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The invention is a low complexity architecture for communicating captured sparse signals in WSNs. The application-independent physical layer design leverages sparsity existing in many physical signals to parsimoniously represent them. By preserving the relative bit importance during transmission, it achieves graceful tradeoffs between distortion and channel SNR, resulting in increased robustness against channel errors across a wide range of SNR values in a rateless fashion. The invention was proved to be optimal in terms of distortion in the high SNR regime in point-to-point links and can efficiently serve multicast scenarios. The device is applicable to a wide range of applications and performs close to an idealized layered transmission scheme in terms of reliability and end-to-end distortion.