In Defense of Wireless Carrier Sense

By: 
Micah Z. Brodsky and Robert T. Morris
Appears in: 
CCR October 2009

Carrier sense is often used to regulate concurrency in wireless medium access control (MAC) protocols, balancing interference protection and spatial reuse. Carrier sense is known to be imperfect, and many improved techniques have been proposed. Is the search for a replacement justified? This paper presents a theoretical model for average case two-sender carrier sense based on radio propagation theory and Shannon capacity. Analysis using the model shows that carrier sense performance is surprisingly close to optimal for radios with adaptive bitrate. The model suggests that hidden and exposed terminals usually cause modest reductions in throughput rather than dramatic decreases. Finally, it is possible to choose a fixed sense threshold which performs well across a wide range of scenarios, in large part due to the role of the noise floor. Experimental results from an indoor 802.11 testbed support these claims.