Rethinking Information Theory for Mobile Ad Hoc Networks

Jeff Andrews, Nihar Jindal, Martin Haenggi, Randy Berry, Syed Jafar, Dongning Guo, Sanjay Shakkottai, Robert Heath, Michael Neely, Steven Weber, Aylin Yener

The subject of this paper is the long-standing open problem of developing a general capacity theory for wireless networks, particularly a theory capable of describing the fundamental performance limits of mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs). A MANET is a peer-to-peer network with no pre-existing infrastructure. MANETs are the most general wireless networks, with single-hop, relay, interference, mesh, and star networks comprising special cases. The lack of a MANET capacity theory has stunted the development and commercialization of many types of wireless networks, including emergency, military, sensor, and community mesh networks. Information theory, which has been vital for links and centralized networks, has not been successfully applied to decentralized wireless networks. Even if this was accomplished, for such a theory to truly characterize the limits of deployed MANETs it must overcome three key roadblocks. First, most current capacity results rely on the allowance of unbounded delay and reliability. Second, spatial and timescale decompositions have not yet been developed for optimally modeling the spatial and temporal dynamics of wireless networks. Third, a useful network capacity theory must integrate rather than ignore the important role of overhead messaging and feedback. This paper describes some of the shifts in thinking that may be needed to overcome these roadblocks and develop a more general theory that we refer to as non-equilibrium information theory.

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