goTenna's Aspen Grove

Mesh Networking Protocols

goTenna’s Aspen Grove™ uses a novel zero-control-packet approach to achieve unprecedented network efficiency. It enables long-range, short-burst, low-SWaP mobile mesh networking. Already in use by military and emergency response professionals within the goTenna Pro X, the Aspen Grove has the potential improve low bitrate networking for virtually any device.

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What is mesh networking?

Historically, communications started out as a point-to-point between a sender and a receiver. Eventually these networks began to expand to a more “hub-and spoke” model. This is known as centralized communications. Much of the infrastructure out there is built to support cell phone and land-based radio connectivity.

Mesh networking gets rid of the “hub” in the “hub and spoke” communications model. A wireless mesh network is a network of devices (often called nodes) that communicate with each other using peer-to-peer wireless links over multiple hops by bouncing a message from one device, through another, and landing at a third (or fourth, etc.).

Mesh networks have primarily evolved as a way to provide connectivity where centralized infrastructures like radio towers, cellphone towers, or fiber infrastructure are not available.

Your at-home wifi system is a form of mesh networking because it uses a series of nodes that act like satellites by communicating with each other. This type of system isn’t impeded by physical objects or geographic location.

Mesh Networking over the decades

1960s

1960s

ARPANET
Precursor to the Internet

1970s

1970s

DARPA Packet Radio Network (PRNET)

1980s

1980s

DARPA Survivable Adaptive Network (SURAN)
Research on fundamentals of Meshing Begins

1990s

1990s

DARPA GloMo, Small Unit Operations (SUO… now SRW)
Mobile Ad hoc network “MANET” coined
IETF MANET Working Group Established
Enabler: IEEE 802.11
Startups emerge
Research accelerates

2000s

2000s

Early sensor networks
IEEE 802.11s
IEEE 802.16a
Dynamic Spectrum access
Community wireless

2010s

2010s

Internet of Things
goTenna

Quote Carousel

“We call our mesh network ‘Aspen Grove’ because aspens are
actually one tree with an interconnected root system.
We thought that was a nice symbol for our interconnected
nature without a single point of failure.”
Daniela Perlein, Founder of goTenna

What makes goTenna’s Aspen Grove unique?

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Traditional Mesh

Traditional protocols use dedicated control packets. Overhead increases proportional to size, leaving little room for data in low-bit-rate networks.

Aspen Grove Mesh

Aspen Grove utilizes information within data packets in place of control packets. Overhead growth is contained, allowing dramatically higher scalability.

Traditional Mesh

Traditional protocols use dedicated control packets.
Overhead increases proportional to size, leaving little
room for data in low-bit-rate networks.

Aspen Grove Mesh

Aspen Grove utilizes information within data packets in place
of control packets. Overhead growth is contained, allowing
dramatically higher scalability.

Aspen Grove
scales better.

Aspen Grove’s patented zero-control-packet approach is much more efficient than existing protocols, enabling unprecedented scalability at low bit rates.
The key benefits of the Aspen Grove protocol set can
be applied to many types of wireless or wired communications. Today, Aspen Grove is implemented
in the Pro X product to promote scalable distribution of low-bandwidth information. These data types include SMS, PLI, map objects, voice messages, low res images, and sensor information.

This is all achieved on considerably narrow bandwidths of less than 25 kHz, which is roughly 1/1000 the bandwidth used by other mesh radios and 1/5000 the bandwidth used by many WiFi systems. Looking forward, Aspen Grove will continue to provide efficient networking for low-bandwidth information types while also expanding to support high-bandwidth information for novel systems.

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VINE vs. competition*
ECHO vs. competition*
* R. Ramanathan et al, “Long-Range Short-Burst Mobile Mesh Networking” Proc. IEEE SECON, June 2019 (Winner Best Poster Paper award)

What can you do
with goTenna running Aspen Grove?

Our goal is to make everyone geographically and situationally aware. To see how Aspen Grove is used operationally, visit our goTenna Pro X page.

Explore goTenna Pro X
The future

What’s next
for Aspen Grove?

We are putting the finishing touches on a new Medium Access Control (MAC) protocol called SPIN (“Slot Pinning”) that will feature in the next release. This will further increase the scalability, especially when connectivity is sparse. For example, it can provide a 3x increase in the number of hops in a daisy chain over the previous version.

Further down the road is a new Transport Layer protocol that will allow Aspen Grove to handle very large messages such as images and voice messages. It features a novel idea -- validated using simulations -- that cuts down on the latency to reliably deliver the images. With this, for example, a firefighter could snap and send a picture of a fire to the base over the goTenna mesh network.

We are also exploring several other exciting applications for Aspen Grove, one of which is to use mesh networking to improve the range and performance of a low-power wide-area (LPWA) IoT network. Since LPWA networks, for example, based on the popular LoRa standard, have very low bitrates, mesh networking is challenging. Since low-bitrate meshing a problem Aspen Grove has already surmounted, goTenna can bring a unique solution to the marketplace.

Aspen Grove currently runs on the goTenna radio hardware, but there is nothing fundamental that ties the two together. We plan to make Aspen Grove hardware-agnostic. Such a software-only Aspen Grove can be run on potentially any radio hardware and spread the power of scalable low-bit-rate mesh networking to a wide range of applications.

Resources

Read how our mesh networking technology outperforms current industry standards.
Long-Range Short- Burst Mobile Mesh Networking: Architecture and Evaluation
goTenna Chief Scientist Ram Ramanathan presents Aspen Grove™ as a robust, adaptive, and scalable solution for low bitrate mobile mesh networks.
Read more
VINE: Zero-Control-Packet Routing for Ultra-Low-Capacity Mobile Ad Hoc Networks
goTenna Chief Scientist Ram Ramanathan presents VINE, the first zero-control-packet mesh protocol for one-to-many communications.
Read more
ECHO: Efficient Zero-Control Network-Wide Broadcast for Mobile Multi-hop Wireless Networks
goTenna Chief Scientist Ram Ramanathan presents ECHO, the first zero-control-packet mesh protocol for one-to-many communications.
Read more

Aspen Grove
FAQs

Are there other mesh networking protocols?

Yes, there are several other protocols for mesh networking. Some better-known ones are AODV (Ad Hoc  On-Demand Distance Vector) and OLSR (Optimized Link State Routing), and B.A.T.M.A.N (Better Approach to Mobile Ad Hoc Networking).

Why not use already existing mesh protocols for
goTenna devices? Why Aspen Grove?

There are many reasons, but the two primary ones are as follows. First, most well-developed mesh networking protocols are designed for unicast (one-to-one) traffic whereas goTenna use cases are overwhelmingly broadcast (one-to-many). Second, goTenna devices trade radio bitrate for best-in-class range and super-low cost, and existing protocols scale poorly at these rates.

How is Aspen Grove different from other mesh
networking protocols?

There are lots of differences,  but the key one is that all other mesh networking protocols -- other than naive flooding -- use control packets. The actual data packets (which contain the information like the text content) then use the information derived from control packets for routing. Aspen Grove is a zero-control-packet protocol, that is, it does not use any control packets whatsoever. As a result, Aspen Grove scales better in low-bitrate networks.

Does Aspen Grove accommodate node mobility?

Yes, Aspen Grove fully accommodates mobility of nodes.

What are some of the components of Aspen Grove?

Aspen Grove can be roughly partitioned into four main components: (a) broadcast and unicast routing of messages over the mesh network; (b) efficient sharing of the channel; (c) managing the sleep-wake cycle of devices; and (d) managing end-to-end retransmissions and for reliability. Note that applications, end-to-end encryption and key management are NOT part of Aspen Grove.

What are the individual protocols comprising
Aspen Grove? At what layers?

Aspen Grove has two protocols at the network layer, ECHO and VINE for broadcast routing and unicast routing respectively. At the MAC layer it currently has a protocol called G-CSMA (goTenna Carrier Sense Multiple Access) which will be replaced by SPIN (Slot Pinning), as well as a sleep management technique. It will have a transport layer protocol for segmentation, reassembly and retransmissions (similar to TCP but simpler).

Isn’t Aspen Grove — being a new approach — pretty
risky to put in a product?

Although it is fairly different and innovative, Aspen Grove borrows several tried-and-tested ideas from decades of mesh networking to put together. In other words, it “stands on the shoulders of others”, to reach a bit beyond. The Chief Scientist at goTenna has over 20+ years of experience building MANET protocols for the military, and the Firmware Director has 20+ years of experience in embedded systems. Our experience allows synthesis in a risk-free manner. Detailed evaluations and 1+ years of fielding show that Aspen Grove works well.

Can Aspen Grove only be used with goTenna devices?

Currently yes, but in principle, there is nothing fundamental about Aspen Grove that ties it to a particular device. Most parts of Aspen Grove, except perhaps the sleep-wake cycling part, are portable to other devices as long as they provide a rudimentary interface functionality.

What versions of Aspen Grove exist or are planned?

Aspen Grove 1.0 is currently deployed on the goTenna Pro X, and contains the ECHO routing protocol for broadcasting (shouts/PLIs), and an efficient lightweight medium access protocol called g-CSMA (g for goTenna). Aspen Grove 1.1 adds the VINE protocol and more improvements to the MAC protocol that we now call g-CSMA (g for goTenna), and many efficiencies to headers and sleep-wake cycling. Aspen Grove 1.2 will add the SPIN protocol at the MAC layer for significantly more efficient access resulting in hop and size increases.

Will 5G make Aspen Grove or the goTenna device obsolete?

Absolutely not. 5G and the goTenna device occupy different regions of the capacity-range tradeoff space. Further, 5G requires expensive cellular infrastructure and is centralized, making it a poor fit for public safety, disaster relief and military where goTenna excels.

Where does AG live? In the hardware or the phone
that is paired with a goTenna device?

Neither. AG lives in the firmware of the device. Firmware can be thought of as embedded software that runs in the CPU of a printed circuit board. This software performs the mesh networking functions. The board also consists of other components such as a radio frequency transceiver (transmitter + receiver) that is used to send bits over the air. The transceiver is not part of Aspen Grove. Applications (e.g. ATAK) are not part of Aspen Grove.

What's next for Aspen Grove?

We plan to support our goTenna Pro customer base with new collaborative mapping features in our native iOS/Android mobile app. This will benefit organizations who want access to industry-leading situational awareness tools at a lower price point.

We are providing goTenna Pro X customers with an expanded selection of supported software app integrations as well as SDK improvements for third-party developers. This will benefit organizations with existing software tools for situational awareness and command and control.

We are also developing formal partnerships with complementary cellular, satellite, and data radio providers for seamless information sharing from connected command centers to off-grid operators in the field

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