When Scanning Happens | Inter-Access Point Handoffs

The client's handoff is only as good as its scanning table. The more the client scans, the more accurate the information it receives, and the better decision the client can make, thus ensuring a more robust call. However, scanning can cost as much in call quality as it saves, and most certainly diminishes battery life. So how do phones determine when to scan?
The most obvious way for a client to decide to scan is for it to be forced to scan. If the phone loses connection with the access point that it is currently attached to, then it will have no choice but to reach out and look for new options. Clients mainly determine that they have lost the connection with their current access point in three different ways.
The first method is to observe the beacons for loss. As mentioned earlier, beacon frames are transmitted on specific intervals, by default every 102.4ms. Because the beacons have such a strict transmission pattern, clients—even sleeping clients—know when to wake up to catch a beacon. In fact, they need to do this regularly, as a part of the power saving mechanisms built into the standard. A client can still miss a beacon, for two reasons: either the beacon frame was collided with (and, because beacon frames are sent as broadcast, there are no retransmissions), or because the client is out of the range that the beacons' data rates allow. Therefore, clients will usually observe the beacon loss rate. If the client finds itself unable to receive enough beacons according to its internal thresholds, it can declare the access point either lost or possibly suffering from heavy congestion, and thus trigger a new scan, as well as deprioritize the access point in the scanning table. The sort of loss thresholds used in real clients often are based on a combination of two or more different types of thresholds, such as triggering a scan if a certain number of beacons are lost consecutively, as well as triggering if a certain percentage is lost over time. These thresholds are likely not to directly specifiable by the user or administrator.
The second method is to observe data transmissions for loss. This can be done for received or transmitted frames. However, it is difficult for a client to adequately or accurately determine how many receive frames have been lost, given that the only evidence of a retransmission prior to a lost frame is the setting of the Retry bit in the frame's header, something that is not even required in the newer 802.1 In radios. Therefore, clients tend to monitor transmission retries. The retry process is invoked for a frame. Retransmissions are performed for both collisions and adapting to out-of-range conditions— because the transmitter does not know which problem caused the loss, both are handled by the transmitter simultaneously reducing the transmit data rate, in hopes of extending range, and increasing backoff, in hopes of avoiding further collisions for this one frame. Should a series of frames back-to-back be retransmitted until they time out, the client may decide that the root cause is for being out of range of the access point. Again, the thresholds required are not typically visible or exposed to the user or administrator.
Voice clients tend to be more proactive in the process of scanning. The two methods just described are for when the client has strong evidence that it is departing the range of the access point. However, because the scanning process itself can take as long as it does, clients may choose to initiate the scan before the client has disconnected. (This may sound like the beginnings of a make-before-break handoff scheme, but read on to Section 6.2.3, where we see that such a scheme does not, in fact, happen.) Clients may chose to start scanning proactively when the signal strength from the access point begins to dip below a predetermined threshold (the signal strength itself is usually measured directly for the beacons). Or, they may take into account increasing—but not yet disruptive—losses for data. Or, they may add into account observed information about channel conditions, such as an increasing noise floor or the encountering of a higher density of competing clients, to trigger the scan. In any event, the client is attempting to make some sort of preprogrammed expense/reward tradeoff. This tradeoff is often related to the problems of handoff, as mentioned shortly.
Scanning may also happen in the background, for no reason at all. This is less common in voice clients, where the desire to ensure battery life acts as a deterrent, but nevertheless is employed from time to time. The main reason to do this sort of background scanning is to ensure that the client's scanning table is generally not as stale, or to serve as a failsafe in case the triggered scanning behavior does not go off as expected. One of the chief problems with determining when to scan is that the client has no way of knowing whether it is moving or how fast it may be moving. A phone held in the hands of a forklift driver can rapidly go from having been standing still for many minutes to racing by at 15 miles per hour in a warehouse. This sort of scanning, not being triggered, is the least likely to lead to a change in access point selection, but may still serve its appropriate place in a network. For data clients, as a comparison, this form of background scanning, triggered for no reason, is often driven by the operating system. Windows-based systems often scan, for example, every 65 seconds, just to ensure that the operating system has a good sense of the networks that are available, in case the user should want to hop from one network to another. This sort of scanning causes a noticeable hit in performance for a short period of time on a periodic basis.

1 comment:

callingcards said...

This is really very impressive Blog post for me.

international calls

Telecom Made Simple

Related Posts with Thumbnails