Beyond the Radio: Illuminating the Higher Layers of Mobile Networks

TitleBeyond the Radio: Illuminating the Higher Layers of Mobile Networks
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsVallina-Rodriguez, N., Sundaresan S., Kreibich C., Weaver N., & Paxson V.
Other Numbers3767

Cellular network performance is often viewed as primarily dominated by the radio technology. However, reality proves more complex: mobile operators deploy and configure their networks in different ways, and sometimes establish network sharing agreementswith other mobile carriers. Moreover, regulators have encouragednewer operational models such as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) to promote competition. In this paper we draw upondata collected by the ICSI Netalyzr app for Android to characterizehow operational decisions, such as network configurations, business models, and relationships between operators introduce diversity in service quality and affect user security and privacy. We delvein detail beyond the radio link and into network configuration andbusiness relationships in six countries. We identify the widespreaduse of transparent middleboxes such as HTTP and DNS proxies,analyzing how they actively modify user traffic, compromise userprivacy, and potentially undermine user security. In addition, weidentify network sharing agreements between operators, highlighting the implications of roaming and characterizing the properties ofMVNOs, including that a majority are simply rebranded versionsof major operators. More broadly, our findings highlight the importance of considering higher-layer relationships when seeking toanalyze mobile traffic in a sound fashion.


This work was partially supported by funding providedto ICSI through National Science Foundation grants CNS : 1111672(“Measuring and Modeling the Dynamics of IPv4 Address Exhaustion”), CNS : 1213157 (“User-Centric Network Measurement”), and CNS : 1237265 (“Beyond Technical Security: Developing an Empirical Basis for Socio-Economic Perspectives”) and by the DHSDirectorate of Science and Technology under grant N66001-12-C-0128. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors or originators and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF or of the DHS.

Bibliographic Notes

Proceedings of the International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services (MobiSys 2015), Florence, Italy.

Abbreviated Authors

N. Vallina-Rodriguez, S. Sundaresan, C. Kreibich, N. Weaver, and V. Paxson

ICSI Research Group

Networking and Security

ICSI Publication Type

Article in conference proceedings