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We consider a directed network in which every edge possesses a latency function specifying the time needed to traverse the edge given its congestion. Selfish, noncooperative agents constitute the network traffic and wish to travel from a source s to a sink t as quickly as possible. Since the route chosen by one network user affects the congestion (and hence the latency) experienced by others, we model the problem as a noncooperative game. Assuming each agent controls only a negligible portion of the overall traffic, Nash equilibria in this noncooperative game correspond to s-t flows in which all flow paths have equal latency. We give optimal inapproximability results and approximation algorithms for several network design problems of this type. For example, we prove that for networks with n nodes and continuous, nondecreasing latency functions, there is no approximation algorithm for this problem with approximation ratio less than n/2 (unless P = NP). We also prove this hardness result to be best possible by exhibiting an n/2-approximation algorithm. For networks in which the latency of each edge is a linear function of the congestion, we prove that there is no (4/3 - ε)-approximation algorithm for the problem (for any ε > 0, unless P = NP); the existence of a 4/3-approximation algorithm follows easily from existing work, proving this hardness result sharp.
Date of Conference: 8-11 Oct. 2001