The expanding capabilities and growing number of smartphones are producing a new computing ecosystem integrating phones, users, and the Internet. The power of smartphones is truly transformative—users now rely on their phones to locate their friends, identify the song playing at a restaurant, stream video and music, provide instant access to information, and help document their lives, all in addition to placing phone calls and sending text messages. However, with this new computing paradigm come new challenges: utilizing multiple radio technologies and integrated sensors, harnessing powerful processors to support demanding applications, and efficiently moving data to devices. Yet, despite the challenges and transformative nature of smartphones, no public research testbed exists enabling large-scale realistic smartphone experimentation.
We propose to develop PhoneLab, a new scientific instrument enabling smartphone research in a realistic environment at a scale not previously possible. Targeting 1,000 programmable Android devices supported by backend servers and distributed to University at Buffalo students, PhoneLab will provide the power, scale, realism and density required to enable the next-generation of mobile computing research.
PhoneLab will harness the potential of smartphones by allowing researchers to experiment with mobile operating system design, wireless networking, distributed algorithms, and smartphone applications. PhoneLab provides power, allowing the modification of smartphone operating systems as well as applications, while simplifying instrumentation and data collection to facilitate efficient experimentation. PhoneLab provides scale, allowing researchers access to an order-of-magnitude more participants than typically used by smartphone studies. By minimizing experimental disturbance, PhoneLab provides realism, ensuring that participants use their smartphones as they would normally. And, by facilitating access to a colocated group of participants, PhoneLab provides the density to enable peer-to-peer applications or infrastructure-driven experimentation. PhoneLab will accelerate research on smartphone applications, networking, infrastructure, and system software, providing a standardized environment where experiments can be validated and compared.
PhoneLab will be a publicly-available open-access testbed. Considering the research impact of other similar instruments—EmuLab on distributed systems, PlanetLab on wide-area networking, and MoteLab on sensor networking—we anticipate that PhoneLab will accelerate smartphone research. Given the sensing and inference capabilities of the smartphones, we expect PhoneLab to engage computer scientists from a broad range of sub-disciplines. Wireless networking, distributed systems, operating systems, mobile sensing, social networking, crowdsourcing, and many other sub-disciplines will find uses for the testbed. PhoneLab is designed to enable their research.
PhoneLab will also play a vital role in teaching and learning. At the secondary level, we will encourage and support middle- and high-school students to use PhoneLab for science projects. At the college level, PhoneLab will enable a host of new testbed-based assignments in computer science and engineering courses. PhoneLab will help excite the next generation of computer scientists and developers by exposing them to the potential of smartphones. U.S. leadership in mobile computing depends on our ability to teach these skills, and PhoneLab provides a useful tool to this end.
We are actively collaborating with both Google—who develops the Android platform—and Sprint, a major nationwide wireless carrier. Google provided seed funding for an initial small-scale PhoneLab testbed currently under development. Sprint has entered into a unique partnership with the University at Buffalo allowing us to offer attractive incentives to participants while reducing the cost to the NSF. With our deal, Sprint assumes 55% of the total cost of the incentives required to maintain PhoneLab at 1,000 participants; each participant will receive a free Android smartphone as well as the monthly discount of 42% in addition to the typical 10% student discount available to University at Buffalo students. The total cost saving for each participant over 4 years will be over $2,000.