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Cutting Wi-Fi Scan Tax for Smart Devices
Tianxing Li
Dartmouth TR2014-752

Abstract: Today most popular mobile apps and location-based services require near always-on Wi-Fi connectivity (e.g., Skype, Viber, Wi-Fi Finder). The Wi-Fi power drain resulting from frequent Wi-Fi active scans is undermining the battery performance of smart devices and causing users to remove apps or disable important services. We collectively call this the scan tax problem. The main reason for this problem is that the main processor has to be active during Wi-Fi active scans and hence consumes a significant and disproportionate amount of energy during scan periods. We propose a simple and effective architectural change, where the main processor periodically computes an SSID list and scan parameters (i.e. scan interval, timeout) taking into account user mobility and behavior (e.g. walking); allowing scan to be offloaded to the Wi-Fi radio. We design WiScan, a complete system to realize scan offloading, and implement our system on the Nexus 5. Both our prototype experiments and trace-driven emulations demonstrate that WiScan achieves 90%+ of the maximal connectivity (connectivity that the existing Wi-Fi scan mechanism could achieve with 5 seconds scan interval), while saving 50-62% energy for seeking connectivity (the ratio between the Wi-Fi connected duration and total time duration) compared to existing active scan implementations. We argue that our proposed shift not only significantly reduces the scan tax paid by users, but also ultimately leads to ultra-low power, always-on Wi-Fi connectivity enabling a new class of context-aware apps to emerge.

Note: M.S. Thesis. Advisor: Xia Zhou, Andrew Campbell.

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   Tianxing Li, "Cutting Wi-Fi Scan Tax for Smart Devices." Dartmouth Computer Science Technical Report TR2014-752, June 2014.

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