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Wireless Distributed Computing: A Survey of

Research Challenges
Article in IEEE Communications Magazine February 2012
Impact Factor: 4.01 DOI: 10.1109/MCOM.2012.6122545 Source: IEEE Xplore





10 authors, including:
Dinesh Datla

Xuetao Chen

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ





Jeffrey H. Reed

Carl B. Dietrich

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ




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Available from: Dinesh Datla

Retrieved on: 19 May 2016

Wireless distributed computing: a survey of research challenges

This is an accepted article, which is a version which has been revised by the
author to incorporate review suggestions, and which has been accepted by IEEE for


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Published in:
Communications Magazine, IEEE (Volume:50 , Issue: 1 )

Date of Publication:
January 2012

144 - 152

INSPEC Accession Number:

Digital Object Identifier :

Date of Current Version :

05 January 2012
Issue Date :

January 2012
Sponsored by :

IEEE Communications Society

Wireless Distributed Computing: A Survey of

Research Challenges
Dinesh Datla, Student Member, IEEE, Xuetao Chen, Student Member, IEEE, Thomas Tsou, Student
Member, IEEE, Sahana Raghunandan, Student Member, IEEE, S. M. Shajedul Hasan, Member, IEEE,
Jeffrey H. Reed, Fellow, IEEE, Bruce Fette, Senior Member, IEEE Carl B. Dietrich, Member, IEEE,
Jeong-Ho Kim, Member, IEEE, and Tamal Bose, Senior Member, IEEE

Abstract Recent advancements in radio technology provide

great flexibility and enhanced capabilities in executing wireless
services. One of these capabilities that can provide significant
advantages over traditional approaches is the concept of collaborative computing in wireless networks. With collaborative
radio nodes, multiple independent radio nodes operate together
to form a wireless distributed computing (WDC) network with
significantly increased performance, operating efficiency, and
abilities over a single node. WDC exploits wireless connectivity
to share processing-intensive tasks among multiple devices. The
goals are to reduce per-node and network resource requirements,
and enable complex applications not otherwise possible, e.g.,
image processing in a network of small form factor radio nodes.
As discussed in this paper, WDC research aims to quantify the
benefits of distributed processing over local processing, extend
traditional distributed computing (DC) approaches to allow
operation in dynamic radio environments, and meet design and
implementation challenges unique to WDC with the help of
recently available enabling technologies, such as software radios
and cognitive radios.
Index Terms Distributed computing, wireless networks and
distributed algorithms.


IRELESS distributed computing (WDC) exploits wireless connectivity to share processing-intensive tasks
among multiple devices. The goals are to reduce per-node and
network power, energy, and processing resource requirements,
and enable complex applications not otherwise possible. In
Section II-A we discuss how some of these goals, particularly
energy efficiency, are achieved by applying WDC to a complex
data processing task distributed across a collaborative network
of radio nodes that possess computing capabilities. To achieve
this, WDC research aims to extend traditional distributed
computing (DC) approaches to allow operation in dynamic
radio network environments, as well as meet challenges unique

D. Datla, X. Chen, T. Tsou, S. Raghunandan, S. M. S. Hasan, J. H. Reed,

C. B. Dietrich, and T. Bose are with Wireless@Virginia Tech in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University, Blacksburg, VA, USA. Bruce Fette is a program manager
in the Strategic Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA), USA. Jeong-Ho Kim is with the Department of Electronics
Engineering, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea.
The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this article/presentation
are those of the author/presenter and should not be interpreted as representing
the official views or policies, either expressed or implied, of the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency or the Department of Defense.
Distribution Statement A (Approved for Public Release, Distribution

to WDC, with the help of recently available enabling technologies. This research requires development and analysis of both
underlying system models and algorithms that enable efficient
and robust functionality of multi-node wirelessly networked
computer systems.
a) Current Trends and Driving Factors: Applications
hosted by modern radio systems, such as wireless sensor
networks (WSNs), tactical radios, and commercial smart
phones, require efficient and robust networks that can support
resource intensive computation services. In addition, future
wireless standards are expected to adopt computationally
complex ad-hoc networking approaches. These applications
involve complex communication and computation tasks that
impose stringent quality of service (QoS) constraints, such
as power/energy consumption, latency, and range, as well as
stringent resource (power, communication, and computational)
requirements. A single radio node may not be able to meet
these requirements, mainly due to resource constraints, incomplete data and/or limited functionality, thereby driving multiple
resource-constrained radio nodes to form a WDC network and
collaborate on executing tasks in a distributed manner. This
approach requires a paradigm shift in the way information
services are executed in both military and consumer arenas.
b) Enabling Technologies: Earlier, wireless devices did
not generally have access to unutilized processing power and
information on peer nodes. The advent of self-organizing
ad-hoc networks has improved interaction and collaboration
among nodes. Recently, radio entities, such as video capable
smart phones and multi-sensor equipped soldiers, are seen not
simply as objects for communication, but as devices able to
collect and process information. Processed information can
then be shared with other nodes, creating an avenue for new,
enhanced capabilities and applications.
WDC is possible today due to the availability of key technologies such as fault tolerant computing, distributed computing, software defined radio (SDR), and cognitive radio (CR).
These technologies can offer capabilities such as collaboration
among wirelessly connected computational devices, flexible
link design, and adaptation and autonomous operation in dynamic WDC environments. These capabilities enable flexible
and optimized use of resources, reliable wireless communications, joint optimization of computation and communication
processes, and customization for the QoS needs of WDC.
c) Potential Benefits: Local processing requires a high
resource requirement per node and there can be no QoS

guarantee from individual fault prone radio nodes. WDC on

a collaborative radio network has the potential to enable:
(a) lower energy and power consumption per node as well
as for the network as a whole; (b) efficient allocation of
computational resources to meet requirements by opportunistically sharing the computational workload with collaborating
nodes; (c) achievement of computational latency requirements
of complex processing tasks by leveraging network computational resources; (d) robust, secure, and fault tolerant execution
of information services; (e) simplified small form factor node
designs with lower resources per node; and (f) applications that
employ location based processing. In WDC, however, there is
an overhead imposed by communication between distributed
computational processes which reside in different radio nodes.
Power analysis has shown that WDC is beneficial over local
processing under certain conditions, particularly when the
computational cost dominates over the communication overhead [1], [2]. These conditions are realized when complex
computational tasks are distributed in short-range networks.
The technology can be used to safeguard applications and
improve their fault-tolerance. Different parts of the code
and data pertaining to an application can reside in different
nodes, instead of having them all located in a single node. If
processing over several nodes, a significant number of nodes
have to fail or to be compromised in order to adversely affect
overall operation or to have access to all software, hardware,
data, and codes. In a similar manner, highly secure tasks that
require coordination among multiple units cannot be executed
by a small number of compromised units. In addition, WDC
research is expected to complement parallel efforts in related
fields such as wireless grid computing [3] and opportunistic
computing [4].
d) Novel Research Contributions: Distributed computing
has been previously studied in the context of traditional wired
networks and WSNs. WDC research poses some unique challenges over traditional DC. Traditionally, each node in the network has been considered to be a powerful machine. Typically,
time required for local computation is ignored while analyzing
distributed algorithms. In WDC, however, a nodes processing
and communication capacity may be limited. In addition,
mobility and wireless channel variations introduce uncertainty
into the otherwise traditional DC environment, posing a challenge to the design and execution of distributed algorithms and
to ensuring their correctness, efficiency, and promptness. For
instance, the intermittent connectivity in typical opportunistic
networking scenarios [4] makes it hard to guarantee QoS and
have stable knowledge of the network state. While uncertainty
in channel characteristics and the availability of collaborating
nodes (and computational resources) contribute to the negative
effects of mobility on WDC performance, mobility can assist
with improvement in information diversity, particularly for
social networking applications.
WDC networks can potentially operate as an overlay on
diverse wireless platforms such as WSNs, hand held radios,
and laptops. A comprehensive framework for executing distributed applications in a general WDC network is still in
the nascent stages. Some of the DC concepts proposed for
WSNs [5][7] form the basis for WDC research, however,

WDC network of
handheld radios



Fig. 1.

Remote super-node

WDC network of UAV radio nodes

Example scenario with WDC nodes and remote super-node.

they need to be significantly adapted before being applied to

WDC networks. In addition, WDC research does not restrict
itself to WSN-like environments which are characterized by
static node positions. WDC networks are intended to operate
in heterogeneous mobile wireless environments characterized
by stochastic channel variations, diverse node capabilities, and
limited a priori knowledge of the environment. Issues unique
to such environments have not been addressed in a holistic
manner in traditional WSN research. WDC network design
intends to incorporate cross-layer optimization approaches
with joint allocation of computational and communication
Some possible WDC applications are discussed in Section II. An example scenario is presented in Section II-A.
Sections III and IV provide an overview of WDC design and
implementation challenges. Section V concludes this paper.
Several classes of applications can potentially benefit from
WDC, some of which are listed as follows:
Real-time data capture, processing and dissemination This class includes time-critical data collection applications, such as portable mobile scientific computing, where
the captured data is processed to provide information to
a remote node.
Complex communication waveforms - Robust communication signal processing approaches often involve complex computations which can be executed in a distributed
Information sharing - Real-time sharing of video, images,
and voice data may require complex information coding
and ad-hoc network capabilities.
Robust process control - Control applications require
time-critical coordination among wireless sensors and
Example applications are: image processing and pattern recognition; distributed data storage and database search (to avoid
communication with a remote server over unsecure and unreliable links the database is distributed locally among the nodes);
application to enable the web indexing of user-generated
content that is stored at the mobile device and not on a remote
server; Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) processing; jamming;
signal detection and classification; and position location.
A. Example Scenario
Energy savings achieved by WDC is demonstrated with the
help of the example in Figure 1. Consider a collaborative


Network energy savings (%)





WDC network range = 10 m

WDC network range = 400 m
WDC network range = 700 m
WDC network range = 900 m


Fig. 2.


Backhaul communication range (meters)


Energy savings for a WDC network with 5 nodes.


Network lifetime improvement (%)

wireless ad-hoc network which may be comprised of tactical

handheld radios, radio nodes attached to unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs), or sensor nodes. The master node in the
network captures data (such as images) that holds the information required at a remote base. The data can be processed
in one of the following ways: (a) remote data processing,
where unprocessed data is transmitted over a long backhaul
to a node abundant in resources located in the remote base,
or (b) in-network processing, where data is processed within
the network before transmitting the processed information
to the remote base. The latter option, when performed in a
distributed manner, also allows the use of a large number of
relatively small, simple, and inexpensive radio nodes in place
of a single complex and expensive one. In addition, WDC
minimizes the dependency of the handheld radios on remote
super nodes for mission-critical computation services. When
considering a master-slave network configuration in WDC,
the master node broadcasts data to the slave nodes which
return processed data to the master node. The master node,
then, transmits processed data to the remote base. Processed
data accounts for relatively smaller communication payload
compared to raw data. The savings in energy consumption
of the wireless nodes is achieved in several ways. First, WDC
enables in-network processing, which significantly reduces the
number of data bits transmitted over the long backhaul at
the cost of some computational energy consumption. Second,
power-hungry processor cooling mechanisms activate when
the processor operates at a certain high clock frequency. In
WDC, the required computational latency can be met by
concurrently processing data in all the nodes at a fraction of
the required rate. This WDC scenario also applies for smart
phones in a social setting.
An analysis is performed using computational and communication energy consumption models [1], [2] to determine the
network energy savings and lifetime improvement achieved
by distributed in-network processing in comparison to remote
processing. The slave nodes are assumed to communicate
with the master node in a time-division multiplexed manner.
Processed data is assumed to constitute 10 % of the raw
datas communication overhead. In this analysis, the computational task comprising of 3000 1024-point FFT operations
is uniformly distributed among all the nodes in the network
including the master node. The energy savings is plotted in
Figure 2 for different backhaul and WDC network ranges.
It is shown that an energy saving of nearly 85 % can be
achieved for a backhaul range of 3.5 km and a network range
of 900 m. The savings is greater for shorter network ranges
and longer backhaul ranges because of the communication
overhead involved in distributing the workload among the
radio nodes. The savings curve flattens when the backhaul
transmit power consumption dominates the savings.
The network lifetime improvement that occurs as a result
of energy savings is computed taking into consideration the
lifetime of the master node which consumes the maximum
energy among all nodes. Figure 3 shows that WDC provides a
lifetime improvement of 94% with a network of as few as
two nodes. As the network size increases and more tasks
are delegated to slave nodes under the uniform workload




Backhaul range = 2 km
Backhaul range = 2.5 km
Backhaul range = 3 km
Backhaul range = 4 km



Fig. 3.

Number of radio nodes




Lifetime improvement for WDC network with a range of 500 m.

allocation scheme, the master nodes computational energy

consumption decreases along with an increase in the communication energy consumption, since the master node has to
broadcast (gather) more data to (from) the slave nodes. Thus,
beyond a certain number of nodes (about 10 nodes in this
case), there is no significant improvement in energy savings
and network lifetime.
A WDC node is modeled in terms of its three subsystems,
namely, power, computation and communication subsystems.
An important WDC research challenge is to develop performance evaluation approaches and comprehensive models
of the dynamic WDC network environment which is characterized by random node failures, varying channel quality,
stochastic availability of computational resources, and random
delays in message transit times. In addition to inter-node
communication overhead time which is considered in DC
analysis, WDC analysis must consider energy consumption
and the fact that inter-node communications are stochastic.
The main design challenge for WDC over traditional wired

DC is meeting application QoS requirements in dynamic

mobile wireless environments, which are characterized by uncertainty, high outage probabilities (fault occurrences) and biterror-rates, high energy and power consumption in executing
a distributed computational task, and random delays due to
re-transmissions. The environmental dynamics include spatiotemporal stochastic variations in link quality and resource
availability. WDC models, design tradeoffs, fundamental limitations, and scalability in terms of network range, node
density, and workload are greatly influenced by the underlying
radio environment. Since the tradeoffs involve interaction
between the application and underlying communication layers,
and influence of the communication and power subsystems
on the distributed computing performance, WDC research
takes a cross layer and cross subsystem approach to WDC
network design. This approach is evident from the design of
the communication subsystem (Section III-A) and scheduling
algorithms for WDC networks (Section III-C.4). In addition,
most distributed algorithms designed for WDC have to take
into consideration the aforementioned challenges. With the
aim of facilitating distributed computing in wireless environments, WDC research focuses on three core issues, namely,
communication subsystem design, synchronization, and WDC
A. Communication Subsystem Design
During the execution of an applications computational tasks
in a distributed manner, the applications processes which reside in different nodes in the WDC network communicate with
each other in order to enable data passing and WDC management and control, including synchronization and scheduling.
Due to the critical importance of inter-node communication,
communication subsystem robustness is key to the successful
execution of a WDC application. In addition, random channel
losses and transceiver components, such as channel decoders,
can drastically increase WDC communication overhead. When
analyzing wireless environments, three broad categories of
network models can be identified, namely, infrastructure-based
wireless networks (e.g., cellular networks), infrastructure-less
wireless networks (e.g., ad hoc networks, vehicular networks,
opportunistic networks), and wireless networks with partial
infrastructure (e.g., mesh networks, hierarchical WSNs, infostations). Each one of these models presents different characteristics and issues. In other words, distributing the computational
tasks in a WLAN where there is a base station that is an
intrinsic coordinator for the wireless clients associated to it, is
different with respect to the same task performed in a multihop ad hoc network where there are no centralized entities.
The communication subsystem is expected to possess three
basic functionalities, as discussed next.
1) Scatter and Gather: These operations differ fundamentally between WDC and wired DC systems. Unlike the pointto-point bi-directional nature of wired links, the wireless link
is inherently broadcast and interference prone. In order to
minimize interference, WDC networks require an efficient
MAC during gathering that schedules message transmissions
in synchronization with the computational process execution.

2) Routing and Relaying: Multi-hop relaying is beneficial

when the communication burden of the WDC nodes can
be shared by the relaying nodes. Traditional routing and
relaying methods take into consideration the communication
cost associated with different links and the availability of
communication resources. However, in WDC networks that are
comprised of SDRs, where the communication functionality
is implemented in software, computational burden and the
availability of computational resources have to be taken into
consideration [8]. This is particularly true for relaying methods
that require significant amount of computational resources in
order to execute channel decoding algorithms. Hence, several
communication and computational factors influence WDC
routing decisions, such as connectivity (relaying between
two disconnected processes), interference, joint scheduling of
computational and communication processes, channel selection, and allocation of both communication and computational
resources. This problem is more challenging in heterogeneous
networks where the computational resource availability varies
between nodes.
3) Buffering: Limited and variable data rates over wireless
channels can pose a bottleneck to applications involving fast
computations. In such cases, buffering between communication and computational subsystems can control message losses
and delays. However, the limited buffering capacity of portable
WDC nodes makes it challenging to address this problem.
B. Synchronization
Some distributed applications require the computational
processes on different nodes in a WDC network to be synchronized with each other [3]. Synchronization is particularly important when the processes have to interact with
each other while executing the application. Synchronization
involves the establishment of a temporal relationship between
these processes [9]. In WDC networks, synchronization is a
challenge when the computational processes which have to be
synchronized are heterogeneous in terms of their execution
times and the execution time is uncertain, particularly when
there are other computational processes contending for limited
computational resources within each node.
1) Process Synchronization: Different computational events
can occur during each round of the execution of a computational process. If event a q,r+1 in round r + 1 of process Q has
to occur after event a p,r in process P , then there should be
a way for the events to be synchronized. Upon completion of
event ap,r , process P sends a message to process Q thereby
triggering event a q,r+1 , as shown in Figure 4. The sequence of
events in process P has to be executed such that the message
sent after completion of event a p,r reaches process Q before
event aq,r+1 occurs. This is the fundamental synchronization
problem [9] which is prevalent in both traditional DC and
WDC. The relative time difference, denoted by , between processes P and Q, can be a random variable. Channel uncertainty
in WDC networks, particularly due to the presence of unknown
interference, poses a challenge to the determination of message
transit time bounds that are critical for synchronization. In
addition to the synchronization of the individual computational

Round 1


tim transit

Round 2


Round 1

Round 2

L1 N1 L2







Communication graph


Time at
node P

Time at
node Q


ap,i = Event representing occurrence of ith round of algorithm in node P

c = time difference between clocks (time references) of nodes P and Q
Ti = Round time in ith process

Fig. 4.


Task graph





Round 3






Fundamental synchronization problem in distributed computing.

and communication processes on all the nodes, it is a challenge

to synchronize the two intra-node processes within individual
nodes in order to optimize buffering between them.
2) Clock Synchronization: The local clock on each node
needs to be synchronized to the networks global clock for
various purposes such as time stamping of events, network
re-synchronization, and fault tolerance [9]. The differences
between local clocks and unbounded message transit times in
WDC networks can pose a problem when clock synchronization is based on message time stamps. In addition, incorrect
clock readings provided by erroneous or malicious nodes can
affect synchronization.
C. WDC Network Control
Control of distributed application execution in the WDC
network includes enabling cooperation between the processes,
segmentation of computational task into sub-tasks, and optimal resource allocation (including scheduling and workload
allocation of sub-tasks to various nodes). The different aspects
of control go hand-in-hand and involve additional challenges
in terms of flexible network protocol design. Control can
be either centralized, distributed (possibly concurrent), or a
combination of both. In the case of distributed control, the
consensus among nodes is made through agreement protocols.
The computational burden, communication overhead and reliability of control mechanisms in dynamic environments are
of concern in WDC network design.
1) Leader Election: Many DC applications require a leader
process that can perform centralized control functions. In a
general WDC master-slave cluster, the leader process may reside either in the master node, a slave node or any node outside
the cluster. In addition to existing challenges, WDC leader
election must consider both computation and communication
costs incurred by the potential leader. In distributed control,
the control functions can be allocated to multiple leader nodes
based on their ability to execute those functions.
2) Topology Control: Clustering and topology construction
involve the selection of a subset of collaborative nodes based

Fig. 5.

Scheduling sub-tasks in task graph to nodes in the communication

on link quality and resource availability in order to construct

a topology (such as a spanning tree) that optimizes objectives
such as power, connectivity, and network reliability.
3) Mutual Exclusion and Resource Access: The mutual
exclusion problem involves the allocation of a single, indivisible non-shareable resource that can support only one user
at a time, among n concurrent entities [10]. This problem
is prominent in WDC environments where resources must be
shared in an opportunistic manner. In general, a user process
requests the resources manager process for access to the
resource. Interactions between these processes, as well as
interactions among various manager processes, are of equal
importance in the exclusion problem. Each resource maintains
a queue of indices of user processes that require access to that
resource [10]. It is important to access the current queue state
including resource occupancy and user position in the queue.
Resource access in WDC faces two challenges, namely,
queue access fairness and stacking of resource queues. Traditionally, a process can instantaneously enter a resource queue.
In WDC networks, however, random variation in message
transit delays between different links may not allow fair queue
access. In addition, a user process would have to contend for
intermediate network resources (such as spectrum access and
relay node computing resources) before gaining access to the
required resources queue. Moreover, any interaction between
the resource process and the user process has to surpass the
spectrum manager queue.
4) Resource Allocation - Scheduling and Workload Allocation: Scheduling in WDC networks mainly involves
task segmentation, allocation of sub-tasks to nodes, temporal
scheduling of sub-tasks within each node, and scheduling
of communication between sub-tasks in different nodes. The
applications computational task is segmented into sub-tasks
which are represented in the form of a task graph, as shown
in Figure 5. In the task graph, C i represents an abstraction of the i th sub-task that includes resource requirements
and computational cost. The interaction between sub-tasks
i and j is represented by b ij which denotes the amount
of communication and tolerable latency between respective
sub-tasks. In traditional homogeneous DC networks with
deterministic channels, efficient resource utilization can be
achieved by simple uniform workload allocation. However,
resource allocation in WDC networks must consider several
factors with cross layer and cross subsystem influences in a





Variance of Execution Time (s)

dynamic environment, resulting in the search for an optimum

scheduling strategy over a multi-dimensional design space.
WDC task allocation can be viewed as a problem of
mapping the task graph to the communication graph [11], as
shown in Figure 5. The communication graph captures the
heterogeneity in the WDC network and represents nodes and
links, denoted by N i and Li , which are abstracted by their
capacity, resource availability, and link quality. Resource allocation (includes scheduling and workload allocation) in WDC
networks can be formulated as an optimization problem with
the following factors, which span across the application and
communication layers, as well as across the communication,
computational and power subsystems: (a) application requirements expressed in terms of time-to-completion, power/energy
consumption, reliability, and task precedence constraints; (b)
current network state and resource constraints specified by
the communication graph, which include channel conditions,
current processor load, computing, and communication resource availability; and (c) cost functions that quantify both
communication and computation aspects such as throughput,
fairness, reliability, concurrency, and overhead (energy/power,
communication, and time). Power and energy optimality are
clearly distinguished in WDC design [1], [2]. Task allocation may also consider synchronization, fault tolerance, and
the security of individual nodes. The presence of stochastic
environmentally-harvested power sources, such as solar power
cells, adds an additional challenge to the already complex
resource allocation problem.
Some WDC resource allocation problems are pointed out.
Processing rate can be assigned based on task concurrency and
execution time of sub-tasks in each node, in order to minimize
time-to-completion or power consumption. Workload allocation can minimize energy consumption by assigning message
traffic on a link based on its channel quality. Adaptive resource
allocation to achieve equal energy consumption across all
nodes, particularly when channel conditions vary between
links and processor loads differ between nodes, can ensure
graceful degradation of battery life on all network nodes which
maximizes network lifetime.
Scheduling should also take into consideration the dynamics of network connectivity and resource availability, and
the resulting time-variant node availability. If a participating
node gets disconnected from the cluster while the application
execution is in progress after workload allocation, there are
two options: (a) the nodes completed sub-task results can be
relayed back to the cluster, or (b) service-handoff can occur
from the disconnected node to appropriate nodes within the
cluster. In a similar manner, the WDC control mechanisms
have to take into consideration the addition of computational
resources by nodes that are newly admitted into the WDC
Robustness (in terms of application execution time variance)
of different workload allocation schemes, such as uniform
allocation, allocation considering mean channel condition, and
allocation considering both channel mean and variance, has
been analyzed for WDC networks [12] as shown in Figure 6.
It is observed that the latter scheme can reduce execution time
variance, improve robustness dramatically [12], and improve







Number of Nodes





Fig. 6.
WDC network computational robustness for various workload
allocation schemes [12]. 0 : even allocation, 1 : allocation considering mean
channel condition, and 2 : allocation considering both channel mean and

power availability for computing purposes by 14-22% [13].

The scheme simultaneously minimizes communication power
consumption and maximizes computing rate. In this manner,
nodes located in favorable channel conditions (smaller distances and channel variance) are allocated a higher computing
rate. Due to the smaller communications cost in these nodes,
the ratio between computing and total power consumption can
be improved for the WDC network.
5) Network Information Management: An important research challenge is to determine the amount of information
that each node should have about the WDC environment in
order to perform control tasks. Network information is used
by the leader node to perform critical operations such as
stability analysis, failure recovery, and analysis of algorithm
correctness [9]. In a distributed approach to network information gathering, the dynamic global WDC network state (which
includes that of all computation processes, node resources, and
links) can be sampled and quantized in a distributed manner
before it is disseminated to leader node(s).
Preliminary theoretical models have been developed for
WDC and show potential advantages of the approach. However, realization and adoption of these capabilities on actual
hardware and in operational systems involves overcoming
significant obstacles.
A. Software Architecture
To realize WDC benefits, an underlying architecture [14] is
necessary to support both SDR operations for physical layer
connectivity and more general processing for collaborative
computing tasks. Existing software architectures typically assume either role, but not both. Physical layer activities may be
characterized by strict requirements on timing or bandwidth.
On the other hand, DC tasks can vary from long-running background activities to real-time applications that may resemble

physical layer communications. In a SDR implementation, this

spectrum of activities must be managed on a single platform
with one or more shared processors, which creates conflicting
interests between simultaneously operating computing tasks.
Such conflicts over shared resources have not been accounted
for in traditional physical layer models which assume a
dedicated implementation composed of discrete processing
In addition, opportunistic computing in SDR based WDC
is premised on the availability of underutilized processing
capability. In practice, processor overhead or memory barriers
may affect the ability to remotely target spare processor cycles
over a wireless channel in an efficient manner. Furthermore, if
remote processing is readily accessible, distributed computing
tasks must not preempt primary physical layer operations. In
other words, software implementations of various components
must provide the behavior of a discrete design, although the
underlying structure may be composed of shared and limited
processing resources.
B. Power Consumption on Real Devices
Realworld energy utilization may include effects not included in theoretical network power/energy consumption models. These models are understandably generic due to the
multitude of differences that exist between different platform
implementations. However, to achieve the desired management
for prolonged functionality, whether at the individual node or
network level, effects of implementation related critical factors
on system design must be taken into account.
For tractability, theoretical computational power models
often focus on processor performance characteristics. For example, fundamental physical relationships between processor
voltage and switching frequency are easily abstracted for
mathematical analysis [2]. However, physical properties on
modern processors are not subject to direct manipulation by
software applications. Furthermore, basic physical processor
parameters do not account for all the computational energy
draw in a node.
Modern processor management schemes include voltage
scaling, frequency scaling, and, more recently, power gating
at the processor level. These parameters are not directly manipulable but are accessed through processor interfaces which
provide selectable discrete power states. In addition, power
control mechanisms at a higher operating system level allow
for larger scale manipulation of overall platform properties.
For example, sleep and hibernation states may power down
individual portions of the platform or the entire platform. Thus,
static loads can be manipulated and enabled or shut down
completely. Consequently, computational power management
in real, modern processors is more appropriately viewed as
state based rather than a combination of continuously variable
parameters, which leads to a divergence from the approach of
many theoretical models.
These features of power management, while difficult to
abstract, are critical in computational energy determination
on real systems. Application of these features to existing
models may be feasible, depending on specific application

requirements and this will need to be resolved for actual

C. Synchronization, Determinism, and Power Constraints
WDC implementations must address synchronization issues
often implicitly assumed to be solved in theoretical models.
The introduction of general purpose processors and software
based communication stacks further complicates these issues
as they add non-deterministic properties through contention
over consolidated processor resources. A challenge in embedded real-time computing systems is the determinism required
for synchronization and efficient usage of power management
schemes are intertwined on multiple levels with numerous
contradicting characteristics. For example, the most power
efficient processor states generally have the longest wakeup
and response times. In addition, within the operating system
of a single node, the most deterministic behavior typically
requires a higher degree of headroom, or unutilized excess
processor capacity, in order not to jeopardize timing deadlines.
WDC enables powerful computing and extended service
execution capabilities with the help of a collaborative network
of small form factor radio nodes that operate with reasonably
low-capacity batteries. We have looked at some ways in which
traditional DC approaches may fail or not operate optimally
in dynamic wireless environments. In this regard, the paper
has introduced the potential challenges of WDC and hopes to
provide the motivation to bring about design changes that can
address the challenges. On the implementation front, considerable challenges remain in order for practical WDC networks to
become a reality. SDR-based WDC implementations need to
be developed with an expanded view of software architecture
that takes into account characteristics of both physical layer
communications and network computing.
The authors would like to thank the Office of Naval Research for its sponsorship (grant N30001407010536) of our
research; the Korean National Research Foundation (NRF)
for its sponsorship of Dr. Jeong-Ho Kim (this research was
supported by Basic Science Research Program through the
NRF of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education, Science
and Technology, grant number : 2010-0008916); Dr. Maleq
Khan (Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory,
Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, Virginia Tech) for his valuable comments; and Cyndy Graham (Wireless@Virginia Tech)
for proof-reading this article.
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Dinesh Datla ( is currently pursuing his Ph.D. degree in the

Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech
(Blacksburg, VA, USA). He received his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from
the University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS, USA) in 2007 and B.E. in Electronics and Communications from the University of Madras (Chennai, India) in
2004. His current research interests include wireless distributed computing in
software defined radio networks, green communications, cognitive radios and
dynamic spectrum access radios.

Xuetao Chen ( received his B.S. and M.S. in electrical

engineering in 2001 and 2004 respectively from Wuhan University, China.
Currently, he is pursuing a Ph.D. degree of electrical engineering at Virginia
Tech, Blacksburg. His research interests include Cognitive Radio, wireless
distributed computing networks, high efficiency power amplifier design.

S. M. Hasan ( is a research scientist at Virginia Tech. He

received his Ph.D. degree from Virginia Tech, M.S. degree from the University
of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his B.S. degree from Bangladesh University of
Engineering and Technology, all in electrical engineering. His research interest
is in the RF front end and system design, SDR, and cognitive radio areas. He
is also an expert in the field of instrumentation and measurement, and applied
digital signal processing.

Jeffrey H. Reed ( is the Willis G. Worcester Professor in the

Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. From June 200
to June 2002, Dr. Reed served as the Director of the Mobile and Portable
Radio Research Group (MPRG). He currently serves as Director of the newly
formed umbrella wireless organization Wireless@ Virgina Tech, one of the
largest and most comprehensive university wireless research groups in the US.
Dr. Reed received his B.S. M.S., and Ph.D from the University of California,
Davis in 79-87.
Dr. Reed has provided significant contributions in the area of software
radio and communications signal processing. Specific contributions include
the development of hardware architectures for software radios based on
reconfigurable computing, prototype hardware development, assistance in
standardizing software architectures, development of software radio tools in
education and research that are available for public domain download and
creation of analysis procedures for cognitive software radios. His textbook,
Software Radios: A Modern Approach to Radio Design, is based on his
research experience with ONR, DARPA, IT, and Samsung, and is one of
the first books devoted exclusively to software radios.
Dr. Reed has served on several company advisory boards. He is co-founder
of CRT. In 2005, Dr Reed became Fellow to the IEEE for contributions to
software radio and communications signal processing and for leadership in
engineering education.

Bruce Fette ( is a Program Manager in the STO office

at DARPA for programs involving Wireless Networking technologies as part
of the DARPAs strategic investment in advanced networking communications
systems for the warfighter. His goal is to advance RF communications
technology with programs such as Advanced Wireless Network Systems,
Wireless Network After Next and Communications under Extreme Spectrum
Conditions. These programs are part of the broader context of activities in
support of the soldier communications and situation awareness networks. Dr.
Fette has extensive experience in industry developing products and business
synthesis in LSI design, advanced signal processing including speech and
radio waveforms, communication security, and wireless communications. Dr.
Fette was previously with Motorola and then General Dynamics as Chief
Scientist General Dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale. Dr. Fette received his
MSEE and PhD EE from Arizona State University, and BSEE from University
of Cincinnati.

Thomas Y. Tsou ( received his B.S. degree in computer

engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2002. He
is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech and
involved in open source software-defined radio platforms for cellular networks.
His research interests include wireless standards, reconfigurable devices, and
position location.

Sahana Raghunandan ( is currently pursuing her PhD

degree in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at
Virginia Tech. Her research interests include software defined radios, resource
allocation in wireless networks, and hardware and software design of radar
systems. Earlier she was a graduate student in electrical engineering at The
University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Carl Dietrich ( is a research associate professor at Virginia

Tech, where he completed Ph.D. and M.S. degrees after graduating from
Texas A&M University. He worked with the Defense Information Systems
Agency, Arlington, Virginia and Bell Northern Research, Richardson, Texas
and conducted research on antenna systems and radio wave propagation. He
leads the OSSIE open source software defined radio (SDR) effort, chairs the
Wireless Innovation Forum Educational SIG, and is a professional engineer
in Virginia.

JeongHo Kim ( received the B.S, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees
in electrical engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and
Technology (KAIST), in 1991, 1993, and 1999, respectively. From Feb. 1993
to May 1995, he was a research engineer with LG Electronics Korea. From
February 1999 to June 2002, he was a senior research engineer at UMTS
System Laboratory, LG Electronics, Korea where he had been engaged in
various projects including the development of the 3G Base Station Modem
and Test of W-CDMA Pre-commercial Systems and Integration of W-CDMA
subsystem with Core Networks. He has been with the faculty of Ewha
Womans University now as an associate professor since 2002. His research
interests include Cognitive radio HW platform, Cognitive networking, and
QoS control strategy for convergent cognitive networks.

Tamal Bose ( received the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University in 1988. After a faculty position
at the University of Colorado, he joined Utah State University in 2000,
where he served as the Department Head and Professor of Electrical and
Computer Engineering from 2003-2007. Currently, he is Professor in the
Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech.
He is the Associate Director of Wireless@VT and Director of the NSF center
site WICAT@VT.
The research interests of Dr. Bose include signal classification for cognitive
radios, channel equalization, adaptive filtering algorithms, and nonlinear
effects in digital filters. He is author of the text Digital Signal and Image
Processing, John Wiley, 2004. He is also the author or co-author of over
120 technical papers. Dr. Bose served as the Associate Editor for the IEEE
Transactions on Signal Processing from 1992 to 1996. He is currently on the
editorial board of the IEICE Transactions on Fundamentals of Electronics,
Communications and Computer Sciences (Japan) and Research Letters in
Signal Processing. He also served on the organizing committees of several
international conferences and workshops. He is an IEEE EAC program
evaluator and a member of the DSP Technical Committee for the IEEE
Circuits and Systems society.