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Outdoor community mesh networks based on 802.11 have seen tremendous growth in the recent past. The current understanding is that wireless link performance in these settings in inherently unpredictable, due to multipath delay spread. Consequently, researchers have focused on developing intelligent routing techniques to achieve the best possible performance. In this paper, we are specifically interested in mesh networks in rural locations. We first present detailed measurements to show that the PHY layer in these settings is indeed stable and predictable. There is a strong correlation between the error rate and the received signal strength. We show that interference, and not multipath fading, is the primary cause of unpredictable performance. This is in sharp contrast with current widespread knowledge from prior studies. Furthermore, we corroborate our view with a fresh analysis of data presented in these prior studies. Based on our results, we argue that outdoor rural mesh networks can indeed be built with the link abstraction being valid. This has several design implications, and opens up a fresh perspective on a wide range of technical issues in this domain.
Date of Conference: 13-18 April 2008