Project Overview

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.

The Centennial Mesh project aims 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. The physical site of the testbed is in the Centennial Campus of NCSU. 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.

The vision for the 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.

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Wireless Mesh Networks

The Wireless Mesh Network (WMN) is quickly emerging as the right solution for metropolitan area networks, providing last few miles connectivity. There are various attractive qualities of this paradigm, which include lowcost deployment, robustness and its inheritance of useful characteristics from both the ad-hoc networking paradigm and the traditional wired infrastructure paradigm. WMNs have provided and continue to provide a rich domain of application enablement, and ensuing research. For further background on WMNs, see our recent survey on WMN design (linked from this website in the "Documents" section), or other recent literature on the topic.

Testbed 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 is 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 most of the equipment to build the testbed are being funded through ARO Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) grant number W911NF-09-1-0341.

Team

The following students have contributed significant effort into developing CentMesh and have been partially supported by SOSI:

Many other students have at some time or other contributed effort into the development of CentMesh.

The Institute for Next Generation IT Systems (ITng), and its constituent OSCAR Labs, are assisting with Phase 3 deployment (see below). Other people key to the CentMesh effort are John Bass (Director, OSCAR Labs, NCSU), John Streck (Technical Director, ITng, NCSU), Dennis Kekas, Mladen Vouk and Peng Ning (SOSI PIs). Wayne Clarke (formerly ITng, currently Hunt Library Technical Director) and Phil Emer (formerly Director, Friday Institute, NCSU) have previously provided valuable support and advice for CentMesh.

Phases

The project is envisaged 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 consists of poletop installations at selected locations on Centennial Campus, and will provide a (semi-)permanent testbed installation for researcher-users of CentMesh. Installation has been completed in late 2011. It is currently undergoing final electrical and safety inspection, and network testing is scheduled for late February - May 2012.

CentMesh in the News