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While most previous studies on mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) rely on the assumption that nodes are randomly distributed in the network coverage area, this assumption is unlikely to hold, as nodes tend to be cluttered around hot spots like the site of an accident or disaster. We refer to this as a clustered layout. Intuitively, a MANET with the clustered layout may suffer from serious performance degradation due to the excessive collisions in congested hot spots and space underutilization of sparse areas. In this paper, we propose a power-controlled network protocol, called the power-stepped protocol (PSP), that maximizes the spatial utilization of limited channel bandwidth. Using a number of discrete power levels available for the underlying wireless network hardware, PSP finds the appropriate power level for each node in a distributed and a coordinated manner without causing any serious problem at the medium access control and network routing layers. A unique feature of this approach is the use the chosen radio power for both data and control packets, and thus, it requires neither any special mechanism (e.g., a separate control channel) nor frequent power adjustments. Our extensive ns-2-based simulation results have shown the proposed PSP provides excellent performance in terms of packet delivery ratio and delay, as well as the network capacity.