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Bitrate Selection Laboratory

This suite of code provides a way to test bit-rate selection algorithms on real-world data. It includes both a mechanism to capture the performance of various bitrates, and a way to run bit-rate selection algorithms on the resulting data. The simulation provides repeatable results and rapid development; the capture tools allow real-world data to be used throughout.

This set of tools was written by Colleen Josephson and Pavel Panchekha in the spring of 2013 for Hari Balakrishnan's 6.829 class at MIT. The code is provided under the MIT license; a copy should be available in

Collecting traces

Traces can be collected from any consumer laptop that uses the ath9k Linux module for wireless communication. A modified version of this driver, located in the ath9k/ folder, allows data collection by choosing a bit rate at random for each packet and recording the success or failure of the packet transmission. Bit rates are chosen to sample equally in time, including retransmissions; thus very high bitrates are often lightly sampled, since they are much more likely to involve retransmissions.

Traces are collected by running the script, which takes three parameters: an IP address to flood packets at (usually the router's IP address), a file name to send to (test is a good choice if you don't want to keep the data around), and the duration (in seconds) for which to capture the trace. For example, you might capture data by running

./ test 60

Simulating algorithms

Once a trace is captured, it can be used to run various bitrate selection algorithms and compare the results. The main entry point is the file, which requires an algorithm to run and a trace to run the algorithm against. For example,

pypy samplerate ../data/test.dat

will execute the SampleRate algorithm against the test data gathered in the previous section. Using PyPy is recommended, since the simulation is CPU-intensive and since Python is not a particularly fast language. Implementations of the SampleRate and Minstrel algorithms are provided, along with a new prototype named Armstrong, a simple but very good bitrate adaptation algorithm. A comprehensive list of provided algorithms is:

  • constant: Always uses a constant bitrate; use the RATE environment variable to control which.
  • minimal : A minimal example of a bitrate adaptation algorithm.
  • samplerate: The SampleRate algorithm, as described in John Bicket's thesis.
  • minstrel: The Minstrel algorithm, as found in Linux 3.10.5.
  • armstrong : A very good rate control algorithm, usually achieving approximately 91% of optimal performance.
  • optimal : Examines the full data set to always act optimally; used as a benchmark.

Writing algorithms

It is relatively easy to write a new bitrate selection algorithm and test it. As more common code is written, it should only get easier. A bitrate selection algorithm is a Python module that provides two methods: apply_rate and process_feedback.

apply_rate receives one argument, the current simulation time. It must return a multi-rate retry chain as a list of 2-tuples, each naming a rate and the maximum number of times to attempt that rate. The rate is named by an index into common.RATES; indices 0 through 3 name 802.11b rates in order of increasing bitrates, and indices 4 through 11 name the additional 802.11g rates, also in order of increasing bitrate.

process_feedback receives four arguments: whether or not the packet send succeeded; the simulation time; the time to send (or not) the packet; and the number of attempts made at each rate as a multi-rate retry chain similar in format to the output of apply_rate. can serve as a simplistic model of how to write a selection algorithm. It is somewhat over-complicated to provide a model of how to actually write a rate-control algorithm.

What are the folders?

  • ath9k/: modified network driver used to collect traces
  • util/: scripts to collect traces
  • raw/: raw trace data; see
  • data/: parsed trace data; see
  • pysim/: Python simulation framework, including bit rate algorithms
  • pysim/old/ : Old implementations of bitrate adaptation algorithms
  • plots/: pretty plots generated from the data
  • paper/: an old class paper describing some of the results


Laboratory for bit-rate selection algorithms







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