UnetStack enables software-defined open architecture modems (SDOAMs). While such modems come with one or more implementations of physical layers (PHY) for your use, there are times when you may wish to develop your own PHY. Perhaps it is because you have a special environment that demands a unique PHY, or because you want to interoperate with another modem. Or maybe you just want to try your hands at implementing communication techniques. Whatever the reason, I have often been asked for advice on how to go about writing a custom PHY. In this article, I will walk you through the process of implementing a simple PHY from scratch.

### Background

In an acoustic communication system, the PHY is responsible for converting data bits into an acoustic signal to be transmitted through the channel, and the received signal back into data bits. In UnetStack based modems, this functionality is usually provided by the phy agent. The phy agent implements the PHYSICAL service, and other agents such as uwlink, mac and ranging use this service to provide communication and navigation services to the user (and to others agents in the network stack).

At this point, it may be useful to fire up a Unet audio instance, or connect to a UnetStack powered modem if you’ve one handy.

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$bin/unet -c audio Modem web: http://localhost:8080/ > ps node: org.arl.unet.nodeinfo.NodeInfo - IDLE phy: org.arl.yoda.Physical - IDLE ranging: org.arl.unet.localization.Ranging - IDLE uwlink: org.arl.unet.link.ReliableLink - IDLE ⋮  We see the phy agent among all the agents running on the modem. The Unet audio community edition, as well as most UnetStack based underwater modems (e.g. Subnero M25M series modems), use Yoda PHY (org.arl.yoda.Physical) as the default PHY. The Yoda PHY not only provides the PHYSICAL service, but also the BASEBAND service and a signal detection capability that we’ll be using shortly. Just typing phy on the shell tells us more about the active PHY: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 > phy « Physical layer » Provides software-defined physical layer communication services (including error detection & correction). [org.arl.unet.DatagramParam] MTU ⤇ 31 RTU ⤇ 31 [org.arl.unet.bb.BasebandParam] basebandRate ⤇ 12000.0 carrierFrequency = 12000.0 maxPreambleID ⤇ 4 maxSignalLength ⤇ 2147483647 signalPowerLevel = -42.0 [org.arl.unet.phy.PhysicalParam] busy ⤇ false maxPowerLevel ⤇ 0.0 minPowerLevel ⤇ -138.0 propagationSpeed = 1500.0 refPowerLevel ⤇ 0.0 rxEnable = true rxSensitivity ⤇ 0.0 time = 20157105 timestampedTxDelay = 1.0 [org.arl.yoda.ModemParam] adcrate ⤇ 48000.0 dacrate ⤇ 96000.0 downconvRatio = 4.0 fullduplex = false upconvRatio ⤇ 8.0 ⋮  There are a lot more parameters, but I’ve only reproduced the ones that might interest us here. If we check the uwlink, mac and ranging agents, we’ll see that they are using this phy agent as their PHY: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 > uwlink.phy phy > mac.phy phy > ranging.phy phy >  Our aim is to write our own custom PHY agent (we’ll call it phy2), load it on the modem, and then ask uwlink, mac and ranging to use it instead! Our phy2 will use the BASEBAND service provided by Yoda PHY (phy) to transmit and record acoustic signals. We will also use phy to sense the acoustic channel, accurately timestamp transmissions and receptions, and continuously monitor the acoustic channel for incoming signals. However, we will implement our own frame format and modulation scheme in phy2. We’ll be writing our phy2 agent here in Groovy, but you could choose to write yours in Java if you wish. While our example here will be 100% pure Groovy for illustration, you may prefer to develop complex signal processing components in Julia or C (invoked via JNI) if you need higher performance or access to GPUs. ### Modulation and demodulation The core component of a PHY implementation is the modulator and demodulator. The modulator converts a sequence of bits into an acoustic signal for transmission through the channel. The demodulator converts a received acoustic signal (noisy distorted version of the transmitted signal) back into the sequence of bits. In UnetStack, the acoustic signals are represented as sampled complex baseband signals. The basebandRate and carrierFrequency of the signal were shown when you looked up the parameters of phy earlier. For Unet audio, these are 12 kSa/s and 12 kHz respectively (but they may be different on other modems). The focus of this article is to understand how the PHY agent is developed, and so we won’t spend much time on the signal processing. For the purposes of illustration, we will develop a simple low-rate uncoded binary frequency-shift keying (BFSK) scheme. In reality, you’d probably want to use a more performant communication technique, and also include forward error correction coding (FEC). For the simple BFSK scheme, we’ll use 150 baseband samples for each bit (symbol). We’ll use frequency f0 to represent a bit 0, and f1 to represent a bit 1: f0 = carrierFrequency + 1/15 × basebandRate f1 = carrierFrequency - 1/15 × basebandRate For Unet audio, this will translate to f0 and f1 being 12.8 kHz and 11.2 kHz respectively, and a signaling rate of 80 bps. The modulator function bytes2signal() takes in a byte array and converts it into a float array representing the baseband acoustic signal. Alternate entries in the float array are real and imaginary parts of each sample. The implementation is fairly straightforward: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 private final int SAMPLES_PER_SYMBOL = 150 private final float NFREQ = 1/15 private float[] bytes2signal(byte[] buf) { float[] signal = new float[buf.length * 8 * SAMPLES_PER_SYMBOL * 2] // 8 bits/byte, 2 floats/sample int p = 0 for (int i = 0; i < buf.length; i++) { for (int j = 0; j < 8; j++) { int bit = (buf[i] >> j) & 0x01 float f = bit == 1 ? -NFREQ : NFREQ for (int k = 0; k < SAMPLES_PER_SYMBOL; k++) { signal[p++] = (float)Math.cos(2 * Math.PI * f * k) signal[p++] = (float)Math.sin(2 * Math.PI * f * k) } } } return signal }  The demodulator function signal2bytes() takes in a float array with the received baseband acoustic signal and returns a byte array containing the decoded bits. Bit decisions are taken by running two matched filters for f0 and f1 frequencies, and comparing the output: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 private byte[] signal2bytes(float[] signal, int start) { int n = (int)(signal.length / (2 * SAMPLES_PER_SYMBOL * 8)) // number of bytes def buf = new byte[n] int p = start for (int i = 0; i < buf.length; i++) { for (int j = 0; j < 8; j++) { double s0re = 0 // real path of matched filter for f0 double s0im = 0 // imaginary path of matched filter for f0 double s1re = 0 // real path of matched filter for f1 double s1im = 0 // imaginary path of matched filter for f1 for (int k = 0; k < SAMPLES_PER_SYMBOL; k++) { float re = signal[p++] float im = signal[p++] float rclk = (float)Math.cos(2 * Math.PI * NFREQ * k) float iclk = (float)Math.sin(2 * Math.PI * NFREQ * k) s0re += re*rclk + im*iclk s0im += im*rclk - re*iclk s1re += re*rclk - im*iclk s1im += im*rclk + re*iclk } if (abs2(s1re, s1im) > abs2(s0re, s0im)) buf[i] = (byte)(buf[i] | (0x01 << j)) } } return buf } private double abs2(double re, double im) { return re*re + im*im }  The second argument start tells the function where in the signal array to start demodulating. This is required because the recorded signal that we will receive from phy contains an additional detection preamble that we’ll need to skip over. ### Writing the agent Now that we have our modulator and demodulator functions, we are ready to put together our phy2 agent (we call the agent class MyPhy). If you’re not familar with developing agents, now would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the key concepts. Any PHY agent needs to implement the PHYSICAL service and the DATAGRAM service. We’ll limit ourselves to the basic functionality and honor the TxFrameReq (subclass of DatagramReq), TxRawFrameReq and ClearReq requests. We’ll generate RxFrameNtf (subcalss of DatagramNtf) and BadFrameNtf notifications. The other TxFrameStartNtf, RxFrameStartNtf and CollisionNtf are generated by the Yoda PHY automatically, and we do not need to generate those. We will also need to implement all the parameters in both services. Let’s start by registering the services we provide, as well as the parameters we support: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 void setup() { register Services.DATAGRAM register Services.PHYSICAL } protected List<Parameter> getParameterList() { return allOf(DatagramParam, PhysicalParam) } protected List<Parameter> getParameterList(int ndx) { if (ndx == Physical.CONTROL || ndx == Physical.DATA) return allOf(DatagramParam, PhysicalChannelParam) return null }  When we transmit data, we need to add a header to indicate the source node address, destination node address, data length and protocol number. Additionally, we also include a parity byte for error detection (in practice you may want to use a CRC, but we stick to parity byte for simplicity). We define the header: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 private final int HDRSIZE = 5 // bytes private PDU header = new PDU() { void format() { length(HDRSIZE) uint8('parity') uint8('protocol') uint8('from') uint8('to') uint8('len') } }  We fix the number of user data bytes in a frame (MTU and RTU). These are DATAGRAM service parameters, and we mark them as read-only through the use the final modifier: 1 2 final int MTU = 8 final int RTU = MTU  We’ll be needing the Yoda PHY (phy) agent often, so we save a reference to it in an attribute bbsp (baseband service provider). We subscribe to notifications from Yoda PHY, and also configure it to provide us acoustic signals when it detects a frame: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 private final AgentID bbsp = agent('phy') // Yoda PHY void startup() { subscribe bbsp int nsamples = (MTU + HDRSIZE) * 8 * SAMPLES_PER_SYMBOL set(bbsp, Physical.CONTROL, ModemChannelParam.modulation, 'none') set(bbsp, Physical.CONTROL, ModemChannelParam.basebandExtra, nsamples) set(bbsp, Physical.CONTROL, ModemChannelParam.basebandRx, true) set(bbsp, Physical.DATA, ModemChannelParam.modulation, 'none') set(bbsp, Physical.DATA, ModemChannelParam.basebandExtra, nsamples) set(bbsp, Physical.DATA, ModemChannelParam.basebandRx, true) }  By setting the modulation parameters for both CONTROL and DATA channels to 'none', we have instructed Yoda not to process the received frames. By setting basebandRx parameter to true, we have asked Yoda PHY to send us the baseband signal each time a CONTROL or DATA frame is detected. The basebandExtra parameter is set to the number of samples in our frame, so that Yoda PHY knows how long a signal to record for us. Yoda PHY detects acoustic signals in the channel by detecting unique preamble signals transmitted just before CONTROL and DATA frames. These signals are included in the recordings and therefore our modulated signal starts a few samples into the signal buffer. To find out exactly how long the preamble signals are (can be configured using Yoda PHY parameters), we ask Yoda PHY for a copy of the preamble and extract the length: 1 2 3 4 5 6 private int getPreambleLength(int ndx) { // ndx is Physical.CONTROL or Physical.DATA int prelen = 0 def pre = request(new GetPreambleSignalReq(recipient: bbsp, preamble: ndx), 1000) if (pre instanceof BasebandSignal) prelen = ((BasebandSignal)pre).signalLength return prelen }  Next, we implement all the PHYSICAL service parameters by delegating them to Yoda PHY: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 // Physical service parameters (read-only) delegated to Yoda PHY Float getRefPowerLevel() { return (Float)get(bbsp, PhysicalParam.refPowerLevel) } Float getMaxPowerLevel() { return (Float)get(bbsp, PhysicalParam.maxPowerLevel) } Float getMinPowerLevel() { return (Float)get(bbsp, PhysicalParam.minPowerLevel) } Float getRxSensitivity() { return (Float)get(bbsp, PhysicalParam.rxSensitivity) } Float getPropagationSpeed() { return (Float)get(bbsp, PhysicalParam.propagationSpeed) } Long getTime() { return (Long)get(bbsp, PhysicalParam.time) } Boolean getBusy() { return (Boolean)get(bbsp, PhysicalParam.busy) } Boolean getRxEnable() { return (Boolean)get(bbsp, PhysicalParam.rxEnable) }  We also implement the PHYSICAL service indexed parameters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 // Physical service indexed parameter (read-only) int getMTU(int ndx) { return MTU } int getRTU(int ndx) { return RTU } int getFrameLength(int ndx) { return MTU + HDRSIZE } int getMaxFrameLength(int ndx) { return MTU + HDRSIZE } int getFec(int ndx) { return 0 } // no FEC List<String> getFecList(int ndx) { return [] } // FEC not supported int getErrorDetection(int ndx) { return 8 } // 8 bits boolean getLlr(int ndx) { return false } // LLR not supported // Physical service indexed dynamic parameters void setPowerLevel(int ndx, float lvl) { if (ndx != Physical.CONTROL && ndx != Physical.DATA) return set(bbsp, BasebandParam.signalPowerLevel, lvl) } Float getPowerLevel(int ndx) { if (ndx != Physical.CONTROL && ndx != Physical.DATA) return null return (Float)get(bbsp, BasebandParam.signalPowerLevel) } Float getFrameDuration(int ndx) { if (ndx != Physical.CONTROL && ndx != Physical.DATA) return null def bbrate = (Float)get(bbsp, BasebandParam.basebandRate) if (bbrate == null) return 0f int prelen = getPreambleLength(ndx) return (float)((prelen + (MTU + HDRSIZE) * 8 * SAMPLES_PER_SYMBOL) / bbrate) } Float getDataRate(int ndx) { if (ndx != Physical.CONTROL && ndx != Physical.DATA) return null return (float)(8 * getFrameLength(ndx) / getFrameDuration(ndx)) }  The powerLevel parameter is delegated to Yoda PHY signalPowerLevel since we will ask Yoda PHY to transmit signals for us. We often require our node address. Rather than ask the node agent each time, we use the UnetStack utility to request and cache the node address: 1 private NodeAddressCache addrCache = new NodeAddressCache(this, true)  We also need to keep a temporarily store pending transmission requests, so that when Yoda PHY informs us that the transmission is complete, we can inform our client (agent who sent us the transmission request) that the transmission was completed: 1 private Map<String,Message> pending = [:]  To process various requests, we override the processRequest() method: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Message processRequest(Message req) { if (req instanceof DatagramReq) return processDatagramReq(req) if (req instanceof TxRawFrameReq) return processTxRawFrameReq(req) if (req instanceof ClearReq) { send new ClearReq(recipient: bbsp) pending.clear() return new Message(req, Performative.AGREE) } }  We don’t need an if condition for TxFrameReq, as it is a subclass of DatagramReq and therefore processDatagramReq() will be called when a TxFrameReq is received. The processTxRawFrameReq() simply delegates the transmission to transmit(): 1 2 3 4 private Message processTxRawFrameReq(TxRawFrameReq req) { if (transmit(req.type, req.data, req)) return new Message(req, Performative.AGREE) return new Message(req, Performative.FAILURE) }  The processDatagramReq() also delegates transmission to transmit() after composing a data frame (PDU) with the required header prepended: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 private Message processDatagramReq(DatagramReq req) { def from = addrCache.address byte[] buf = composePDU(from, req.to, req.protocol, req.data) int ch = req instanceof TxFrameReq ? req.type : Physical.DATA // default to DATA if DatagramReq if (transmit(ch, buf, req)) return new Message(req, Performative.AGREE) return new Message(req, Performative.FAILURE) } private byte[] composePDU(int from, int to, int protocol, byte[] data) { if (data == null) data = new byte[0] def hdr = header.encode([ parity: 0, from: from, to: to, protocol: protocol, len: data.length ] as Map<String,Object>) def buf = new byte[HDRSIZE + MTU] System.arraycopy(hdr, 0, buf, 0, HDRSIZE) System.arraycopy(data, 0, buf, HDRSIZE, data.length) int parity = 0 for (int i = 1; i < buf.length; i++) parity ^= buf[i] // compute parity bits buf[0] = (byte)parity return buf }  The transmit() method simply converts the buffer into a signal and makes a TxBasebandSignalReq request to Yoda PHY to do the transmission. It adds the transmission request to the temporary store so that a notification can be sent to the requester when the transmission is completed. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 private boolean transmit(int ch, byte[] buf, Message req) { def signal = bytes2signal(buf) def bbreq = new TxBasebandSignalReq(recipient: bbsp, preamble: ch, signal: signal) def rsp = request(bbreq, 1000) if (rsp?.performative != Performative.AGREE) return false pending.put(bbreq.messageID, req) return true }  Incoming transmit notifications and signal receptions are processed by overriding the processMessage() method: 1 2 3 4 5 void processMessage(Message msg) { addrCache.update(msg) if (msg instanceof TxFrameNtf) handleTxFrameNtf(msg) else if (msg instanceof RxBasebandSignalNtf) handleRxBasebandSignalNtf(msg) }  The addrCache.update() call ensures that any node address changes are update to the address cache. When a transmission is completed by Yoda PHY, it sends us a TxFrameNtf. We in turn send a TxFrameNtf to our client: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 private void handleTxFrameNtf(TxFrameNtf msg) { def req = pending.remove(msg.inReplyTo) if (req == null) return def ntf = new TxFrameNtf(req) ntf.type = msg.type ntf.txTime = msg.txTime ntf.location = msg.location send ntf }  When a baseband signal is received from Yoda PHY, we process it and convert it to bits. If the parity bits suggest that the frame is error-free, we send a RxFrameNtf for the received frame. In case of errors, we send a BadFrameNtf instead. The RxFrameNtf is published on the agent’s default topic if the frame is a BROADCAST or intended for our node address. Otherwise it is published on the agent’s SNOOP topic. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 private void handleRxBasebandSignalNtf(RxBasebandSignalNtf msg) { def buf = signal2bytes(msg.signal, 2 * getPreambleLength(msg.preamble)) int parity = 0 for (int i = 1; i < buf.length; i++) parity ^= buf[i] // compute parity bits if (buf.length >= HDRSIZE && buf[0] == parity) { def hdr = header.decode(buf[0..HDRSIZE-1] as byte[]) int len = (int)hdr.len def rcpt = topic() if (hdr.to != Address.BROADCAST && hdr.to != addrCache.address) rcpt = topic(agentID, Physical.SNOOP) byte[] data = null if (len > 0) { data = new byte[len] System.arraycopy(buf, HDRSIZE, data, 0, len) } send new RxFrameNtf( recipient: rcpt, type: msg.preamble, rxTime: msg.rxTime, location: msg.location, rssi: msg.rssi, from: (int)hdr.from, to: (int)hdr.to, protocol: (int)hdr.protocol, data: data ) } else { send new BadFrameNtf( recipient: topic(), type: msg.preamble, rxTime: msg.rxTime, location: msg.location, rssi: msg.rssi, data: buf ) } }  That’s it! The complete implementation (with a few additional error checks) is available from the unet-contrib repository. ### Testing our custom PHY Now that we’ve implemented phy2 agent, it is time to try it out on Unet audio or your modem. Copy the MyPhy.groovy file to the classes folder in Unet audio or the modem. Then on the shell: 1 2 3 4 5 > phy.fullduplex = true true > container.add 'phy2', new MyPhy() phy2 > subscribe phy2  We turn on fullduplex so that we can transmit and receive on the same device. We subscribe to the phy2 agent’s topic so that we see the RxFrameNtf when data is received. TIP Writing agents in Groovy in the classes folder of UnetStack is often convenient since Groovy can load the class directly from source, without needing explicit compilation. However, if there are errors in the code, Groovy’s classloader sometimes gives a cryptic “BUG! exception in phase 'semantic analysis' in source unit” error message. If you encounter this, use groovyc to get a clearer error report: $ groovyc -cp lib/unet-framework-3.2.0.jar:lib/fjage-1.8.0.jar:lib/unet-yoda-3.2.0.jar classes/MyPhy.groovy

and remember to delete off the resultant MyPhy.class file to avoid a stale class file being used later accidentally.

To test the agent, we make a transmission:

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> phy2 << new TxFrameReq(data: [1,2,3])
AGREE
phy2 >> TxFrameNtf:INFORM[txTime:19013099]
phy2 >> RxFrameNtf:INFORM[type:CONTROL from:1 rxTime:19039936 rssi:-49.1 (3 bytes)]


If you are using Unet audio, you should have been able to hear the transmission on your speaker. After a short delay, you’d see the reception (RxFrameNtf). We can check the contents to ensure that we got the correct data back:

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> ntf.data
[1, 2, 3]


If the frame had any errors, you’d have gotten a BadFrameNtf. In that case, you may want to try adjusting your computer’s volume setting (for Unet audio) or transmit power (plvl command on Unet audio or modem), and try again.

Now that we can transmit and receive correctly, we can enable the rest of the network stack to use our new PHY:

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phy2
> mac.phy = 'phy2'
phy2
> ranging.phy = 'phy2'
phy2


We can send a text message via UnetStack’s remote agent:

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> tell 0, 'hi'
AGREE
phy2 >> RxFrameNtf:INFORM[type:DATA from:1 protocol:3 rxTime:96861353 rssi:-48.7 (3 bytes)]
[1]: hi


This resulting datagram goes down the layers of the stack, passed through our new PHY to yield an acoustic signal, gets received by the PHY again to be converted to a datagram, which then goes back up the stack all the way to the remote agent who sends it to the shell for display!

### Conclusion

In this article, we have seen how to write a simple custom PHY agent. We intentionally kept the implementation simple by using an uncoded BFSK communication scheme, as the focus of this article was to illustrate how to implement a custom PHY.

In a practical system, you may wish to replace the communication scheme (bytes2signal() and signal2bytes() methods) with something more sophisticated, including FEC coding. You may also want to use a stronger error detection scheme (CRC rather than parity bits). You’d perhaps also want to consider supporting variable MTU and some of the optional features of the PHYSICAL service (e.g. timed transmission, timestamping, etc).

If you find that Java or Groovy doesn’t meet your signal processing needs, you may consider writing the bytes2signal() and signal2bytes() methods in C (using JNI) or in Julia (my preferred choice!).

TIP

With Unet audio, C or Julia calls from Java work seamlessly. However, if you’re running on a real modem, chances are that the modem’s JVM sandbox won’t let you run non-JVM code directly. If you have a coprocessor on your modem, you can run the phy2 agent on the coprocessor in a fjåge slave container, and you will have no JVM sandbox restrictions. Alternatively you can run the phy2 agent even on your laptop, as long as the laptop is connected over Ethernet to thr modem. To start a slave container, just install Unet audio on the coprocessor/laptop, and start Unet with bin/unet sh <ipaddr> 1100 where <ipaddr> is replaced by the IP address of your modem, and port 1100 is the API port set on the modem.