Section: Application Domains

Home Network Diagnosis

With the availability of cheap broadband connectivity, Internet access from the home has become a ubiquity. Modern households host a multitude of networked devices, ranging from personal devices such as laptops and smartphones to printers and media centers. These devices connect among themselves and to the Internet via a local-area network—a home network— that has become an important part of the “Internet experience”. In fact, ample anecdotal evidence suggests that the home network can cause a wide array of connectivity impediments, but their nature, prevalence, and significance remain largely unstudied.

Our long-term goal is to assist users with concrete indicators of the causes of potential problems and—ideally—ways to fix them. We intend to develop a set of easy-to-use home network diagnosis tools that can reliably identify performance and functionality shortcomings rooted in the home. The development of home network diagnosis tools brings a number of challenges. First, home networks are heterogenous. The set of devices, configurations, and applications in home networks vary significantly from one home to another. We must develop sophisticated techniques that can learn and adapt to any home network as well as to the level of expertise of the user. Second, there are numerous ways in which applications can fail or experience poor performance in home networks. Often there are a number of explanations for a given symptom. We must devise techniques that can identify the most likely cause(s) for a given problem from a set of possible causes. Third, even if we can identify the cause of the problem, we must then be able to identify a solution. It is important that the output of the diagnosis tools we build is “actionable”. Users should understand the output and know what to do.

We are conceiving methods for two application scenarios: (i) when the end user in the home deploys our diagnostic tools either on the home gateway (the gateway often combines a DSL/cable modem and an access point; it connects the home network to the ISP) or on devices connected to the home network and (ii) when ISPs collect measurements from homes of subscribers and then correlate these measurements to help identify problems.

Assisting end users. We are developing algorithms to determine whether network performance problems lie inside or outside the home network. Given that the home gateway connects the home with the rest of the Internet, we are designing an algorithm (called HoA) that analyzes traffic that traverses the gateway to distinguish access link and home network bottlenecks. A measurement vantage point on the gateway is key for determining if the performance bottleneck lies within the home network or the access ISP, but we also need to deploy diagnosis tools in end-devices. First, some users may not want (or not know how) to deploy a new home gateway in their homes. Second, some problems will be hard to diagnose with only the vantage point of the gateway (for example, when a device cannot send traffic or when the wireless is poor in certain locations of a home). We can obtain more complete visibility by leveraging multiple measurement nodes around the home, potentially including the home gateway, all participating jointly in the measurement task. We have an ongoing project to realize a home network analyzer as a web-based measurement application built on top of our team's recently developed browser-based measurement platform, Fathom. To integrate the home gateway in the analyzer, we plan to engage the BISmark Project. BISmark already provides a web server as well as extensive configurability, allowing us to experiment freely with both passive as well as active measurements. We must develop a home network analyzer that can first discover the set of devices connected to the home network that can collaborate on the diagnosis task. We will then develop tomography algorithms to infer where performance problems lie given measurements taken from the set of available vantage points.

Assisting Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Our discussions with several large access ISPs reveal that service calls are costly, ranging from $9–25 per call, and as many as 75% of service calls from customers are usually caused by problems that have nothing to do with the ISP. Therefore, ISPs are eager to deploy techniques to assist in home network diagnosis. In many countries ISPs control the home gateway and set-top-boxes in the home. We plan to develop more efficient mechanisms for home users to report trouble to their home ISP and consequently reduce the cost of service calls. This project is in collaboration with Technicolor and Portugal Telecom. Technicolor is a large manufacturer of home gateways and set-top-boxes. Portugal Telecom is the largest broadband access provider in Portugal. Technicolor already collects data from 200 homes in Portugal. We are working with the data collected in this deployment together with controlled experiments to develop methods to diagnose problems in the home wireless.