Short-Packet Communications: Fundamental Performance and Key Enablers
The paradigm shift from 4G to 5G communications, predicted to enable new use cases such as ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), will enforce a radical change in the design of communication systems. Unlike in 4G systems, where the main objective is to have a large transmission rate, in URLLC, as implied by its name, the objective is to enable transmissions with low latency and, simultaneously, very high reliability. Since low latency implies the use of short data packets, the tension between blocklength and reliability is studied in URLLC.
Several key enablers for URLLC communications have been designated in the literature. A non-exhaustive list contains: multiple transmit and receive antennas (MIMO), short transmission-time intervals (TTI), increased bandwidth, and feedback protocols. Furthermore, it is not only important to introduce additional diversity by means of the above examples, one must also guarantee that the scarce number of channel uses are used in an optimal way. Therefore, protocols for how to convey meta-data such as control information and pilot symbols are needed as are efficient short-packet channel codes.
This thesis focuses on the performance of reliable short-packet communications. Specifically, we provide converse (upper) bounds and achievability (lower) bounds on the maximum coding rate, based on finite-blocklength information theory, for systems that employ the key enablers outlined above. With focus on the Rician and Rayleigh block-fading channels, we are able to answer, e.g., how to optimally utilize spatial and frequency diversity, how far from optimal short-packet channel codes perform, and whether feedback-based schemes are preferable over non-feedback schemes.
More specifically, in Paper A, we study the performance impact of MIMO and a shortened TTI in both uplink and downlink under maximum-likelihood decoding and Rayleigh block-fading. Based on our results, we are able to study the trade-off between bandwidth, latency, spatial diversity, and error probability. Furthermore, we give an example of a pragmatic design of a pilot-assisted channel code that comes within 2.7 dB of our achievability bounds. In Paper B, we partly extend our work in Paper A to the Rician block-fading channel and to practical schemes such as pilot-assisted transmission with nearest neighbor decoding. We derive achievability bounds for pilot-assisted transmission with several different decoders that allow us to quantify the impact, on the achievable performance, of pilots and mismatched decoding. Furthermore, we design short-packet channel codes that perform within 1 dB of our achievability bounds. Paper C contains an achievability bound for a system that employs a variable-length stop-feedback (VLSF) scheme with an error-free feedback link. Based on the results in Paper C and Paper B, we are able to compare non-feedback schemes to stop-feedback schemes and assess if, and when, one is superior to the other. Specifically, we show that, for some practical scenarios, stop-feedback does significantly outperform non-feedback schemes.
short-packet channel codes.