High-Resolution, Low-Power Time Synchronization an Oxymoron

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High-Resolution, Low-Power Time
Synchronization an Oxymoron No
More
Thomas Schmid, Prabal Dutta, Mani
B. Srivastava
In a nutshell…
• If you need the functionality of a piece of
equipment, but it costs too much to run
continuously, what can you do?
• Simple – turn it off when you don’t need it.
• If you only need a high-frequency (=highpower) clock occasionally, use a slower clock
(=lower-power) as your primary clock and only
turn on the high-frequency clock when
necessary.
Outline
• Introduction
• Achieving High Precision
– Why we need it
– How to do it
• Achieving Low Power
– Temperature controlled clock
• Virtual High-Resolution Time (VHT)
– Two different implementations
• Results
• Related work
Introduction
• Time synchronization is important.
• Mean synchronization accuracy has not improved
much below 1.5 μs.
– Low-power synchronization at that level is nonexistent.
• Two problems:
– Radio hardware support needed to achieve highprecision message time-stamping.
– High-frequency clocks are needed to achieve highprecision time-keeping.
Introduction 2
• “Conventional wisdom holds that to achieve a
certain level of time synchronization precision, a
free-running timebase of comparable frequency
is needed.”
– Time-keeping costs grow linearly with the required
precision.
– Power draw from a 8 MHz crystal is 340 times the
power draw of 32 kHz crystal.
– 8 Mhz->125 ns. 32 kHz->31.3 μs
• According to the authors, the conventional
wisdom is no longer true.
Why the conventional wisdom is
wrong:
• There are modern, low-power radios that
support sub-microsecond level message timestamping.
• You can use 2 clocks, one fast (8 MHz) and one
slow (32 kHz), and only power the fast one
when you need the extra speed.
– This allows you to scale the power needs with
access.
– Precision on-demand.
Achieving High Precision
• Need 2 things:
– A high-resolution clock source (frequency f0)
• A clock can only estimate an event time to a resolution of
1/f0.
– Message time-stamping with accuracy ε < +/- 1/f0
• A node needs to know its frequency error with respect to a
reference clock. Without error correction nodes need to resequence very frequently.
• If you have both of those, then you just need to
measure clock offsets between network nodes,
and apply an existing frequency error estimation
technique.
Frequency Error
• Time offset measurement method:
– cA(t) is quantized time count = f0*t, cB(t)=(f0+fe)*t
• If both time counts start at 0 then we get:
• We can use that equation to determine the
limit to the resolution with which the
frequency error can be estimated.
Frequency Error 2
• We can find the minimum resolution of the
frequency error estimation by taking the
difference between two measurements that are
separated by one tick:
• Example:
– f0=8MHz, T=10s, error resolution is 0.0125 ppm.
– f0=32.768kHz, T=10s, error resolution is 3.05 ppm.
• High frequencies also help improve error
estimation.
– The greater the clock frequency, the shorter the
interval of time needed to synchronize a pair of clocks
to a given frequency error resolution.
Accurate Timestamps
• Need to capture the timestamp in hardware.
• Most radios have a dedicated interrupt line
that fires at a particular point during the
reception or transmission of a message.
– RBS, Reference Broadcast Synchronization,
timestamps the first byte sent or received. One of
the first. 10 μs accuracy at ~1 MHz.
– FTSP, Flooding Time Synchronization Protocol,
timestamps multiple bytes. Accuracy of 1.5 μs.
The current standard.
Timestamp Tests
• Two different radios:
– TI CC2420, dedicated interrupt line.
– Atmel RF230, interrupt line is multiplexed with
other radio state-machine events.
• 2.4 GHz, max data-rate is 250 kbit/s.
• Used IEEE 802.15.4, that uses message
frames.
TI CC2420
• Difference
between Start of
Frame delimiter
rising at the
transmitter and at
the receiver.
• Mean of 3.162 μs,
and 3.166 μs. SD
is 41.26 ns and
40.9 ns. 95% of
measurements fall
within a 160 ns
window.
• Mean of 3.58 ns,
SD of 58.14 ns.
Atmel RF230
• Mean time
between
transmitter and
receiver is 17.4
μs. SD of 290
ns and 370 ns.
• SD is about 7x
higher than TI
CC2420.
Results
• On TI CC2420, need a clock frequency of 12.5
MHz to guarantee with high probability that
the message timestamp can be resolved to
within +/- 1 clock tick.
• CC2420 will achieve a better time
synchronization accuracy when using high
frequency clocks.
Achieving Low Power
• Need 2 things:
– Low-frequency clocks
– Infrequent communication
• Low-frequency: Power draw from a 8 MHz crystal is 340
times the power draw of 32 kHz crystal.
– Telos platform at 32 kHz, in sleep mode draws 7.2 μA
at 3.0V or 4.5 μA at 2.3V.
• Infrequent communication: The longer the
resynchronization interval, the more likely
environmental temperature and clock drift will
create error.
Achieving Clock Stability
• Temperature-Compensated Crystal Oscillators
(TCXO).
– Hardware solution to regulating frequency with
respect to temperature.
– Work well, but are too big and expensive.
• Temperature Compensated Time Sync (TCTS)
– Software lookup-table solution using a regular
temperature sensor (no new hardware).
TCTS
• One node has access to an accurate and stable
timebase.
• All other nodes synchronize to the main node, and
during resynchronization each node calculates its
current frequency error.
• Temperature and frequency error are cached in a
frequency vs. temperature table.
• At each resychronization, if the current temperature is
in the database, then the node will not resychronize
because no new time estimate is required.
• Eventually all operating temperatures will be covered,
essentially providing a TCXO timebase.
TCTS Experiment Results
• Temperature in chamber
slowly changed from -10
oC to 60 oC.
• Quadratic equation: fe(T)=-A*(T-T0)2+B, A=temperature coefficient,
T0=20 oC for room temperature, B=frequency error offset.
• Can use the equation to find frequency error estimates for
previously unobserved temperatures.
Full TCTS Experiment
• Recalibration set to 30 seconds.
• TCTS maintains tight synchronization.
• Power draw: temperature measurement = 66.5
μJ. Sending a message 600 μJ.
Virtual High-Resolution Time
• Need High-Accuracy
– High-frequency clocks
– Accurate time-stamping mechanism
• Need Low-Power
– Low-frequency clock
– Infrequent synchronization
• Enter VHT: high-frequency clock only when
you need it, otherwise use a low-frequency
clock.
VHT Overview
• During active periods the high-frequency clock is
turned on, and a hardware counter counts the
number of high-frequency clock ticks that occur
during each low-frequency clock interval.
• There are ρ0 = fH/fL high-frequency clock ticks
during each low-frequency tick.
• When an event of interest occurs, the system
records both counters (high-frequency counter is
reset every low-frequency tick).
• The event time is: tevent=CL*ρ0+ ρ.
Microcontroller-based VHT
• Need a microcontroller with:
– 2 clock inputs, driven by the two different
oscillators
– 2 timers with capture and compare modes,
sourced by the two clocks
– Some way to trigger a capture of the highfrequency timer.
Microcontroller-based VHT on CC2420
• Both capture units are on the interrupt line.
• Another capture unit is triggered on the lowfrequency rising edge to capture the highfrequency counter. (Sync event)
• The event captures l0 and h1. Event time:
Microcontroller-based VHT on CC2420
• Drawbacks:
– Uses all available timer resources. No more ADC.
– Limited width of the counters.
• On the CC2420 they are only 16-bits.
• A 32-bit counter at 8 MHz will overflow every 5
minutes.
FPGA-based Dedicated VHT
• Smart adder adds 16-bit counter to LTC counting
register, or stores LTC register directly.
FPGA-based Dedicated VHT
• Drawbacks:
– Draws more power than if it were directly
implemented in a microcontroller.
– Timers are off-chip, which means we need a
communication interface between the
microcontroller and the FPGA.
Microcontroller-based VHT Results
• Modified timer so incoming or outgoing
messages get the 32 kHz clock and the phase
of the high-frequency timer.
• Experiment:
– 5 nodes running VHT, synchronizing every 10
seconds
– A sixth node sends a beacon every 2 seconds with
the other nodes timestamp.
Results
• The 8 MHz virtual
clock provides
maximum time
resolution of 0.125
μs.
• Average accuracy of
one tick, with SD of
0.645 μs.
Power Draw
• Uses different hardware.
• Polling interval of 1.6
seconds (radio is turned
on to take a sample
every 1.6 seconds),
duty-cycle of 0.77%.
• 5 orders of magnitude
difference in power
draw.
• Power draw is 3x lower
with VHT.
Power model for VHT-equipped Node
• For a given duty cycle
(dc) running LowPower-Listening (LPL):
– Regular node:
– VHT node:
– P0 is leakage, Plclk is the
slow clock, Phclk is the
fast clock, and Pradio is
the radio power draw.
Conclusions
• System designers used to have to choose
between low-power and high-resolution.
• Don’t need to make that decision anymore
because now both are available.
– VHT allows better than 1 μs time-keeping
precision and an order-of-magnitude
improvement in power draw compared to
conventional techniques at 0.1% or lower radio
duty cycles.
Related Work
• Reference Broadcast Synchronization (RBS)
was one of the first synchronization protocols.
– Not really relevant when low-level software- or
hardware-based time-stamping mechanisms are
available.
• Timing-sync Protocol for Sensor Networks
(TPSN).
– Should have 2x better performance than RBS, but
they do not implement clock drift estimation.
– IEEE implemented a protocol that is very similar to
TPSN that gets better than 100ns accuracy.
More Related Work
• Flooding Time Synchronization Protocol (FTSP)
– Current de facto standard.
– Nothing has yet improved on it, but it does not
take into account propagation delays.
• Gradient Time Synchronization Protocol
(GTSP)
– Corrects the problem where nodes are radio
neighbors but are members of different
synchronization trees.
Even More Related Work
• Syntonistor – a device for synchronization that
locks onto 60 Hz AC noise found in buildings.
– Get accuracy better than 1 ms while only consuming
only 58 μW.
– Low power is comparable, but accuracy is not.
• Harmonia time-synchronization system
– Closest to VHT. Relies on a TCXO-driven clock that
provides a stable 1 Hz signal.
– May not be widely applicable, while VHT is drop in.

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