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OSDI '02 Abstract

Fine-Grained Network Time Synchronization Using Reference Broadcasts

Jeremy Elson, Lewis Girod, and Deborah Estrin, University of California, Los Angeles


Recent advances in miniaturization and low-cost, low-power design have led to active research in large-scale networks of small, wireless, low-power sensors and actuators. Time synchronization is critical in sensor networks for diverse purposes including sensor data fusion, coordinated actuation, and power-efficient duty cycling. Though the clock accuracy and precision requirements are often stricter than in traditional distributed systems, strict energy constraints limit the resources available to meet these goals.

We present Reference-Broadcast Synchronization, a scheme in which nodes send reference beacons to their neighbors using physical-layer broadcasts. A reference broadcast does not contain an explicit timestamp; instead, receivers use its arrival time as a point of reference for comparing their clocks. In this paper, we use measurements from two wireless implementations to show that removing the sender's nondeterminism from the critical path in this way produces high-precision clock agreement (1.85 + 1.28Ásec, using off-the-shelf 802.11 wireless Ethernet), while using minimal energy. We also describe a novel algorithm that uses this same broadcast property to federate clocks across broadcast domains with a slow decay in precision (3/68 + 2.57Ásec after 4 hops). RBS can be used without external references, forming a precise relative timescale, or can maintain microsecond-level synchronization to an external timescale such as UTC. We show a significant improvement over the Network Time Protocol (NTP) under similar conditions.

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