A Mesh Architecture for Robust Packet Delivery in Airborne Networks

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Virginia Tech

As a special subset of ad hoc networks, airborne networks aim to provide efficient network access for airborne and ground assets in a tactical environment. Conventional ad hoc routing protocols face some difficulties in such networks. First, significant overhead may be generated due to the high node mobility and dramatic topology changes. Second, temporary link failure may abort the delivery of a packet in some intermediate router.

In this thesis, we propose a cluster-based reactive routing protocol to alleviate these problems. Our solution takes advantage of mesh routers installed in unmanned aerial vehicles or aircraft capable of hovering, when such airborne assets are available. As those mesh points usually have relatively stable connections among themselves, they play the role of cluster heads, forming a hierarchical routing structure. A simple self-organizing rule is introduced in cluster management to limit the cluster control overhead and route discovery flooding. In addition, a disruption tolerant mechanism (DTM) is deployed in the routing protocol to increase resilience to temporary link or node failure. The DTM utilizes the location, bearing and speed information provided by each node and intelligently maintains a buffer of packets that cannot be immediately delivered. If a temporary link failure occurs in the intermediate router during delivery, the packet is then buffered in that router up to a maximum time-to-live. The DTM also keeps track of link changes and tries to deliver the message as soon as a new path toward the destination is found. If the buffered messages are about to time out and the destination is still unreachable, the DTM still makes an effort to deliver the packet to another router with higher probability of eventually reaching the destination.

This thesis also presents an implementation of the proposed solution in the ns-2 network simulator. The conventional Ad hoc On-Demand Distance Vector (AODV) routing protocol is adopted as the base model in the implementation. A mesh router model is programmed with two wireless interfaces. One of the interfaces is utilized to exchange routing information and packets with cluster members; the other is used to communicate with other mesh routers. This model is then installed on top of the AODV routing protocol and forms the hierarchical routing structure. The traditional AODV messages, including RREQ, RREP and HELLO, and routing tables are modified to support additional location information. Finally, the DTM is programmed and added to the AODV buffer management.

The objective of this research is to use a mesh structure and DTM to improve the reliability and performance of airborne networks. The metrics of throughput and routing overhead are taken into consideration. The simulation results demonstrate that the proposed solution satisfies our research objectives. It achieves better performance than the conventional AODV, but introduces little overhead. The mesh structure can effectively adapt to high mobility, dynamic topology and different routing capabilities. The DTM provides a sophisticated way to maintain the buffer and mitigates the impact of intermittent links.

reliability, hierarchical structure, location information, mesh network, intermittent link, airborne network