One Clock to Rule Them All: A Primitive for Distributed Wireless Protocols at the Physical Layer

Unknown author (2014-04-27)

Implementing distributed wireless protocols at the physical layer today is challenging because different nodes have different clocks, each of which has slightly different frequencies. This causes the nodes to have frequency offset relative to each other, as a result of which transmitted signals from these nodes do not combine in a predictable manner over time. Past work tackles this challenge and builds distributed PHY layer systems by attempting to address the effects of the frequency offset and compensating for it in the transmitted signals. In this paper, we address this challenge by addressing the root cause - the different clocks with different frequencies on the different nodes. We present AirClock, a new wireless coordination primitive that enables multiple nodes to act as if they are driven by a single clock that they receive wirelessly over the air. AirClock presents a synchronized abstraction to the physical layer, and hence enables direct implementation of diverse kinds of distributed PHY protocols. We illustrate AirClock's versatility by using it to build three different systems: distributed MIMO, distributed rate adaptation for wireless sensors, and pilotless OFDM, and show that they can provide significant performance benefits over today's systems.