Underwater sensor networks represent an important and promising field of research due to the large diversity of underwater ubiquitous applications that can be supported by these networks, e.g., systems that deliver tsunami and oil spill warnings, or monitor submarine ecosystems. Most of these monitoring and warning systems require real-time communication in wide area networks that have a low density of nodes. The underwater communication medium involved in these networks is very harsh and imposes strong restrictions to the communication process. In this scenario, the real-time transmission of information is done mainly using acoustic signals, since the network nodes are not physically close. The features of the communication scenario and the requirements of the communication process represent major challenges for designers of both, communication protocols and monitoring and warning systems. The lack of models to represent these networks is the main stumbling block for the proliferation of underwater ubiquitous systems. This paper presents a real-time communication model for underwater acoustic sensor networks (UW-ASN) that are designed to cover wide areas with a low density of nodes, using any-to-any communication. This model is analytic, considers two solution approaches for scheduling the real-time messages, and provides a time-constraint analysis for the network performance. Using this model, the designers of protocols and underwater ubiquitous systems can quickly prototype and evaluate their solutions in an evolving way, in order to determine the best solution to the problem being addressed. The suitability of the proposal is illustrated with a case study that shows the performance of a UW-ASN under several initial conditions. This is the first analytic model for representing real-time communication in this type of network, and therefore, it opens the door for the development of underwater ubiquitous systems for several application scenarios.
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