BT boffins are modelling mobile networking technology on the behaviour of fruit flies.
Researchers have found the way the fruit fly grows its exoskeleton gives useful pointers to how to get the most out of mobile phone antennas.
Base stations suffer from interference if two antennas close to each other are being used at the same time, but at the moment there is no effective way of controlling them.
Speaking at an IBM conference on "autonomous" computing systems, Mark Shackleton, a BTexact research labs project manager, said engineers could learn much from nature, which has evolved strategies to cope with dynamic and unpredictable environments.
The fruit flies can monitor, control, heal and protect themselves, a lesson which helps telecoms engineers configure the confusing range of mobile phones in each company's base stations, he said.
When a fruit fly develops an exoskeleton, its back needs some cells to develop and it also needs to grow sensory bristles. If it develops too many bristles the fly's skeleton is too weak, but if it has too much exoskeleton it is too heavy.
Fruit flies lack a central system that dictates which cells will develop into exoskeleton and which into bristles, but each cell holds the potential for both. When the cell starts to develop, it sends a chemical message to its neighbour not to grow in a way that conflicts.
According to Shackleton, if you design a base station to do the same thing you get a decentralised model, in which each part settles with its partners, works and comes up with a useful plan which minimises interference.
"Which antennas use which frequencies would no longer be BT's problem. The antennas could simply work it out among themselves," said Shackleton.
Such a system has a practical application for network security, as a computer or service can be set up to occasionally check its neighbours' status. When a computer has an unresponsive neighbour, it goes on alert and sends other computers into a cautious state. This cautious state could be used to quarantine a virus infection.
He added, however, that a fruit fly system would require network managers to hand over a lot more control to the automatic systems in their network.
"We must be willing to give up a certain amount of control, at least of detailed control, in order to let these self-regulating systems succeed," Shackleton said.
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