Transport Protocols for Internet-Compatible Satellite Networks

Thomas R. Henderson and Randy H. Katz

To appear in IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications, special issue on "Direct-to-user satellite systems and technologies at Ka-band and beyond"

Abstract: We address the question of how well end-to-end transport connections perform in a satellite environment composed of one or more satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) or low-altitude earth orbit (LEO), in which the connection may traverse a portion of the wired Internet. We first summarize the various ways in which latency and asymmetry can impair the performance of the Internet's Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and discuss extensions to standard TCP that alleviate some of these performance problems. Through analysis, simulation, and experiments, we quantify the performance of state-of-the-art TCP implementations in a satellite environment. A key part of the experimental method is the use of traffic models empirically derived from Internet traffic traces. We identify those TCP implementations that can be expected to perform reasonably well, and those that can suffer serious performance degradation. An important result is that, even with the best satellite-optimized TCP implementations, moderate levels of congestion in the wide-area Internet can seriously degrade performance for satellite connections. For scenarios in which TCP performance is poor, we investigate the potential improvement of using a satellite gateway, proxy, or Web cache to ``split'' transport connections in a manner transparent to end users. Finally, we describe a new transport protocol for use internally within a satellite network or as part of a split connection. This protocol, which we call the ``Satellite Transport Protocol (STP),'' is optimized for challenging network impairments such as high latency, asymmetry, and high error rates. Among its chief benefits are up to an order of magnitude reduction in the bandwidth used in the reverse path, as compared to standard TCP, when conducting large file transfers. This is a particularly important attribute for the kind of asymmetric connectivity likely to dominate satellite-based Internet access.

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