Section: Research Program

Specific issues and new challenges of capillary networks

Capillary networks are not just a collection of independent wireless technologies that can be abstracted from the urban environment and/or studied separately. That approach has been in fact continued over the last decade, as technologies such as sensor, mesh, vehicular, opportunistic, and – generally speaking – M2M networks have been designed and evaluated in isolation and in presence of unrealistic mobility and physical layer, simplistic deployments, random traffic demands, impractical application use cases and non-existent business models. In addition, the physical context of the network has a significant impact on its performances and cannot be reduced to a simple random variable. Moreover, one of the main element of a network never appears in many studies: the user. To summarize, networks issues should be addressed from a user- and context-centric perspective.

Such abstractions and approximations were necessary for understanding the fundamentals of wireless network protocols. However, real world deployments have shown their limits. The finest protocols are often unreliable and hardly applicable to real contexts. That also partially explains the marginal impact of multi-hop wireless technologies on today's production market. Industrial solutions are mostly single-hop, complex to operate, and expensive to maintain.

In the UrbaNet project we consider the capillary network as an ensemble of strongly intertwined wireless networks that are expected to coexist and possibly co-operate in the context of arising digital cities. This has three major implications:

  • Each technology contributing to the overall capillary network should not be studied apart. As a matter of fact, mobile devices integrate today a growing number of sensors (e.g., environment sensing, resource consumption metering, movement, health or pollution monitoring) and multiple radio interfaces (e.g., LTE, WiFi, ZigBee,. . . ), and this is becoming a trend also in the case of privately owned cars, public transport vehicles, commercial fleets, and even city bikes. Similarly, access network sites tend to implement heterogeneous communication technologies so as to limit capital expenses. Enabling smart-cities needs a dense sensing of its activities, which cannot be achieved without multi-service sensor networks. Moreover, all these devices are expected to inter-operate so as to make the communication more sustainable and reliable. Thus, the technologies that build up the capillary network shall be studied as a whole in the future.

  • The capillary network paradigm necessarily accounts for actual urban mobility flows, city land-use layouts, metropolitan deployment constraints, and expected activity of the citizens. Often, these specificities do not arise from purely networking features, but relate to the study of city topologies and road layouts, social acceptability, transportation systems, energy management, or urban economics. Therefore, addressing capillary network scenarios cannot but rely on strong multidisciplinary interactions.

  • Digital and smart cities are often characterized by arising M2M applications. However, a city is, before all, the gathering of citizens, who use digital services and mobile Internet for increasing their quality of life, empowerment, and entertainment opportunities. Some data flows should be gathered to, or distributed from, an information system. Some other should be disseminated to a geographically or time constrained perimeter. Future usage may induce peer-to-peer like traffics. Moreover these services are also an enabler of new usages of the urban environment. Solutions built within the capillary network paradigm have to manage this heterogeneity of traffic requirements and user behaviors.

By following these guidelines, the UrbaNet ambition is to go one step beyond traditional approaches discussed above. The capillary network paradigm for Smart Cities is tightly linked to the specificities of the metropolitan context and the citizens’ activity. Our proposal is thus to re-think the way capillary network technologies are developed, considering a broader and more practical perspective.