Studying Media Access andControl Protocols

University essay from KTH/Kommunikationssystem, CoS


This thesis project’s goal is to enable undergraduate students to gain insight into media access and control protocols based upon carrying out laboratory experiments. The educational goal is to de-mystifying radio and other link and physical layer communication technologies as the students can follow packets from the higher layers down through the physical layer and back up again.

The thesis fills the gap between the existing documentation for the Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) resources and the knowledge of undergraduate students. This was necessary because the existing document is targeted at advanced audiences rather than undergraduates. This thesis describes the design and evolution of a workbench for students to experiment with a variety of media access and control protocols, much as Wireshark gives students the ability to watch network and higher layer protocols. Another motivation for this thesis is that an increasing number of communication networks use complex media access and control protocols and existing tools do not allow students to see the details of what is taking place in these protocols, except via simulation. Today an software defined radio and computer are affordable as laboratory equipment for an undergraduate course. Hence the time is ripe for the development of undergraduate laboratory course material using these tools.

The thesis is targeted at (1) instructors of undergraduates who might use this work to develop their own lesson plans and course material and (2) students of physical and link layer protocols who want a practical tool for carrying out experiments in these layers. Hopefully by de-mystifying these lower layers and by making the USRP more approachable by undergraduate students we will encourage lots of students to view wireless network technology as being just as approachable as a wired Ethernet.

Due to the widespread use of wireless communications technologies, there is a great need by industry for more graduates who can understand communication systems from the physical to the application layer - rather than the current situation where there is a hard boundary between the lower two layers and the upper layers. While there has been a lot of research concerning cross layer optimization, much of this is theoretical and not very approachable by students. A desired outcome of this thesis project is that undergraduate students will be able to understand tradeoffs at all layers of the protocol stack and not be limited to the upper layers.

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