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SoftWater: Software-defined networking for next-generation underwater communication systems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
JournalAd Hoc Networks
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Underwater communication systems have drawn the attention of the research community in the last 15 years. This growing interest can largely be attributed to new civil and military applications enabled by large-scale networks of underwater devices (e.g., underwater static sensors, unmanned autonomous vehicles (AUVs), and autonomous robots), which can retrieve information from the aquatic and marine environment, perform in-network processing on the extracted data, and transmit the collected information to remote locations. Currently underwater communication systems are inherently hardware-based and rely on closed and inflexible architectural design. This imposes significant challenges into adopting new underwater communication and networking technologies, prevent the provision of truly-differentiated services to highly diverse underwater applications, and induce great barriers to integrate heterogeneous underwater devices. Software-defined networking (SDN), recognized as the next-generation networking paradigm, relies on the highly flexible, programmable, and virtualizable network architecture to dramatically improve network resource utilization, simplify network management, reduce operating cost, and promote innovation and evolution. In this paper, a software-defined architecture, namely SoftWater, is first introduced to facilitate the development of the next-generation underwater communication systems. More specifically, by exploiting the network function virtualization (NFV) and network virtualization concepts, SoftWater architecture can easily incorporate new underwater communication solutions, accordingly maximize the network capacity, can achieve the network robustness and energy efficiency, as well as can provide truly differentiated and scalable networking services. Consequently, the SoftWater architecture can simultaneously support a variety of different underwater applications, and can enable the interoperability of underwater devices from different manufacturers that operate on different underwater communication technologies based on acoustic, optical, or radio waves. Moreover, the essential network management tools of SoftWater are discussed, including reconfigurable multi-controller placement, hybrid in-band and out-of-band control traffic balancing, and utility-optimal network virtualization. Furthermore, the major benefits of SoftWater architecture are demonstrated by introducing software-defined underwater networking solutions, including the throughput-optimal underwater routing, SDN-enhanced fault recovery, and software-defined underwater mobility management. The research challenges to realize the SoftWater are also discussed in detail.


  • SDN, Underwater communications, Virtualization