Potholes Ahead: Impact of Transient Link Blockage on Beam Steering in Practical mm-Wave Systems
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The practical realization of beam steering mechanisms in millimeter wave communications has a large impact on performance. The key challenge is to find a pragmatic trade-off between throughput performance and the overhead of periodic beam sweeping required to improve link quality in case of transient link blockage. This is particularly critical in commercial off-the-shelf devices, which require simple yet efficient solutions. First, we analyze the operation of such a commercial device to understand the impact of link blockage in practice. To this end, we measure TCP throughput for different traffic loads while blocking the link at regular intervals. Second, we derive a Markov model based on our practical insights to compute throughput for the case of transient blockage. We use this model to evaluate the trade-off between throughput and periodic beam sweeping. Finally, we validate our results using throughput traces collected using the aforementioned commercial device. Both our model and our practical measurements show that transient blockage causes significant signal fluctuation due to suboptimal beam realignment. In particular, fluctuations increase with traffic load, limiting the achievable throughput. We show that choosing lower traffic loads allows us to reduce fluctuations by 41% while achieving the same net throughput than with higher traffic loads.