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CiNetView - Graphic Interface for Wireless Sensor Network Deployment and

Ismo Hakala, Timo Hongell, and Jari Luomala
University of Jyv¨ askyl¨ a / Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius
P.O.Box 567, FI-67701, Kokkola, Finland
Email: {ismo.hakala, timo.hongell, jari.luomala}
Abstract—Reliable communication is crucial for successful
deployment of a wireless sensor network. Many environmental
factors can affect the performance of radio links, and the
deployment of a network without real-time information about
link qualities can be a demanding task. This paper describes the
CiNetView application that is intended to support the deploy-
ment and monitoring of wireless sensor network. CiNetView is
based on diagnostic information collected by sensor nodes, and
it allows the user to see a graphical presentation of the network
topology and to monitor the network diagnostic information in
real time.
Keywords-visualization; monitoring; diagnostic; deployment;
wireless sensor network
In recent years, study of wireless sensor networks (WSN)
has become a rapidly developing research area. Compared
to traditional sensing methods, wireless sensor networks
technology offers some benefits: wide areas can be covered
with inexpensive energy-efficient battery-powered devices,
which make long-term monitoring and real time access to
measuring data possible. Often its nodes have also a self-
configuration ability, which enable quick and easy system
deployment. In spite of that, practical experience shows that
the deployment of a network can be a demanding task be-
cause of the unpredictable radio link. Environmental factors
such as buildings, trees, and variable weather conditions
affect the performance of the radio link and the reliability
of communication also. When the qualities of links are not
known, typically the nodes’ position has to be changed many
times during the system deployment.
Link quality is affected by many factors, which can be di-
vided into device’s internal and external factors. The internal
factors are caused by imperfections of the device’s hardware
or software. Different radio chips do not behave exactly
in the same way, and that can alter both the transmitted
and the received signal strength [1]. Also, each node has
its own radiation pattern that is not uniform, which means
that the node’s angular orientation can greatly affect the
performance of the radio link [1][2]. In addition to the
internal factors, fading, shadowing, multipath propagation,
and dynamic environmental factors affect wireless communi-
cation and make it difficult to predict the radio performance
beforehand. It is well known that soil and other surfaces, as
well as dynamic factors such as movements and the presence
of people, affect the radio range by emitting signals and
causing reflections [3]. Also weather conditions and foliage
can considerably interfere with the radio signal propagation,
varying the received signal strength [2][4][5].
Link quality can be evaluated by using the Received Sig-
nal Strength Indicator (RSSI), which indicates the strength of
the radio signal between two nodes at the receiver’s position.
In wireless sensor networks, radios typically operate in the
2.4GHz ISM band and are based on the IEEE 802.15.4
standard due to which RSSI value -85dBm is considered
to be an acceptable lower bound. Wireless sensor network
nodes can store RSSI values, the number of received packets
etc., which can be used to evaluate the performance of
the radio link and the reliability of communication. The
diagnostic data can be stored in one table, the so-called
Based on the nodes’ neighbourtables, we have developed
a graphical real-time application, CiNetView, to make wire-
less sensor network deployment and monitoring easier. The
CiNetView application works also on laptop and thus it can
be used where WSN are being installed. The application
visualizes, in real time, the nodes’ relative locations as well
as shows the links’ quality, which make the WSN deploy-
ment much quicker and easier task. Also other diagnostic
data like throughput, battery level, synchronization status
etc. can be shown in real time. The relative locations of
nodes are estimated by using the Multidimensional scaling
based algorithm (MDS) [6]. If there exists a map, aerial
photo etc. of the deployment area, the nodes’ locations as
well as diagnostic data can be visualized on it.
This paper describes the CiNetView application. The
paper is organized as follows: First, we provide a brief de-
scription of some related research: the use of RSSI values for
localization and WSN visualization and diagnostic solutions.
Section III presents the CiNetView application and neigh-
bourtables construction as well as the algorithm used for
estimating the nodes’ relative locations. Other functionalities
of the application are described in more detail. Finally, some
experiences of the use of the application in real wireless
sensor network implementations are discussed.
2010 Fourth International Conference on Sensor Technologies and Applications
978-0-7695-4096-2/10 $26.00 © 2010 IEEE
DOI 10.1109/SENSORCOMM.2010.65
Node localization and analyzing and monitoring of wire-
less sensor networks are highly evolving research topics
in the field of wireless technology. However, real-time
based solutions for visualizing network structures and the
performance of wireless communication are not that widely
studied. Visualization of network structures as well as
many other WSN applications can be based on localization
techniques. An RSSI-based localization methodology can
be implemented without special hardware on many exist-
ing devices, and for that reason it is a very flexible and
much studied methodology for approximating the distances
between nodes. The use of RSSI for node localization is
studied, for example, in articles [7][8][9]. Sensor network
diagnostics and visualization is discussed in [10]. Different
sensor network visualization applications include SpyGlass
[11] and MARWIS [12]. These applications do not use real-
time ”on the map” visualization of the network, instead they
use relative locations to visualize the network topology. Also
real-time inspections of the changes in the link qualities in
both uplink and downlink direction in the sensor network
used are not that widely discussed. Other commercial net-
work visualization and diagnostic applications are, for ex-
ample, MOTE-VIEW [13] and Surge View [14], developed
by Crossbow Technology.
The purpose of the CiNetView application is to support
wireless sensor networks’ deployment and monitoring. The
system architecture of a typical wireless sensor network
application when using the CiNetView is displayed in Figure
1. Typically, in our wireless sensor network study cases, we
use the so-called MSSS-topology (multi source, single sink),
where the role of a sink node is significant. The measuring
data collected by sensing nodes is forwarded to the sink
node and the sink node forwards the collected data to the
database for later use. In addition to that, the sink node keeps
the wireless sensor network’s nodes synchronized.
The sink node starts a synchronization period by broad-
casting a synchronization message which each node broad-
casts onward. Our protocol for network diagnostic and
management utilizes these synchronization messages. Part
of management data is included on the synchronization
message, and during the synchronization period every node
stores all diagnostic data to a so-called neighbourtable.
After the synchronization period, every node sends their
diagnostic data to the sink, which forwards it into the
database. The database may be on a server or on a PC’s hard
drive. The neighbourtable’s data is updated during every
synchronization period, so the database includes real-time
information about the network’s performance.
Based on the neighbourtables’ data, the structure of the
wireless sensor network can be visualized in real time by the
CiNetView application. The application allows the user to
Figure 1. The system structure using the CiNetView application.
drag nodes to match their true locations at some background
image such as a map, or it automatically estimates the nodes’
relative locations. In the latter case, the application uses the
MDS-algorithm to approximate the nodes’ relative locations.
The application shows also the diagnostic information about
the performance of wireless communication. During every
update period, the application inspects the information from
the database. If the information is changed, meaning that
there are changes in the network, the application updates its
graphical presentation and diagnostic data tables to match
the latest information about the network. CiNetView is de-
veloped with Matlab and many operations of the application
use Matlab’s basic data reading commands and methods.
A. Neighbourtable
In our test cases we used CiNet nodes [15][16]. CiNet is
a research and development platform for the wireless sensor
network implemented in Kokkola University Consortium
Chydenius. The hardware in the CiNet node is specially
designed for WSNs and consists of inexpensive standard off-
the-shelf components. The CiNet node includes all the basic
components necessary for wireless sensor networks.
In a CiNet network each node constructs and maintains its
own neighbourtable, as defined in Table I, in which the node
stores information about its neighbours, which are the nodes
that it hears. The neighbourtable of each node is updated
in every synchronization period of the network (see Figure
2). The sink node broadcasts the synchronization message
isotropically, and every node that hears it broadcasts that
Table I
U16INT u16NbAddr Neighbour address
S8INT s8RSSI Neighbour link RSSI value
U8INT u4Bat:4 Battery level of the neighbour
U8INT u4HopCnt:4 Hop count of the neighbour
U16INT u16Received Number of received packets from neighbour
U16INT u16Missed Number of missed packets from the neighbour
S8INT s8AvgRSSI Average RSSI value of the neighbour link
S8INT s8PathRSSI Path RSSI value, the path’s weakest RSSI
U8INT u8PrevSeq Previous sequence number
U8INT u8Ntp Link throughput
U8INT u8Ptp Path throughput
U32INT u32NbLastSeen Last seen time, used to maintain the entry
(not sent in diagnostic data)
U8INT u8Status Sync status (not sent in diagnostic data)
Table II
Seq No Node ID 1 Neighbour 1 data Neighbour 2 data · · ·
Seq No Node ID 2 Neighbour 1 data Neighbour 2 data · · ·
Seq No Node ID N Neighbour 1 data Neighbour 2 data · · ·
message onwards through the network during a predefined
time period. In this way the whole network can be syn-
chronized. Before relaying the synchronization message, the
nodes update it with their own information. Based on the
received synchronization messages and the data included in
the synchronization frames, the nodes update their neigh-
bourtables. Note that the synchronization messages are heard
by all the nodes’ neighbours, including the predecessors,
which means that the neighbourtable information can be
collected in both directions. To prevent the ping-pong effect,
the nodes broadcast the synchronization message only once
in every synchronization period. Continuous synchronization
of the network is vital to ensure valid operation of the
After the synchronization period, the nodes send the
neighbourtable information to the sink node during the man-
agement period. The management frame includes a section
where the neighbourtable information is sent. Diagnostic
and other management data is sent (and acknowledged)
as a unicast transmission through a selected route to the
sink node. The size of one transmitted management frame
that includes the neighbourtables is between 50 and 128
bytes, depending on the number of node’s neighbours (1
to maximum of 7). If retransmissions are not needed, each
management frame is sent once in every synchronization
period. A detailed study of the energy cost caused by the
neighbourtables is one of our future research topics.
Neighbourtables are specially used for receiving infor-
mation for real-time deployment and for monitoring of the
wireless sensor network. The information that it contains
can also be used to improve the network’s measurement data



Figure 2. Synchronization, management and ACK messages during one
synchronization period.
B. Application
At the moment the CiNetView application requires a
computer that has Matlab installed, but a standalone exe file
is one of our future options. The CiNetView works also on a
laptop and can be used at the WSN deployment area. When
the computer has the option for wireless internet connection,
for example a wireless local area network (WLAN) or a
general packet radio service (GPRS), the neighbourtable
information can be downloaded from a network server. If
no wireless internet connection is available, then the sink
node needs to be connected with an RS-232 serial cable to
the computer to make real-time monitoring possible.
The CiNetView uses the neighbourtable data that is up-
dated at every synchronization period of the network. The
data is stored in its own data file (see Table II), and the
CiNetView application uses this data file to visualize the
present situation of the network. The data file’s updating
period can be user defined, but normally the updating period
is the same as the synchronization period. The CiNetView’s
graphical presentation of the network and the diagnostic data
are always based on the latest information. If the data file
is updated, then the application’s view is also updated.
The application visualizes the network topology by show-
ing the nodes’ relative locations and the connectivity be-
tween the nodes. It also shows diagnostic data of the wireless
communication. Most of the displayed information is from
neighbourtables. However, a single node’s neighbourtable
cannot include information about the entire network. By
using the neighbourtable information of all nodes, the
CiNetView can give statistics and diagnostic information on
entire network. For example, the application can calculate
throughput between any two nodes in the entire network
and show the values both in uplink and downlink directions.
Also for visualizing the structure of the network topology by
using the MDS-algorithm, the application needs data from
all neighbourtables of the network.
1) Multidimensional scaling algorithm (MDS): If any
background image is not available from the WSN deploy-
ment area, then the MDS-algorithm [6] is used to give a
graphical presentation of the network structure. A n × n
binary matrix
D =

0 d
· · · d
0 · · · d
· · · 0 d
· · · d

is a connectivity matrix, in which an entry d
is equal to
1 if there is a single-hop connection from node i to node
j and equal to 0 otherwise. Thus, the number of rows and
columns in the connectivity matrix are equal to the number
of nodes in wireless sensor network and the matrix’s main
diagonal is zero. Note that the connectivity matrix is not
necessary symmetric, since all connections between nodes
are not necessarily bidirectional, i.e., there is a connection
from node i to node j but not vice-versa.
From the neighbourtables we can obtain a connectivity
matrix D with all single-hop connections, but the MDS-
algorithm needs to know the shortest paths between all
nodes, i.e., the shortest multi-hop connections between
nodes. This is a all-pairs shortest-path problem, and we use
Floyd-Warshall algorithm [17] to find a solution for it. After
that, the matrix Dis updated and then converted to a double-
centered distance matrix B as follows (Matlab code):
n = length(D);
U = ones(size(D));
I = eye(size(D));
B = −0.5(I − 1/nU)D.ˆ2(I − 1/nU);
Then the singular value decomposition of the matrix B is
[U, S, V] = svd(B)
and finally the nodes coordinate matrix X is obtained by
X = VS
where the first two columns of X include the 2D-
An example of the MDS-algorithm’s graphical presenta-
tion of the test network is shown in Figure 3. The figure
is defined based on the known link connections between
Figure 3. CiNetView’s MDS-algorithm based topology presentation.
the network’s nodes, without knowing the exact locations of
The MDS-algorithm can also be used to define approx-
imated locations for the sensor nodes, based on the RSSI
values, by using different signal propagation models. For
example, we use the log-normal shadowing model [18]. It
is defined as [1]
RSSI(d) = P
− PL(d
) − 10η log
+ X
where, d is the distance between the sender and receiver
node, P
is the transmit power, PL(d
) is the path loss at
reference distance d
, η is the path loss exponent and X
a gaussian random variable with zero mean and σ
We have chosen to use the widely used log-normal
shadowing model, since it is more realistic than the free-
space model. The free-space model does not consider several
environmental parameters that affect to signal propagation,
including scattering, wave reflection and diffraction. The
log-normal model instead takes these into account.
The log-normal shadowing model can be used to evaluate
and estimate the distances between the nodes in a wireless
network. This model can be used in different environments
by modifying the η and X
variables. But it must be stated
that because the environmental conditions tend to change
constantly, it is quite difficult to get distance results that
would exactly match the true values. Many other different
radio signal propagation models are published, such as [19],
but generally all the propagation models are specified for
the exact modelling situations.
2) User interface: There are two different approaches
to the graphic presentation of WSNs in the CiNetView
application: 1) if the physical locations of the sensor nodes
are not exactly known, the application can use the MDS-
algorithm to calculate the graphical presentation; 2) if it is
possible to get an aerial photo, cartogram, map or perhaps
a blueprint from the network deployment area, it can then
be given as a background image to the application. In that
case, CiNetView displays all the nodes and their links in the
network as a list of dots (nodes) and lines (links) on the left
side of the image, from where the nodes can be dragged
to match their true locations on the background image. The
links update automatically at the same time. The background
image is given as a picture file, for example in a jpg or bmp
CiNetView stores and displays the monitoring starting
time. It also shows the network’s latest updating time. If the
latest update time does not change, it is a clear indication
that there is something wrong in the network. The links
between the nodes can be unidirectional or bidirectional.
Unidirectional link means that only one of the two nodes
hears another. This is presented with a red dashed line, and
the node that hears another has the RSSI or throughput value
next to it. When a link is bidirectional, both of the nodes hear
each other. This is displayed with a solid blue connection
line, which has diagnostic data on both ends. The application
displays the average RSSI value, neighbour sync throughput,
and data throughput tables, which all can be used to analyze
the network’s performance and link qualities. The average
RSSI table shows the average of all the RSSI values that
each of the nodes has heard since turned on. The neighbour
sync throughput table shows the ratio between received sync
packets and sync packets that should have been heard from
each of the neighbour nodes. The data throughput table
indicates the ratio of received management packets from the
sensor nodes to the sink node and the number of packets
that should have been sent to the sink node.
The user can select different variables, such as RSSI and
throughput of the nodes, that are displayed individually over
the link lines by the application. This selection allows the
user to see clearly which of the links need maintenance.
Depending on the backgrounds colours used, it may some-
times be difficult to distinguish the information displayed
by the application. For this reason it is also possible to
change the colours of the nodes and selected values shown.
Additionally, one of our future work topics is to display user
defined measurement and management data in CiNetView.
C. Experiences and Future Work
The clear advantage of the CiNetView application is
its ability to do real-time monitoring and topographical
modelling of the wireless sensor network already at the
deployment phase. We have used CiNetView in some WSN
deployment cases. Figure 4 depicts the case in which we
deployed a WSN all around the facilities of University
Consortium Chydenius. In indoor situations, such as this
one, the nodes may be connected to each other with or
without line of sight. We noticed that even a small change
in node placement or in the surrounding conditions, such as
opening and closing a door or people moving in the area,
will affect the network’s behaviour. Dynamic environmental
Figure 5. CiNetView’s MDS-algorithm with the log-normal estimation
based topology presentation (zoomed in).
factors affected also the network topology. A node may have
a single hop connection to the sink node but some minor
distractions may force it to use multihop connection, or vice-
When the network’s behavior and topology could be
monitored in real time during the deployment phase, it made
the network deployment easier and faster, as any unnecessary
moving of the nodes could be significantly reduced. In addi-
tion to the advantages of network deployment, another point
in CiNetView’s favour is that it allows the user to perform
real time diagnostics in the network after the deployment.
In outdoor situations, the deploying distances between the
nodes are usually longer than in indoor and due to this it
is not practical to change the nodes’ placements without
clear indication of the affect. Since CiNetView works also on
laptops, it can be used outdoor as well. Network deployment
can be seen in real time on a laptop display, which helps
the user to see when the nodes are placed wisely and
link connections are established. We have used CiNetView
in its early stage during one of our noise measurement
experiments on a marketplace in Kokkola. This gave us
practical information about the application’s performance in
heavily loaded network.
CiNetView also has an option to do range-based node
localization, using the MDS-algorithm with the log-normal
shadowing model. Experiences of this showed that in open
areas the model performs relatively well, as can be seen in
Figures 5 and 6 of the same network configuration. When
these two figures are compared, one can notice that there
are notable similarities in their network topology. Because
of the used relative coordinates and their inaccuracies, it is
not yet that important to compare the calculated and true
locations of the nodes. The comparison becomes relevant
with absolute coordinates, when the positioning accuracy
For future work the idea is to combine MDS and real
Figure 4. Indoor example in University Consortium Chydenius.
Figure 6. Parking area of University Consortium Chydenius in Kokkola.
background images. This way not all the node locations
need to be known; instead, only few locations are needed to
get an estimated topographical presentation of the network’s
structure. In addition, CiNetView’s graphical presentation
is supposed to display all the measurement values of each
node: real-time and historical data. We are also making it
possible to remotely control the nodes’ behaviour in the
network. This will allow true network customization with
our application. Additionally, we are going to analyze the
energy cost of using neighbourtables.
When combining all these deployment, diagnostic, and
management topics, CiNetView will make it possible to use
only one application tool to monitor and control all the
changes and measurements in the network during the whole
network’s lifetime.
In this paper, we have presented the first version of the
CiNetView application, a graphical tool for making the
deployment and monitoring of a wireless sensor network
easier and more assured. CiNetView is based on diagnostic
information that the nodes have collected. The application
has successfully been tested, in both laboratory indoor condi-
tions and real outdoor conditions with various measurement
scenarios. The application displays network topology based
on relative locations produced by the MDS-algorithm. It can
also use real background images and maps, where the user
can exactly pinpoint the nodes’ true locations. CiNetView
displays the essential network diagnostic information and
helps the user to see the changes in the network’s behaviour.
The advantages of this application can be seen most clearly
in the network deployment phase because of the real-time
presentation of the network’s connections and the quality of
these connections. The application can be used to diagnose
and monitor a wireless sensor network through the network’s
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