Reverse-engineering MAC: A non-cooperative game model

Jang Won Lee, Ao Tang, Jianwei Huang, Mung Chiang, A. Robert Calderbank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


This paper reverse-engineers backoff-based random-access MAC protocols in ad-hoc networks. We show that the contention resolution algorithm in such protocols is implicitly participating in a non-cooperative game. Each link attempts to maximize a selfish local utility function, whose exact shape is reverse-engineered from the protocol description, through a stochastic subgradient method in which the link updates its persistence probability based on its transmission success or failure. We prove that existence of a Nash equilibrium is guaranteed in general. Then we establish the minimum amount of backoff aggressiveness needed, as a function of density of active users, for uniqueness of Nash equilibrium and convergence of the best response strategy. Convergence properties and connection with the best response strategy are also proved for variants of the stochastic-subgradient-based dynamics of the game. Together with known results in reverse-engineering TCP and BGP, this paper further advances the recent efforts in reverse-engineering layers 2-4 protocols. In contrast to the TCP reverse-engineering results in earlier literature, MAC reverse-engineering highlights the non-cooperative nature of random access.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1135-1147
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


  • Ad hoc network
  • Game theory
  • Mathematical programming/optimization
  • Medium access control
  • Network control by pricing
  • Network utility maximization
  • Reverse-engineering
  • Wireless network


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