The PhoneLab Smartphone Platform Testbed

The 2 billion smartphones deployed worldwide represent the largest distributed system ever built. But while the success of app marketplaces has made large-scale app experimentation possible, smartphones depend on low-level platform and kernel code that is difficult for researchers to experiment with. The over 1 million lines of platform code that power Android devices perform such tasks as determining the features and information provided by the Android application programmer interface (API), managing limited energy, and choosing which available network to use. How effectively the platform performs these tasks has a significant impact on the smartphone’s performance and on the user’s experience, and information exposed to apps by smartphone platforms currently constrains attempts to perform app-based measurement and data collection. PhoneLab is an open testbed facilitating smartphone platform experimentation.

Figure 1. PhoneLab makes smartphone platform experimentation possible by extending the measurement surface below the app level.

Smartphones have quickly become the most popular computing platform. Google announced in September, 2013, that it had activated over 1 billion Android devices in only six years, with 500 million in the last year alone. The International Data Corporation projects that 224 M smartphone units will ship worldwide in 2013 Q4, a 40\% increase over 2012 Q4. Unfortunately, the scale of smartphone experimentation is not keeping pace. Together, the deployed network of smartphones represents the most widely-deployed and powerful distributed system ever deployed. But while application marketplaces promise to simplify the process of distributing innovative apps to billions of users, no similar infrastructure exists to allow experimenters access to the millions of low-level platform code that powers these innovative devices.

To address this gap we have built and are running the PhoneLab smartphone testbed. Researchers interested in the project should visit the main project website to find our more. We have also published a workshop paper on the testbed. Currently many blue group projects are using PhoneLab, including:

  • The Jouler energy management framework, which is distributing platform changes using PhoneLab

  • The PocketSniffer approach to crowdsourcing wireless spectrum allocation, which is using PhoneLab to collect low-level networking information and distribute platform changes

  • The maybe programming construct for expressing uncertainty at development time, which will be deployed on PhoneLab.

At some level, every project blue does is inspired by our experiences using PhoneLab, grounded by PhoneLab data, and driven by the unique capabilities that the testbed provides. But we can’t do enough with it, so please help us out! The PhoneLab website has lots of information to help researchers get started evaluating their own ideas on PhoneLab. Please join us.

PhoneLab has been covered several times in the media, including this piece by WGZR Channel 2 News, this article in the UB Spectrum, this official UB press release, and this more recent article on WIVB Channel 4 News. A more recent press release described an additional grant we received from the CISE Research Infrastructure program to continue operating PhoneLab for 2016–2017.

If you’re curious about some of the projects we’ve been using PhoneLab to work on in the past, the following video was recorded at the first annual PhoneLab participant meeting in May, 2014. Obviously it’s a bit out of date at this point. If you want a better sense of what we use PhoneLab for now, just peruse our projects page.

Built by the metalsmith-blue Metalsmith pipeline.
Created 2/11/2016
Updated 2/28/2019
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