Experimental Characterization of Home Wireless
Networks and Design Implications
Konstantina Papagiannaki‡ , Mark Yarvis† , W. Steven Conner†
‡: Intel Research Cambridge, †: Intel Corporation
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstract— Anecdotal evidence suggests that home wireless (AP), several PCs, and increasingly, consumer electronic (CE)
networks may be unpredictable despite their limited size. In this devices. Today a home wireless network is primarily used to
work, we deploy six-node wireless testbeds in three houses in the provide access to a wired Internet connection; communication
United States and the United Kingdom. We examine the quality of
links in home wireless networks and the effect of (i) transmission occurs to and from an AP. Future home wireless networks are
rate, (ii) transmission power, (iii) node location, (iv) type of expected to feature different types of trafﬁc (such as multi-
house, and (v) 802.11 technology. We provide empirical evidence media streaming) which may require efﬁcient communication
suggesting that homes are challenging environments for wireless between any two devices in the home. Such an environment
communication. Wireless links in the home are highly asymmetric can be enabled using 802.11 ad hoc mode, 802.11 Wireless
and heavily inﬂuenced by precise node location, transmission
power, and encoding rate, rather than physical distance between Distribution System (WDS) frames, or the proposed 802.11e
nodes. In our measurements, many links were unable to utilize the Direct Link Setup (DLS) capability . An evaluation of
maximum transmission rate of the deployed 802.11 technology, typical link characteristics in the home environment is crucial
and a few provided no connectivity at all. These results suggest to understanding the behavior of both traditional AP-based as
that creating an AP-based topology with maximum coverage and well as future network topologies.
throughput in this environment is challenging. Our ﬁndings have
implications on the design of future home wireless networks and Using small networks of devices deployed in three homes,
requirements for future wiﬁ-enabled consumer electronic devices. two in the United States and one in the United Kingdom, we
We show that coverage and performance can be improved using a study the properties of wireless links in home environments
multi-hop topology, implying that mesh capabilities may actually using a pure measurement approach. We examine the impact
be needed in consumer electronics for seamless connectivity of transmission rate and transmission power on link quality, in
across the home.
terms of success rate and throughput. We show that despite the
small size of home wireless networks, connectivity between
I. I NTRODUCTION any two wireless devices is not guaranteed or necessarily
Wireless networks have become increasingly popular due predictable, regardless of transmission power or rate. We also
to ease of deployment and low cost compared to wired show that small changes in antenna orientation and node
networks. However, the transmission principles in wireless location can have a dramatic and unpredictable impact on the
communications are dramatically different than those of wired connectivity of the network. Our results span both 802.11a and
networks. A recent study of wireless access points deployed 802.11b technologies and do not show strong correlation with
over a metropolitan area demonstrates signiﬁcant challenges to the physical distance between nodes. These results suggest that
performance and connectivity . Similarly, deployment of a a typical home user cannot depend on common sense alone in
wireless network in an enterprise environment, while relatively deploying a high-performance wireless network.
well understood, typically requires a site survey to engineer The above results have a direct impact on home wireless net-
a network with proper coverage and capacity. Comparatively work design. Infrastructure mode wireless networks typically
little is known about the properties of home wireless networks, deployed in homes require one or more access points, through
beyond anecdotal evidence . Even less is known about which all other nodes communicate. Our characterization of
optimal design of such networks. Unfortunately, previous connectivity in the home suggests that most of the possible
studies of campus/metropolitan-area networks and enterprise access point deployment locations fail to provide full coverage
networks are hardly applicable to home networks, which tend of high-performance connectivity throughout a typical home.
to be much smaller (both in total size and contiguous space), To ﬁnd the optimal location for access point deployment, a
have a single access point, are almost entirely indoors, and homeowner could resort to a site survey. Design of medium
have no IT staff to perform site surveys. In this paper we or large-scale wireless networks typically relies on a site
consider factors that impact the design and performance of survey or tools that model radio signal propagation, taking into
home wireless networks. account a detailed ﬂoor plan along with construction materials
Before investigating network design, we ﬁrst attempt to and placement of household objects , . These solutions
measure the characteristics of home wireless networks. A are far too costly and time-consuming to be applied in the
typical home wireless network consists of an access point home. In addition, aesthetics and the location at which the
Internet enters the home are usually overriding concerns for
∗ Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others. the home user when selecting the location for an access point.
A home user is much more likely to put an access point in
D ESCRIPTION OF HOMES USED IN EXPERIMENTAL TESTBEDS .
the corner of an ofﬁce than the middle of a living room, even
if the later location is known to provide optimal performance. Label Size (f t2 ) Construction # Floors # Nodes
A second option would be to deploy multiple access points. ushome1 2,500 Wood 2 6
However, this approach typically requires the wired network ushome2 2,600 Wood 3 6
ukhome1 1,500 Brick / steel 3 6
to be extended to multiple points within the home. Thus, this
option would eliminate the key advantage of home wireless
networking: low installation cost. Our results suggest that more
ﬂexible topologies can provide a more appropriate alternative • Transmission power, denoted by txpower.
in home environments. • Transmission rate, denoted by txrate.
The measurements collected from our 6-node testbeds show • Node location.
that across all three houses there is always at least one
pair of nodes that cannot directly communicate. Moreover, a
A. Experimental Setup
substantial number of pairs cannot communicate at the highest
rate supported by the deployed 802.11 technology. Using these We deploy six wireless nodes inside each home3 . Nodes are
measurements we study the ability of alternative topologies located in different rooms, wherever computing or consumer
to alleviate these problems. More precisely, we study the electronic devices might be found in the home. For 802.11b
impact of (i) AP, (ii) direct, and (iii) mesh topologies. We experiments the nodes are small form-factor PCs with Netgear
show that the AP topology typical in home networks today MA701 compact ﬂash 802.11b wireless cards. The nodes
is highly sensitive to the location of the AP and in many run Linux kernel version 2.4.19 and the hostap driver .
cases leads to sub-optimal performance, due to the mandatory For 802.11a experiments the nodes are laptops with NetGear
use of the AP as a relay. A direct topology eliminates the WAG511 CardBus 802.11a/b/g cards running Linux kernel
need to transmit each packet twice and also allows nearby version 2.4.26 and the MIT madwiﬁ-stripped driver . All
nodes to utilize a high-rate channel encoding, which would not radios have omnidirectional antennas, and could be considered
otherwise be possible if the access point is far away. However, comparable to the radios that are likely to be integrated
in a direct topology not all nodes will be able to communicate in future consumer electronics, e.g. cheap radios with basic
with each other. On the other hand, a mesh topology can functionality. Lastly, all three testbeds are homogeneous; each
help nodes overcome the limitations of their environment, node consists of the exact same hardware to limit the impact
establishing either direct connections or multi-hop connections of hardware peculiarities on the obtained results.
through neighboring nodes as appropriate. Our results show Our network setup is common among all experiments.
that solutions enabling mesh topologies  can help eliminate All nodes utilize an unused frequency that is at least ﬁve
poor quality links in the home while establishing paths for the channels away from the next occupied 802.11 frequency. To
communication of nodes that are otherwise unreachable. To the facilitate our experiments, we utilize the 802.11 Independent
best of our knowledge, our work is the ﬁrst one to identify Basic Service Set (IBSS) mode, which allows all nodes to
and quantify such challenges in home wireless communication communicate directly. However, this conﬁguration does not
and to demonstrate the need for mesh capabilities (e.g., IEEE constrain the usefulness of our results to ad hoc (mesh)
802.11s ) on wiﬁ-enabled consumer electronics. topologies, as will be described in Section V. Each node is
The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. In instructed to run an experiment toward every other node in
Section II we present the experimental methodology followed turn. Our experiments are designed to assess: (i) success/loss
throughout the paper. In Section III we assess the quality rate, and (ii) throughput under different combinations of txrate
of wireless links inside the house in terms of reachability. and txpower. We further alter the node location for speciﬁc
Throughput measurements are presented in Section IV. We experiments in order to quantify the impact of exact node
study the impact of alternative topologies on the performance location, antenna orientation, and obstacles. Experiments are
of a home wireless network in Section V. We present related carried out during the night to avoid interference from moving
work in Section VI and conclude in Section VII. people and facilitate reproducibility. Except where explicitly
stated, each result represents a single experimental run, due to
II. E XPERIMENTAL E NVIRONMENT the highly time consuming nature of our experiments. Instead,
Our experiments are intended to assess the quality of wire- we rely on the validating runs presented in the following
less links in home environments. We evaluate three homes, two subsections to lend credence to our results.
in the United States and one in the United Kingdom. High- 1) Reachability: The reachability experiments assess link
level details of the different homes hosting our experiments quality between each pair of nodes in the home network in
can be found in Table I1 . Our experiments are designed to terms of success/loss rate, and rely on a series of UDP probe
investigate the impact of the following parameters: packets sent from every node to every other node. Each probe
• Type of house, e.g. size, construction material. packet lists the source node, as well as its number in the
2 series. The size of the probe packet and the duration of each
• Wireless technology used: 802.11a or 802.11b .
1 Inushome2, the bottom ﬂoor was partially below grade. 3 The nodes are denoted as node-2 through node-7 in the remainder of the
2 Thewireless cards used also support 802.11g, which has not been reported paper. Node-1 controls each experiment, instructing each node in turn about
upon in this paper due to the poor 802.11g support in the driver. the type and parameters of the experiment.
sub-experiment are conﬁgurable. In all experiments, link-layer
retransmissions were disabled, the probe size was 1472 bytes,
and the duration of each sub-experiment was 60 seconds, with
a frequency of one packet every 500 ms. Each individual
wireless link is assessed independently, and no simultaneous
transmissions take place inside the network.
2) Throughput: The throughput experiments were run to
assess the quality of layer-3 communication within the home
network. Throughput was assessed for both TCP and UDP
protocols. For our throughput experiments we use the same
basic methodology which relies on measurements from all
pairings of the six nodes in the testbed. Throughput is mea-
sured by the netperf trafﬁc generator using 1472 byte packets.
Each node initiates a netperf connection to every other node
(in turn) and measures the throughput achieved over a 60
Fig. 1. Matrix of probe packets successfully delivered between each pair
second time interval. Unlike the reachability experiments, of nodes in ushome2 at 30mW and 2Mbps (ushome2 − layout1 − link −
the throughput experiments are conducted with link layer validation1).
retransmission enabled (maximum of 3 retries), which is likely
to alleviate the effect of short term degradation in link quality.
the loss and throughput rates observed for each wireless link
B. Basic Methodology under each test. We consider this an essential step of our
measurement methodology, to identify whether a change in the
Each reachability experiment quantiﬁes the loss rate ob- collected measurements, across a speciﬁc experiment, reﬂects
served by each wireless link, as well as the sequence of the effect of the studied parameter (e.g. txrate or txpower) and
successes and failures. We graphically present the obtained not the inherent variability in the measurements themselves.
measurement matrix in Figure 1 as collected in ushome2 when
1) Reachability: In Figure 2 we present the results obtained
txrate is 2 Mbps and txpower is 30 mW. Every row in Figure
across two experiments with the same setup. Each experiment
1 corresponds to probes sent from a speciﬁc source node. In
results in four subplots, where txrate is either 2 Mbps or 11
each subplot, a bar denotes the successful reception of a probe
Mbps and txpower is either 30 mW or 1 mW. Each subplot
by the destination node.
contains the performance of individual wireless links in terms
From Figure 1 we note that in ushome2 and under the
of their loss rate in each direction4 (Figure 1 contains the
selected transmission power and rate, communication from
source data presented in the lower left plot of Figure 2(a).).
node-2 to node-7 is extremely limited; most probe packets
While not exactly identical, the performance shown in each
were lost. In addition, we see that while node-2 has a low
subgraph of Figure 2(a) is similar to that of Figure 2(b). Links
delivery success rate to node-6, the quality of the link in the
that are poor or asymmetric in one run, tend to also be poor
reverse direction is signiﬁcantly better (nearly 100% success).
or asymmetric in the next. Thus, network performance does
Such link asymmetry has been reported in previous perfor-
not change signiﬁcantly from one run to the next. We ran the
mance studies of wireless networks ,  and was found
same validation test in each home and found this result was
to be quite common in the home environments studied in this
paper. Throughput experiments simply output the rate achieved
To determine whether 60 seconds is sufﬁcient to obtain
for each pair of nodes under the different txrate, txpower
an accurate view of the quality of the wireless link, we
combinations, along with the respective packet loss rate.
also measured links over a longer period of time. Using a
Given the large amount of experimental data collected for
transmission rate of 11 Mbps and a transmit power of 30 mW,
this study and the number of different dimensions, we tag the
we performed the same experiment in ushome1 for a time
experiments with the following 4-tuple: home-layout-type-
span of 20 minutes (instead of 1 minute). We then compared
experiment. The ﬁrst tuple can be ushome1, ushome2, or
the success rates derived using the entire time series with
ukhome1. The second tuple reﬂects the positions of the differ-
the success rates that would be estimated by the ﬁrst 120
ent nodes and is of the form layout1,2,.., etc. The third tuple
samples (i.e. 60 seconds). In Figure 3, each point represents
denotes whether the experiment assesses link loss/success rate,
the two success rate measurements for each unidirectional link.
UDP, or TCP throughput. The last tuple denotes the goal of
In each case, the success rate measured in 60 seconds was
the experiment, for instance in the next section we present
a reasonable estimate of the success rate over the 20 minute
results from our validation experiments.
period. Thus, 60 seconds is long enough to assess the medium-
term properties of each link under the tested conditions.
To validate whether our experimental results represent ac- 4 An easy way to read the performance summaries in Figure 2 is to observe
tual link characteristics or a transient effect, we run two how busy they are; a busy plot implies poor performance, a mostly empty
plot indicates no loss across the majority of node pairs. Similar summaries
experiments with the exact same node deployment (denoted are used to capture throughput results, in which case absent bars indicate zero
by layout1) and at the same time of day. We then compute throughput along a particular link direction.
Fig. 3. Comparison of success rate results for 120 and 2400 sample lengths.
The straight line is used as reference of equality (y=x) (ushome1−layout1−
link − long, txrate=11Mbps, txpower=30mW).
Fig. 4. Loss rate as a function of time of day for ushome1 (txpower=30mW,
txrate=11Mbps). First bar is node-4 to node-6, second bar is node-6 to node-4.
(ushome1 − layout1 − link − day, txrate=11Mbps, txpower=30mW)
experiment. Indeed, Figure 6 conﬁrms such a statement.
In Figure 6 we see that good quality links typically achieve
the highest throughput supported, while bad links typically ob-
tain low throughput. We note that the set of reachability mea-
(b) surements is taken before the set of throughput measurements,
with a one hour time lag between the two measurements of
Fig. 2. Loss rates for each pair of nodes in experiments (a) ushome2 − a given link. Links with occasional losses may have variable
layout1 − link − validation1, and (b) ushome2 − layout1 − link −
validation2. Average loss from top-left to bottom-right: (a) 0.42, 0.37, 0.35, performance. In addition, throughput experiments were carried
0.35, (b) 0.33, 0.38, 0.29, 0.29. out with link level transmission turned on (maximum of 3
retries), while reachability experiments were performed with
no link layer retransmission. Throughput provides a more
We must also consider the effect of time of day on link per- accurate picture of these losses, resulting in intermediate
formance. Recall that experiments were typically performed throughput values. From Figure 6, however, it is clear that high
at night to avoid interference from household activity. To loss rate on any direction leads to very poor UDP throughput
determine if results obtained at other times of day would vary along that direction. In case of TCP throughput, if high loss
signiﬁcantly, we performed a 60-second link test for a single is observed on the forward direction then TCP throughput is
node pair in ushome1 once per hour for 24 hours. As shown very low (link 3-6). If high loss rate is observed on the reverse
in Figure 4, while link quality may ﬂuctuate somewhat with direction, then TCP throughput is not zero but signiﬁcantly
time, a ”good” link tends to remain ”good” (and a ”bad” link smaller (links 2-3, 5-6, 5-6) than what could be achieved
remains ”bad”), despite small deviations over time. To avoid on a loss-free link on both directions. We note that such
any complications from time of day speciﬁc behavior, we tried great sensitivity is not evident in our measurements when
to collect comparable data at the same time of day. the transmission rate is 2 Mbps due to the robustness of the
2) Throughput: The validation process for the throughput encoding scheme (also seen in Figure 5).
experiments involves the following steps. First, we compare 3) Experimental Setup: One last aspect of the experimental
the UDP results obtained across two different runs on two setup that needs to be validated has to do with the hardware
sequential days with the same node conﬁguration. We found itself. Wireless measurements are likely to be inﬂuenced by the
that results were easily reproducible (Figure 5). Second, we hardware and software used. The results presented henceforth
compare whether the throughput rates achieved agree with are speciﬁc to the platform we use. However,we must validate
the success rates reported from the preceding reachability whether speciﬁc observed characteristics are an artifact of the
Fig. 6. Relationship between loss rate and UDP/TCP throughput
(a) (ushome2 − layout − ∗ − validation1, txrate=11Mbps, txpower=1mW).
A. Overall characteristics of a home network
Using 802.11b radios, a full set of measurements like those
presented in Figure 1 was collected for four combinations of
transmission power and rate. In Figure 7(a) we present our
results for all combinations from ushome2. The deployment
of nodes in the individual homes is schematically shown in
Figure 8. We refer to the initial layout of the nodes in each
home as layout1.
As expected, in most cases link loss rates are higher when
the encoding rate is higher and somewhat lower when the
power level increases. While each home represents a small
space, wireless connectivity is not always omnipresent. Across
(b) all rates and power levels, a large number of asymmetric
links are present. In most experiments, at least one pair of
Fig. 5. UDP throughput achieved across validation runs, (a) ushome2 − nodes has greater than 30% loss. And, as seen in Figure
layout1 − udp − validation1, (b) ushome2 − layout1 − udp −
validation2. Average throughput in Mbps from top-left to bottom-right: (a) 7(a), while the increase in transmission power improves some
1.01, 2.92, 1.01, 2.89, (b) 1.06, 2.92, 1.02, 3.02. links, the overall problem is not eliminated. This initial set
of experiments demonstrates that lossy links are likely to
be found inside a home, and in some cases, loss cannot be
behavior of speciﬁc nodes. To discount such a possibility, all eliminated by reducing the transmission rate or increasing the
three testbeds comprise the exact same hardware and run the transmission power. On the other hand, such changes do not
exact same versions of the respective software. Before we appear to affect the quality of links with low loss rates.
started the described experiments we had to replace speciﬁc
nodes that appeared to mis-behave, sourcing all asymmetric B. Small changes in antenna orientation and location
links for instance. After each individual testbed was assessed
to function properly, we rotated nodes and radios around the There are several reasons why particular node pairs may
house (node-2 moved to the position of node-3, node-3 to the not be able to communicate. The location of the nodes and
position of node-4, etc.), and observed whether there were the orientation of their antennas impact the obstacles in their
speciﬁc trends in the results. Our ﬁndings validated that all direct path, and thus multi-path fading and signal attenuation.
nodes are equivalent in terms of quality. To evaluate these effects in the home, we modify layout1
by rotating all nodes 180o , such that their antennas face
the opposite direction (such a change may have also slightly
III. R EACHABILITY R ESULTS changed their exact location). We call this deployment layout2.
We now evaluate the home wireless environment along ﬁve We perform the same series of experiments on layout2 and
dimensions: (i) txrate, (ii) txpower, (iii) node location, (iv) present the results in Figure 7(b).
house type, (v) physical layer5 . Due to space limitations, we We observe that a small change in node location and
present results for the most interesting experiments across orientation can have a signiﬁcant impact on link quality. The
homes and settings. All experimental results from all houses number of links with a loss rate above 50% in layout2 is
are available at . smaller than the one in layout1. Since the distance between
5 We have also looked at external interference (e.g., from a microwave oven) nodes does not change signiﬁcantly, and since the change
in a preliminary version of this work . observed between layout1 and layout2 is much greater than
(a) (b) (c)
Fig. 7. Loss rate for node pairs for (a) layout1, (b) layout2, and (c) layout3 in ushome2 (ushome2 − ∗ − link − placement). Average loss from top-left
to bottom-right: (a) 0.42, 0.37, 0.35, 0.35, (b) 0.19, 0.29, 0.31, 0.29, (c) 0.31, 0.38, 0.28, 0.28.
normal variation (Section II-C), exact node placement must Our results thus far demonstrate that the performance of
be a key contributor to performance. a home wireless link tends to be most affected by the set
Our ﬁndings for ushome2 are summarized in Figure 8(b). of objects between the two endpoints, rather than physical
The leftmost ﬁgure denotes the node pairs that experience distance or transmission power.
the worst connectivity (links with greater than 95% loss)
in layout1. In the middle we identify links with the worst E. Comparison between home networks
connectivity in layout2. Under the new conﬁguration, the set of Across homes, results differ substantially. Figure 10 presents
nodes that cannot communicate has changed. Similar ﬁndings loss rates for layout1 across all three homes. In layout1, the
were obtained for ushome1 and ukhome1 as shown in Figure largest home, ushome2, has the worst performance (Figure
8(a) and (c), with ushome1 experiencing the most dramatic 10(b)), and the smallest home, ukhome1 has the best per-
changes in performance between layout1 and layout2. formance, particularly at low transmit power (Figure 10(c)).
C. Large changes in node placement Results for ushome1 (Figure 10(a)) are signiﬁcantly different
from the results for ushome2 even though they are similar in
The previous section considered the impact of small changes size. Ushome1 and ushome2 differ in that ushome2 is a three-
in node location. We now move each node in ushome2 from story building, while ushome1 has two ﬂoors. Nonetheless, the
its positions in layout1 to a different location within the same impact of the number of ﬂoors is not evident for ukhome1,
room (rightmost plot of Figure 8(b)). We call this conﬁguration which allowed an almost fully connected wireless network.
layout3. Loss rates measured for layout3 are shown in Figure While some of the observations above could suggest that
7(c). We observe that layout3 leads to a more “concentrated” distance or size play a signiﬁcant role in performance, the
loss area than layout1. overall results presented here and in Section III-D demonstrate
The above results clearly demonstrate the challenges of that loss rate cannot be predicted based on such features. The
home environments on the design and performance of home key parameter is precise node location and orientation, rather
wireless networks. Node positioning has a dramatic impact on than home size or distance between nodes.
network connectivity, and ”randomly” selecting the location of
a node will not ensure its connectivity. Moreover, ”randomly”
selecting the location for an access point does not necessarily F. The impact of the physical layer: 802.11a
ensure a fully connected network. Consider use of an AP While the preceding data was collected using the IEEE
topology in our testbed, with one testbed node replaced by 802.11b physical layer, other physical layers may possess
an access point. For the example of layout3, node locations different characteristics. In this section, we consider the per-
2, 5, 6 and 7 would not be good choices for an AP, as they formance of the IEEE 802.11a physical layer in the home.
would not have good connectivity to all other nodes. As described in Section II, we deploy laptops with 802.11a
D. The relationship between link quality and distance wireless cards in the same locations as the 802.11b nodes
and perform the same series of connectivity experiments. Each
In Section III-A we demonstrated that home wireless links experiment is completed with the same transmission power: 30
tend to be highly asymmetric. The presence of asymmetry mW. We considered four different link encoding rates: 6 Mbps,
suggests a loose relationship between distance and link quality. 18 Mbps, 36 Mbps, and 54 Mbps. Two node deployments
In this section we look into this question in more detail. were used, where layout1 is the initial deployment, and in
Figure 9 presents the loss rate between node pairs for layout2 nodes are rotated by 180o . The loss rates in ushome1
layout2 in each home versus the distance between the nodes. for layout1 and layout2 are reported in Figure 116 .
Clearly there is no correlation between physical distance and
wireless link quality in these home networks. This result holds 6 802.11a experiments were not possible in the UK home due to local
across homes and across txrate and txpower settings. regulations and limitations of the card’s IBSS implementation.
(a) (b) (c)
Fig. 8. Abstract home ﬂoorplans and location of links with greater than 95% loss rate at 1 mW and 11 Mbps under different conﬁgurations: (a) ushome1
for layout1, layout2, (b) ushome2 for layout1, layout2, and layout3, and (c) ukhome1 for layout1, layout2 (∗ − ∗ − link − homes).
(a) (b) (c)
Fig. 9. Loss rate for each pair of nodes against their distance for (a) ushome1, (b) ushome2, and (c) ukhome1 under layout2 (∗ − layout2 − link − homes).
(a) (b) (c)
Fig. 10. Loss rate for each pair of nodes for layout1 in (a) ushome1, (b) ushome2, and (c) ukhome1 (∗ − layout1 − link − homes). Average loss from
top-left to bottom-right: (a) 0.23, 0.26, 0.31, 0.31, (b) 0.42, 0.37, 0.35, 0.35, (c) 0.02, 0.09, 0.06, 0.07.
As might be expected, the characteristics of 802.11a wire- and 802.11b. In ushome1 the 6 Mbps 802.11a links were
less links in the home are not entirely unlike 802.11b wireless much more reliable than either the 2 Mbps or 11 Mbps
links. Packet loss rates generally increase as the link encoding 802.11b links. Thus, one would expect 802.11a to provide
rate increases. Many links are lossy, and some links are better throughput in the home. However, the 54 Mbps link
highly asymmetric. In some cases it is possible to create a encoding performed very poorly between more than 40% of
nearly loss-free network at low data rates, but only at speciﬁc all node pairs. Thus, unless nodes are very optimally placed
node locations and orientations. As with the 802.11b results, in the home, it is unlikely that 54 Mbps will be attained (a
network quality appears to be sensitive to small changes in ﬁnding which is also conﬁrmed in the next section). While
node position and orientation, as seen in layout1 and layout2. one might expect the 802.11a MAC to perform better in equal
Finally, we have previously conﬁrmed that 802.11a link loss environments by design, lower levels of interference from non-
rates do not correlate with the distance between node pairs 802.11 devices in the 5 GHz band may also contribute to the
. superior performance of 802.11a in the home environment.
While the 802.11a results are similar to the 802.11b results,
one difference is quite clear. In the home, 802.11a links IV. T HROUGHPUT RESULTS
appear to have a rather ”binary” behavior, despite the lack In the previous section we looked into the characteristics of
of link-layer retransmissions. Link loss rates in the 802.11b home wireless networks in terms of reachability. The results
experiments take on a much wider variety of values. demonstrate that despite the small size of home networks,
Figure 12 provides a summary comparison between 802.11a there may always exist nodes that cannot communicate with
Fig. 12. Cumulative density function of loss rates under IEEE 802.11b and
IEEE 802.11a in ushome1 (layout1) - the 11a 6Mbps is not visible because
there is no link with loss under this conﬁguration (ushome1 − layout1 −
link − 11a/11b).
An increase in transmission power, however, does not appear
to improve quality in ushome1. Looking at the equivalent
TCP throughput rates (Figure 13(b)) we notice a signiﬁcant
degradation in performance. This effect is expected, given
that TCP is designed to react aggressively to dropped packets,
lowering the overall throughput observed between two nodes
with occasional packet losses.
B. Fixed transmission rate using IEEE 802.11a
In Figure 12 we conjectured that home users may not be able
to make full use of the maximum transmission rate offered by
IEEE 802.11a due to increased loss rates. In this subsection,
we revisit this issue by measuring the throughput achieved by
all node pairs in ushome1 under the 6, 18, 36, and 54 Mbps
(b) UDP throughput across transmission rates is shown in
Fig. 11. Loss rate for each pair of nodes for ushome1 under IEEE 802.11a, Figure 14(a)). For each node pair, as the link rate increases
with two different node orientations, (a) layout1 and (b) layout2 (ushome1− throughput increases, until the loss rate begins to dominate
layout1/layout2 − link − 11a). Average loss from top-left to bottom-right:
(a) 0, 0, 0.1, 0.42, (b) 0, 0.06, 0.06, 0.44. and throughput decreases. In ushome1, as the transmission
rate increases beyond 18 Mbps, many links drop to zero
throughput. Only half of the links inside ushome1 can make
all other nodes in the network. Moreover, such communication use of the 54 Mbps transmission rate.
problems cannot always be rectiﬁed by increasing the trans- The effect of packet loss is even more dramatic on TCP
mission power or decreasing the transmission rate (and hence (Figure 14(b)). As expected, in most cases the effect of packet
employing more robust encoding). loss (and perhaps increased overhead) results in lower through-
Throughput is an additional dimension to the connectivity put than UDP. Increasing the data rate to 54 Mbps results in
problem. Despite reachability, a link between two nodes may extremely poor performance: no TCP connection exceeds a
experience non-negligible loss rates, and thus suffer from throughput of 10 Mbps, and half are actually zero. We note,
intermittent connectivity and low throughput rates; a case that however, that the performance observed for txrate=18Mbps
will be more evident for TCP trafﬁc that is designed to react and txpower=30mW is superior to the performance of 802.11b
to observed losses. In this section we look at the achieved when txrate=11Mbps at the same txpower level.
UDP and TCP throughput on our testbed networks with and
without automatic link rate adaptation. C. Autorate
In our previous experiments, the link-layer transmission
A. Fixed transmission rate using IEEE 802.11b rate was ﬁxed. In reality, wireless cards can adjust their
Figure 13(a) presents the UDP throughput rates achieved encoding rate according to the quality of the wireless channel,
by different node pairs for different combinations of txrate i.e. “autorate”. The autorate functionality is implemented on
and txpower in ushome2. We note that each node pair with a wireless cards such that if a high transmission rate cannot
poor quality wireless link (Figure 10(b)) has zero throughput. be effectively supported, the card can fall back to a lower,
Fig. 14. (a) UDP and (b) TCP throughput rates for ushome1 under
Fig. 13. (a) UDP and (b) TCP throughput rates for ushome1 under
different combinations of txrate and txpower (802.11a, ushome1−layout1−
different combinations of txrate and txpower (802.11b, ushome1−layout1−
udp/tcp − 11a). Average throughput from top-left to bottom-right: (a) 4.43,
udp/tcp − validation1). Average throughput in Mbps from top-left to
8.64, 9.98, 9.23, (b) 3.93, 8.74, 5.85, 4.75.
bottom-right: (a) 1.12, 3.23, 1.1, 3.14, (b) 0.93, 2.41, 0.94, 2.34.
Consequently, the effective throughput achieved is under 1
more robust (in terms of encoding) transmission rate. In this Mbps.
section we explore the impact of autorate on our results. One should bear in mind that autorate is likely to improve
Unfortunately, since autorate algorithms are not standard, our performance only for cases in which the minimum rate pro-
results are speciﬁc to the particular implementation in our vides some connectivity. A node pair with zero throughput
cards. across all conﬁgurations will not beneﬁt from autorate. Indeed,
We enabled autorate on all wireless cards in our testbed in Figure 15 links with zero throughput with txrate=2Mbps
in ukhome1 and ran a series of experiments to compare do not improve with autorate (e.g., link 5 → 4). On the other
UDP throughput when txpower=30mW with and without a hand, some links with non-zero throughput at txrate=2Mbps
ﬁxed transmission rate, presented in Figure 15. We note that and zero throughput at txrate=11Mbps, achieve non-zero
the link from node-2 to node-4 achieves zero throughput throughput with autorate enabled.
over an 11 Mbps link, while optimal throughput is achieved
over a 2 Mbps link. Autorate allows nodes to adjust the
V. I MPACT OF T OPOLOGY
link encoding rate to environmental conditions. Indeed our
results demonstrate that node-2 is capable of identifying the The previous sections demonstrated that homes represent
appropriate transmission rate for the link to node-4 and using a challenging environment for wireless networks, particularly
it. On the other hand, the link from node-5 to node-6 achieves when used to support bandwidth-demanding applications, such
a much lower throughput using autorate than when the link as video streaming. Performance, in terms of both success rate
rate is ﬁxed at 11 Mbps. In fact, the measured throughput and throughput, varies widely across links, and asymmetry
over the autorate link is similar to the throughput over the is common. Performance of a given link can be difﬁcult to
2 Mbps link. Apparently, the use of autorate in this case predict, since the exact position and orientation of individual
drops the transmission rate to 2 Mbps and does not recover. nodes has a greater effect than the distance between nodes.
to forward packets on behalf of other nodes. Thus, a wide
variety of different topologies are possible. Typically a routing
algorithm is used to evaluate various paths between each pair
of communicating nodes and selects the one that optimizes
a particular metric. In particular, mesh networking can allow
direct communication between nodes, two-hop communication
through a third node, or more hops when necessary. While
each hop introduces an additional bandwidth penalty (since
each hop contends for the same channel, as in the AP-based
case), multiple high-quality links may be better than a single
low-quality link. Previous work has shown that such multi-
hopping strategies could offer higher throughput multi-hop
connections, when the quality of the direct link is poor .
Fig. 15. Effect of autorate for ukhome1 at txpower=30mW (ukhome1 − Multi-hopping mechanisms and protocols are currently being
layout1 − udp − autorate). Average throughput in Mbps top to bottom: explored within the IEEE 802.11s task group .
1.31, 3.84, 3.73. In Figure 16 we present an example node layout to demon-
strate schematically the topologies considered in this section.
Each link is labelled with the link loss rate, as might be
In such an environment, network topology can have a measured from our reachability test. Figure 16(a) demonstrates
signiﬁcant impact on network performance. In this section, we the “direct” topology that could be employed for the commu-
use the results from Sections III and IV to evaluate the impact nication between nodes; every node communicates with every
of three possible topologies: AP-based communication, direct other node using the direct path. Note that direct communica-
communication, and multi-hop (or mesh) communication. tion between node-6 and node-7 has a 80% loss rate in this
example. Figure 16(b) presents an AP-based topology, with
A. Topologies node-5 acting as the AP. In this case, communication between
Today most home wireless networks utilize an AP-based node-6 and node-7, through node-5 achieves a 90% loss rate.
topology. Each packet originating from a node in the wireless Lastly, Figure 16(c) presents an alternative topology, based
network is ﬁrst transmitted to an access point. The AP then on multi-hopping. If routing is determined using Dijkstra’s
forwards the packet to the destination, which may be located in algorithms and link weights reﬂect loss rate, then the optimal
the wireless network or may be accessible through some other routing for node-6 to reach every other node inside the network
(typically wired) interface. This topology is reasonable (though is shown with dark lines. In this case, node-6 can reach node-7
not necessarily optimal) when most trafﬁc ﬂows between through node-2 with 100% success.
wireless stations and the Internet through an AP. The question we address in the remainder of this section
AP-based topologies are less optimal for trafﬁc that ﬂows is the impact of topology on home wireless network perfor-
between stations within the wireless network. And, as the mance. If, for example, a mesh topology could signiﬁcantly
number of wireless-enabled devices in the home increases increase overall throughput in home networks, a change in the
the amount of intra-wireless-network trafﬁc will also increase. design and functionality of radios for consumer electronics
Examples of such trafﬁc include computer-to-printer trafﬁc, as would be warranted.
well as communication between consumer electronic devices.
Such trafﬁc pays a two-hop penalty, since all packets transmit-
ted by the source must be retransmitted by the AP, and the AP
contends for the same channel as the originating node when To assess the potential gain from alternative topologies in
forwarding packets. This approach is particularly sub-optimal the home, we need a means to map the throughput values mea-
if the communicating devices are relatively close, while the sured through our experiments to the throughput that would be
AP is relatively far away. Moreover, given our evaluation of achieved by different node pairs under alternative topologies.
wireless link characteristics, high-bandwidth communication The fundamental difference between our measurements and
in home networks between the source and destination nodes the throughput that would be achieved under the AP or mesh
and the AP are not assured. In addition, choosing a location topology is that speciﬁc nodes now use intermediate nodes
for an AP that maximizes network throughput is non-trivial. for their communication. The throughput achieved by node-A
Direct communication between wireless stations is an alter- to node-C through node-B can be estimated using the airtime
native to AP-based communication that eliminates the two-hop consumed by each individual transmission. For this purpose,
penalty. These topologies are most relevant for trafﬁc between we make the pessimistic assumption that all nodes are within
two devices within the home. However, our results from the the same collision domain.
previous sections demonstrate that home networks may not be In our current measurements, the airtime consumed by node-
able to guarantee the interaction between every two devices in A’s transmission to node-C is the inverse of the throughput
the home. of the link from node-A to node-C, or thr1 , which is the
Mesh networking provides a third alternative to direct and amount of time the wireless channel is busy. If node-A uses
AP-based communication. Mesh networks allow any node node-B as a relay, then an individual transmission now leads to
(a) direct communication (b) AP topology - AP at node-5 (c) mesh topology
Fig. 16. Example topologies for the interactions sourcing at node-6. Link weights represent loss rates along the direct path.
two transmissions: one from node-A to node-B, and one from
M ULTIHOP THROUGHPUT FROM NODE -2 TO NODE -dst THROUGH
node-B to node-C, with respective airtimes of thr1 , thr1 .
A,B B,C NODE -rtr WHEN txrate=11Mbps, txpower=30mW
Consequently, the throughput that would be observed by node-
(ukhome1 − layout1 − udp − multihop).
A toward node-C through AP node-B can be expressed as:
1 1st hop 2nd hop multihop estimate abserr relerr
thrS,D = 1 1 (1) dst rtr (M bps) (M bps) (M bps) (M bps) (M bps) (%)
thrS,A + thrA,D 3 4 5.04 6.29 3.14 2.79 0.35 10
3 5 5.18 2.93 1.83 1.87 0.04 2
The above formula describes the airtime for a transmission 3 6 5.82 6.30 3.05 3.02 0.02 0
between node-A and node-C through node-B as the sum of the 3 7 6.11 6.27 3.10 3.09 0.00 0
air times for the transmissions between node-A and node-B, 4 3 6.25 6.08 3.34 3.08 0.25 7
4 5 5.07 5.49 3.14 2.63 0.50 16
and node-B and node-C. 4 6 6.02 6.15 3.19 3.04 0.14 4
We validate this formula experimentally and use it to assess 4 7 6.11 6.12 2.57 3.05 0.48 18
the impact of alternative topologies in the studied homes. For 5 3 6.26 5.20 2.91 2.84 0.06 2
5 4 5.57 4.14 2.28 2.37 0.09 4
the validation step we measure the multihop effect as observed 5 6 5.99 5.86 3.06 2.96 0.09 3
from node-2 in ukhome1 when txrate is 2Mbps or 11Mbps. 5 7 6.11 5.15 2.37 2.79 0.42 17
Our experiments cover the full set of combinations for destina- 6 3 6.26 6.12 3.24 3.09 0.14 4
tion and relay nodes, and results are presented in Table II for 6 4 5.57 6.15 3.17 2.92 0.24 7
6 5 5.02 3.63 2.09 2.10 0.01 0
the case in which txrate=11Mbps. Each experiment measures 6 7 6.11 5.65 3.25 2.93 0.31 9
the throughput of the two single-hop paths comprising the 7 3 6.26 6.13 3.23 3.09 0.13 4
multi-hop path. Then the source and relay nodes are conﬁgured 7 4 5.41 6.15 3.13 2.87 0.25 8
7 5 5.01 4.60 2.60 2.39 0.20 7
appropriately to facilitate multihop communication, and the 7 6 5.95 6.05 2.97 2.99 0.02 1
end-to-end throughput is measured. Note that the experimental
measurement of the two single-hop throughputs preceded the
measurement of the multihop throughput, and therefore slight
throughput achievable by different pairs of communicating
variations should be expected.
nodes, when a particular testbed node is selected to act as
The absolute and relative errors for txrate=11Mbps are
an AP. For instance, assuming that the AP is located at the
shown in Table II. The absolute error (the magnitude difference
position of node-2 we quantify the throughput achieved from
between the measured and estimated values in Mbps) incurred
node-X to node-Y given that it has to multihop through node-
using Eq. 1 is small. The distribution of the relative errors (the
2. Our results are presented in Figure 18.
percentage difference between the measured and estimated val-
Figure 18 clearly demonstrates the impact of the location
ues) incurred across both rates and for all the possible multihop
of the AP on the network performance. Only one of the six
connections initiating from node-2 is further shown in Figure
node locations in the testbed (node-3) leads to a network in
17. We notice that 80% of the relative error values obtained
which no pair of nodes experiences zero throughput. For any
when txrate=2Mbps are below 5%. The respective number
other choice of AP location (of the six possible locations),
for txrate=11Mbps is slightly greater (10%), which is a direct
35%-80% of the links are unusable (i.e. zero throughput).
consequence of the fact that a slight change in the conditions
across the measurement of thrA,B , thrB,C , thrA,C has a Next we compare the network performance in each home
more signiﬁcant impact. Given the results in Table II and Fig- for the direct topology, the best AP topology, and the optimal
ure 17, we conclude that the “airtime” metric is appropriate for multi-hop topology. Note that the best topology for each home
the investigation of the performance implications of alternative is determined using the same method shown in Figure 18.
topologies in the home. Multihop routing is derived using Dijkstra’s algorithm, where
link weights are proportional to measured loss rate. While this
routing scheme determines optimal routes, it is important to
C. Findings note that it does not necessarily provide an optimal routing
Previously we conjectured that random selection of the algorithm. The reader interested in mesh routing can refer to
location of the Access Point (AP) in the home network is not  and references therein.
guaranteed to lead to a high performance wireless network. Results for each of ushome1, ushome2, and ukhome1 are
Using the collected throughput measurements we quantify the presented in Figure 19 and brief overall summaries are given
(a) (b) (c)
Fig. 19. The impact of different topologies on UDP throughput (a) ushome1, (b) ushome2 and (c) ukhome1 (txrate=11Mbps, txpower=30mW, ∗ − layout1 −
udp). Throughput statistics can be found in Table III.
P ERFORMANCE STATISTICS FROM ALL THREE HOMES UNDER
ALTERNATIVE TOPOLOGIES (∗ − layout1 − udp − multihop).
Home Metric Direct best AP-topology Multihop
ushome1 Minimum Thr. 0 0 2.2
Average Thr. 3.15 3.07 3.79
Aggregate Thr. 94.58 92.26 113.88
ushome2 Minimum Thr. 1.23 1.14 2.3
Average Thr. 2.89 2.81 3.55
Aggregate Thr. 86.88 84.43 106.61
ukhome1 Minimum Thr. 0 0 2.2
Average Thr. 4.24 3.16 4.35
Aggregate Thr. 127.36 94.88 130.41
Fig. 17. Relative error in the estimation of multihop throughput (ukhome1−
layout1 − udp − multihop).
as the best AP topology. In many cases, the mesh topology
greatly surpasses the best AP topology, simply by allowing
direct links to be used, without requiring that they be used in
the cases where direct links provide low (or no) throughput.
VI. R ELATED W ORK
Several recent studies have evaluated large wireless net-
works deployed across university campuses. Kotz and Essien
 studied a 476 access point wireless network deployed
across a large campus, focusing primarily on user trafﬁc
characteristics rather than link performance measurements.
Other studies have investigated the characteristics of wireless
links in sensor networks. Zhao and Govindan  measured
the link characteristics of 60 sensor nodes deployed in an
Fig. 18. The impact of AP location (txrate=11Mbps, txpower=30mW, ofﬁce building, an outdoor park, and a parking lot. The study
ushome1 − layout1 − udp − multihop).
ﬁnds that many links operate in a ”gray area” with difﬁcult-
to-predict intermediate loss rates and performance.
The viability of multi-hop wireless mesh network topologies
in Table III. The AP-based topology performs the worst, with has been demonstrated for large outdoor and ofﬁce networks
lower average and aggregate throughput in nearly every case, in recent trial network and testbed deployments. Aguayo,
and lower minimum throughput than both direct and multihop et al.  deployed and maintained a 50-node community
topologies in ushome2. As expected, the direct communication wireless mesh network used by students and faculty across
topology does eliminate the two-hop penalty (except in the a large university campus. In this deployment, each node in
case that either the source or destination is the AP). Thus, the network was able to communicate with other nodes and
many additional node pairs are able to achieve the highest pos- a small number of gateways to the Internet by using multi-
sible throughput. However, the direct topology also disables hop routing and forwarding. Draves, et al.  used a 23-
communication between many node pairs. The mesh topology node wireless testbed deployed in an ofﬁce environment to
neither improves nor harms the throughput of the links with measure the performance of multi-hop mesh routing protocols
the highest throughput. At the same time, the mesh topology and metrics. Their study demonstrates that selecting multi-hop
is, in every case, able to provide at least as much throughput routes that minimize end-to-end airtime based on link-level
measurements results in high-throughput performance in both While not typically controllable by a home user, we found
single-radio and multi-radio mesh networks. that topology had the largest impact on overall network perfor-
While it is not unexpected that wireless link performance mance in the home. Using throughput measurements collected
will vary when deployed across large geographic areas, our from all three homes, we have shown that the location of the
study focuses speciﬁcally on the characteristics of home access point can have a dramatic effect on the performance of
networks and demonstrates that variations in link quality are a wireless network. In many cases, a given AP deployment
very common even when wireless networks are deployed will not yield a connected network. Since AP deployment
within the relatively small area of a home. Moreover, this is typically determined by the point of entry of the Internet
study demonstrates that the beneﬁts of wireless mesh network service and aesthetic concerns, more ﬂexible topologies may
topologies are not limited to wireless deployments spread be more appropriate.
across large campuses or ofﬁce buildings. Mesh networking We considered two other types of topologies (e.g. direct
also improves the performance and reliability of small home and mesh) and found that mesh topologies offered signiﬁcant
wireless networks. beneﬁts in the home. By selecting the topology according to
In a previous study, we provided early evidence of signiﬁ- measured link characteristics, such as loss rate, a mesh can
cant variability and asymmetry in home network link quality provide more uniform connectivity while also allowing high-
. We have extended this early work in several important performance direct links where available. Used alone or in
respects: (1) all new data sets, validating our previous results combination with the other wireless conﬁguration parameters,
and claims, (2) measurement of throughput using TCP and mesh topologies can increase the performance of wireless
UDP transports, (3) evaluation of the impact of automatic networks in the home. These results suggest a need for support
rate selection, and (4) comparison of the impact of ﬂexible of mesh networking capabilities in wireless-enabled consumer
topologies on the performance of home wireless networks. electronic devices.
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