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OPNET-based Modeling and Simulation of Mobile

Zigbee Sensor Networks

Xiaolong Li1 , Meiping Peng2 , Jun Cai3 , Changyan Yi3 , Hong Zhang3
1 X. Li is with Guangxi Key Laboratory of Trusted Software, Guilin University of Electronic
Technology, Guilin, China. e-mail:, tel: (+86)15878353098
2 M. Peng is with the School of Computer Science and Engineering, Guilin University of

Electronic Technology, Guilin, China.

3 J. Cai, C. Yi and H. Zhang are with the Department of Electrical and Computer

Engineering, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.


Modeling and simulation can help to validate and evaluate the performance
of wireless sensor networks (WSNs) within specific applications. In order to
resolve the issue of the restriction on node mobility in existing Zigbee WS-
N simulation models, this paper proposes a Zigbee compliant new simulation
model using the OPNET simulator. Based on the Zigbee MAC layer model in
OPNET Modeler, we develop a network layer model and propose an improved
AODV routing algorithm to support node mobility, both of which are compat-
ible with Zigbee protocols. We further present in details the structure of the
network layer process model and the implementation procedures of its kernel
functions. Comprehensive performance comparisons are performed between the
proposed model and the Zigbee model in OPNET standard libraries. In order to
evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed model in the aspect of node mobility
support, time intervals between route failure occurrence and route recovery are
measured as well. The experimental results show that the proposed simulation
model achieves better performance, compared to the original one. In addition,
when node mobility causes routing failures, alternative routes can be established
quickly by the proposed model.
Keywords: OPNET, Zigbee, IEEE802.15.4, mobility, simulation, network

Preprint submitted to Peer-to-Peer Networking and Applications April 2, 2015

1. Introduction

Wireless sensor networks generally comprise a large number of sensor nodes

deployed in an area of interest to collect physical or environmental conditions,
such as temperature, humidity, pressure, etc. In wireless sensor networks, per-
5 formance evaluation is critical to test the practicability of network architectures
and protocol algorithms, and provides guidelines in performance optimization.
Among different candidates, simulation offers a cost-effective way. Recently, re-
searchers have developed many simulation models on different simulation plat-
forms, such as OPNET, NS-2, TOSSIM, EmStar, OMNeT++, J-Sim, ATEMU,
10 and Avrora [1]. Compared with other simulators , OPNET is more suitable to
simulate behaviors of networks in the real world. OPNET Modeler, as a net-
work simulator, provides an industry-leading network technology development
environment [2]. It can be used to design and study network modeling and
simulation in applications, equipments, protocols and network communications,
15 and show flexibility and intuition in designing practical systems.
Recently, Zigbee technology has been widely adopted to develop wireless sen-
sor network applications [3] by forming a wireless mesh network with low rate,
low power consumption, and secure networking. In Zigbee protocol stack, the
physical layer and the MAC layer protocols have been defined by IEEE802.15.4
20 standard [4]. Its network layer built upon both lower layers should be designed
to enable a mesh networking, support node joining or leaving, assign network
addresses to devices, and perform routing. Zigbee Alliance is working at provid-
ing a standardized base set of solutions for sensor networks [5]. In this paper,
a network layer model is proposed for mobile sensor networks in order to ac-
25 complish all defined functions. The application layer aims at providing the
services for an application program, consisting of application support sub-layer,
application framework, and Zigbee device object. Since this layer is related to
specific applications, and is not the main focus of this paper,the design of the
application layer is omitted here.
30 The simulation of Zigbee sensor networks within OPNET simulator has been

attracting interests from researchers. There are many research works on simu-
lation modelling and evaluation of sensor nodes in OPNET [6, 7]. For exam-
ple, Kucuk et al [6] presented a detailed implementation methodology for their
proposed positioning algorithm, called M-SSLE. Shrestha et al [7] proposed a
35 simulation model for new networking nodes equipped with multiple radio tech-
nologies. However, few works focused on the simulation model of mobile sensor
networks in literature. Device mobility is inevitable and must be conciliated
[8, 9], where lack of the support for simulation on mobile Zigbee sensor network
is a major limitation in this field of research, evaluation and development.
40 In [10], the adequacy of current provisions for dealing with different mo-
bility cases was assessed. Simulation results demonstrated that the current
model in OPNET standard libraries is ineffective in dealing with nodal mobil-
ity. Since OPNET Modeler provides a comprehensive simulation environment
for modeling distributed systems and communication networks, many simula-
45 tion studies for Zigbee sensor networks were performed in OPNET simulator
[11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16]. According to the performance studies using the Zigbee
model within OPNET Modeler standard libraries (ZMOMSL), there are several
disadvantages on this model. For example, its address assignment mechanism
may waste address space, the high communication overheads may reduce net-
50 work lifetime, and the network joining strategy may result in significant traffic
collisions and jams [17, 18]. Among all these disadvantages, the most critical
issue is that the Zigbee model can not support the mobility of device nodes.
This motivated us to develop a new simulation model based on the OPNET
simulator for mobile Zigbee sensor networks.
55 The main contributions of this paper are summarized as follows. 1) We
adopt the OPNET simulation development platform to design a mobile Zigbee
sensor network simulation model compatible with Zigbee protocols, where the
physical layer and the MAC layer defined by IEEE 802.15.4 are employed. 2) We
provide a node level design of mobile sensor nodes, present a process level model
60 of its network layer model and the detailed implementation procedure of the key
functions. 3) In order to further decrease the communication overhead of nodes,

an improved AODV routing algorithm is also proposed, which demonstrates
superior capability in supporting node mobility.
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. In section 2, we discuss the
65 design of network process model in details. In section 3, we propose a new
simulation model which enables mobile support for Zigbee devices. Section
4 presents our simulation results and demonstrates experimental comparison
between our proposed model and ZMOMSL. Section 5 draws conclusions.

2. The design of simulation system model

70 2.1. Design of node model

As shown in Fig. 1, a Zigbee node model within OPNET Modeler typical-

ly incorporates the physical layer, the MAC layer, the network layer and the
application layer. The physical layer comprises a transmitter module, a receiv-
er module, and a wireless pipeline model. The wireless pipeline model can be
75 configured to build a real radio environment. In the MAC layer, Carrier Sense
Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance (CSMA/CA) protocol is used. For
the network layer, following services are provided: forming a network, nodes
joining and leaving a network, network address assignment, neighbor discovery,
and route maintenance discovery. The application layer is responsible for pro-
80 ducing and processing sensing data. In the rest of the paper, we will focus on
the design of the network layer model for mobile Zigbee sensor networks.

2.2. The design of network layer model

Three types of devices are defined in the Zigbee standard framework: coor-
dinator, router, and end device. Coordinator is responsible for forming a new
85 network, storing the key parameters of the network and connecting to other
networks. There is always a single coordinator in a Zigbee network. In Zigbee-
based WSNs, sink node typically plays the role of network coordinator. Router
has the routing capability. Specifically, it could allow other devices to join the
network as its child nodes, and route data packets. End device has no routing

Figure 1: The developed node model.

90 capability, which relies only on its parents (the coordinator or a router) to route
data packets. Compared with coordinator and router, end device has simpler
hardware structure.
Each device node has a 16-bit short address for and a 64-bit extended address
in a Zigbee network. The 64-bit extended address is set by manufactures, similar
95 to the MAC address which is unique for each node. The 16-bit short address is
dynamically assigned to the node by its parent coordinator or router when the
node joins the network and it is similar to the IP address in the Internet network.
Zigbee standard uses a distributed address allocation mechanism for assigning
address to the node when it joins the network. Network address is determined
100 by the following network parameters which is provided by coordinator: *Cm
the maximum number of children allowed for each router, *Rm the maximum
number of routers as subrouters linked to each router, and *Lm the maximum
depth of the whole network. The coordinator decides the depth of the whole
network. The size of the address sub-block allocated by each parent at depth d,
105 Cskip(d) , could be described as:


1 + C (L d 1) Rm = 1
m m
Cskip(d) = 1+C R C Lm d1 (1)
m m m Rm

1Rm Rm > 1

where Cskip(d) = 0 means that the node has no capability to accept child nodes,
and Cskip(d) > 0 otherwise. If network address Ar (d + 1, m) is assigned to the
m th router child and Ae (d + 1, m) is assigned to the m th end device child
at depth d + 1, they can be obtained by the following equations:

Ar (d + 1, m) = Aparent + Cskip(d) Ri (2)

Ae (d + 1, m) = Aparent + Cskip(d) Rm + i (3)

110 where Ri [0, Rm ], and Aparent represents the address of the parent, i
[0, (Cm Rm )].
Since the tree address allocation mechanism can provide a simple and reliable
routing method for the entire Zigbee network, it is employed in our proposed
simulation model to assign a network address to a device node (a router or an
115 end device) when it joins the network at the first time. In order to build a model
of the IEEE 802.15.4/Zigbee protocols supporting node mobility, we propose a
network layer process based on OPNET simulation platform as shown in Fig.
2. In the network process module, by moving into the init state and forced-
ly traversing to state wait, all types of devices begin executing initialization
120 procedure.
1) If the node is a coordinator, it will first setup a network. By executing
the transition function wpan execute scan(), the coordinator will scan all chan-
nels to select an unoccupied channel. After that, it will invoke the setnetwork
states Enter execs wpan zigbee setnetwork() to choose a network ID and con-
125 figure other network parameters. Then it will move into the active state to
deal with network joining and leaving requests, or routing messages. Among
all functions associated with the active state, function wpan handle mac pk()

will be executed when receiving data packets from the MAC layer, while func-
tion aodv rte rrep hello message send() achieves the routing functionality. By
130 periodically broadcasting hello data packets and receiving hello packets from
neighbors, the nodes (except the end devices) will update their routing tables
and neighbor tables. For end devices, they will choose one proper node from
candidate routers within its neighborhood as its parent.
2) If the node is not the coordinator, it will scan all channels by executing
135 function wpan execute scan(). If it finds an available channel in which a net-
work is operating, it will transit to Join network state and begin to execute
function wpan zigbee join network(), where it will send a JOIN Request pack-
et to the relevant router or coordinator asking to join the network and then wait
for the response to its request. After receiving the corresponding JoinResponse
140 packet, the node will enter the active state.

2.3. Network join

As shown in Fig. 2, all deployed nodes begin at the init state. Each node
is categorized as coordinator, router, or end device. MAC layer channel scan
is immediately called by the coordinator after the process of network initializa-
145 tion, and its status would be changed to set network. When the MAC layer
channel scan is completed, coordinator will look for an appropriate channel for
establishing a new Zigbee network. After the suitable radio channel is found,
the coordinator will assign a network identifier to the new network, which does
not conflict with other existing networks. Then it will assign a network address
150 to itself. Its status would be switched to the active state. After the coordi-
nator finishes the above operations, the network is formed. Since then, other
nodes will have the opportunity to join the network. The details of network join
implementation procedure are described below and are illustrated in Fig. 3.
When a child node A wants to send the join request, A first carries out the
155 channel scan procedure at the MAC layer and then broadcasts a beacon request
frame. The process status is then transferred to join network. Meanwhile, a
timer of channel sensing duration is started. In our model, the initial value

Figure 2: Zigbee network layer model in OPNET.

is chosen in the interval [0.2s, 0.4s], wherein 0.2s is extremely adequate for
awaiting and receiving reply frame from its neighboring nodes, even considering
160 the procession delay, the transmission delay and the propagation delay. During
this period of time, after receiving beacon frames, node A stores the neighbor
information in its neighbor table. At the end of the timer, the MAC layer
schedules a remote interrupt to notice the network layer. Then, node A selects
one node (coordinator or router) with the smallest hop count from itself as its
165 potential parent node, denoted by B, which has both the capability and permit
to accept new child nodes. Then, node A sends a join request frame to node

B, and starts a timer to wait for the corresponding join response frame. The
initial value of the timer is set as 0.2s. If it receives node Bs joining response
frame before timeout, node A joins the network successfully. Its process status
170 moves into active state for data communications. Otherwise, node A selects a
new appropriate parent node in its neighbor table and sends a new join request
frame. However, if there is no appropriate parent node in the neighbor table,
it will call for MAC layer channel scan again. The process status will stay in
join network until node A joins a network successfully.

Figure 3: Procedure for nodes joining a network.

175 For a parent node, once it receives the beacon request frame, it will broadcast
a new beacon frame. When it receives a join request frame, it will use the
distributed address allocation mechanism to judge whether it has ability to
adopt a child node. If available, it will assign a network address and send
a join response frame to the child node. Otherwise, it will discard the join

180 request frame. Comparing with Zigbee standard network layer protocol, the
proposed protocol has the following differences in network join procedure. 1)
In Zigbee standard network layer protocol, even if the required parent node
has no capacity to adopt the child node, it is still required to send a feedback
message. 2) Once the node is rejected to join, it will carry out the channel scan
185 in the next round. However, this action is neither necessary nor energy-efficient
because it is still possible that a proper node in its neighbor table can be its
parent node. In addition, these actions will increase the traffic load and cause
more transmission conflicts. In Section 4, the experimental results demonstrate
that our proposed protocol can save more than 30% communication overheads
190 for network join procedure.

2.4. Route discovery and maintenance

AODV [19] routing algorithm is an on-demand algorithm, which builds up

routes between source nodes and destination nodes only when it desires to. It
uses sequence numbers to avoid occurring routing loops.
195 In this paper, we propose an improved AODV routing algorithm. Similar to
AODV, the proposed algorithm consists of two parts: route discovery and route
maintenance. In route discovery, source node first broadcasts a route request
(RREQ) packet across the network via flooding. Once neighboring nodes receive
the packet, each of them judges whether the destination address of the packet is
200 its network address. 1) If two addresses match with each other, the node will add
this route to its routing table and establishes the reversed pointer to the source
in its routing table entries. Next, it sends a route reply (RREP) to the source
node along the reversed direction. 2) If two addresses are not matched, then
the node searches its routing table to find a possible route to the destination.
205 If the route exists, the node sends a join response frame to the source node,
and sends a message to the destination. Otherwise, the node establishes the
reversed pointer to the source in its routing table entries and then continues to
flood the RREQ packet. Note that device nodes employ the destination address
and broadcast serial number of the source node as the unique identifier to avoid

210 repeatedly broadcasting RREQ packets.
In route maintenance, every router node needs to maintain its own routes
to guarantee their validness after they are established. Thus, every node should
periodically broadcast a hello message to determine whether the current routes
are valid. If a route becomes invalid, it will broadcast a route error (RERR)
215 message to inform the source that the route is now unreachable to destination(s).

Figure 4: Flow chart of the improved AODV algorithm.

The routing process of the improved AODV routing algorithm in our pro-
posed model is described as follows. If an end device intends to send a data
packet, it sends the data packet directly to its parent node. Note that the par-
ent node must be a router or the coordinator. For a router or a coordinator,
220 it sends the data packet directly to the next hop node if it has a route to the
destination. Otherwise, it initiates a route discovery. The overall flow chart of
the proposed routing algorithm is given in Fig. 4.

3. Mobility support in the Zigbee-based WSNs

3.1. Mobility support for Zigbee router

225 In mobile Zigbee-based WSNs, routers (or the coordinator ) do not need
to dynamically change network addresses, because they have the capability to
maintain and repair their route tables. By adopting the improved AODV algo-
rithm, routers may reduce the negative effects of node mobility. When a router
fails in the network, it is not required to change the network address of the
230 router after being assigned an initial network address.

3.2. Mobility support for end devices

For mobile WSNs, when end devices move outside their parent nodes com-
munication range, according to Zigbee/IEEE802.15.4 Standard, they are re-
quired to find new parent nodes and change their current network addresses.
235 In order to solve this drawback of the current Standard, an adaptive routing
strategy is proposed for end devices. For implementing the function of neighbor
discovery, a router is required to periodically broadcast hello packets. Accord-
ing to these received packets, end devices can generate and maintain their own
neighbor tables, and obtain the information of routers within its neighborhood.
240 Obviously, all routers can act as its potential parent node. When the end device
leaves its parent node, it selects one from these candidates as its parent node to
forward its data packets.
Fig. 5 illustrates the procedure to support the node mobility for end devices.
In Fig. 5, node D is a child of node A in area 1 at the beginning. If node D
245 moves to area 2, it will become out of the communication range of the node
A. In area 2, node D can receive HELLO messages from node C to update its
neighbor table. Therefore, it can select node C as its parent node. Following
this procedure, end device does not need to search a new parent node in order
to get a new network address.
250 Compared to the traditional AODV protocol, our proposed routing protocol
is superior in following two aspects. 1), the traditional AODV protocol does not

Figure 5: A diagram of mobility support for end devices.

distinguish different types of devices, so as to result in broadcasting redundant

RREQ packets for end devices during route discovery phase and aggravating
network congestion. 2), the conventional AODV protocol can not provide any
255 support for the mobility of three types of nodes.

4. Simulation and analysis

In this section, we conduct a comparative performance evaluation between

our proposed Zigbee compliant simulation model using the OPNET simulator
(ZCNSMOS) and ZMOMSL, in terms of the number of essential routers, net-
260 working overhead, and network join delay. In order to assess validity of the
proposed model for supporting node mobility, we conduct experiments to mea-
sure the time taken by nodes they establish new routes after previous ones fail.
All experiments are completed in OPNET Modeler 14.5. In experiments, all
device nodes are uniformly scattered over a 100 100 m2 square area, and the
265 number of device nodes varies from 20 to 100. The commonly used Random
Waypoint mobility model is employed and the maximum velocity is set at 3m/s.
Environmental variables applied to performance evaluation are shown in Table
1. For each experiment, we randomly generate network topologies, repeat 20
runs, and calculate the average value.

Table 1: Environmental variables
Deployment area 100 100 m2
Network size 20 100
Transmission range 30m
Transmission power 0.05W
Packet size 512bytes
Packet interval Poisson(10)s
Simulation duration 600s
Mobility model Random waypoint
maximum velocity 3m/s
Packet start time 20s
The maximum number of child nodes 7
The maximum number of routers 5
The maximum depth 5

270 We first test the number of essential routers of two models for different
network size so that all nodes can join the network. The results are displayed in
Table 2. We can observe that with the increase of the network size, denoted by
n, the number of essential routers of both ZCNSMOS and ZMOMSL increases,
however, the value of ZCNSMOS is always lower than that of ZMOMSL. When
275 n=20, ZCNSMOS needs less than half essential routers compared to ZMOMSL.
When n increases to 100, this ratio can be further reduced to nearly 14 . Since in
general router is a full function device with routing capability and is much more
expensive than end device, our proposed ZCNSMOS has a clear advantage in
terms of networking cost.
280 In order to evaluate the energy efficiency of two models in networking, we
demonstrate the communication overhead required for all nodes joining a net-
work. For comparison purpose, we use the number of ACK frames including
receiving joining request packets and joining response packets as a performance
metric, since such number can effectively reflect the total communication over-

Table 2: The number of essential routers
20 6.15 2.75
40 13.35 5.65
60 19.50 10.45
80 25.90 16.35
100 33.85 24.05

285 head. Fig. 6 illustrates the relationship between network join overhead and
network size. As expected, ZCNSMOS has lower networking overhead than
ZMOMSL for all scenarios under consideration, it is because ZCNSMOS is des-
ignated to make network join procedure more simplified.

Figure 6: the communication overhead of both ZCNSMOS and ZMOMSL in networking

Fig. 7 illustrates the runtime with respect the number of nodes attached to
290 the network. The network size n is fixed at 80. For different values of n, similar
conclusions can be obtained. From this figure, we can see that in ZCNSMOS,
all device nodes can quickly join the network once they are deployed. While
for ZMOMSL, device node attachment network happens after nearly 6s. It is

because in ZMOMSL, a large number of broadcast packets, which are generated
295 by all un-joined nodes, lead to traffic congestion and high packet loss in the
network. Then, according to the MAC protocol, a random waiting time is
required for device nodes to retransmit data packets. For any device node,
ZCNSMOS not only makes it more rapidly to join and leave a network, but also
gives mobility support. After the node moves to a new area and is required to
300 rejoin a network, shorter network join delay can help device nodes participate
in a network task more timely. As shown in above experimental results, it is
apparent that ZCNSMOS enhances the performance significantly compared to
ZMOMSL for the function of network join of the network layer.

Figure 7: Comparison of ZMOMSL and ZCNSMOS in terms of network join delay.

To evaluate the effectiveness of our proposed model ZCNSMOS in terms of

305 node mobility support, we measure the length of intervals between route failure
occurrence and route recovery. In this experiment, the number of end devices
is fixed at 20, and the number of routers, denoted by , varies from 6 to 21.
For different amounts of routers, the average values of time interval lengthes,

the high values and the low values are presented in Fig. 8. It is obvious that
310 for any values of , all time intervals have lengthes less than 0.1s. Compared to
sensing intervals in conventional applications, which is 10s in our experiments,
such time lengths are rather trivial and can be neglected. These results clearly
demonstrate that ZCNSMOS can quickly establish new routes for device nodes
when their old routes can not be maintained due to node mobility. With the
315 increase of , new route discovery time decreases. When becomes 16, the
average value is close to 0. This is because for end devices, statistically, the
increase of means that its neighbor table is large so that there are more routers
within its neighborhood. For routers, the increase of means the arising of the
possibility that they have routes to destinations.

Figure 8: Time interval of new route discovery in different size of sensor networks.

(a) =6 (b) =11

(c) =16 (d) =21

320 5. Conclusion

In this paper, an OPNET-based simulation model, called Zigbee compliant

new simulation model using the OPNET simulator (ZCNSMOS), is proposed to
achieve node mobility support for Zigbee sensor networks. As the MAC layer
of Zigbee networks has been defined by IEEE 802.15.4 Standard, we focus our
325 work on the framework design and the implementation of the network layer. The
implementation procedure of the key functions including network join, routing
discovery and maintenance are investigated in details. After that, we investigate
the network routing protocols for routers and end devices, as to support node
mobility. Our experimental results show that the proposed model can achieve
330 significant performance improvement in networking, routing, and node mobility


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of

China (Grant Nos. 61462021, 61262074), Opening Project of Guangxi Key Lab-
335 oratory of Trusted Software (Grant No. PF130549), the Natural Science Foun-
dation of Guangxi (Grant No. 2012GXNSFAA053224) and the Nature Science
and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant.

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