applications that can be deployed for these devices.

Rural Specific Applications: Apart from the traditional set of Internet applications (web browsing, Email etc), we require the WiRE architecture to enable specific services which are very important in the rural context. Many rural regions have remained disconnected from the rest of

the world that the state of several essential services such as education, healthcare and financial

services have remained abysmal in these regions. Providing connectivity alone is not sufficient; we

require WiRE to support the appropriate set of applications to enhance essential services in rural

areas. We have identified four such applications which we deem as essential for WiRE to support:

(a) telephony services for cellphones; (b) telemedicine and teleconsultation services for improving

rural healthcare; (c) interactive distance learning to improve rural education; (d) mobile banking

to promote rural financial services. In order to enable each of these application, we need to address

specific challenges in the network and transport layer. We outline these challenges and our initial

approach to address them in Section 5.

2.1 Challenges Building Rural Wireless Networks: Lessons Learnt

In our experiences in deploying wireless networks in rural areas, we faced several challenges due

to the ground realities of these regions. We document our experiences in our prior work [64]. We

illustrate the important lessons we learnt from our deployment and their implications for the WiRE


High loss rates: In many of our deployments, we found WiFi links to have high-loss rates ranging

from 2% to as high as 50 − 60% due to poor signal quality, antenna misalignment or external

interference (in semi-urban areas). Hence, the MAC protocols should be designed to handle high


Tower costs: Tower costs typically are much more than network equipment costs; the subsidized

cost of a 30-40m tower in India was $2500. Renting space from existing towers is also an expensive

proposition. Hence, we need to minimize the number of towers needed in the topology.

Unreliable power: Many rural regions have interrupted and erratic power supply with significant

voltage fluctuations which often cause network components to regularly fail. We also found the

use of batteries and UPSs to be ineffective. Certain rural tower locations do not have a nearby

grid supply. While we have developed preliminary solutions for the power problem such as a lowvoltage disconnect and a microcontroller-based solar power controller, much work needs to be done

to improve the stability and reliability of power.

Network Management: Network faults were a common occurrence in many of our deployments

primarily due to the failure of network components. In addition, the local operators lacked the

expertise to repair faults and international travel is prohibitively expensive to repair specific faults.

The lessons for network management are three-fold. First, it is essential to design the network with

some redundancy to tolerate node failures (many existing WiFi deployments use tree topologies).

Second, we need simple configuration and management tools to aid the operator to locate the source

of faults. Third, we require backchannels (using cellular links) and remote management tools to

perform remote upgrades and repairs in the face of faults.

3 MAC Layer Challenges

The overarching MAC challenge in WiRE is to develop a unified MAC protocol that is configurable

to different network settings and which can provide high throughput and predictive performance

in multi-hop settings. While there have been several advances in these individual networks [6, 14,

38, 50, 4, 7, 49, 5, 48, 42, 62, 69, 1, 29, 51, 43], a unified approach has not been expored. Achieving

high throughput in WiRE is a challenging problem due to a variety of factors:

Variable network characteristics: WiRE operates in three different types of network settings (pointto-point, point-to-multipoint, omni-directional) with completely varied physical and MAC layer

characteristics. In addition, given the limited number of non-overlapping channels in 802.11b and

inherent limitations in using the 802.11a frequency band over long distances, interference across

these network links within WiRE is unavoidable.

Limitations of 802.11: The conventional 802.11 protocol is known to have fundamental shortcomings when applied to long-distance environments [48, 5, 12, 47, 42, 62, 35, 54]. First, CSMA/CA is a

fundamentally flawed idea over long-distance links since one end-point cannot quickly sense packet

transmissions from the other end-point thereby resulting in high packet collision rates. Second,

802.11 MAC uses a simple stop-and-wait protocol that substantially decreases channel utilization.

If the ACK timeout is lesser than than the link RTT, the sender unnecessarily retransmits the


Multiple Link Interference: Inter-link interference occurs when two adjacent 802.11 point-to-point

links operating in the same channel or over-lapping channels interfere with each other despite

transmitting in different directions.

Channel Loss Variability: In real world deployments, we found that WiFi links (both directional

and omni) observe very high channel loss rates that fluctuate significantly with time. We observed

6sustained high loss-rates of 50 − 60% on certain long-distance links [42, 62, 54].

Hidden Interference: We observed a peculiar type of interference in our network due to combinational nature of the WiRE architecture; a packet transmission from an omnidirectional antenna can

interfere with a neighboring directional/sector antenna despite the receiver’s inability to sense the

transmission [54]; the only way to detect such interference patterns is to correlate sending times of

neighboring nodes with spikes in error rates. This form of interference is different from the standard

hidden terminal problem.

3.1 MAC Design for Point-to-Point and Point-to-Multipoint Links

Point-to-Point: I was involved in the development of WiLDMAC, a modified MAC protocol

that addresses the limitations of the conventional 802.11 MAC to achieve high throughput in longdistance settings. WiLDMAC [42] also addressed an inherent limitation in the previous proposal

2P [48, 5] that was not tailored to handle highly fluctuating channel conditions. To address the

CSMA limitation of 802.11, WiLDMAC uses a TDMA based approach which is based on fixed

timeslots coupled with an implicit echo-based protocol across each link to synchronize transmissions and receptions between the end-points. To improve the channel utilization on each link at

longer distances, we replace the stock 802.11 stop-and-wait protocol with a sliding-window based

flow-control approach in which we transmit a batch of packets together in a TDMA slot without

waiting for individual ACKs. For a node having multiple point-to-point links sharing the same

channel, we implement an inter-link synchronization mechanism similar to 2P. This protocol ensures that adjacent links either a) send simultaneously in the transmit TDMA slot. or b) receive

simultaneously in the receive TDMA slot. We can achieve simultaneous transmit if carrier sensing

is disabled; and simultaneous receive if the signal separation between the two receivers is sufficient.

To achieve predictable multi-hop performance in the face of fluctuating loss conditions, it

is essential to have a loss recovery mechanism that can hide the loss variability in the underlying

channel. Achieving such an upper bound q on the loss-rate is not easy because the loss distribution

that we observed on our links is non-stationary. We use a combination of two mechanisms -

retransmissions and FEC to deal with losses. A retransmission based approach can achieve the

loss-bound q with minimal throughput overhead but at the expense of increased delay. An FEC

based approach incurs additional throughput overhead but does not incur a delay penalty especially

since it is used in combination with TDMA on a per-slot basis. The retransmissions based approach

uses bulk acknowledgments (bulk ACKs). A bulk ACK is sent from the receiver for a window of

packets as an aggregated bit-vector acknowledgment for all the packets received within the previous

slot. The FEC-based recovery mechanism requires the sender to proactively perform FEC based

encoding across all the packets in a slot.

Our evaluation showed that WiLDMAC significantly outperformed the conventional 802.11

MAC even with best possible choice of parameters. Figure 3 shows the cumulative throughput

of TCP flowing simultaneously in both directions for a single long-distance link (emulated using

a channel emulator) illustrating the effectiveness of WiLDMAC with increasing link distance. In

fact for a 65 km link in Ghana, WiLDMAC’s throughput at 5.5 Mbps is about 8x better than

standard CSMA. To quantify the improvements of WiLDNet from inter-link synchronization, we

perform TCP throughput measurements over a multiple hop topology. We can see from Figure 4, for

same channel operation, the cumulative TCP throughput in both directions with WiLDMAC (4.86

Mbps) is more than twice the throughput observed over standard 802.11 (2.11 Mbps). In a recent

result [35], we showed the fixed time-slot approach of both 2P and WiLDMAC results in significantly

lower throughput than the optimal achievable throughput in multi-hop WiLD networks. To address

this, we developed JazzyMAC [35], a variant of WiLDMAC with adaptive time-slots based on traffic

7Distance (km)

0 50 100 150 200

Throughput (Mbps)





8 CSMA (2 retries)

CSMA (4 retries)


Figure 3: TCP flow in both directions

for WiLDNet vs 802.11 CSMA. Each measurement is for a TCP flow of 60s, 802.11b

PHY, 11Mbps.

Description (Mbps) One Both


Standard TCP: same channel 2.17 2.11

Standard TCP: diff channels 3.95 4.50

WiLD TCP: same channel 3.12 4.86

WiLD TCP: diff channels 3.14 4.90

Figure 4: Mean TCP throughput (flow in single direction

and cumulative for both directions simultaneously) comparison for WiLDNet and standard 802.11 CSMA over a 3-

hop outdoor setup Averaged over 10 measurements of TCP

flow for 60s at 802.11b PHY layer datarate of 11Mbps.

conditions to achieve close to optimal throughput in multi-hop settings.

Point-to-Multipoint: Similar to point-to-point links, conventional 802.11 MAC style protocols

are inappropriate for point-to-multipoint settings due to long distances. Recently, the SRAWAN [51]

and the WiFiRe [43] projects proposed TDMA-based MAC protocols for point-to-multipoint WiFi

networks. SRAWAN primarily explores a single-radio base station model and uses beacons from

the basestation to synchronize the clients and a mix of Round-Robin and Weighted Fair Queueing

to achieve QoS. WiFiRe seeks to increase spatial usage by synchronizing TX and RX from multiple

radios but does not address the issue of how to achieve optimize allocation to clients. The WiMAX

standard [70] also proposes a TDMA based MAC for supporting multiple clients but does not

support any sort of synchronization across different radios. In addition, none of these approaches

are well-suited to handle fluctuating channel conditions which can disrupt the protocol by dropping

important protocol synchronization packets.

Based on our design of WiLDMAC and JazzyMAC, we are exploring the design of a point-tomultipoint MAC protocol that achieves near-optimal per-client throughput in the face of variable

traffic demands and loss-rate fluctuations. The basic idea of our approach is to use to adaptive time-slots in the TDMA-based protocol which continuously vary with traffic demand. To

achieve synchronized transmissions over lossy channels, we use an implicit coarse-grained timesynchronization mechanism similar to WiLDMAC rather than exchanging synchronization packets

or beacons. We also leverage the adaptive loss recovery mechanisms to efficiently recover from high

packet loss rates. Other possible directions we are considering to explore in the future are: (a) use

of multiple overlapping sector antennas for fault tolerance; (b) adaptive control of power, beam

direction and beam width; (c) use of fast-switching electrically steerable antennas.

3.2 Towards a Unified, Adaptive and Auto-configurable MAC Layer

While one may envision designing specific MAC protocols for specific environments, in practice, we

require a unified MAC that can be installed as a single software in all the nodes that can adapt

and be configured to specific environments. Part of the challenge is that, operators who install

networks in rural areas are not sophisticated enough to properly configure these networks. In large

scale deployments, the network configuration and management becomes a much harder challenge

as we have experienced in prior deployments [42, 21, 37]. The preliminary design of our unified

MAC layer borrows ideas from several existing MAC layer protocols [50, 42, 35, 48, 69, 10, 51, 43]

including WiLDMAC and JazzyMAC. We outline the key design choices:

8Auto-configuration of network type: Each node tries to automatically detect the type of network

on each of its radio interface based on three parameters: (a) number of neighbors; (b) RTT to each

neighbor; (c) loss characteristics to each neighbor. Reliably estimating RTT at sub-millisecond

scales is not simple; one way to estimate distance is to vary the ACKTimeout parameter, to

determine at what point auto-retransmissions are triggered at the driver level. Using these parameters, we determine the network type and correspondingly disable or enable CSMA (only for

omni-directional antennas).

Local time-synchronization + Distributed TDMA: Similar to WiLDMAC, we use a local timesynchronization mechanism combined with a distributed TDMA protocol to synchronize transmissions and reception at every node that uses a point-to-point or point-to-multipoint link. In WiRE,

multiple nodes can be installed in the same tower within close proximity; to prevent inter-link

interference we need to locally synchronize nodes within close proximity and use a synchronized

TDMA slotting across all these nodes.

Inferring Hidden Interference: Hidden interference is not easy to determine. To do so, at a node

with a directional or a sector antenna, we need to determine if the periods of high error rates with

the transmission times of other nodes within a 2-hop neighborhood (direct neighbors cannot cause

hidden-interference); if the correlation is high, then those nodes are candidate choices for hidden

interference. In our WiLD deployments, hidden interference caused link loss rates of upto 80% [54].

Conflict Map: To deal with inter-link interference and hidden-interference (on directional links),

we use the idea of Conflict Maps (CMAP) a recent work of Vutukuru et al [69] to determine

the interference map and use this information to determine a potentially non-overlapping local

transmission schedule.

Intelligent Channel Assignment: Non-overlapping channels are a scarce resource in the WiFi spectrum world; recent work by Chandra et al. [10] showed how one could easily derive channels with

“adaptive frequency width”. We intend to explore using this approach in WiRE to achieve two

properties: (a) significantly increase the number of non-overlapping channels in the system; (b)

create different channels with variable widths and use “fatter width” channels for important pointto-point links and “leaner width” channels for point-to-multipoint links.

4 Robust Network Design Challenges

The design and operation of rural wireless networks raises many challenges which cannot be solved

by just using high-performance equipment [64]. The key challenges we want to address are: (1)

optimal design of network topology to decrease deployment cost, (2) increased component failure

due to low quality power, (3) difficulty in doing fault diagnosis because of non-expert local staff

and limited connectivity for remote experts, and (4) difficulty of frequent maintenance because of

remoteness of node locations. All of these problems can be fixed by having higher operating budgets

that can afford highly trained staff, stable power sources, and robust high-end equipment. But the

real challenge is to find solutions that are sustainable and low-cost at all levels of the system.

4.1 Network Design

The key network design challenge is: given a topography and the location of rural areas in a region,

how do we design an optimal network topology that minimizes the number of towers and achieves

a certain minimum level of network redundancy? In addition, we need to consider the line of sight

as an important issue since point-to-point links require line of sight for operation; this usually

implies towers of a minimum height at each end. A variant of this problem was studied by Sen and

Raman [52] for long-distance WiFi networks. Our problem varies from their problem definition in

9two ways: (a) We need to optimize the network structure for a combinational network as opposed to

a point-to-point network case; (b) We need to add redundancy into the network design to improve

network robustness.

As the towers compose a substantial part of the total cost of the network, the challenge is to

select the location of sites and links so that the overall cost of the towers is minimized (determined

by the height of the towers). Site selection is also influenced by the presence of external WiFi

interference, as well as interference from the nodes which are part of the WiLD network. WiFi

interference from the nodes within the network as well as from the external sources can be minimized

be judiciously selecting the transmit power of the nodes. By over-provisioning the signal at the

receiver, capture effect can be used to eliminate most of the WiFi interference.

An additional significant problem in the deployment of WiLD networks is the difficulty of

performing accurate manual alignments of the directional antennas for each long distance link.

This is exacerbated by the fact that factors like wind and wear and tear of towers can cause the

antennas to further misalign over time. In this respect, electronically steerable antennas can be

used for automatic alignment. The open research challenge lies in devising efficient algorithms to

discover peer nodes and maintain alignment using continuous adaptation over time.

Other unexpected factors can also have an impact on network design. It turned out that

omni-directional antennas attract lightning more when they are usually mounted on top of masts

and have a sharper tip, compared to directional antennas that are typically mounted below the

maximum height of the mast.

4.2 Robust Power Solutions

An important challenge to robust wireless network design is the lack of reliable power. From our

past experience in the Aravind [21] and the AirJaldi [37] networks, we found out that lack of stable

and quality power has greatly contributed to a substantial decrease in the robustness of system

components that would otherwise work quite reliably. Although issues such as frequent power

outages in rural areas are well known, we were surprised by the degree of power quality problems in

rural villages even when power is available. Our measurements of the grid power supply in India

showed that power spikes above 500V, often with reversed polarity, and some even reaching 1000V

are common, and so are extended sags below 70V and swells above 350V.

The key to understand the power problem is that the real cost of power in rural areas is not

the cost of grid power supply, but of cleaning it using power controllers, batteries and solar-power

backup solutions. Also, due to short lifetime of batteries and ineffective UPSs, power cleaning is

a recurring cost [64, 39]. Solar power, although still expensive, turns out to be more competitive

than expected as it produces clean power directly.

While much work remains to be done in this space, we have been designing preliminary solutions to combat the power problem [64]. Our approach to this problem is to develop a combination

of smart hardware components and better techniques to avoid damage due to lightning and power

surges. We first designed a Low Voltage Disconnect (LVD) solution, which prevents both routers

from getting wedged at low voltages and also over-discharge of batteries. Now we are working

on a microcontroller based low-cost power controller that supplies stable power to the equipment

by combining input from solar panels, batteries, and even the grid. It has several features such

as maximum power point tracking, low voltage disconnect, trickle charging and very importantly,

support for remote management via ethernet.

104.3 Network Management Tools

Network management plays a fundamental role in reducing the network downtime in the face

of outages. In rural networks, network management is a challenging problem due to: (a) the

lack of local support; (b) poor transportation to rural areas; (c) constant equipment failures; (d)

lack of reliable power. We are currently developing different network management tools to ease

configuration, fault diagnosis and network monitoring [64].

Accurate diagnosis of a problem can greatly reduce response time and thus downtime. For

example, a remote host is running properly but is unreachable when an intermediate wireless link

goes down, better diagnosis will prevent unnecessary travel to the remote location. Other challenges

for remote monitoring are misunderstanding among local staff about equipment usage which often

worsens the problem and lack of good connectivity to remotely login to these networks.

As a result, all aspects of system management require some level of monitoring. We built a

push-based monitoring mechanism that we call “PhoneHome” in which each wireless router pushes

status updates upstream to our US-based server. We collect both passive parameters and active

measurements such as maximum link or path throughput and loss. PhoneHome proved to be helpful

in understanding failures, diagnosing and predicting many faults. First, it helped maintain network

reachability information, alerting the local staff when the network was down and action needed to

be taken to recover.

It is also important to have out-of-band access or a backchannel to the nodes that is separate

from the primary wireless path to it. Simple operations such as correcting a router misconfiguration,

or rebooting the router remotely can be easily done using the back-channel. Backchannel access is

also useful in getting information about battery status from a remote node.

Various types of backchannels are possible. GPRS based backchannels can be used to diagnose

misconfiguration of routers in case of network partitions. To decrease costs, instead of using GPRS

as the backchannel, a cheaper mechanism could be using SMS channels. With SMS, console access

would need to be implemented from scratch. Instead of console access, one approach would be

to just query the remote router over SMS. In general, failure-independent recovery mechanisms

are essential for managing systems remotely. In situations where the main router itself is wedged

or is in a non-responsive state, we need components that can reset or reboot the main router for

recovery. The components should not be affected by the failure themselves. Both software and

hardware based watchdog mechanisms can be used for this.

5 Application Specific Challenges

In this section, we briefly outline some of the application specific challenges and describe our initial

design ideas towards addressing some of these challenges.

QoS Challenges: Many important applications in rural developing world such as telephony,

telemedicine and distance learning would require QoS guarantees from the underlying network layer.

While the underlying MAC layer, does provide a certain level of error-recovery, this is typically

insufficient to achieve end-to-end QoS. In addition, the net available bandwidth on each link varies

as a function of time due to the TDMA protocol used at the MAC layer. Providing QoS guarantees

in a network where every link is lossy as well as has time-varying bandwidth is known to be a hard

problem [61]; traditional QoS mechanisms have been designed for networks with fixed capacities.

To solve this problem, we leverage ideas from my prior work on OverQoS [61], an overlay network

based architecture that uses the basic concept of a controlled loss virtual links (CLVL) to provide

statistical end-to-end QoS over bandwidth-varying lossy network links. A CLVL provides two

guarantees: (a) the loss-rate of any flow within the virtual link is bounded by a small value q

11with high probability; (b) A certain minimum bandwidth cmin can be guaranteed on a virtual

link with high probability. The values of q and cmin are dependent on the characteristics of the

underlying link. In WiRE, we intend to use the CLVL concept to provide link-level guarantees and

use well-known QoS signaling mechanisms to provide end-to-end QoS.

Multicast services: The local store at every wireless node is critical to support a wide

range of network services. To support efficient multicast and bulk content distribution for the

distance learning application, the local store can be used as an in-network replication entity for

enhancing end-to-end performance. Even in the case of video multicast over lossy network links,

the local store can be used to quickly recover from packet losses downstream in the network. Given

the vagaries of power supply in rural regions, network outages are the norm and not the exception.

In such cases, the local store can be used provide several intermittent network services including

simple store-forward. For web browsing, the local store can act as a proxy cache to enhance the

system performance.

Cell Mobility: To support telephony on WiFi-enabled cellphones, WiRE needs to provide

a phone-translation service that can translate from cell-phone numbers to IP addresses within the

WiRE network. Our solution is similar to MobileIP [45]. We associate a central registry that

maps each cellphone to a home region; the main wireless node with the local storage acts as the

translation server for the home region. This node within the region maintains the current IP

address of the cellphone. If a user moves to a new region, the visiting region’s server updates

the home region with the new IP address. WiRE does not support mobility across regions during

a call session which significantly simplifies the design; therefore, updates of IP addresses to the

home region server are very infrequent. To handle mobility across basestations within a region, we

assign static IP addresses to home region devices based on the MAC identity; visiting nodes are

assigned dynamics IPs. For fault tolerance purposes, the primary static IP address of a cellphone

is propagated to the central registry.

Secure Identities: Every cellphone has a unique identity that is routable using the traditional cellular network. In our system, each cellphone has two independent routing channels:

(a) using the WiFi network; (b) using the traditional cellular network. While WiRE may not be

trusted, the cellular network provides a trusted channel between any two cellphones. If a cellphone

has a unique identity I, then the cellphone can make I into a cryptographically strong identity

using a self-certifying key [60]. I can locally generate a public-private key pair (P (I), Q(I)) and

distribute the self-certifying name (I, P (I)) to any other cellphone within the WiRE network. The

device can prove that its ownership of the identity I by any challenge response protocol using the

two independent routing channel - send the challenge on the cellular network and the response on

WiRE. Apart from this, any server with a cellphone interface can as a Public-Key Infrastructure

and distribute secret keys over the trusted cellular network. The ability to provide cryptographically secure identities for cellphones within WiRE enables the system to support secure financial

transactions and mobile banking services. The cellphone does not need to be always in the vicinity

of the cellular network to achieve these security properties; once a trusted channel is established

using the cellular network and secret keys are exchanged, then cellular connectivity is not essential.

6 Work and Deployment Plan

Table 1 illustrates the tentative time-line and work plan for the next five years. We intend to deploy

the proposed network architecture, both in rural developing regions as well as locally at NYU for

testing purposes.

Doing any deployment in a rural developing country setting is a very challenging task due

12Year Goals

1 point-to-multipoint MAC, solar power controller, management tools (ver 1),

improving deployment at Aravind

2 unified MAC protocol design, fault analysis and monitoring tools, QoS challenges, deployments in Ghana, South Africa

3 unified MAC testing, QoS testing, multicast design, cell mobility, review of

deployment and management tools, expand deployments

4 unified MAC design (complete, code release), fault tolerant issues, secure

identities using cellphones, version 1 of WiRE, upgrade all deployments to

new solutions

5 assess deployment feedback, revise WiRE to version 2, complete WiRE deployment

Table 1: Work plan

to three factors: minimal local support, the expectation of perfect-working systems and the high

travel costs for fixing network errors. There is very small room for error in these systems; local users

expect whatever is being deployed to be simple to use and also function properly almost all the

time - if not, the usability of the system significantly deteriorates. Therefore, it is essential to build

a testbed within NYU to stress test the network architecture before venturing into any developing

country. Currently, in collaboration with my colleague Jinyang Li, we have built a 24-node indoor

multi-radio wireless testbed which provide point-to-point and point-to-multipoint network access

across different buildings at NYU at very low-costs as opposed to renting cable modem services.

To make a deployment successful and have impact in a rural region, it is essential to identify

the right local partner to work with. For this project, we have established relationships with

partners and universities in India, Ghana and South Africa for potential deployments. We will

continue to work with Aravind Eye Hospitals in expanding their existing WiLD network to support

the new proposed architecture and the new software. Another deployment point within India is

our ongoing collaboration with Amrita University and Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS)

in South India who have expressed interest in interconnecting with Aravind telemedicine network.

AIMS and Aravind are among the largest hospitals in India serving over 2 million patients per

year [40, 21]. In Africa, our work will primarily be based out of Ghana and South Africa, primarily

centered around telemedicine services. In Ghana, we work with NYU in Ghana, Korlebu Hospital,

University of Legon and West Africa AIDS Foundation. We recently worked with OneTouch (a

large ISP in Ghana), to interconnect nearly 2000 physicians to use the OneTouch network for free

teleconsultation services. In South Africa, we have strong working relationships with cellular service

providers and hospitals and we have been approached to do a pilot project in Johannesburg.

7 Education Plan

Computer Science is relatively new to the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) space. To improve the interest in this space as well as enhance its awareness,

there is a great need for curricular development, multi-disciplinary education and cross disciplinary

research. NYU, being in the heart of New York City, lays much emphasis on international developmental activities and is in a unique position to do research work in the ICTD space with the local

presence of the UN, the Development Research Institute and the Earth Institute. NYU is one of

the few international schools with a university campus in Africa and Abu Dhabi. My educational

13plan consists of the following parts:

Interdisciplinary Collaboration: To work in the ICTD space, interdisciplinary collaboration is

vital. At NYU, I lead the Cost-effective Appropriate Technologies for Emerging Regions (CATER)

research group which is a joint effort from researchers in Computer Science, School of Medicine,

Public Health, Economics and Public Policy. The core focus of the CATER group is to address the

research challenges that arise in the development of appropriate low-cost technological solutions

for developing regions. I also closely work with the TIER research group at UC Berkeley led by

Prof. Eric Brewer, who has done pioneering research in the ICTD space. We co-advise a few

students at NYU and UC Berkeley. I am also a part of the NYU Africa House focusing on African

developmental activities.

Curriculum Development: I recently designed a new graduate course titled “Information and

Communication Technologies for Developing Regions” which focused on how ICT can play an

important role in addressing pressing problems in developing regions in the space of healthcare,

education, finance, agriculture and supply chain management. Designing this course was very

challenging since it brought together material from different areas: computer science, economics,

public policy, global health and education. The course also had guest lectures from reputed experts

from the School of Medicine, Economics and the United Nations. This course resulted in several

interesting ICTD projects of which a few may be deployed in Africa in the upcoming year. I plan

to revise this course to make it an inter-disciplinary course and make it accessible to students from

other departments. I also have the approval of NYU to teach this class on a short term basis in the

NYU Ghana and Abu Dhabi campuses. Apart from this course, I primarily teach two courses at

NYU on “Networks and Distributed Systems” and “Security”. In both these courses, I constantly

discuss networking, systems and security research challenges in the developing world.

Mentoring Students: Working with students and learning from them is something I thoroughly

enjoy. I currently work with a set of highly talented PhD students. I advise four PhD students

at NYU (one co-advised with Jinyang Li) and work closely with three students at UC Berkeley

(advised by Eric Brewer). My prior work on WiLDNet was in joint collaboration with Eric and the

students at Berkeley. All my classes have been project-oriented and I have advised many Masters

students to successfully complete challenging research projects. As part of the CATER group, I do

get the opportunity to regularly interact with students in other disciplines. I also currently advise

one student in Amrita University in India as part of an ongoing collaboration in this space.

Field Work: A large fraction of students have very little exposure to the developing world. Field

work is an essential part for any student who works in this space. I intend to develop a casestudy program in collaboration with NYU School of Public Policy and the Global Health program

where graduate students from different disciplines will do field work and needs-assessment studies

in developing countries. This also increases the chances of successful deployments. Currently, two

of my PhD students and three medical students are spending the summer in Ghana and India on

case studies and deployment efforts. The largest educational value in this space comes from field


Community Outreach: I intend to give talks and tutorials in several venues to raise awareness

about ICTD to fellow researchers and encourage them to work in this exciting new research space.

I intend to co-organize conferences and workshops that specialize in this space. This year, I chaired

the SIGCOMM 2008 workshop on Networked Systems for Developing Regions (NSDR) and the

WWW 2008 track on developing regions. From next year, we plan to make NSDR, a premier

publication venue in this space.

148 Prior Research and Educational Accomplishments

I will elaborate on my contributions in three research topics and educational accomplishments:

Technologies for Developing Countries: As I described earlier, I was involved in the design,

implementation and deployment of WiLD networks [42, 62, 54, 35, 64, 34] which has been widely

deployed in different countries. Apart from this, we recently developed PaperSpeckle [53], a system

that uses a simple microscope and a pen to extract a unique signature for any piece of paper

based on the inherent structural properties of paper. Paper Speckle is tamper-proof, extremely

low-cost and has several applications in developing countries in supply chain management, offline

paper authentication and financial services. We have also developed, RuralCafe [13], a system that

addresses the problem of how to enhance web search to work efficiently over intermittent and low

bandwidth networks. The SmartTrack project [67], a recently initiated project aims at building

a cellphone-based distributed information system that can be used for tracking the flow of AIDS

drugs in Africa; this is currently under deployment in Ghana.

Secure routing protocols: My thesis work [57, 59, 60] developed decentralized security mechanisms for Internet routing protocols which do not rely on a central authority or a PKI. Prior

solutions for securing Internet routing protocols relied on a PKI-based approach which had significant hurdles to deployment. This work won the Best student paper award at NSDI 2004 and my

thesis received the C.V. Ramamoorthy award at UC Berkeley. We showed how these ideas could

be extended to secure DNS in a decentralized manner [57]. We leverage these ideas in the design

of the secure naming system for cellphones described in this proposal.

Network Architecture: Two notable network architectures that I have developed are OverQoS [61]

and HLP [58]. OverQoS proposed an overlay-based QoS architecture that can be incrementally deployed on the Internet which unlike all previous QoS architectures, did not require any modifications

to the routers in the Internet. HLP is a next-generation inter-domain routing protocol that was

designed as a replacement to the existing Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) used in the Internet

today. HLP addressed several fundamental shortcomings in the design of BGP including poor

scalability, convergence, security, stability and diagnosis support.

Educational accomplishments: In the last two years at NYU, I have designed and taught three

different graduate courses: (a) Networks and Distributed Systems (co-taught with Jinyang Li); (b)

What if a Computer Lies? (a course on Computer Security); (c) ICT for Developing Regions. All

these courses have been project-based involving continuous interactions with each student group

on a weekly basis. Overall, many course projects have been successful and have taken shape into

becoming long-term research projects. In the Networks and Distributed systems class, the students

performed two assignments, of which, one of them focused on analyzing the performance of wireless

networks deployed within NYU and how to improve them; we later used the results to reconfigure

the channel allocation in one of the buildings within NYU. In the security class, each student

also performed a detailed survey of a specific topic within computer security. At Berkeley, I have

regularly given guest lectures in both undergraduate and graduate classes in networking. I was a

TA for the Digital Logic Design course which had over 200 students.

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