New network language would help provide wireless communications without cell towers

D3N would help build pocket-switched networks to avoid wireless infrastructures

A new programming language developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge in England is designed to reduce the complexity of building applications for ad hoc peer-to-peer mobile device networks.

Such peer-to-peer mobile device networks, called "pocket-switched networks," could allow communications between wireless devices without the need for conventional cellular networks, thereby eliminating the need for cell towers and base stations, researchers said in a recent issue of MIT's Technology Review.

For example, with an ad hoc network, if a hurricane knocked down cell towers, as happened when Hurricane Katrina hit near New Orleans in 2005, people using wireless devices could theoretically contact one another over pocket-switched networks.

Ad hoc networks would also make it possible for, say, a tourist visiting a city to get information about hotels and restaurants directly from local residents or businesses, instead of having to log onto the Internet for such information.

Peer-to-peer networking is a fairly commonplace idea in wired networks, but linking wireless smartphones and other handheld computers through pocket-switched networks would require using Bluetooth or another short-range wireless network.

The new D3N (Data-Driven Declarative Networking) language was described in a recent paper by University of Cambridge computer science professor Jon Crowcroft and a research team.

"We envision an emergence of a new type of communications based on physical proximity, where people encounter each other and devices directly communicate within their range," the paper says. "We introduce declarative networking for pocket-switched networks called D3N, which allows applications to construct a protocol description consisting of a reactive behaviour of a distributed node."

Crowcroft told Technology Review that if D3N gains popularity, it would usher in a "whole slew of applications." Part of the challenge of building an ad hoc wireless network would be dealing with delays in connections, partly because individual mobile devices might be only occasionally connected. Still, they would need to be able to forward messages when reconnected. Users would subscribe to be part of an ad hoc network.

D3N is based on Microsoft Corp.'s F# programming language. The paper says that future research efforts will, among other things, focus on validating the D3N language on a compiler deployed on actual wireless devices.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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