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More about CentMesh

This page provides some background information about the CentMesh project, its inception, goals, CentMesh in the news, and also a picture gallery.

Motivation and Inception

The Internet is now pervasive in our lives - we access the network almost every minute of our waking lives for communication, commerce, education, entertainment. The physical trappings of the network have been growing more pervasive to keep pace, with multiple types of wireless networks that can be accessed by untethered, mobile devices. Wireless mesh networks are an ideal paradigm for research and education on a large variety of wireless access networks, single-hop and multi-hop, static or mobile, civilian or tactical, because they are general and can be configured into specific modes. Thus a wireless mesh designed for research and teaching can serve not only to house wireless mesh experiments, but also sensor net, pervasive computing, and intelligent transportation experiments, to name a few. But to be useful, such a wireless mesh facility has to span significant outdoor area, not be housed in a single room or lab.

The vision for NCSU's Centennial Campus has been crafted by academics and researchers, and the recognized aim of the campus is to be a "Living Laboratory", providing a mission and goal of the campus to actively aiding researchers and educators, and participating in their missions. Centennial Campus is an initiative unique in academic environments, and represents a remarkable visionary coming together of academia, government, and private industry. 1,334 acres of land were made available to NCSU under a land grant from the state of North Carolina, and a significant fraction of it has been built out in the 22 years of its existence, but the larger part of the land remains open for expansion.

On this Centennial Campus, the aim of the NCSU Centennial Wireless Mesh project was to build a highly programmable, extensible, open testbed to support research and education on the design of wireless mesh networks, as well as IT systems and applications enabled by wireless mesh networks, using open source code built by NCSU students and faculty, and re-using other open source code. The project is called CentMesh for short, and has been alternatively called SOSIMesh or MeshBed at various times.

NCSU Centennial Campus photo
NCSU Centennial Campus, around the time the CentMesh project started

Facility Evolution

Goals

Many emerging security and network research areas are in network availability, reliability etc. Solutions are often proposed in research through routing, opportunistic MAC, etc. research areas i.e. low down, and across, the networking stack. Availability of a testbed enables more successful and more practically useful research. However, traditional and commercial mesh networking solutions cannot provide the support necessary. Researchers need a testbed that allows separation of experimental concerns such as data transport vs. E2E control, and signaling and control vs. Management algorithms ("knowledge plane").

Accordingly, the goal of the CentMesh project was to provide a highly flexible testbed environment to users (wireless network/security researchers), provide modular programming library to the researcher-user, allow researchers to code only the part(s) of the stack they want to experiment with (and re-use others with traditional approaches, or from other researchers to create synergy), enable network design and security research involving routing, power, channel, scheduling control, and finally, to develop an extensible environment which can continue to grow in capability and richness beyond the originally envisioned research project.

Sponsors

The Army Research Office is the primary sponsor for this project. ARO Grant W911NF-08-1-0105 managed by NCSU Secure Open Systems Initiative (SOSI) has provided funds for research assistantship support for some students to work on CentMesh, and service center time from the OSCAR Labs (now part of ITng). Most of the equipment to build the testbed were being funded through ARO Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) grant number W911NF-09-1-0341.

Phases of Development

The project was accomplished in three phases. Phase 1 created a laboratory testbench, with the purpose of developing initial software architecture, and creating an initial common codebase. We completed this phase in Summer 2009.

The second phase put individual mesh nodes on pushcarts. Pushcarts with equipment constitute self-contained wireless mesh nodes, with 4 wireless interfaces each. The full description of the hardware used to build the pushcart nodes is available at the CentMesh Wiki. The purpose of this phase is to benchmark wireless conditions, prove developed software and envisaged hardware strategies in outdoor settings, and survey multiple locations for permanent installation.

The pushcart nodes are useful not only as a phase in testing the entire CentMesh codebase, but also as a key part of the final form of the testbed. They provide the capability to mix nodes of variable position with the fixed position nodes, mobile nodes, mobile clients, and also an easy way to perform wireless calibration with various antenna heights.

Phase 3 consisted of poletop installations at selected locations on Centennial Campus, and provides a (semi-)permanent testbed installation for researcher-users of CentMesh. Installation was completed in late 2011. Network testing was completed in summer of 2012, and since then the facility has been operational.

However, CentMesh continues to be an evolving facility, responsive to the needs of its potential users. We continue developing backend support and tools in order to make the transition between projects easier and faster. We have some SDR nodes (USRP2) that we want to integrate into the facility, but in spring of 2014 we are completely engaged in using the facility in support of the NCSU CentMesh Drones Challenge (information elsewhere on this website).

CentMesh in the News

The NCSU Research blog The Abstract did a story on CentMesh: "Want To Study New Kinds Of Wireless Systems? Build Your Own". The NCSU student newspaper "The Technician" also ran an article in 2012; unfortunately we do not have the exact citation.

The Raleigh News & Observer ran an article on the CentMesh project: here is the archived electronic version.

Picture Gallery

This unorganized Picture Gallery opens in a new window.

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