Industrial Network Protocol Simulators: Types & Uses

Instructor: Haylee Liska

Haylee has a Master's Degree in Computer Science (CS) and has experience teaching as a CS Graduate Assistant.

Before using actual hardware, it is sometimes useful to design and test network layouts in a controlled environment. One way to do this is to utilize network simulators, and in this lesson, we will cover several types of simulators and their uses.

Network Simulators

Installing networking hardware can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Before rushing to bust into ceilings to lay cables, network simulators are utilized to design and test the topology of a network. In an industrial setting, network simulators are mainly used to predict the behavior of a proposed network. These simulators allow users to design, implement, test, and (just like the name suggests) simulate a physical network in a controlled, virtual environment. In a virtual setting, different layouts and situations can be simulated without the need to break out the hardware. This helps us to predict potential problems, as well as optimize the network topology as best as possible for a given physical environment. While there are many network simulators available to choose from, we will be discussing the types and uses of some of the more popular simulators currently used in the industry.


Ns-3 (Network Simulator Version 3) is an open-source discrete event network simulator. Ns-3 is a library for the programming language C++, but is wrapped by another programming language called Python. Ns-3 has multiple modularized simulation models available for use, with a focus on wireless models such as Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and LTE.

Due to the open source nature and realistic focus of Ns-3, it is used in academia and research.

While striving for realism with network structure, one of the disadvantages of this simulator is that it lacks network simulation credibility. Simulation credibility loosely refers to how realistically a simulation performs and whether the results can be validated and verified. Another disadvantage is that many of the modules are based on components from its predecessor simulator, Ns-2. Instead of redesigning these modules, they were ported from Ns-2 which compounds the simulation credibility issue.


OMNeT++ (Objective Modular Network Testbed) is an open-source discrete event simulator framework. While not explicitly a network simulator, this framework is primarily used for constructing network simulations. OMNeT++ is extensible, modular, and like its name suggests, is C++ based. This simulator is capable of: wired, wireless, on-chip, queuing, and ad-hoc network simulations as well as testing internet protocols and generating performance models. OMNeT++ also offers an Eclipse based integrated development environment (IDE), housing a graphical user interface (GUI).

OMNeT++ is often used for modeling communication networks and distributed systems. Due to its open source nature and breadth of network models available, OMNeT++ is often used in academia, research, and other general industries for system development.

Although in use, OMNeT++ does have a few drawbacks. OMNeT++ does not have a lot of wireless sensor network (WSN) development thus many WSN protocols are unavailable for simulation. Additionally, it has limited analysis capabilities, and in turn, lacking in performance management.


Mininet is an open-source network emulator that utilizes lightweight virtualization to create a realistic network simulation. Mininet runs a single Linux kernel with end-hosts, switches, routers, and application code. Mininet is generally fast and offers ample customization options for network simulations, including designing network topologies, adjustment of packet forwarding, and running Python scripts.

Due to the open source and customizable nature of Mininet, it is used in academia, research, and general industries for system development.

Some disadvantages of Mininet is that it imposes resource limits, additional hardware may be required for network address translation (NAT), and it records time measurements in real time instead of virtual time. When we say real time, it refers to the time on the clock i.e. our 24 hour concept of time. However, virtual time refers to the time it takes for the CPU to process tasks, thus more accurate and descriptive than real time.


QualNet is a commercial network simulator based on GloMoSim, with a GUI and environmental design tools. QualNet provides high fidelity network simulations for large wired, wireless, and mixed networks, focusing on testing network performance. This simulator is scalable as it allows for parallel computing and is C++ based.

Due to its scalability and performance testing, QualNet is used where network systems have thousands of connections and security is of high importance. Some example industries are automotive, military, and transportation.

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