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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Timing-sync Protocol for Sensor Networks


Wireless ad-hoc sensor networks have emerged as an interesting and important research area in the last few years. The applications envisioned for such networks require collaborative execution of a distributed task amongst a large set of sensor nodes. This is realized by exchanging messages that are timestamped using the local clocks on the nodes. Therefore, time synchronization becomes an indispensable piece of infrastructure in such systems. For years, protocols such as NTP have kept the clocks of networked systems in perfect synchrony. However, this new class of networks has a large density of nodes and very limited energy resource at every node; this leads to scalability requirements while limiting the resources that can be used to achieve them. A new approach to time synchronization is needed for sensor networks.

In this paper, we present Timing-sync Protocol for Sensor Networks (TPSN) that aims at providing network-wide time synchronization in a sensor network. The algorithm works in two steps. In the first step, a hierarchical structure is established in the network and then a pair wise synchronization is performed along the edges of this structure to establish a global timescale throughout the network. Eventually all nodes in the network synchronize their clocks to a reference node. We implement our algorithm on Berkeley motes and show that it can synchronize a pair of neighboring motes to an average accuracy of less than 20μs. We argue that TPSN roughly gives a 2x better performance as compared to Reference Broadcast Synchronization (RBS) and verify this by implementing RBS on motes. We also show the performance of TPSN over small multihop networks of motes and use simulations to verify its accuracy over large-scale networks. We show that the synchronization accuracy does not degrade significantly with the increase in number of nodes being deployed, making TPSN completely scalable.

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