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Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) Future of Wireless Applications

Singaravelu Ambikapathi
asingaravelu@gmail.com

Synopsis
This paper presents the concepts of Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs), applications based on the
WSNs, constraints in the implementation and most importantly the business aspects of it. Like cloud
computing this is one of the technologies that were introduced few decades ago but evolving recently and
considered to be emerging as predominant computer technologies in the future. There were plenty of
reasons why it did not attract the prime market and the same has been rectified over the years which are
emphasized in this paper. Recently, WSNs opened up a big room for the researchers to innovate and
experiment new things and most of the companies are looking forward to the WSNs based applications
not just because it is cost effective but also it saves an enormous amount of energy. Wireless Sensor
Networks will eventually enable the automatic monitoring of forest fires, avalanches, hurricanes, industrial
automation, environments, military and defense, failure of country wide utility equipment, traffic, hospitals
and much more over wide areas. All these constitute WSNs as one of the promising technologies in the
years to come.

Abstract
There is a plenty of research going on in this area of Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) over the past few
decades. Wireless Sensor Networks took the back seat in the past years due to the size of the sensors
(shoe box sized ones) needed to be implemented. In the recent years, not only the sizes of the sensors
have come down but also the advancement in the communication technologies made it a viable
technology for applications and business. In the next few pages, this paper presents the higher level
architecture of the Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs), history of the WSNs and how its been evolved
from an idea to an extent of getting standardized. This paper will discuss the emerging domains in which
WSNs can be effectively implemented. Mere development of an application would not suffice, though the
obstacles prevented it from implementing are brought down still there are challenges which need to be
noticed and addressed to have an application healthy with respective to the security aspects, make sure
its up and running efficiently since it dynamically forms the ad hoc network unlike the wired conventional
networks. It will give you an idea about how the world eyes this technology and the applications based on
WSNs. This paper also discusses the future business expectations on WSNs.
Keywords : WSNs, Standards, Architecture, Applications, Challenges and Business

Introduction to Wireless Sensor Network (WSN)


Wireless Sensor networks consist of numerous small sensors spread over the range of area or mounted
or inbuilt within a mobile object and communicates with each other to form the network wirelessly. WSNs
can provide two kinds of networks, static or dynamic. For the environmental applications like forest fire

detection, environmental monitoring and health care applications network can be mostly static type as the
sensors can be placed in fixed locations at particular distances and also proactive algorithms can be
chosen but when it comes to traffic, military based applications network has to be formed dynamically in
real time since variable parameters need to be captured for the efficient and effective implementation of
an applications.
Fig.1 shows the basic structure of a Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs). In the illustration multiple sensor
nodes, also called motes, are placed on various locations that communicate with each other and also to
the internet through the gateway. In large area sensor networks data packets transmission has to be
routed from data source to the destination, so the node also do the work of passing the information to the
adjacent nodes besides collecting and processing the data. The combination of microcontroller,
transceiver, external memory, power sources are called as a mote. Conventional wired network works in
the principle of client-server model with client sending the request and the response comes from the
server where as in WSNs the communication happens on the event-driven basis.

Fig 1. Basic Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs)


The development of sensor networks requires technologies from three different research areas: sensing,
communication and computing. It can also be represented by a simple equation below.
Sensing + CPU + Radio = Thousands of potential applications

WSNs are majorly used for monitoring an environment and reflect or communicate the data to the GUI or
the end user. Moreover it does not require brand new physical system to implement the applications of
WSNs rather just adding a sensor to the existing physical infrastructures can form a sensor network. It
has got a plenty of advantages over the wired network with respective to the physical complexities and
cost.

Standards and Architecture


IEEE has defined few standards for the radio communication. One of the standards for wireless LAN,
IEEE 802.11, which covers the physical and data link layer, describes basic service set (BSS) as the
building block for wireless network. It consists of mobile or stationary wireless stations and an optional

central base station, called as Access Point (AP). Suppose if the network works without an Access Point
that becomes a standalone network which can communicate with stations in the same BSS and not
across the other BSS. Conversely, if an Access point present in the network that acts as an infrastructure
network and communicate across the network. In order to reduce the dependency of the system on a
single node, the protocol gives a solution of forming Extended Service Set (ESS) through which every
BSS can connect to the Distributed System. Though IEEE 802.11 standard has higher data rates the
power requirements are considerably high which could be handled by the IEEE 802.15.1 and .2, used in
Bluetooth, which supports the connectivity of seven motes to a single base station. IEEE 802.15.4
standard was specifically designed for the requirements of Wireless applications. This can accept the
data rates of 20 Kbps (868 MHz Band), 40 Kbps (902 MHz band) and 250 Kbps (2.4 GHz band) also
supports the star and mesh network connections. Along with above mentioned standards the ZigBee
Alliance is an association of companies working together to enable reliable, cost-effective, low-power,
wirelessly networked monitoring and control products based on an open global standard. The ZigBee
alliance specifies the IEEE 802.15.4 as the physical and MAC layer. Also IEEE 1451 standardizes the
interface of sensors to a wireless network. Various routing algorithms can be used in WSNs for the data
communication which has been showcased in the Fig. 7 (Annexure).
According to the components involved in the network, the application can be classified into three
categories namely sensor application, node application and network application. Sensor application
directly deals with the hardware components and the operating system. This also gives the input to the
node application. Node applications act as middleware in maintaining the network functions like routing,
self localization and discovering services, etc. The sensor network application describes the main tasks
and required services of the entire network without assigning any tasks or services to individual nodes.

Fig. 2 Structure of a sensor network and node application


Middleware is a layer with the operating system and sensor application on one side and distributed
network application on the other side. The primary purpose of the middleware is to separate the
complexity of the sensor application which includes memory management. In order to have a global
system, all the nodes have to be implemented with a generic middleware which results in less complex
interfaces. Since WSNs work on the real time basis, time and location are the major constraints which are

to concentrated more to produce the high level sensing result. So the Middleware has to tightly integrate
the time and location into its infrastructure.
First Operating System designed specifically for the sensor networking is the TinyOS. Application based
on this follows the even driven programming model. Though it has started with First-In-First-Out
scheduling algorithm, later it has been improvised to support Earliest Deadline First (EDF) scheduling
algorithm. Currently, lots of other Operating Systems have also been developed and under development
to improve the performance of the sensor networks. The summary of the list of operating systems
presented in Table 2 (Annexure).

Applications
Health Care Monitoring
One of the most important sector in which WSNs are expected to leave its footprint is Health care. The
domain itself rising towards north in information technology industry, WSNs have started adding lots of
value to it. Fig.3 shows how the sensor based devices can be placed in various parts of the human body
and sense various required parameters at the particular time and compare against the preset values,
which can be monitored by the Nursing station. This kind of monitoring of the patients, based on the
WSNs have been working successfully for the hospitals and no wonder all the major health care giants
will start using it widely, soon.

Fig. 3 Sensor devices placed at various part of the human body for monitoring
Chronic diseases contribute to 75 percent of medical care costs in the US (Ref. 3). In many cases,
chronic diseases require some kind of health monitoring, especially in later stages of the disease
progression. At the same time, not all the patients need to be monitored continuously, so this can be
categorized as Episodic patient monitoring for non-critical patients, Continuous patient monitoring for the
patients who needs constant monitoring and patient alarm monitoring for critical patients based on the
preset conditions that are specific to the patient and the disease. Based on the application that we design
one can optimize it to trigger an alert to a mobile device through the gateway. This is one of the kinds of
technology which can potentially reshape the medical and fitness industries.

Industrial automation

Lots of industries have actually started looking into the sensor networks for their entire process monitoring
and making it automated. It provides them a platform for efficient automatic control of entire unit sans
much human intervention, lowering cost and improves the maintainability. Besides, Sensor Based
Services (SBS) used for implementing on-line quality control, it helps the industries to monitor the health
of the equipments by sensing the vibration, wear and lubrication levels and sensors can also be placed in
the regions which are inaccessible by humans. Fig.4 shows the prototype model of the industrial sensor
based application. In a typical industry it can be used for various functions like vibration monitoring,
corrosion monitoring, pollution monitoring, tank level monitoring, leak detection, safety shower monitoring,
leak detection et al. Chart 1 (Annexure) depicts the usage of the WSNs in variety of industrial
applications.

Fig. 4 Prototype of industrial process control using SBS

Traffic based applications


Monitoring of the traffic controls using the cameras is limited only to few important critical junctions
because of the complexities and cost involved in the conventional method. Usually the image or the video
has to be captured through camera and send to the human operator at central locations. Besides that the
communication networks that connect them are costly. Implementation of inexpensive sensors would give
better control of traffic control monitoring. Since cheap sensors can be placed at every individual road
junctions, it can communicate with neighbors which has sensor present at the adjacent signals and forms
ad hoc network. This network shares information on vehicle traffic and estimates its speed and also it
could communicate with base station. Based on which human operator or automatic controller can
generate the control signal. This gives an opportunity to virtually create a picture of the entire traffic
network and traffic might be planned accordingly. Taking this usage to the next level, sensors can be
attached to each vehicle and each vehicle monitors the locally observed traffic situation, such as density
and average speed, using onboard sensors and the results are transferred via wireless data-link through
the network.

Thanks to the growth of the automotive industry, the demand for intelligent parking service is expected to
grow rapidly in the near future. There is a big room of opportunity in the area of automatic management of
parking lot by accurate monitoring using WSNs and providing the information to the driver and to the
central control authorities. Moreover, information gathered by each node can be collaboratively processed
in a distributed or centralized way to evaluate other meaningful metrics such as duration of parking,
automatic billing and payment, etc., to the benefit of users and administrators

Other Applications in brief


Military and defense based applications
Research in these application areas were acted as a driving force for the initial implementations of
wireless sensor networks. Many agencies had started their research in Distributed Sensor Networks
during 1980s. Wireless sensor networks can be an integral part of military command, control,
communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting systems. Some of
the military applications using sensor networks are monitoring friendly forces, equipment and ammunition,
battlefield surveillance, reconnaissance of opposing forces and terrain, targeting, battle damage
assessment, nuclear, biological and chemical attack detection and reconnaissance.

Environmental and habitat monitoring


Sensor based services have a huge role to play in this sector as there are lots of variable parameters
need to be monitored and analyzed over a wide range of area. Its primarily used for vegetations
response to the climate changes and diseases. As the sensors can be placed in hardly accessible areas,
it can be used in natural disaster management, chemical and biological changes in the eco system, forest
fire detections, monitor the pesticides level in the drinking water, the level of soil erosion, and the level of
air pollution in real time.

Miscellaneous Applications
Apart from the application areas mentioned above it can also be implemented in infrastructure
management systems for internal security, temperature measurements and building a smart building. The
pentagon building has used sensors extensively. The high-tech HVAC system is equipped with sensors
that measure the temperature. An automated building system monitors the air conditioning, water cooling,
heating, fire alarm, and generation systems in parallel. Consequently, energy can be saved as only as
few systems are turned on as needed. Much research is going on in the area of mobility and gaming
sector which is expected to roll out the red carpet for WSNs.

Challenges
Complexities in Ad hoc Networks
Ad hoc and sensor networks are formed by autonomous nodes communicating via radio without any
additional backbone infrastructure. Unlike traditional wired networks, sensor networks are entirely selforganizing and operate with extremely limited energy and computational resources. To limit energy
consumption it is desirable for nodes to minimize their load by bringing down the computations happening

at the node level to achieve acceptable connectivity without inducing network interference. Since the
network is formed in real time automatic choosing of an efficient topology for the network plays a vital
role.
Security
The medium of communication between the nodes are wireless which is very much prone to intrusion.
Since the range in which network forms is open to all, hacking can happen by just introducing a new
node. So there should have been some prerequisite at the node level to alert the base station when there
is some intrusion. Also the sensor can be placed in hard environments and the same has to be protected
against any hostile situations.
Besides the standard security requirements, such as availability, integrity and others WSNs have to cover
special kind of security requirements like intrusion, detection message freshness et al.

Treat

Layer

Jamming
Tampering
Exhausting
Collision
Route information
manipulating
Selective forwarding
Sybil attack
Sinkhole
Wormhole
Hallo flood
Flooding
Clone attack

Physical
Link

Defense techniques
Spread-spectrum, lower duty cycle
Tamper-proofing, effective key
management schemes
Rate limitation
Error correcting code

Authentication, encryption
Redundancy, Probing
Authentication
Authentication, Monitoring,
redundancy
Flexible routing, monitoring
Two-way authentication, Three-Way
Network
handshake
Limiting connection numbers, client
Transport
puzzles
Application Unique pair-wise keys

Table 1. Various Challenges and Possible Defense Techniques


Data Process and Scheduling
Besides the data transmission, network must prioritize the transmission of critical data, such as a sudden
change in patient status. Existing wireless networks provide only quality of service but still efficient
algorithms are under research and improvisational phase for prioritizing the data when there is
congestion, which is critical for medical and military applications. For certain applications its highly

important that each node must know the location of its immediate sensor to collaborate and support the
processing. In case of adhoc network, the system acts without a base station and application developers
must be cautious in selecting appropriate algorithm to avoid the data collision and hence the data loss.

Various other challenges

Considering the increase in the mobile objects coming up with sensors, they may be used to maliciously
attack the network. Efforts can be made to reduce the life time of the sensors batteries. In order to make
it secured end-to-end communication proper algorithms have to be chosen through a random key which
is to be distributed to the sensors across the network before implementation and communication can
happen between sensors through paring the key. The attack can also made on one specific node usually
the one which placed near the base station, which carries the more traffic since it has to pass more
information. Proper algorithms have to be chosen to implement the effective topologies in the run time.

Business and Views


Based on the rapid growth of wireless sensor networks in sectors such as military and hospitals, the WSN
market is expected to grow from half a billion dollars in 2011 to $2 billion in 2021, according to the latest
industry research (Ref 4). US being the prime market, Korea and Japan follow as the second and thirdlargest growing markets respectively. In 2009, 802.15.4 chipset shipments were down almost 30%
compared with the previous year. But according to the latest ABI research report on the WSN market, a
strong uplift in shipments in 2010 will help to drive growth from a little more than 10 million chipsets in
2009 to 645 million in 2015, a CAGR of 99.6% (Ref 5), which clearly reflects the growing interest in the
sensor based applications. Streetline Inc., the maker of technology that helps reduce traffic congestion,
attracted $15 million in funding smart parking using wireless sensor networks (Ref 6).In a recent interview
executive chairman of an eminent Indian IT giant described mobility, sensor networks (process of
electronic devices to talk to each other) and cloud as the three biggest trends that would define and
determine the growth and future of IT. The National Weather Service, in fact, has just completed a oneyear pilot project in which it received weather data from sensors riding on 20 Greyhound buses between
New York City and Montreal. The test went so well that the National Weather Service recently awarded a
$2.8 million contract to expand the program (Ref 7).

Conclusion
This paper discussed the role of the sensor networks to play in the potential applications which are
existing and upcoming. It had been a vision in the previous century which turns into a reality in
forthcoming years. WSNs have joined the queue along with cloud computing that are expected to bring
major changes into the information technology industry as a whole. WSNs face few hitches like any other
new computer technologies faced. Every new technology comes under the same obstacles later becomes
more successful, WSNs are no exception to that. Considering all the improvements and business
requirements WSNs are the one of the major application area watch out for.

Acknowledgment
I would like to specially thank Sreekumar and Bobby for extending me guidance and ideas throughout my
paper work and also sincere thanks to Gurumoorthy, Anand and Umasankar for their encouragement and
support.

References

1. Data Communications and Networking Authored by Behrouz A Forouzan.


2. http://microstrain.com/white/Wilson-chapter-22.pdf
3. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/index.htm

4. http://www.tmcnet.com/topics/articles/212896-wireless-sensor-networks-grow-2b-2021report.htm
5. http://www.abiresearch.com/press/3501Wireless+Sensor+Network+IC+Shipments+Bounce+Back+in+2010%3B+645+Million+Forecast+f
or+2015+
6. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/14/idUS426778635220110614
7. http://gcn.com/articles/2011/07/18/mobile-telematics-apps.aspx
8.

http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c42715grow

Annexure

Fig. 5 Sensor Node Architecture

Fig .6 Attributes of Sensor Networks

Table 2. Various Operating Systems developed for WSNs and their Summary

Fig.7 Various Routing Protocols in WSNs

Chart 1. Current Industrial WSN Applications