Full Reconfiguration of Underwater Acoustic Networks through Low-Level Physical Layer Access
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Underwater acoustic communications experiments often involve custom implementations of schemes and protocols for the physical and data link layers. However, most commercial modems focus on providing reliable or optimized communication links, rather than on allowing low-level reconfiguration or reprogramming of modulation and coding schemes. As a result, the physical layer is typically provided as a closed, non-reprogrammable black box, accessible by the user only through a specific interface. While software-defined modems would be the ultimate solution to overcome this issue, having access to the symbols transmitted by the modems using a proprietary modulation format already opens up a number of research opportunities, e.g., aimed at the cross-layer design and optimization of channel coding schemes and communication protocols. In this paper, we take the latter approach. We consider the commercial EvoLogics modem, driven by a custom firm\-ware version that bypasses the channel coding methods applied by the modem, and allows the user to set the transmit bit rate to any desired value within a given set. This makes it possible to evaluate different coding schemes in the presence of different bit rates. Our results show that the custom firmware offers sufficient flexibility to test different configurations of the coding schemes and bit rates, by providing direct access both to correctly decoded and to corrupted symbols, which can be separated at the receiver for further processing. In addition, we show that the DESERT Underwater framework can also leverage the same flexibility by employing low-level physical layer access in more complex networking experiments.