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We investigate the spatial distribution of wireless nodes that can transport a given volume of traffic in a sensor network, while requiring the minimum number of wireless nodes. The traffic is created at a spatially distributed set of sources, and must arrive at a spatially distributed set of sinks. Under a general assumption on the physical and medium access control (MAC) layers, the optimal distribution of nodes induces a traffic flow identical to the electrostatic field that would exist if the sources and sinks of traffic were substituted with an appropriate distribution of electric charge. This analogy between electrostatics and wireless sensor networks can be extended in a number of different ways. For example, Thomson's theorem on the distribution of electric charge on conductors gives the optimal distribution of traffic sources and sinks (that minimizes the number of nodes needed) when we have a limited degree of freedom on their initial placement. Electrostatics problems with Neumann boundary conditions and topologies with different types of dielectric materials can also be interpreted in the context of wireless sensor networks. The analogy also has important limitations. For example, if we move to a three dimensional topology, adapting our general assumption on the physical and MAC layers accordingly, or we stay in the two dimensional plane but use an alternative assumption, that is more suited to ultra wide band communication, the optimal traffic distribution is not in general irrotational, and so can not be interpreted as an electrostatic field. Finally, the analogy cannot be extended to include networks that support more than one type of traffic.
Date of Conference: 13-17 March 2005