Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reconsidering Assumptions

We recently read a paper about network coding in wireless networks. Not only was this an amazingly clever idea, but it also serves as a reminder of the importance of reconsidering assumptions (or conventional wisdom). Great effort has gone into building protocols on top of antenna-based communications to try to make this awkward, noisy broadcast medium as much like wired networks as possible. The wireless coding paper is particularly significant because the authors stepped back and considered whether there might be any advantages to using a broadcast medium.

I've always been something of a wireless skeptic. I appreciate the convenience and flexibility of wireless communications, but I've been frustrated by their slowness and unreliability. Because of this attitude, I'm a person who would never have come up with the network coding idea. Anyway, it's important to have an open mind and to consider whether a problem might have hidden strengths in addition to the obvious challenges.

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