Network Working Group M. Allman
Request for Comments: 2488 NASA Lewis/Sterling Software
BCP: 28 D. Glover
Category: Best Current Practice NASA Lewis
January 1999 Enhancing TCP Over Satellite Channels
using Standard Mechanisms
Status of this Memo
This document specifies an Internet Best Current Practices for the
Internet Community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
improvements. Distribution of this memo is unlimited.
Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1999). All Rights Reserved.
The Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) provides reliable delivery of
data across any network path, including network paths containing
satellite channels. While TCP works over satellite channels there
are several IETF standardized mechanisms that enable TCP to more
effectively utilize the available capacity of the network path. This
document outlines some of these TCP mitigations. At this time, all
mitigations discussed in this document are IETF standards track
mechanisms (or are compliant with IETF standards).
Satellite channel characteristics may have an effect on the way
transport protocols, such as the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)
[Pos81], behave. When protocols, such as TCP, perform poorly,
channel utilization is low. While the performance of a transport
protocol is important, it is not the only consideration when
constructing a network containing satellite links. For example, data
link protocol, application protocol, router buffer size, queueing
discipline and proxy location are some of the considerations that
must be taken into account. However, this document focuses on
improving TCP in the satellite environment and non-TCP considerations
are left for another document. Finally, there have been many
satellite mitigations proposed and studied by the research community.
While these mitigations may prove useful and safe for shared networks
in the future, this document only considers TCP mechanisms which are
currently well understood and on the IETF standards track (or are
compliant with IETF standards).
This document is divided up as follows: Section 2 provides a brief
outline of the characteristics of satellite networks. Section 3
outlines two non-TCP mechanisms that enable TCP to more effectively
utilize the available bandwidth. Section 4 outlines the TCP
mechanisms defined by the IETF that may benefit satellite networks.
Finally, Section 5 provides a summary of what modern TCP
implementations should include to be considered "satellite friendly".
2. Satellite Characteristics
There is an inherent delay in the delivery of a message over a
satellite link due to the finite speed of light and the altitude of
Many communications satellites are located at Geostationary Orbit
(GSO) with an altitude of approximately 36,000 km [Sta94]. At this
altitude the orbit period is the same as the Earth's rotation period.
Therefore, each ground station is always able to "see" the orbiting
satellite at the same position in the sky. The propagation time for
a radio signal to travel twice that distance (corresponding to a
ground station directly below the satellite) is 239.6 milliseconds
(ms) [Mar78]. For ground stations at the edge of the view area of
the satellite, the distance traveled is 2 x 41,756 km for a total
propagation delay of 279.0 ms [Mar78]. These delays are for one
ground station-to-satellite-to-ground station route (or "hop").
Therefore, the propagation delay for a message and the corresponding
reply (one round-trip time or RTT) could be at least 558 ms. The RTT
is not based solely on satellite propagation time. The RTT will be
increased by other factors in the network, such as the transmission
time and propagation time of other links in the network path and
queueing delay in gateways. Furthermore, the satellite propagation
delay will be longer if the link includes multiple hops or if
intersatellite links are used. As satellites become more complex and
include on-board processing of signals, additional delay may be
Other orbits are possible for use by communications satellites
including Low Earth Orbit (LEO) [Stu95] [Mon98] and Medium Earth
Orbit (MEO) [Mar78]. The lower orbits require the use of
constellations of satellites for constant coverage. In other words,
as one satellite leaves the ground station's sight, another satellite
appears on the horizon and the channel is switched to it. The
propagation delay to a LEO orbit ranges from several milliseconds
when communicating with a satellite directly overhead, to as much as
80 ms when the satellite is on the horizon. These systems are more
likely to use intersatellite links and have variable path delay
depending on routing through the network.
Satellite channels are dominated by two fundamental characteristics,
as described below:
NOISE - The strength of a radio signal falls in proportion to the
square of the distance traveled. For a satellite link the
distance is large and so the signal becomes weak before reaching
its destination. This results in a low signal-to-noise ratio.
Some frequencies are particularly susceptible to atmospheric
effects such as rain attenuation. For mobile applications,
satellite channels are especially susceptible to multi-path
distortion and shadowing (e.g., blockage by buildings). Typical
bit error rates (BER) for a satellite link today are on the order
of 1 error per 10 million bits (1 x 10^-7) or less frequent.
Advanced error control coding (e.g., Reed Solomon) can be added to
existing satellite services and is currently being used by many
services. Satellite error performance approaching fiber will
become more common as advanced error control coding is used in new
systems. However, many legacy satellite systems will continue to
exhibit higher BER than newer satellite systems and terrestrial
BANDWIDTH - The radio spectrum is a limited natural resource,
hence there is a restricted amount of bandwidth available to
satellite systems which is typically controlled by licenses. This
scarcity makes it difficult to trade bandwidth to solve other
design problems. Typical carrier frequencies for current, point-
to-point, commercial, satellite services are 6 GHz (uplink) and 4
GHz (downlink), also known as C band, and 14/12 GHz (Ku band). A
new service at 30/20 GHz (Ka band) will be emerging over the next
few years. Satellite-based radio repeaters are known as
transponders. Traditional C band transponder bandwidth is
typically 36 MHz to accommodate one color television channel (or
1200 voice channels). Ku band transponders are typically around
50 MHz. Furthermore, one satellite may carry a few dozen
Not only is bandwidth limited by nature, but the allocations for
commercial communications are limited by international agreements so
that this scarce resource can be used fairly by many different
Although satellites have certain disadvantages when compared to fiber
channels (e.g., cannot be easily repaired, rain fades, etc.), they
also have certain advantages over terrestrial links. First,
satellites have a natural broadcast capability. This gives
satellites an advantage for multicast applications. Next, satellites
can reach geographically remote areas or countries that have little
terrestrial infrastructure. A related advantage is the ability of
satellite links to reach mobile users.
Satellite channels have several characteristics that differ from most
terrestrial channels. These characteristics may degrade the
performance of TCP. These characteristics include:
Long feedback loop
Due to the propagation delay of some satellite channels (e.g.,
approximately 250 ms over a geosynchronous satellite) it may take
a long time for a TCP sender to determine whether or not a packet
has been successfully received at the final destination. This
delay hurts interactive applications such as telnet, as well as
some of the TCP congestion control algorithms (see section 4).
Large delay*bandwidth product
The delay*bandwidth product (DBP) defines the amount of data a
protocol should have "in flight" (data that has been transmitted,
but not yet acknowledged) at any one time to fully utilize the
available channel capacity. The delay used in this equation is
the RTT and the bandwidth is the capacity of the bottleneck link
in the network path. Because the delay in some satellite
environments is large, TCP will need to keep a large number of
packets "in flight" (that is, sent but not yet acknowledged) .
Satellite channels exhibit a higher bit-error rate (BER) than
typical terrestrial networks. TCP uses all packet drops as
signals of network congestion and reduces its window size in an
attempt to alleviate the congestion. In the absence of knowledge
about why a packet was dropped (congestion or corruption), TCP
must assume the drop was due to network congestion to avoid
congestion collapse [Jac88] [FF98]. Therefore, packets dropped
due to corruption cause TCP to reduce the size of its sliding
window, even though these packet drops do not signal congestion in
Due to the expense of the equipment used to send data to
satellites, asymmetric satellite networks are often constructed.
For example, a host connected to a satellite network will send all
outgoing traffic over a slow terrestrial link (such as a dialup
modem channel) and receive incoming traffic via the satellite
channel. Another common situation arises when both the incoming
and outgoing traffic are sent using a satellite link, but the
uplink has less available capacity than the downlink due to the
expense of the transmitter required to provide a high bandwidth
back channel. This asymmetry may have an impact on TCP
Variable Round Trip Times
In some satellite environments, such as low-Earth orbit (LEO)
constellations, the propagation delay to and from the satellite
varies over time. Whether or not this will have an impact on TCP
performance is currently an open question.
In non-GSO satellite orbit configurations, TCP connections must be
transferred from one satellite to another or from one ground
station to another from time to time. This handoff may cause
packet loss if not properly performed.
Most satellite channels only exhibit a subset of the above
characteristics. Furthermore, satellite networks are not the only
environments where the above characteristics are found. However,
satellite networks do tend to exhibit more of the above problems or
the above problems are aggravated in the satellite environment. The
mechanisms outlined in this document should benefit most networks,
especially those with one or more of the above characteristics (e.g.,
gigabit networks have large delay*bandwidth products).
3. Lower Level Mitigations
It is recommended that those utilizing satellite channels in their
networks should use the following two non-TCP mechanisms which can
increase TCP performance. These mechanisms are Path MTU Discovery
and forward error correction (FEC) and are outlined in the following
The data link layer protocol employed over a satellite channel can
have a large impact on performance of higher layer protocols. While
beyond the scope of this document, those constructing satellite
networks should tune these protocols in an appropriate manner to
ensure that the data link protocol does not limit TCP performance.
In particular, data link layer protocols often implement a flow
control window and retransmission mechanisms. When the link level
window size is too small, performance will suffer just as when the
TCP window size is too small (see section 4.3 for a discussion of
appropriate window sizes). The impact that link level
retransmissions have on TCP transfers is not currently well
understood. The interaction between TCP retransmissions and link
level retransmissions is a subject for further research.
3.1 Path MTU Discovery
Path MTU discovery [MD90] is used to determine the maximum packet
size a connection can use on a given network path without being
subjected to IP fragmentation. The sender transmits a packet that is
the appropriate size for the local network to which it is connected
(e.g., 1500 bytes on an Ethernet) and sets the IP "don't fragment"
(DF) bit. If the packet is too large to be forwarded without being
fragmented to a given channel along the network path, the gateway
that would normally fragment the packet and forward the fragments
will instead return an ICMP message to the originator of the packet.
The ICMP message will indicate that the original segment could not be
transmitted without being fragmented and will also contain the size
of the largest packet that can be forwarded by the gateway.
Additional information from the IESG regarding Path MTU discovery is
available in [Kno93].
Path MTU Discovery allows TCP to use the largest possible packet
size, without incurring the cost of fragmentation and reassembly.
Large packets reduce the packet overhead by sending more data bytes
per overhead byte. As outlined in section 4, increasing TCP's
congestion window is segment based, rather than byte based and
therefore, larger segments enable TCP senders to increase the
congestion window more rapidly, in terms of bytes, than smaller
The disadvantage of Path MTU Discovery is that it may cause a delay
before TCP is able to start sending data. For example, assume a
packet is sent with the DF bit set and one of the intervening
gateways (G1) returns an ICMP message indicating that it cannot
forward the segment. At this point, the sending host reduces the
packet size per the ICMP message returned by G1 and sends another
packet with the DF bit set. The packet will be forwarded by G1,
however this does not ensure all subsequent gateways in the network
path will be able to forward the segment. If a second gateway (G2)
cannot forward the segment it will return an ICMP message to the
transmitting host and the process will be repeated. Therefore, path
MTU discovery can spend a large amount of time determining the
maximum allowable packet size on the network path between the sender
and receiver. Satellite delays can aggravate this problem (consider
the case when the channel between G1 and G2 is a satellite link).
However, in practice, Path MTU Discovery does not consume a large
amount of time due to wide support of common MTU values.
Additionally, caching MTU values may be able to eliminate discovery
time in many instances, although the exact implementation of this and
the aging of cached values remains an open problem.
The relationship between BER and segment size is likely to vary
depending on the error characteristics of the given channel. This
relationship deserves further study, however with the use of good
forward error correction (see section 3.2) larger segments should
provide better performance, as with any network [MSMO97]. While the
exact method for choosing the best MTU for a satellite link is
outside the scope of this document, the use of Path MTU Discovery is
recommended to allow TCP to use the largest possible MTU over the
3.2 Forward Error Correction
A loss event in TCP is always interpreted as an indication of
congestion and always causes TCP to reduce its congestion window
size. Since the congestion window grows based on returning
acknowledgments (see section 4), TCP spends a long time recovering
from loss when operating in satellite networks. When packet loss is
due to corruption, rather than congestion, TCP does not need to
reduce its congestion window size. However, at the present time
detecting corruption loss is a research issue.
Therefore, for TCP to operate efficiently, the channel
characteristics should be such that nearly all loss is due to network
congestion. The use of forward error correction coding (FEC) on a
satellite link should be used to improve the bit-error rate (BER) of
the satellite channel. Reducing the BER is not always possible in
satellite environments. However, since TCP takes a long time to
recover from lost packets because the long propagation delay imposed
by a satellite link delays feedback from the receiver [PS97], the
link should be made as clean as possible to prevent TCP connections
from receiving false congestion signals. This document does not make
a specific BER recommendation for TCP other than it should be as low
FEC should not be expected to fix all problems associated with noisy
satellite links. There are some situations where FEC cannot be
expected to solve the noise problem (such as military jamming, deep
space missions, noise caused by rain fade, etc.). In addition, link
outages can also cause problems in satellite systems that do not
occur as frequently in terrestrial networks. Finally, FEC is not
without cost. FEC requires additional hardware and uses some of the
available bandwidth. It can add delay and timing jitter due to the
processing time of the coder/decoder.
Further research is needed into mechanisms that allow TCP to
differentiate between congestion induced drops and those caused by
corruption. Such a mechanism would allow TCP to respond to
congestion in an appropriate manner, as well as repairing corruption
induced loss without reducing the transmission rate. However, in the
absence of such a mechanism packet loss must be assumed to indicate
congestion to preserve network stability. Incorrectly interpreting
loss as caused by corruption and not reducing the transmission rate
accordingly can lead to congestive collapse [Jac88] [FF98].
4. Standard TCP Mechanisms
This section outlines TCP mechanisms that may be necessary in
satellite or hybrid satellite/terrestrial networks to better utilize
the available capacity of the link. These mechanisms may also be
needed to fully utilize fast terrestrial channels. Furthermore,
these mechanisms do not fundamentally hurt performance in a shared
terrestrial network. Each of the following sections outlines one
mechanism and why that mechanism may be needed.
4.1 Congestion Control
To avoid generating an inappropriate amount of network traffic for
the current network conditions, during a connection TCP employs four
congestion control mechanisms [Jac88] [Jac90] [Ste97]. These
algorithms are slow start, congestion avoidance, fast retransmit and
fast recovery. These algorithms are used to adjust the amount of
unacknowledged data that can be injected into the network and to
retransmit segments dropped by the network.
TCP senders use two state variables to accomplish congestion control.
The first variable is the congestion window (cwnd). This is an upper
bound on the amount of data the sender can inject into the network
before receiving an acknowledgment (ACK). The value of cwnd is
limited to the receiver's advertised window. The congestion window
is increased or decreased during the transfer based on the inferred
amount of congestion present in the network. The second variable is
the slow start threshold (ssthresh). This variable determines which
algorithm is used to increase the value of cwnd. If cwnd is less
than ssthresh the slow start algorithm is used to increase the value
of cwnd. However, if cwnd is greater than or equal to (or just
greater than in some TCP implementations) ssthresh the congestion
avoidance algorithm is used. The initial value of ssthresh is the
receiver's advertised window size. Furthermore, the value of
ssthresh is set when congestion is detected.
The four congestion control algorithms are outlined below, followed
by a brief discussion of the impact of satellite environments on
4.1.1 Slow Start and Congestion Avoidance
When a host begins sending data on a TCP connection the host has no
knowledge of the current state of the network between itself and the
data receiver. In order to avoid transmitting an inappropriately
large burst of traffic, the data sender is required to use the slow
start algorithm at the beginning of a transfer [Jac88] [Bra89]
[Ste97]. Slow start begins by initializing cwnd to 1 segment
(although an IETF experimental mechanism would increase the size of
the initial window to roughly 4 Kbytes [AFP98]) and ssthresh to the
receiver's advertised window. This forces TCP to transmit one
segment and wait for the corresponding ACK. For each ACK that is
received during slow start, the value of cwnd is increased by 1
segment. For example, after the first ACK is received cwnd will be 2
segments and the sender will be allowed to transmit 2 data packets.
This continues until cwnd meets or exceeds ssthresh (or, in some
implementations when cwnd equals ssthresh), or loss is detected.
When the value of cwnd is greater than or equal to (or equal to in
certain implementations) ssthresh the congestion avoidance algorithm
is used to increase cwnd [Jac88] [Bra89] [Ste97]. This algorithm
increases the size of cwnd more slowly than does slow start.
Congestion avoidance is used to slowly probe the network for
additional capacity. During congestion avoidance, cwnd is increased
by 1/cwnd for each incoming ACK. Therefore, if one ACK is received
for every data segment, cwnd will increase by roughly 1 segment per
round-trip time (RTT).
The slow start and congestion control algorithms can force poor
utilization of the available channel bandwidth when using long-delay
satellite networks [All97]. For example, transmission begins with
the transmission of one segment. After the first segment is
transmitted the data sender is forced to wait for the corresponding
ACK. When using a GSO satellite this leads to an idle time of
roughly 500 ms when no useful work is being accomplished. Therefore,
slow start takes more real time over GSO satellites than on typical
terrestrial channels. This holds for congestion avoidance, as well
[All97]. This is precisely why Path MTU Discovery is an important
algorithm. While the number of segments we transmit is determined by
the congestion control algorithms, the size of these segments is not.
Therefore, using larger packets will enable TCP to send more data per
segment which yields better channel utilization.
4.1.2 Fast Retransmit and Fast Recovery
TCP's default mechanism to detect dropped segments is a timeout
[Pos81]. In other words, if the sender does not receive an ACK for a
given packet within the expected amount of time the segment will be
retransmitted. The retransmission timeout (RTO) is based on
observations of the RTT. In addition to retransmitting a segment
when the RTO expires, TCP also uses the lost segment as an indication
of congestion in the network. In response to the congestion, the
value of ssthresh is set to half of the cwnd and the value of cwnd is
then reduced to 1 segment. This triggers the use of the slow start
algorithm to increase cwnd until the value of cwnd reaches half of
its value when congestion was detected. After the slow start phase,
the congestion avoidance algorithm is used to probe the network for
TCP ACKs always acknowledge the highest in-order segment that has
arrived. Therefore an ACK for segment X also effectively ACKs all
segments < X. Furthermore, if a segment arrives out-of-order the ACK
triggered will be for the highest in-order segment, rather than the
segment that just arrived. For example, assume segment 11 has been
dropped somewhere in the network and segment 12 arrives at the
receiver. The receiver is going to send a duplicate ACK covering
segment 10 (and all previous segments).
The fast retransmit algorithm uses these duplicate ACKs to detect
lost segments. If 3 duplicate ACKs arrive at the data originator,
TCP assumes that a segment has been lost and retransmits the missing
segment without waiting for the RTO to expire. After a segment is
resent using fast retransmit, the fast recovery algorithm is used to
adjust the congestion window. First, the value of ssthresh is set to
half of the value of cwnd. Next, the value of cwnd is halved.
Finally, the value of cwnd is artificially increased by 1 segment for
each duplicate ACK that has arrived. The artificial inflation can be
done because each duplicate ACK represents 1 segment that has left
the network. When the cwnd permits, TCP is able to transmit new
data. This allows TCP to keep data flowing through the network at
half the rate it was when loss was detected. When an ACK for the
retransmitted packet arrives, the value of cwnd is reduced back to
ssthresh (half the value of cwnd when the congestion was detected).
Generally, fast retransmit can resend only one segment per window of
data sent. When multiple segments are lost in a given window of
data, one of the segments will be resent using fast retransmit and
the rest of the dropped segments must usually wait for the RTO to
expire, which causes TCP to revert to slow start.
TCP's response to congestion differs based on the way the congestion
is detected. If the retransmission timer causes a packet to be
resent, TCP drops ssthresh to half the current cwnd and reduces the
value of cwnd to 1 segment (thus triggering slow start). However, if
a segment is resent via fast retransmit both ssthresh and cwnd are
set to half the current value of cwnd and congestion avoidance is
used to send new data. The difference is that when retransmitting
due to duplicate ACKs, TCP knows that packets are still flowing
through the network and can therefore infer that the congestion is
not that bad. However, when resending a packet due to the expiration
of the retransmission timer, TCP cannot infer anything about the
state of the network and therefore must proceed conservatively by
sending new data using the slow start algorithm.
Note that the fast retransmit/fast recovery algorithms, as discussed
above can lead to a phenomenon that allows multiple fast retransmits
per window of data [Flo94]. This can reduce the size of the
congestion window multiple times in response to a single "loss
event". The problem is particularly noticeable in connections that
utilize large congestion windows, since these connections are able to
inject enough new segments into the network during recovery to
trigger the multiple fast retransmits. Reducing cwnd multiple times
for a single loss event may hurt performance [GJKFV98].
The best way to improve the fast retransmit/fast recovery algorithms
is to use a selective acknowledgment (SACK) based algorithm for loss
recovery. As discussed below, these algorithms are generally able to
quickly recover from multiple lost segments without needlessly
reducing the value of cwnd. In the absence of SACKs, the fast
retransmit and fast recovery algorithms should be used. Fixing these
algorithms to achieve better performance in the face of multiple fast
retransmissions is beyond the scope of this document. Therefore, TCP
implementers are advised to implement the current version of fast
retransmit/fast recovery outlined in RFC 2001 [Ste97] or subsequent
versions of RFC 2001.
4.1.3 Congestion Control in Satellite Environment
The above algorithms have a negative impact on the performance of
individual TCP connection's performance because the algorithms slowly
probe the network for additional capacity, which in turn wastes
bandwidth. This is especially true over long-delay satellite
channels because of the large amount of time required for the sender
to obtain feedback from the receiver [All97] [AHKO97]. However, the
algorithms are necessary to prevent congestive collapse in a shared
network [Jac88]. Therefore, the negative impact on a given
connection is more than offset by the benefit to the entire network.
4.2 Large TCP Windows
The standard maximum TCP window size (65,535 bytes) is not adequate
to allow a single TCP connection to utilize the entire bandwidth
available on some satellite channels. TCP throughput is limited by
the following formula [Pos81]:
throughput = window size / RTT
Therefore, using the maximum window size of 65,535 bytes and a
geosynchronous satellite channel RTT of 560 ms [Kru95] the maximum
throughput is limited to:
throughput = 65,535 bytes / 560 ms = 117,027 bytes/second
Therefore, a single standard TCP connection cannot fully utilize, for
example, T1 rate (approximately 192,000 bytes/second) GSO satellite
channels. However, TCP has been extended to support larger windows
[JBB92]. The window scaling options outlined in [JBB92] should be
used in satellite environments, as well as the companion algorithms
PAWS (Protection Against Wrapped Sequence space) and RTTM (Round-Trip
It should be noted that for a satellite link shared among many flows,
large windows may not be necessary. For instance, two long-lived TCP
connections each using a window of 65,535 bytes, as in the above
example, can fully utilize a T1 GSO satellite channel.
Using large windows often requires both client and server
applications or TCP stacks to be hand tuned (usually by an expert) to
utilize large windows. Research into operating system mechanisms
that are able to adjust the buffer capacity as dictated by the
current network conditions is currently underway [SMM98]. This will
allow stock TCP implementations and applications to better utilize
the capacity provided by the underlying network.
4.3 Acknowledgment Strategies
There are two standard methods that can be used by TCP receivers to
generated acknowledgments. The method outlined in [Pos81] generates
an ACK for each incoming segment. [Bra89] states that hosts SHOULD
use "delayed acknowledgments". Using this algorithm, an ACK is
generated for every second full-sized segment, or if a second full-
size segment does not arrive within a given timeout (which must not
exceed 500 ms). The congestion window is increased based on the
number of incoming ACKs and delayed ACKs reduce the number of ACKs
being sent by the receiver. Therefore, cwnd growth occurs much more
slowly when using delayed ACKs compared to the case when the receiver
ACKs each incoming segment [All98].
A tempting "fix" to the problem caused by delayed ACKs is to simply
turn the mechanism off and let the receiver ACK each incoming
segment. However, this is not recommended. First, [Bra89] says that
a TCP receiver SHOULD generate delayed ACKs. And, second, increasing
the number of ACKs by a factor of two in a shared network may have
consequences that are not yet understood. Therefore, disabling
delayed ACKs is still a research issue and thus, at this time TCP
receivers should continue to generate delayed ACKs, per [Bra89].
4.4 Selective Acknowledgments
Selective acknowledgments (SACKs) [MMFR96] allow TCP receivers to
inform TCP senders exactly which packets have arrived. SACKs allow
TCP to recover more quickly from lost segments, as well as avoiding
The fast retransmit algorithm can generally only repair one loss per
window of data. When multiple losses occur, the sender generally
must rely on a timeout to determine which segment needs to be
retransmitted next. While waiting for a timeout, the data segments
and their acknowledgments drain from the network. In the absence of
incoming ACKs to clock new segments into the network, the sender must
use the slow start algorithm to restart transmission. As discussed
above, the slow start algorithm can be time consuming over satellite
channels. When SACKs are employed, the sender is generally able to
determine which segments need to be retransmitted in the first RTT
following loss detection. This allows the sender to continue to
transmit segments (retransmissions and new segments, if appropriate)
at an appropriate rate and therefore sustain the ACK clock. This
avoids a costly slow start period following multiple lost segments.
Generally SACK is able to retransmit all dropped segments within the
first RTT following the loss detection. [MM96] and [FF96] discuss
specific congestion control algorithms that rely on SACK information
to determine which segments need to be retransmitted and when it is
appropriate to transmit those segments. Both these algorithms follow
the basic principles of congestion control outlined in [Jac88] and
reduce the window by half when congestion is detected.
5. Mitigation Summary
Table 1 summarizes the mechanisms that have been discussed in this
document. Those mechanisms denoted "Recommended" are IETF standards
track mechanisms that are recommended by the authors for use in
networks containing satellite channels. Those mechanisms marked
"Required' have been defined by the IETF as required for hosts using
the shared Internet [Bra89]. Along with the section of this document
containing the discussion of each mechanism, we note where the
mechanism needs to be implemented. The codes listed in the last
column are defined as follows: "S" for the data sender, "R" for the
data receiver and "L" for the satellite link.
Mechanism Use Section Where
| Path-MTU Discovery | Recommended | 3.1 | S |
| FEC | Recommended | 3.2 | L |
| TCP Congestion Control | | | |
| Slow Start | Required | 4.1.1 | S |
| Congestion Avoidance | Required | 4.1.1 | S |
| Fast Retransmit | Recommended | 4.1.2 | S |
| Fast Recovery | Recommended | 4.1.2 | S |
| TCP Large Windows | | | |
| Window Scaling | Recommended | 4.2 | S,R |
| PAWS | Recommended | 4.2 | S,R |
| RTTM | Recommended | 4.2 | S,R |
| TCP SACKs | Recommended | 4.4 | S,R |
Satellite users should check with their TCP vendors (implementors) to
ensure the recommended mechanisms are supported in their stack in
current and/or future versions. Alternatively, the Pittsburgh
Supercomputer Center tracks TCP implementations and which extensions
they support, as well as providing guidance on tuning various TCP
Research into improving the efficiency of TCP over satellite channels
is ongoing and will be summarized in a planned memo along with other
considerations, such as satellite network architectures.
6. Security Considerations
The authors believe that the recommendations contained in this memo
do not alter the security implications of TCP. However, when using a
broadcast medium such as satellites links to transfer user data
and/or network control traffic, one should be aware of the intrinsic
security implications of such technology.
Eavesdropping on network links is a form of passive attack that, if
performed successfully, could reveal critical traffic control
information that would jeopardize the proper functioning of the
network. These attacks could reduce the ability of the network to
provide data transmission services efficiently. Eavesdroppers could
also compromise the privacy of user data, especially if end-to-end
security mechanisms are not in use. While passive monitoring can
occur on any network, the wireless broadcast nature of satellite
links allows reception of signals without physical connection to the
network which enables monitoring to be conducted without detection.
However, it should be noted that the resources needed to monitor a
satellite link are non-trivial.
Data encryption at the physical and/or link layers can provide secure
communication over satellite channels. However, this still leaves
traffic vulnerable to eavesdropping on networks before and after
traversing the satellite link. Therefore, end-to-end security
mechanisms should be considered. This document does not make any
recommendations as to which security mechanisms should be employed.
However, those operating and using satellite networks should survey
the currently available network security mechanisms and choose those
that meet their security requirements.
This document has benefited from comments from the members of the TCP
Over Satellite Working Group. In particular, we would like to thank
Aaron Falk, Matthew Halsey, Hans Kruse, Matt Mathis, Greg Nakanishi,
Vern Paxson, Jeff Semke, Bill Sepmeier and Eric Travis for their
useful comments about this document.
[AFP98] Allman, M., Floyd, S. and C. Partridge, "Increasing TCP's
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Communication Layers", STD 3, RFC 1122, October 1989.
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of Tahoe, Reno and SACK TCP. Computer Communication
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High Performance", RFC 1323, May 1992.
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[Kno93] Knowles, S., "IESG Advice from Experience with Path MTU
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[Mar78] James Martin. Communications Satellite Systems. Prentice
[MD90] Mogul, J. and S. Deering, "Path MTU Discovery", RFC 1191,
[MM96] Matt Mathis and Jamshid Mahdavi. Forward Acknowledgment:
Refining TCP Congestion Control. In ACM SIGCOMM, 1996.
[MMFR96] Mathis, M., Mahdavi, J., Floyd, S. and A. Romanow, "TCP
Selective Acknowledgment Options", RFC 2018, October 1996.
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793, September 1981.
[PS97] Craig Partridge and Tim Shepard. TCP Performance Over
Satellite Links. IEEE Network, 11(5), September/October
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on Hosts. http://www.psc.edu/networking/perf_tune.html.
[SMM98] Jeff Semke, Jamshid Mahdavi and Matt Mathis. Automatic TCP
Buffer Tuning. In ACM SIGCOMM, August 1998. To appear.
[Sta94] William Stallings. Data and Computer Communications.
MacMillian, 4th edition, 1994.
[Ste97] Stevens, W., "TCP Slow Start, Congestion Avoidance, Fast
Retransmit, and Fast Recovery Algorithms", RFC 2001,January
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