MobilityFirst Future Internet Architecture Project




This MobilityFirst proposal is founded on the premise that the Internet is approaching an historic inflection point, with mobile platforms and applications poised to replace the fixed-host/server model that has dominated the Internet since its inception.  With over 4 billion cellular mobile devices in worldwide use today, it is anticipated that by 2015, mobile data devices will significantly outnumber fixed hosts on the Internet.  This predictable, yet fundamental, shift presents a unique opportunity to design and develop a next generation Internet architecture in which mobile devices, mobile applications, and the consequent changes in service, trustworthiness, and management are primary drivers of a new architecture. Our MobilityFirst architecture, while inspired by this historic shift, is nonetheless informed by research and experience with today’s Internet architecture, and offers significant benefits to wired networks and users as well.  

Why should mobility come “first” as we contemplate a clean-slate redesign of the Internet architecture? The simple answer to this is the fact that the number of mobile devices and their traffic are growing at a remarkable exponential rate and are poised to surpass all other Internet traffic in just a few years.  To quote from a recent Cisco white paper,Mobile data traffic will grow from 1 petabyte per month to 1 exabyte per month in half the time it took fixed data traffic to do so. In the 7 years from 2005 to 2012, mobile data traffic will have increased a thousand-fold. The Internet grew from 1 petabyte per month to 1 exabyte per month in 14 years:” These numbers confirm the emergence of what is popularly known as the “mobile Internet”, along with an expectation that mobile user traffic volume worldwide will cross that of fixed broadband in less than 5 years.  This will inevitably drive a gradual convergence of cellular networks with the Internet both in terms of business models and technical standards.  The challenge for network architects is to effectively merge two very different network design into a unified network architecture that efficiently supports billions of portable devices running new classes of mobility applications in a trustworthy manner.  Looking ahead another 5 years to ~2020, the mobile Internet will not be limited to cellular, but will also include a variety of wireless sensor, machine-to-machine (M2M), smart grid and vehicular (V2V) scenarios associated with integration of physical world awareness and control into Internet applications.  Such “pervasive” or “ubiquitous” wireless scenarios pose additional architectural challenges, for example dealing with frequent disconnections, energy constraints or providing strong security for real-time control applications. 

Our vision for a clean-slate redesign of the Internet is not to simply “fix” the current Internet Protocol (IP) with a better and more secure design, but to use this opportunity to fundamentally re-evaluate the purpose, functionality and trustworthiness of the network in the all-important context of mobility everywhere. Although the current Internet protocol suite has been remarkably successful for several decades, it was designed for end-user services and technology assumptions that are not well-matched to mobile devices. For example, IP address assignments are designed to be relatively static and TCP assumes a contemporaneous end-to-end path - assumptions often violated in mobile scenarios.  Consequently, the cellular network has become the first point of attachment for many mobile devices. However, this access network is based on an addressing and transport architecture derived from circuit-switched technologies, requiring the use of service gateways for bridging cellular services to the Internet.  While gateways may be a workable solution in the short run, there are significant scalability, performance, management, and security problems when bridging two architecturally different networks. Also, new services (such as multi-hop relay, geographic multicast, or intermittent sensor connectivity) that are not well matched to today’s architecture generally require custom overlays and/or protocol gateways.  Widespread use of overlays can fragment the Internet into multiple application-specific domains, reducing network-effect benefits for both developers and end-users alike.  Therefore, we envision a future Internet architecture that supports mobile devices as “first-class” objects (without gateways or overlays), thus enabling a variety of new services and applications to be operated efficiently, securely, and at scale. 

The first step in defining the MobilityFirst architecture is to identify a core set of high-level requirements:  

  • Mobility as the norm: Seamless host and network mobility at scale; multi-provider mobile network access; heterogeneous wireless technologies.

  • Robustness: with respect to intrinsic properties of wireless medium (disconnection, varying bandwidth, high error rates, scarce spectrum).

  • Trustworthiness: Enhanced security for mobile networks and wired infrastructure (strong authentication, enhanced trust models, privacy, DDoS resistance, secure routing).

  • Usability: Architectural support for context-aware pervasive mobile services; evolvable core network services; network manageability; economic viability, regulability and universal access.

Our design is also informed by strategic core technology trends that determine the feasibility of implementation during the target period in which the network is to be used.  These include:

  • Edge/core disparity: Radio spectrum scarcity (implying the need for efficiency in wireless access networks) and wired bandwidth abundance (that can be traded off against usability objectives).  

  • Moore’s law: Rapidly declining costs of memory (for large routing tables), storage (for in-network caching), and computing (for increased in-network programmability).

  • Energy: Energy constraints in mobile and sensor devices, motivating power-aware network protocol design (disconnected operation, power-saving modes, network mobility).


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