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An Overview of Opportunistic

Communication
Kaushik Choudhary
kaushik.choudhary@wipro.com

The emergence of extremely powerful mobile communication devices in recent times has
triggered off the development of many exploitative technologies that attempt at
leveraging the ever increasing processing, storage and communicating capacities of these
devices. These devices that are literally carried by users in their pockets are already
equipped with multiple wireless network interfaces making it possible for them to be
used over heterogeneous networks that differ in data rates, power consumption, monetary
costs and coverage areas.

1. Introduction
Opportunistic Communication is the moniker for one such technology that has been of
particular interest to researchers in recent times. Strictly speaking, opportunistic
communication is an interesting evolution from Mobile Adhoc Networks (MANETs) and
from Delay Tolerant Networks (DTNs). A MANET, also known as a mobile mesh
network, is a self configuring network of mobile devices connected by wireless links.
Each device in a MANET is free to move independently in any direction, and will
therefore change its links to other devices frequently. Such networks may operate by
themselves or may be connected to the larger Internet. While, DTN is an approach to
computer network architecture that seeks to address the technical issues in heterogeneous
networks that may lack continuous network connectivity. Examples of such networks are
those operating in mobile or extreme terrestrial environments, or planned networks in
space. Opportunistic Communication involves mobile nodes that are capable of
communicating with each other even if a route connecting them never exists! Moreover,
nodes are not supposed to be aware of the network topology at any given point which is
its fundamental difference from MANETs where the nodes are supposed to determine
and be aware of the network topology at any given point. The communication routes are
built dynamically while the messages are en route to the destination and the nodes or
hops are chosen entirely based on the condition that using the node brings the message
closer to the destination. In this article I intend to discuss the model for an opportunistic
communication network and a case study of real life implementation of opportunistic
communication outlining the information discussed by Pelusi et al [1]. Lastly, I will leave
the reader with some thoughts and open areas.
2. Model network
Multi hop ad hoc networks were originally conceived for military applications and aimed
at improving battlefield communication and survivability, research on such networks has
lately been interposing the realms of many civil scenarios. Opportunistic communication
is an evolutionary technology coming out this research. In opportunistic communication,
assumptions about the existence of a complete path between two communicating nodes
are never made. In fact, the source and destination node might never even be in the same
network at the same time. Nevertheless, opportunistic networking techniques allow such
nodes to exchange data between them. Of course, such communication techniques
succeed at the cost of delays in message deliveries and mandate the availability of
applications that can tolerate the delay while a message is buffered in the network waiting
to be delivered to the next possible node in the network that will take it closer to the
destination. Although building delay tolerant applications is a daunting task given the
consumer demands in today’s world but the task of building such a network poses a much
more compelling challenge.

Often the terms opportunistic communication and delay tolerant networking are used
interchangeably due to the inexistence of a concordant formal definition in the literature
for both terms. In an opportunistic network, routes are determined at each hop while a
packet traverses different hops. Each node is equipped with local knowledge of the best
nodes around it and it uses this knowledge to determine the best path to transmit the
message to the eventual destination. In the absence of any such nodes, the node currently
holding the message simply stores the message and waits for an opportunity. In DTNs the
routes are determined using legacy internet technologies while keeping the cost of
unavailability of a link under consideration. In opportunistic networks each node acts as a
gateway which makes it much more flexible than DTNs.

Figure 1: Opportunistic Networking. [1]

Figure 1 shows an exemplary model for opportunistic communication. The hop by hop
communication takes place in the following steps:
1. The woman on the left at her desktop opportunistically
transfers a message for a friend via a Wi-Fi link in
the bus passing by her home.
2. The communication begins with the hope that the bus
will somehow “ferry” her message (data packet) to the
intended receiver. The bus moves travels through the
traffic and passes on the message to the mobile phone
of a girl getting off at one of the bus stops using
the Bluetooth radio.
3. The girl walks through a park where she transmits the
message forward to a cyclist passing by.
4. Proceeding in the same way, some hops later, the
message eventually reaches the receiver.

As it may be clearly seen, the two women never existed in the same network nor were the
participating nodes aware of a fixed data path to deliver the message. The message
traversed opportunistically to reach the receiver.

3. Real life case studies


Apart from the ambitious haggle project (http://www.haggleproject.org), which is EUs
initiative at studying and researching solutions in opportunistic networks there are other
possible implementations as well. Wildlife monitoring and tracking is one such
interesting field where opportunistic communications finds an indispensable use.
Researchers try to track wild species to understand their habitats and behaviors and their
interactions and influences on each other. Opportunistic networks serve as a cost-
effective, unintrusive and reliable means of arranging for the collection of this data. In
such systems, animals under study wear sensor tags which are capable of collecting and
sending data to the few base stations located around their habitat. Sometimes these base
stations may be mobile. Collating data collected by these base stations from the different
sensors is a challenging task and so the sensors are always made to communicate with
each other in order to synchronize all data available to them at a given point. This enables
a base station to collect maximum possible data from one single animal and also as a
results of its proximity or interaction with other animals carrying these sensors. The
ZebraNet project (http://www.princeton.edu/~mrm/zebranet.html) is one such
implementation of this technology and is deployed over the vast savanna area of central
Kenya under the control of Mpala Research Center in collaboration with Princeton
University. [2]

There are many other possible implementations including deployment in rural areas in
underdeveloped and developing countries where the network infrastructure for legacy
Internet connections is virtually absent and this technology serves as the only cost-
effective way of providing intermittent but existent internet connectivity in these areas.
Such systems have already been under development and have seen deployment in India.
The DakNet project [3] and the KioskNet project [4] are prime examples.

4. Challenges
One of the major challenges of implementation of opportunistic networks is the absence
of a consistent route or data path. The design of efficient routing strategies in
conventional networks is usually based on the knowledge of the available infrastructure
and the network topology, whether physical or logical. Unfortunately, such knowledge is
not available in such networks as the formation of data path is entirely opportunity based.
For achieving a reliable data path a trade off against the performance of the network must
be met before designing the routing strategy. Opportunistic networks may or may not be
infrastructure based. An infrastructure based network may have fixed or mobile nodes
while a non-infrastructure based may be contextual and purely opportunity based. A
thorough study and analysis on design strategies and possible topologies in opportunistic
networks is presented in [5] and [6]. Investigation into security strategies for such
heterogeneous topologies remains as another challenge for researchers as conclusive
work towards implementation impends.

5. Conclusion
Opportunistic Communication presents a profitable prospect to business owners by
offering extremely low cost and sometimes even zero investment infrastructure
requirements. With the usage of powerful and smart mobile devices only poised to
proliferate, this area of communication poses innumerable opportunities. The DakNet and
KioskNet projects exemplify inspirational usage of research and technology to address
demands which technology should be ideally addressing – service to the common man.
Flow of information paves way for transformation that one can hardly imagine. The use
of opportunistic networks will pave way for groundbreaking methods of information
dissemination and it only remains to be seen what a common man can do with
overwhelming information that will be delivered to him via the internet. Aside from that,
business opportunities will come abound should one try and tap the immense potential in
the vast rural markets where the government programs fund projects on empowerment.
Unbeknownst to none is that Government programs are intrinsically slow paced which
presents a great opportunity for businesses to consider this low investment market which
will not only pay dividends in terms of returns on investments but will also help the
popularity of a business for taking up a noble endeavor. Essentially, opportunistic
communication presents its case as a win-win situation. These rural markets are not just
limited to India but to the majority of developing nations all around the world. The
possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination.
References
[1] L. Pelusi, A. Passarella, M. Conti, “Opportunisitic Networking: Data forwarding and Disconnected
Mobile Ad Hoc Networks Export”, IEEE Communications Magazine, Vol. 44, No. 11. (November 2006),
pp. 134-141.

[2] P. Juang, H. Oki, Y. Wang, M. Martonosi, L.S. Peh, and D.I. Rubenstein, “Energy-efficient computing
for wildlife tracking: Design tradeoffs and early experiences with ZebraNet”, ACM SIGPLAN Notices,
vol. 37, 2002, pp. 96-107.

[3] A. Pentland, R. Fletcher, and A. Hasson, “DakNet: Rethinking Connectivity in Developing Nations”,
IEEE Computer, vol. 37, no. 1, January 2004, pp. 78-83.

[4] S. Guo, M.H. Falaki, E.A. Oliver, S. Ur Rahman, A. Seth, M.A. Zaharia, U. Ismail, and S. Keshav,
“Design and Implementation of the KioskNet System”, International Conference on Information
Technologies and Development, December 2007.

[5] L. Pelusi, A. Passarella, and M. Conti, “Beyond MANETs: dissertation on Opportunistic Networking”,
IIT-CNR Tech. Rep., May 2006, online available at http://bruno1.iit.cnr.it/~bruno/techreport.html.

[6] Z. Zhang, “Routing in Intermittently Connected Mobile Ad Hoc Networks and Delay Tolerant
Networks: Overview and Challenges”, IEEE Communications Surveys, vol.8, no.1, First Quarter 2006.

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delay-tolerant_networking

[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_ad_hoc_network

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