“Interactive Wi-Fi Connectivity for Moving Vehicles”

Interactive Wi-Fi Connectivity for Moving Vehicles” proposes ViFi, a system for achieving connectivity via WiFi from moving vehicles.

A moving vehicle is in range of different WiFi base stations over time. Due to host mobility, the best base station to use will change, so the client must do “handoff” to move between the base stations as appropriate. The authors describe traditional handoff policies as “hard handoff,” because a client is only ever connected to one base station at a time. The authors present experimental and analytical results to suggest that any handoff policy based on connecting to a single base station will be outperformed by policy which opportunistically utilizes multiple base stations that are in-range at once. Utilizing multiple base stations at once is effective for two reasons:

  1. A client is often in range of multiple base stations, at least in the urban environments they study.
  2. Packet loss is roughly independent of senders and receivers. In the upstream direction, utilizing multiple BSs is effective because losses are roughly independent of base stations: a packet that is not received by one BS is likely to be received by at least one another BS. In the downstream direction, BS diversity is effective because downstream losses tend to be “bursty” and path-dependent, but receiver independent: while one BS will often fail to deliver a burst of packets, other BSs are likely to be able to send packets to the receiver.


Therefore, the authors propose a scheme to allow WiFi clients to opportunistically utilize multiple in-range base stations. They assume that base stations have some ability to communicate, but do not have a high-bandwidth link. Hence, they focus on a scheme that allows the base stations to coordinate to enable base station diversity and avoids duplicate or missed packet deliveries, but requires minimal additional load on the inter-base station link and doesn’t hurt user-perceived latency. Their basic approach is to combine opportunistic reception (clients broadcast to all BSs in range) with probabilistic relaying (base stations compute relay probabilities independently and probabilistically).

In ViFi, each vehicle designates one nearby base station as the anchor, and the rest as auxiliaries. The anchor and auxiliary list is periodically broadcast by the vehicle via a beacon, which allows base stations to learn the identify and addresses of peer BSs.

Packet Transmission

The basic ViFi transmission algorithm is simple. To send a packet from the vehicle upstream, the receiver broadcasts to all in-range receivers. If the anchor receives the packet, it responds with an ACK broadcast. Any auxiliaries that overhear the packet broadcast wait for a short window; if they don’t see an ACK, they probabilistically relay the packet to the anchor via the inter-BS backplane. When the anchor receives relayed packets that it hasn’t already ACK’ed, it ACKs them. Finally, the receiver retransmits packets if it doesn’t receive an ACK within a certain period of time.

The transmission algorithm for downstream packets (base station => vehicle) works similarly (and almost symmetrically). The anchor broadcasts the packet to the vehicle. If the vehicle hears it, it broadcasts an ACK. If any auxiliaries overhear the broadcast but don’t see the ACK after a short window of time, they probabilistically broadcast the packet themselves. The anchor retransmits the packet if it doesn’t hear an ACK during the retransmission interval.

The magic is in the probabilistic retransmission technique, which must balance between retransmitting too often (wasting bandwidth) and not often enough (risking packet drops). The intuition behind their probabilistic retransmission technique is that they want the expected number of packet relays amongst all auxiliaries to be 1; amongst auxiliaries, they prefer transmission by auxiliaries that are better connected to the destination (i.e. either the anchor BS or the vehicle). Each BS computes packet reception probabilities between itself and the other BSs and the vehicle, using a periodic beacon.

Other Details

802.11 link-layer acknowledgments are sent immediately after a packet is delivered to the recipient, which allows the sender to predict the expected arrival time of the ACK. In ViFi, ACKs may be delayed due to relaying, which depends on current network conditions (e.g. behavior of the inter-BS backplane). Hence, ViFi uses its own acknowledgment scheme, with the retransmission interval set based on recent history (99th percentile measured delay for ACKs).

ViFi also implements salvage. When a vehicle moves out of range before the anchor BS can deliver packets for it, those packets are “stranded” on the old anchor BS. When the vehicle obtains a new anchor BS, the beacon it sends out also includes the previous anchor BS. The new anchor contacts the old anchor, and asks for any unacknowledged packets for the vehicle to be relayed.


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