Ubiquitous cell-free Massive MIMO communications
Since the first cellular networks were trialled in the 1970s, we have witnessed an incredible wireless revolution. From 1G to 4G, the massive traffic growth has been managed by a combination of wider bandwidths, refined radio interfaces, and network densification, namely increasing the number of antennas per site. Due its cost-efficiency, the latter has contributed the most. Massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) is a key 5G technology that uses massive antenna arrays to provide a very high beamforming gain and spatially multiplexing of users and hence increases the spectral and energy efficiency (see references herein). It constitutes a centralized solution to densify a network, and its performance is limited by the inter-cell interference inherent in its cell-centric design. Conversely, ubiquitous cell-free Massive MIMO refers to a distributed Massive MIMO system implementing coherent user-centric transmission to overcome the inter-cell interference limitation in cellular networks and provide additional macro-diversity. These features, combined with the system scalability inherent in the Massive MIMO design, distinguish ubiquitous cell-free Massive MIMO from prior coordinated distributed wireless systems. In this article, we investigate the enormous potential of this promising technology while addressing practical deployment issues to deal with the increased back/front-hauling overhead deriving from the signal co-processing.
One of the primary ways to provide high per-user data rates—requirement for the creation of a 5G network— is through network densification, namely increasing the number of antennas per site and deploying smaller and smaller cells. A communication technology that involves base stations (BSs) with very large number of transmitting/receiving antennas is Massive MIMO, where MIMO stands for multiple-input multiple-output.
In the uplink (UL), all the users transmit data to the BS in the same time-frequency resources. The BS exploits the massive number of channel observations to apply linear receive combining, which discriminates the desired signal from the interfering signals. In the downlink (DL), the users are coherently served by all the antennas, in the same time-frequency resources but separated in the spatial domain by receiving very directive signals.
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