Opportunistic Networks: Challenges & Opportunities

Opportunistic Networks: Challenges & Opportunities
July 7, 2014

Technological advances in communications technology over the past decade or so have rendered devices with sensing and computing ability, such as cell phones, affordable and widely available. This universality presents an interesting phenomenon known as Opportunistic Networks; these are networks which are formed when devices come into contact opportunistically through physical proximity, and communicate wirelessly to share each other’s content, resources and services. Opportunistic networks very closely resemble social networks; they are primarily human centric for they come into being when humans come into contact. As Marco Conti and Mohan Kumar put it, “opportunistic networks are tightly coupled with social networks and can exploit human relationships to build more efficient and trustworthy protocols.” Whereas human mobility in ad-hoc networks is seen as problem, opportunistic networks in fact see at is a productive opportunity which can be exploited to forward data.

With the pervasiveness of devices with built-in wireless and wired technologies, the infrastructure for opportunistic networks is in place and has great potential. Some of the most useful applications of opportunistic networks include establishing communication in situations wherein regular networks are disrupted; such as in the case of natural disasters, emergencies or in far-flung areas. However, there are no guarantees that data sent through opportunistic networks will reach the intended recipient, and a there may also be a great deal of delay. Farah Amjad, a Research Assistant at ITU’s TRENDS (Technology and Research in Emerging Networks and Distributed Systems) lab is currently completing a paper in which she is identifying the main challenges which bar opportunistic networks from being more successful.

Among the challenges Ms. Amjad has identified in her paper is the problem of routing; i.e. in opportunistic networks, routing algorithms have to provide reliability even if connectivity among nodes is intermittent or temporarily unavailable. Another problem is that of increasing the efficiency of devices- as the devices are small they don’t have very long lasting batteries.  Similarly another issue is the due to high experimental cost most of mobility models are simulated and designed for small scale. To overcome this there is need to simulate mobility models on a large scale while considering real life mobility patterns. Additionally, congestion is also a problem in opportunistic networks as the overflow of data exceeds the storage and sending capacities of devices. Ms. Amjad has also highlighted the key challenges of security, privacy and trust in opportunistic networks as well as the fact that the nodes in opportunistic networks are often small devices functioning on low bandwidth and thus network protocols need to be designed accordingly.

The future of opportunistic networks is extremely promising. Ms. Amjad’s paper will make a significant contribution to the field by highlighting the need for networking solutions focussed on opportunistic networks. This paper will soon be sent for publication, and is being written under the supervision of ITU faculty member and TRENDS Lab patron Dr. Adnan Noor Mian.