Creating Networks On the Fly

IEEE Sensor, Mesh, and Ad Hoc Communications and Networks conference explores new devices

7 April 2008

Progress doesn’t stand still, but networks used to, their stations tethered by signal cables. Then came wireless links that let network nodes communicate even when on the move. Now there’s a new type of networking that lets roaming devices form and break wireless links on the fly, creating a wireless network mesh that forwards information to its destinations through multiple wireless hops.

“This new area involves wireless, autonomous devices that self-organize to communicate with each other,” explains IEEE Member Fred Bauer, chair of the IEEE Sensor, Mesh, and Ad Hoc Communications and Networks conference, or SECON, for short. “Many applications already exist. For example, meshes of wireless sensors are being used in environmental studies, building-structure analysis, and factory monitoring.”

These devices and their applications will be discussed at SECON, being held from 16 to 20 June at the San Francisco Airport Crowne Plaza hotel.

Other current and potential uses for mesh and ad hoc networking include undersea instrumentation, implanted biological sensors for medical use, instantaneous monitoring of traffic and road conditions, and monitoring a vineyard’s many microclimates. There are also military applications, which is why the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association is cosponsoring the conference with the IEEE Communications Society.

“We purposely straddle new, interesting academic results with commercial uses and military interest to attract both academics and practitioners,” Bauer says.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES Several papers at the conference will cover the challenges facing mesh networks and the devices that implement them, including reliability, security, and the need to keep power consumption low. Providing power to the exceedingly small devices is of particular concern, so attention is being paid to boosting efficiency, conserving power, improving batteries, and harvesting ambient energy. The devices’ extreme miniaturization adds to the challenges of antenna design, especially when their low power must cover relatively long distances. The reliability of such fluid networks is another concern; so is the reliability of sensors and other devices meant to operate in hot, wet, or otherwise hostile environments. Security must be maintained despite the ever-changing membership of the network. And in this era of wireless everything, the radio-frequency devices must be aware of other signals and adapt instantaneously to avoid interference.

Now in its fifth year, SECON has also spawned three workshops held in conjunction with the conference: the IEEE Workshop on Wireless Mesh Networks, the IEEE Workshop on Networking Technologies for Software Defined Radio, and the IEEE International Workshop on Wireless Network Coding. Participants may register for the workshops for a small additional fee or register for a workshop without attending the main conference.

About 60 papers and 20 demonstrations and poster sessions will be given at SECON itself, plus about 30 more papers at the associated workshops.

Papers will be available after the conference via podcasts as well as in published conference proceedings. Podcasts of the 2007 SECON as well as registration information can be found on the conference Web site, www.ieee-secon.org.

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