Table Of Contents
Table Of Contents

The Physical Environment


Wireless networks are heavily affected by the physical environment, and the requirements for today’s ubiquitous wireless communication devices are increasingly demanding. Cellular networks serve densely populated urban areas, wireless LANs need to be able to cover large buildings with several offices, low-power wireless sensors must tolerate noisy industrial environments, batteries need to remain operational under various external conditions, and so on.

The propagation of radio signals, the movement of communicating agents, battery exhaustion, etc., depend on the surrounding physical environment. For example, signals can be absorbed by objects, can pass through objects, can be refracted by surfaces, can be reflected from surfaces, or battery capacity might depend on external temperature. These effects cannot be ignored in high-fidelity simulations.

In order to help the modeling process, the model of the physical environment in the INET Framework is separated from the rest of the simulation model. The main goal of the physical environment model is to describe buildings, walls, vegetation, terrain, weather, and other physical objects and conditions that might have effects on radio signal propagation, movement, batteries, etc. This separation makes the model reusable by all other simulation models that depend on these circumstances.

The following sections provide a brief overview of the physical environment model.


In INET, the physical environment is modeled by the PhysicalEnvironment compound module. This module normally has one instance in the network, and acts as a database that other parts of the simulation can query at runtime. It contains the following information:

  • geometry and properties of physical objects (usually referrred to as “obstacles” in wireless simulations)
  • a ground model
  • other physical properties of the environment, like its bounds in space

PhysicalEnvironment is an active compound module, that is, it has an associated C++ class that contains the data structures and implements an API that allows other modules to query the data.

Part of PhysicalEnvironment’s functionality is implemented in submodules for easy replacement. They are currently the ground model, and an object cache (for efficient queries):

ground: <groundType> like IGround if groundType != "";
objectCache: <objectCacheType> like IObjectCache if objectCacheType != "";

Physical Objects

The most important aspect of the physical environment is the objects which are present in it. For example, simulating an indoor Wifi scenario may need to model walls, floors, ceilings, doors, windows, furniture, and similar objects, because they all affect signal propagation (obstacle modeling).

Objects are located in space, and have shapes and materials. The physical environment model supports basic shapes and homogeneous materials, which is a simplified description but still allows for a reasonable approximation of reality. Physical objects in INET have the following properties:

  • shape describes the object in 3D independent of its position and orientation.
  • position determines where the object is located in the 3D space.
  • orientation determines how the object is rotated relative to its default orientation.
  • material describes material specific physical properties.
  • graphical properties provide parameters for better visualization.

Graphical properties include:

  • line width: affects surface outline
  • line color: affects surface outline
  • fill color: affects surface fill
  • opacity: affects surface outline and fill
  • tags: allows filtering objects on the graphical user interface

Physical objects in INET are stationary, they cannot change their position or orientation over time. Since the shape of the physical objects might be quite diverse, the model is designed to be extensible with new shapes. INET provides the following shapes:

  • sphere shapes are specified by a radius
  • cuboid shapes are specified by a length, a width, and a height
  • prism shapes are specified by a 2D polygon base and a height
  • polyhedron shapes are specified by the convex hull of a set of 3D vertices

The following example shows how to define various physical objects using the XML syntax supported by the physical environment:

  <!-- shapes and materials -->
  <shape id="1" type="sphere" radius="10"/>
  <shape id="2" type="cuboid" size="20 30 40"/>
  <shape id="3" type="prism" height="10" points="0 0 10 0 10 10 0 10"/>
  <shape id="4" type="polyhedron" points="0 0 0 10 0 0 10 10 0 0 10 0 ..."/>
  <material id="1" resistivity="10" relativePermittivity="4.5"/>
  <!-- an object that uses a previously defined shape and material -->
  <object position="min 10 20 0" orientation="45 0 0" shape="1" material="1"/>
  <!-- an object defined with an in-line shape -->
  <object position="min 10 20 0" orientation="45 -30 0" shape="cuboid 20 30 40"
             material="concrete" line-color="0 0 0" fill-color="112 128 144"/>

In order to load the above XML file, the following configuration could be used:

*.physicalEnvironment.config = xmldoc("objects.xml") # load physical objects

Ground Models

In inter-vehicle simulations the terrain has profound effects on signal propagation. For example, vehicles on the opposite sides of a mountain cannot directly communicate with each other.

A ground model describes the 3D surface of the terrain. Its main purpose is to compute a position on the surface underneath an particular position.

INET contains the following built-in ground models implemented as OMNeT++ simple modules:

  • FlatGround is a trivial model which provides a flat surface parallel to the XY plane at a certain height.
  • OsgEarthGround is a more realistic model (based on ) which provides a terrain surface.

Geographic Coordinate System Models

In order to run high fidelity simulations, it is often required to embed the communication network into a real world map. With the new OMNeT++ 5 version, INET already provides support for 3D maps using for visualization and as the map provider.

However, INET carries out all geometric computation internally (including signal propagation and path loss) in a 3D Euclidean coordinate system. The discrepancy between the internal scene coordinate system and the usual geographic coordinate systems must be resolved.

A geographic coordinate system model maps scene coordinates to geographic coordinates, and vice versa. Such a model allows positioning physical objects and describing network node mobility using geographical coordinates (e.g longitude, latitude, altitude).

In INET, a geographic coordinate system model is implemented as an OMNeT++ simple module:

In order to use geographic coordinates in a simulation, a geographic coordinate system module must be included in the network. The desired physical environment module and mobility modules must be configured (using module path parameters) to use the geographic coordinate system module. The following example also shows how the geographic coordinate system module can be configured to place the scene at a particular geographic location and orientation.

*.physicalEnvironment.coordinateSystemModule = "coordinateSystem" # reference
*.*.mobility.coordinateSystemModule = "coordinateSystem" # reference
*.coordinateSystem.sceneLongitude = -71.070421deg # scene origin
*.coordinateSystem.sceneLatitude = 42.357824deg # scene origin
*.coordinateSystem.sceneHeading = 68.3deg # scene orientation

Object Cache

If a simulation contains a large number of physical objects, then signal propagation may become computationally very expensive. The reason is that the transmission medium model must check each line of sight path between all transmitter and receiver pairs against all physical objects.

An object cache organizes physical objects into a data structure which provides efficient geometric queries. Its main purpose is to iterate all physical objects penetrated by a 3D line segment.

In INET, an object cache model is implemented as an OMNeT++ simple module:

  • GridObjectCache organizes objects into a fixed cell size 3D spatial grid.
  • BvhObjectCache organizes objects into a tree data structure based on recursive 3D volume division.