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Experiences using Gateway-Enforced Rate-Limiting Techniques in Wireless Mesh Networks

Kamran Jamshaid and Paul A.S. Ward

Shoshin Distributed Systems Group Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1 Email: {kjamshai, pasward} typically xed to building structures, there are no topological variations due to mesh-router mobility, though infrequent topology changes might still occur because of addition, removal, or failure of mesh routers. Thus client mobility is not relevant for this work, as such clients access the network per the standard WLAN mode of operation. This static topology also precludes other mobility requirements like battery-power conservation; these mesh routers are typically powered through the electricity grid. Finally, the trafc pattern in these networks is highly skewed, with most of the trafc being either directed to or originating from the wired Internet through one of the gateway nodes. For the purpose of this paper, we restrict our analysis to single gateway systems in which client access is non-interfering with mesh-router operation. This is consistent with systems developed by wireless equipment vendors such as Nortel [13], and is a generalization of the TAP model [4] from chains to arbitrary graphs. Most WMNs use commodity 802.11 hardware because of its cost advantage. However, the CSMA/CA MAC demonstrates its limitations in a multihop network. Specically, because of the hidden and exposed terminal problems [17], nodes may experience varying spatial (location-dependent) contention for the wireless channel. This produces an inconsistent view of the channel state among the nodes, resulting in throughput unfairness between different ows. This unfairness trend deteriorates with increasing trafc loads and multiple back-logged ows, eventually resulting in ow starvation for disadvantaged ows. In particular, nodes multiple hops away from the gateway starve while all the available network capacity is consumed by nodes closer to the gateway [8]. We are currently exploring the use of trafc-aggregation points like gateway nodes for policy-enforcement and other trafc-shaping responsibilities that may support scalable, functional mesh networks. Given WMN trafc patterns, the gateway a natural choice for enforcing fairness and bandwidthallocation policies. It has a unied view of the entire network, and thus is better positioned to manage a fair allocation of network resources. In this paper, we compare the use of two gateway-enforced ow-control schemes: Active Queue Management (AQM) and our recently proposed Gateway Rate Control (GRC) mechanism [7]. One way to perform allocation of resources is to use queue-

Abstract Gateway nodes in a wireless mesh network (WMN) bridge trafc between the mesh nodes and the public Internet. This makes them a suitable aggregation point for policy enforcement or other trafc-shaping responsibilities that may be required to support a scalable, functional mesh network. In this paper we evaluate two gateway-enforced rate-limiting mechanisms so as to avoid congestion and support network-level fairness: Active Queue Management (AQM) techniques that have previously been widely studied in the context of wired networks, and our Gateway Rate Control (GRC) mechanism. We evaluate the performance of these two techniques through simulations of an 802.11-based multihop mesh network. Our experiments show that the conventional use of AQM techniques fails to provide effective congestion control as these mesh networks exhibit different congestion characteristics than wired networks. Specically, in a wired network, packet losses under congestion occur at the router queue feeding the bottleneck link. By contrast, in a WMN, many such geographically dispersed points of contention may exist due to asymmetric views of the channel state between different mesh routers. As such, gateway rate-limiting techniques like AQM are ineffective as the gateway queue is not the only bottleneck. Our GRC protocol takes a different approach by rate limiting each active ow to its fair share, thus preserving enough capacity to allow the disadvantaged ows to obtain their fair share of the network throughput. The GRC technique can be further extended to provide Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees or enforce different notions of fairness.

I. I NTRODUCTION In recent years Wireless Mesh Networks (WMNs) have emerged as a successful architecture for providing costeffective, rapidly deployable network access in a variety of different settings. We are investigating their use as an infrastructure-based or community-based network. Typically, these networks provide last-mile Internet access through mesh routers afxed to residential rooftops, forming a multihop wireless network. Clients typically connect to their preferred mesh router, either via wire or over a (possibly orthogonal) wireless channel. In this regard, a wireless-connected client views a WMN as just another WLAN. Any mesh router that also has Internet connectivity is referred to as a gateway. Gateway nodes provides wide-area access which is then shared between all the nodes in the network. We rst highlight some key characteristics of these infrastructure-based mesh networks that distinguish them from other ad hoc wireless networks. As the mesh routers are

Fig. 1. The gateway mesh node acts as a bridge between the wired high-speed public Internet and the shared-access multihop mesh network.

management techniques. AQM takes a proactive approach towards congestion avoidance by actively controlling ow rates for various connections. It exploits the fact that congestion, in the form of queue buildups, typically occurs at network boundaries where ows from high throughput links are aggregated across slower links. In WMNs, if we consider the broadcast wireless medium to be a system bottleneck, then a similar scenario emerges in which a high-speed wired link is feeding this shared bottleneck through the gateway router (Fig. 1), thus creating opportunities for potentially reusing the rich AQM research literature in this new networking domain. This paper describes our experiences testing AQM techniques in WMNs. We discovered that these techniques fail as the gateway queue does not exhibit the same congestion characteristics that are observed in wired routers that interface across a high-bandwidth and a low-bandwidth link. We have recently proposed GRC [7], a gateway-enforced rate-control mechanism that provides network-level fairness in a WMN. Unlike AQM techniques, we do not monitor queue sizes but use a simple computational model that calculates the fair-share rate per active stream. By limiting the throughput of aggressive TCP sources to their fair share, we operate the network at trafc loads that preserve enough network capacity to allow disadvantaged distant nodes to obtain their fair-share throughput. In this paper, we compare the performance of GRC against AQM, and explain why AQM techniques fail to yield the expected results. The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. We rst cover the background and the related work, contrasting it with our approach. In Sect. III we investigate the congestion characteristics of multihop mesh networks through a series of network simulations. In Sect. IV, we describe RED and FRED, two popular AQM techniques that have successfully been used to provide congestion control and fairness in wired networks. In Sect. V we review our GRC mechanism that enforces implicit ow control by dropping or delaying excess trafc at the gateway. In Sect. VI we provide simulation results that compare the performance of FRED and GRC in a simple WMN topology, and describe why FRED fails to yield the desired results. We also include additional experiments illustrating the performance of GRC in other mesh topologies. Finally, we conclude by observing what issues remain open. II. R ELATED W ORK Fairness issues have recently received signicant attention. Gambiroza et al. [4] propose a time-fairness reference model that removes the spatial bias for ows traversing multiple hops, and propose a distributed algorithm that allows them to achieve

their fair-rate allocation. Rangwala et al. [14] have proposed a mechanism that allows a distributed set of sensor nodes to detect incipient congestion, communicate this to interfering nodes, and to follow an AIMD rate-control mechanism for converging to the fair-rate. There is also ongoing work in adapting TCP to multihop wireless networks (e.g., [15]). In contrast to these, our work explores a different approach by enforcing centralized ow control that allows us to vary between different rate-control criterion without requiring any modications to the wireless nodes. In wireless networks congestion is determined by measuring MAC-layer utilization, typically obtained through snooping [5], or by observing instantaneous transmission queue lengths ( [14], [18]). Congestion control is then exercised through one of the following mechanisms: source rate limiting, where the sources rate limit themselves either according to neighborhood activity [5], or per some computational model [10] that takes into account the network topology and stream-activity information; hop-by-hop ow control, where nodes other than the source can also enforce rate control along the path to the destination by either monitoring local queue [5] or neighborhood queue sizes [18]; and prioritized MAC layer, where the MAC-layer backoff information is explicitly shared [1], or adjusted to allow prioritized access to nodes higher in the connectivity graph [5]. There are a number of publications that focus on the mathematical modeling of a given topology for determining the optimal fair share per active ow. Our GRC mechanism uses the fair-share computational model used by Li et al. [10], which is derived from the nominal capacity model of Jun and Sichitiu [9]. We defer description of this model to Sect. V. Another common model is the clique graph model [12] that uses the link-contention graph to determine the maximal clique that bounds the capacity of the network. We defer description of relevant AQM techniques to Sect. IV. However, we observe that there has been little work discussing the applicability (or lack thereof) of AQM techniques for multihop wireless networks. One noticeable exception is Xu et al.s [18] use of RED over a virtual distributed neighborhood queue comprising all nodes that contend for channel access. Each node computes the drop probability based on its notion of the size of this distributed queue, and asks it neighbours to drop packets in case congestion is detected. Our work explores the traditional use of AQM techniques at the wired-wireless boundary at the gateway interface. III. 802.11 M ULTIHOP N ETWORKS T RAFFIC L OADS


Consider the simple chain topology shown in Fig. 2. Using ns-2 [16] we simulate a trafc upload scenario in which we attach a variable bit rate UDP-trafc generator to each mesh router with trafc destined to the wired Internet through the gateway. We source rate limit (in consort) all nodes over a range of trafc generation rates, starting from 0 to a rate that is well-above fair-share allocation per stream. The simulation

700.0k 1 -> GW 2 -> GW 3 -> GW 4 -> GW



Fig. 2. A simple 5-node chain topology. All nodes are 200 m. apart, thus allowing only the neighboring nodes to directly communicate with each other.

Throughput (bps)



350000 1 -> GW 2 -> GW 3 -> GW 4 -> GW 200.0k


100.0k 250000 0.0 100.0 Throughput (bps) 200000 150.0 200.0 250.0 Time (sec) 300.0 350.0 400.0


Fig. 4. TCPs greedy nature combined with asymmetric local views of the channel state results in complete starvation of the 2-hop ows. The 1-hop ows that are within carrier-sense range fairly share the network bandwidth.


50000 Fair Share Point 0 0 100000 200000 300000 400000 500000 Load (bps) 600000 700000 800000 900000

Fig. 3.

Offered load vs. Throughput for the topology shown in Figure 2.

uses the default ns-2 radio model [16]. RTS/CTS handshake was disabled for these simulations. We assume that the wired interface on the gateway has zero loss with negligible latency; i.e., the link capacities are provisioned such that the wireless domain remains the bottleneck. This is consistent with extant WMN deployments. The throughput plot produced in this experiment is shown in Fig. 3. We observe that as the offered load increases, the throughput for each stream increases linearly till we hit the fair-share point. For the given topology, this corresponds to around 140 kbps. Increasing the trafc load beyond this fair share rate produces network congestion ( i.e., the trafc generated exceeds the carrying capacity of the network). At these higher trafc loads, we see an increasing unfairness experienced by the 2-hop ows (ows 1GW and 4GW). Our analysis of the simulation trace corroborate that this is primarily due to hidden terminal problems that are exacerbated under increasing trafc load. Nodes 1 and 3 are hidden terminals (as are nodes 2 and 4). The use of RTS/CTS handshake does not solve this problem as these hidden terminals are outside transmission range; node 1 cannot hear node 3s RTS and cannot decode GWs subsequent CTS. Instead, node 1 can discover transmission opportunities only through random backoff. This produces an asymmetric view of the channel state between nodes 1 and 3. The degree of this asymmetry increases with increasing trafc loads as node 1 experiences backoff far more frequently and in greater degree, resulting in ow unfairness and subsequent starvation at high enough trafc loads. The same phenomenon is observed for node 4 which has to contend unfairly with node 2s transmissions. We wish to emphasize that the link-layer issues are the

root cause of unfairness shown in Fig. 3. These cannot be completely resolved by higher-layer congestion control protocols like TCP. To illustrate this, Fig. 4 shows the throughput plot (averaged over 5 sec.) with TCP NewReno [2] sources attached to the mesh routers for the same topology (Fig. 2). The asymmetric view of the channel state combined with TCPs aggressive nature results in complete starvation of the disadvantaged nodes 1 and 4. TCP builds up a large congestion window for advantaged nodes based on their favorable (though incorrect) local view of the channel state, allowing these nodes to inject trafc into the network beyond their fair-share rate at the cost of starving the 2-hop ows. IV. AQM T ECHNIQUES One way to perform allocation of resources is to use queue-management techniques. AQM takes a proactive approach towards congestion avoidance by actively controlling ow rates for various connections. Random Early Detection (RED) [3] is an example of such a queue-management protocol. RED gateways are typically used at network boundaries where queue build-ups are expected when ows from highthroughput networks are being aggregated across slower links. RED gateways provide congestion avoidance by detecting incipient congestion through active monitoring of average queue sizes at the gateway. When the queue size exceeds a certain threshold, the gateway can notify the connection through explicit feedback or by dropping packets. RED gateways require that the transport protocol managing those connections be responsive to congestion notication indicated either through marked packets or through packet loss. While RED gateways have proven effective in avoiding congestion, it has been shown that they provide little fairness improvement [11]. This is because RED gateways do not differentiate between particular connections or classes of connections [3]. As a result, when incipient congestion is detected, all received packets (irrespective of the ow or size) are marked with the same drop probability. The fact that all connections see the same instantaneous loss rate means that

even a connection using less than its fair share will be subject to packet drops. Flow Random Early Drop (FRED) [11] is an extension to the RED algorithm designed to reduce the unfairness between the ows. In essence, it applies per-ow RED to create an isolation between the ows. By using per-activeow accounting, FRED ensures that the drop rate for a ow depends on its buffer usage [11]. A brief description of FRED is as follows: A FRED gateway uses ow classication to enqueue ows into logically separate buffers. For each ow i, it maintains the corresponding queue length qleni . It denes minq and maxq , which respectively are the minimum and the maximum number of packets individual ows are allowed to queue. Similarly, it also maintains minth , maxth , and avg for the overall queue. All new packet arrivals are accepted as long as avg is below the minth . When avg lies between minth and maxth , a new packet arrival is deterministically accepted only if the corresponding qleni is less than minq . Otherwise, as in RED, the packet is dropped with a probability that increases with increasing queue size. V. G ATEWAY R ATE C ONTROL As with FRED, our recently proposed GRC technique [7] requires the gateway to perform ow classication for all the trafc entering the gateway. In contrast with FRED, rather than probabilistic trafc policing, it explicitly rate limits each ow to its fair share. This leads to packet drops or delays for aggressive data sources. Adaptive data sources like TCP register this packet loss as an indication of congestion, and slow down by reducing their congestion window size. This frees up the wireless medium, providing an opportunity for starving nodes to transmit their packets. Per Fig. 3, when each source is rate limited to its fair share, the WMN is generally able to provide fair access to the gateway to all ows. Our analysis in Sect. VI shows that this allows an equilibrium to be established where each source can only consume its fair share of the network throughput. Our gateway rate-control protocol consists of three steps: 1) Gather information required to compute the fair share bandwidth 2) Compute the fair share for each stream 3) Enforce the computed rate for each stream at the gateway We now describe the three steps. A. Information Gathering The type of information required depends upon the complexity of the computational model. In general, we need some notion of network topology as well as information as to which links interfere with each other. The topology information can be extracted from routing protocols ( e.g., link-state routing protocols like OLSR, or source-routing protocols like DSR). For link interference information, we use the simple model of [9] which only requires neighborhood information. We also need stream-activity information since there is no need to reserve bandwidth for nodes that are not transmitting. As all

Fig. 5. Simulation topology with downstream TCP ows emanating from the wired network and terminating at mesh routers.

ows pass through the gateway, this can simply be determined by performing per-packet inspection. B. Fair Share Computation We adopt a restricted version of the model developed by Li et al. [10]. The network is modeled as a connectivity graph with mesh nodes as vertices and wireless links as bidirectional edges. A link interferes with another link if either endpoint of one link is within transmission range of either endpoint of the other link. Thus, the set of all links that interfere with a given link, referred to as the collision domain of that link, are those within two hops of either endpoint of the link. The model assumes that the links within a collision domain cannot transmit simultaneously. This actually over-estimates link contention. However, given that link interference, dened by transmission range rather than interference range, is underestimated, the presumption (born out by detailed simulation studies) is that the overall model is approximately correct. It is then sufcient to determine the bottleneck collision domain, which will be a function of the usage of the links within each collision domain. Link usage is determined by routing and demand. For the work in this paper, we presume that routing is relatively static. That is, it changes infrequently compared with trafc demand changes. This is generally true, though it would not be difcult to remove this assumption, by simply recomputing the feasibility as routing changed. We consider network demand to be binary. That is, either a node is silent or its demand is insatiable. This corresponds to TCP behavior, which either is not transmitting or will increase its transmission rate to the available bandwidth. Given the stream activity, we can then compute the load over each link, and in turn compute the load in each collision domain. Then the bottleneck collision domain is simply the domain with the greatest load, and the fair share is determined simply by dividing the link capacity by that load. C. Fair share Enforcement To enforce the fair share rate, the gateway node sorts all incoming packets by stream, placing them into a token-bucketcontrolled FIFO. Each token bucket has an adjustable rate, releasing a packet from the FIFO after an average delay of lastPacketSize from when it last released a packet. lastRate VI. A NALYSIS A. Performance comparison between AQM and GRC We compared the performance of FRED against a simple Drop-Tail queue as well as against GRC. We used a simple 3-hop chain shown in Fig. 5. We assume that the

bandwidth of the wired Internet connection at the gateway exceeds the wireless MAC-layer bandwidth. As such, the wireless domain remains the bottleneck (Fig. 1). As a result the output queue on the wired interface of the gateway will never exceed one packet, and thus the FRED algorithm never reaches the minimum queue size necessary to start dropping packets. Therefore, we only test the performance of these queue-management protocols for downstream ows ( i.e., ows originating in the wired domain and terminating at the mesh nodes) because a queue build-up (required for FRED) only takes place in this direction. Both FRED and GRC rely on the inherent responsive nature of the transport protocol to congestion notication indicated through delayed or dropped packets. TCP is the canonical example of such a protocol, and dominates Internet trafc. As such, we use it, specically TCP NewReno [2], for our initial performance studies. We simulated the three algorithms using the ns-2 [16] simulator with the radio model defaults described earlier in Sect. III. The ns-2 default parameters for FRED operation were used, while the GRC technique computes its own fair-share rate. We use Jains minthroughput as Fairness Index (JFI) [6] and an estimate of avgthroughput quantitative measures of network-level fairness and starvation. Table I shows the summary of our results. Drop Tail exhibits the basic unfairness scenario similar to the results we observed in Fig. 4. The throughput decreases for ows multiple hops away from the gateway, with ow 3 getting starved. The use of FRED does not prevent node 3 from starvation. Only GRC is able to enforce absolute fairness between the ows. We enabled queue monitoring at the gateway to explain this behavior. The queue size at the gateway was set to 50 packets. At this size, this queue is not the bottleneck as shown by zero queue-controlled drops in the 150 sec. simulation run with the Drop-Tail discipline. While the FRED experiment does cause some queue drops at the gateway, they do not slow down ows 1 and 2 sufciently to preclude the starvation of ow 3. GRC, by contrast, does not lose packets at the gateway, but does delay them sufciently as to cause ows 1 and 2 to infer loss and invoke congestion control. Reducing the queue size in GRC would cause explicit packet loss rather delay, slightly reducing the load on the wireless medium. Aggregate bandwidth achieved by GRC is noticeably less than that of the other approaches, but this is a direct result of the fairness requirement [4]. Fig. 6 shows the per-ow data arrival rate (not ACKs) in the FRED queue at the gateway during the simulation run. The queue space is evenly shared between the ows at the start of the simulation, but continues deteriorating during the simulation execution. New data packets are not being generated for ow 3 because ACKs for the previously transmitted ones have not been received (loss rate of 39.6% for ow 3 ACKs with FRED). This is because the gateway acts as a hidden terminal for TCP ACKs generated by node 3. As discussed previously in Sect. III, this hidden-terminal scenario cannot be resolved using RTS/CTS as nodes GW and 3 are out of each others transmission range. Because of frequent collisions, node 3 repeatedly increases its contention window

Packet arrivals rate in FRED queue 6000 S1 S2 S3

Total data packets received in Queue






0 0 20 40 60 80 Time (seconds) 100 120 140

Fig. 6.

New data packet arrival rate in FRED queue.

to a point where TCP timeouts occur, and the packets have to be retransmitted by the gateway. Though ow 1 transmits fewer packets with FRED, the extra available bandwidth is acquired by ow 2 because there is very little trafc to be sent out for ow 3 because of the combined effect of the 802.11 contention window and the TCP congestion window. We conclude that unlike in wired networks, the use of AQM techniques show negligible fairness improvement in multihop wireless networks. Flows in these networks can starve as packet drops can occur in any congested region of the physical network. Unlike in wired networks, this loss does not always occur at the queue interfacing the high-speed and the low-speed networks (the gateway node for WMNs), but can occur at any intermediate node that is disadvantaged due to asymmetric view of channel state between the mesh nodes. Protocols like our GRC fare better because they reduce the degree of this asymmetry by limiting aggressive TCP sources to their fair share, thus preserving enough channel capacity so as to allow disadvantaged nodes to obtain their fair share. B. GRC Evaluation We tested the performance of GRC on a number of different chain, grid, and random topologies. As detailed results have been presented elsewhere [7], we only present a brief summary of our experiments in Table VI-B. These experiments represent the scenario when all mesh routers had an active TCP stream to the wired Internet via the gateway. FS corresponds to the computed fair share per stream, while is the standard deviation between average throughput of all active TCP streams. Overall, we observed that our algorithm successfully operated the network at a capacity that meets the fair-share requirements of all active streams. VII. C ONCLUSION


WMNs, particularly those based on the 802.11 MAC, exhibit extreme fairness problems, requiring existing deployments to limit the maximum number of hops to the gateway to prevent distant nodes from starving. In this paper we evaluated the use of two gateway-enforced rate-limiting mechanisms to improve the fairness characteristics of these networks. We

TABLE I P ERFORMANCE COMPARISONS AND GATEWAY QUEUE ANALYSIS USING D ROP TAIL Q UEUE , FRED Q UEUE , AND GRC S1 378.7 Drop Tail S2 S3 206.3 5.46 0.625 0.0277 Data ACKs at gateway queue at gateway queue 0.0 0.0 6184 0 0.0 0.0 2438 0 4.8 42.4 123 0 4.6 0.0 5607 258 S1 324.2 FRED S2 233.9 0.661 0.0282 3.1 0.0 3999 127 2.3 39.6 129 3 0.02 0.6 3740 0 S3 5.3 Gateway Rate Control S1 S2 S3 119.2 118.2 118.6 0.9999 0.996 0.05 0.1 3707 0 0.3 27.3 3784 0

Avg. throughput (kbps) JFI

minthroughput avgthroughput

% Loss (Collisions) % Loss (Collisions) Data packets received Data packets dropped

Topology 5-Hop Chain 10-Hop Chain 15-Hop Chain 3x3 Grid 4x4 Grid 5-Node Random 10-Node Random 15-Node Random

FS (kbps) 49.31 18.49 11.38 41.09 18.49 107.5 41.49 41.39

/FS 0.011 0.014 0.013 0.031 0.049 0.007 0.009 0.014

JFI 0.99977 0.99960 0.99966 0.99802 0.99488 0.99989 0.99982 0.99958

min throughput avg throughput

0.987 0.964 0.960 0.914 0.799 0.979 0.967 0.930


found that AQM-based techniques fail to solve this problem; the bottleneck in these networks is not the gateway queue interfacing the wired-wireless domains, but physical geographical regions that are interspersed through the network and disadvantaged due to reasons such as hidden terminal problems. Our GRC mechanism, on the other hand, prevents channel capture by aggressive sources, thus preserving enough network capacity to allow disadvantaged nodes to obtain their fair-share network throughput. Simulation results over various topologies demonstrate that our approach is effective in providing fair sharing of the network resources. The simulations in this paper considered static long-lived TCP ows. We have recently tested the performance of this algorithm with dynamic TCP ows, and by further cutting the convergence time hope to extend it to web-like trafc. Also, GRC as a framework is independent of the computational model discussed in Sect. V-B; any appropriate rate controller can be used instead. In particular, we are developing a feedback-based controller which adapts the enforced fair rate based on existing measured rates. As the quality of a link can vary rapidly and unpredictably over a period of time, such a feedback-based controller would work even where the computation model is likely to be ineffective. R EFERENCES
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