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The protocols and architectures of the ad hoc networks of today reflect the severe memory and processing constraints that were imposed on computing equipment that was dedicated to communication tasks 40 years ago. As a result, most protocols are decoupled from the physical medium, each protocol layer operates independently of others, and processing and storage "inside" the network is kept to a minimum. We present the design and performance of a new approach to packet switching for MANETs, which we call a context-aware protocol engine. With a CAPE, nodes disseminate information in the network by means of context-aware packet switching, which enables the statistical multiplexing of bandwidth and the processing and storage of resources using integrated signaling that covers channel access, routing, and other functions, to share and store the context within which information is disseminated. Data packet headers consist of simple pointers to their context, and elections and opportunistic reservations integrated with routing are used to attain high throughput and low channel-access delay.