Welcome · people · Research · Current Projects · Publications ·


Personal Router Conceptual Model

(Click to learn about our research in each area.)

The Personal Router Project explores the technical challenges associated with creating open interfaces to wireless services. Our project enables users to dynamically and automatically choose between wireless services based upon requirements and prices. Our goals are to (1) create an open, competitive market in which small and large providers may easily offer customized wireless services and (2) provide users with convenient access to these services through a small personal router.

The purpose of this project is to demonstrate a new paradigm for wireless network services. The motivations for this project are the following:

  • Today, wireless service is either local to an institution (as in wireless LANs) or is provided as part of a regional or national service (as in cellular). But there could be other models. Individual providers of wireless service could put up a base station and offer service locally. Users could move among these providers and select a service based on requirements and prices. Just as we have over 5000 wireline Internet service providers today, many only serving a small area, we could have wireless coverage built bottom up.

  • Today, we see a restricted range of wireless devices - a laptop PC with a wireless card, a cell phone augmented with data capabilities, a highly integrated device such as a pager. There is not an open market for new wide-area wireless devices, because such devices today are tightly bound, both technically and through service contract, to a particular wireless service provider. But there could be a wide range of new consumer devices if the proper interfaces and modules were available.

For this to work, two things are necessary. First, each of the broad mix of competing wireless services must be accessible to a wide variety of devices. What is needed is an overall system architecture that allows cheap, small, low-power consumer-level objects to access a wide variety of technically incompatible wireless services with ease, using open interfaces. Second, selection of a service among competing alternatives must be easy. For example, a manual process of selection and entry of a credit card would be too burdensome to succeed. What is needed is a model for automated dynamic negotiation, based on rules provided by the users and providers, together with a workable economic model and a simple micro-payment scheme.

The goal of this research is to demonstrate two related innovations. The first is a framework for automated negotiation for access to wireless services. The second is a small hardware device that the user can carry, a personal router, which contains the necessary wireless transceivers, implements the access negotiation protocol, and provides a network connection for the other devices and appliances that a person might choose to carry. By creation of an open interface between this personal router and other devices a user might carry, we can create an environment for the development of new devices and applications.

Personal Router Device

The personal router is a key device in our vision of a service-rich environment. It sits at the boundary of two worlds; the user's constellation of personal devices and digital jewelry on the one hand, and the outside world of competing network service providers on the other. It is a physical device designed to be easily carried by an individual on their belt or in their bag or purse.

The personal router takes on a number of functions. It provides basic network connectivity between a users personal devices and the wider area wireless networks. This includes simple packet forwarding, mobile networking functions, wireless protocol functions such as energy management, and higher level functions such as firewalling, managing security associations, and the like. In essence the personal router acts as a boundary router between two different administrative, security, and policy regions of the Internet, with all of the functions that this implies.

The personal router also implements the selection protocols, communicates with service providers on behalf of its user, communicates with the user's applications to obtain usage information and requirements, and implements or communicates with the user interface that gives the user control of the selection process.

Current Projects

Much of the ongoing research in our group deals with validating our ideas under "real world" conditions. While the results we have produced so far have been promising in the limited user studies and wireless simulations, the most compelling validation of our vision of the wireless future will come from demonstrating an running system with long-term user experience. We are building, testing, and experimenting along three main lines of research currently.

First, we have built a demonstrate laptop and local-area-network based version of the Personal Router system. These pieces implement much of the functionality that is required of a PR enabled wireless world. Our current system served effectively as our initial research and development platform, but we consider it vital to move beyond the prototype and build a fully functioning system. We want to progress to the point where our system can support networks of low cost devices accessing wide area wireless services offered by a diverse set of providers. After the codebase stabilizes and some more functionality is added, we plan to release our code to the wireless community.

Our second avenue of research is to extend the user studies that we have conducted. Our limited user studies have demonstrated that a personal router effectively can learn user preferences and translate those preferences into appropriate service selection decisions. We now want to explore how the PR performs over longer time durations. The learning techniques we employ should improve the PR device's preformance results with time.

Finally, on the provider side of the Personal Router project, we plan to implement our protocols for dynamically configuring networks of collocated wireless access points. Our basic algorithmic approach has been validated in simulation, but we want to build a Linux HostAP based network of wireless access points. Particularly in wireless networks, where simulations so often do not correspond to reality, validation through real world implementation is essential.

Additional Information

For a overview of our the Personal Router Project please see the Personal Router Whitepaper. This document lays out the vision of the project and an overview of the research and engineering challenges. The publications section contains many papers that describe the research contributions made by the PR project. These papers provide many of the specific details not found on this website that some readers will be interested in learning. The research section of this site provides an overview of the areas we have been activitely investigating. Topics of interest to both service providers and users are described there. The current projects page we are working on describes where are immediate research efforts are focusing.

If you are interested in a UROP Project please read the UROP page. We are particularly interested in students with strong coding skills. Come work with us and you will learn a great deal and contribute to some very interesting research.

Research Funding Support

Our research is generously supported by the NSF, the MIT Program on Internet and Telecommunications Convergence (ITC), and Cisco Systems. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No.0082503. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recomendations expressed herein are expressly ours and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the ITC, or Cisco.