What is a Mobile Ad Hoc Network?

Jeremy Laukkonen

Mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) are systems that allow a variety of computers and other devices to interconnect wirelessly. They operate in a similar manner to other wireless ad hoc networks, though there may be special provisions in place to deal with each part of the network moving freely in relationship to all of the other parts. In a mobile ad hoc network, each computer or other device typically operates as a node to facilitate communications within the system. This may allow every computer in the network to communicate with every other computer, though the path that the data travels may vary depending on factors such as wireless signal strength and the physical location of the components.

Mobile ad hoc networks allow devices to connect wirelessly.
Mobile ad hoc networks allow devices to connect wirelessly.

MANETs tend to be self-configuring, in that components can be moved around, added, or removed dynamically. The network will typically be able to continue using networked computers as functional routers regardless their locations in physical space, unless they are moved outside the wireless range of other components. Other computers that are correctly configured can typically join the network upon entering wireless range.

Mobile ad hoc networks allow several computers or mobile devices to interconnect wirelessly.
Mobile ad hoc networks allow several computers or mobile devices to interconnect wirelessly.

There are a variety of different applications where the mobile ad hoc network is useful or may become useful in the future. One particular area to which a mobile ad hoc network may be well suited is motor vehicles. A technology known as a vehicular ad hoc network (VANET) uses the principles behind MANETs to network moving automobiles. In such a system, each vehicle is a node in the network that can retrieve or pass on data. This mobile ad hoc network could also be connected to various roadside installations, allowing for access to the Internet and related applications.

Another similar type of mobile ad hoc network may be referred to as an intelligent vehicular ad hoc network (InVANET). Rather than simply networking moving vehicles to each other and the Internet, a system like this is meant to accomplish things that relate to the safety and convenience of the driver. An InVANET system can provide various forms of traffic data, allowing the driver or the vehicle itself to locate the least congested routes. It could also provide efficient vehicle to vehicle communications, or even communication outside the network by means of connected roadside installations. The use of Wi-Fi™ technologies in an InVANET could also allow vehicles to be tracked and located in areas such as tunnels and other places Global Positioning System (GPS) units may be ineffective.

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