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Key features of the LTE radio interface

Erik Dahlman, Anders Furuskär, Ylva Jading, Magnus Lindström and Stefan Parkvall

This article presents some of the key features of the radio interface for LTE tion. Consequently, the LTE uplink employs
(long-term evolution), recently approved by 3GPP. LTE enables unprec- single-carrier transmission in the form of
edented performance in terms of peak data rates, delay, and spectrum DFT-spread OFDM (also called single-
efficiency. carrier FDMA). This solution has a smaller
peak-to-average-power ratio than regular
The authors discuss spectrum flexibility, multi-antenna technologies,
OFDM, resulting in more power-efficient
scheduling, link adaptation, power control, and retransmission handling. and less complex terminals.
The basic radio resource for OFDM
transmission can be described as a two-
Background ciples of LTE radio access is to exploit rather dimensional time-frequency grid that corre-
than suppress rapid variations in channel sponds to a set of OFDM symbols and sub-
Mobile broadband based on high-speed quality in order to make more efficient use carriers in the time and frequency domains.
packet access (HSPA) technology is already of available radio resources. This is done in In LTE, the basic unit for data transmission
a great success. But even so, to meet future both the time and frequency domains using is a pair of resource blocks that correspond
demands for mobile broadband services, the orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing- to a 180kHz bandwidth during a 1ms sub-
industry must further improve service deliv- based (OFDM) radio access. frame (Figure 1). Therefore, by aggregating
ery, for example, through higher data rates, Conventional OFDM with data transmit- frequency resources and by adjusting trans-
shorter delays, and even greater capacity. ted over several parallel narrowband subcar- mission parameters, such as modulation or-
These are the very targets of 3GPP radio- riers lies at the core of LTE downlink radio der and channel code rate, one can flexibly
access networks, specifically through HSPA transmission. The use of relatively narrow- support a wide range of data rates.
Evolution and LTE.1-2 band subcarriers in combination with a cy-
Ericsson is committed to the development clic prefix makes OFDM transmission inher-
of HSPA and LTE as can be seen through an ently robust to time dispersion on the radio
Key features
active driving role in standardization and channel, effectively eliminating the need Several key features are needed to achieve
open prototyping. Examples of improved for complex receiver-side channel equaliza- the aggressive performance targets that have
performance compared with early 3G systems tion. In the downlink this is a particularly been set for LTE. In the text that follows
include peak data rates in excess of 300Mbps, attractive property because it simplifies re- we complement the basic description of sev-
delay and latencies of less than 10ms, and ceiver baseband processing and thus reduces eral individual key features with the specific
manifold gains in spectrum efficiency. LTE terminal cost and power consumption. This targets they address (for example, coverage,
can be deployed both in new and existing is especially important given the wide trans- capacity, data rate, delay) – where possible,
frequency bands and it facilitates simple op- mission bandwidths of LTE and – even more using the example depicted in Figure 1.
eration and maintenance.1 In addition, LTE so – when used in combination with multi-
both targets smooth evolution from legacy stream transmission. Spectrum flexibility
3GPP and 3GPP2 systems and constitutes In the uplink (where there is significantly Depending on regulatory aspects in differ-
a major step toward IMT-Advanced (Inter- less available transmission power compared ent geographical areas, radio spectrum for
national Mobile Telecommunication – Ad- to the downlink) one of the most import­ mobile communication is available in differ-
vanced, sometimes referred to as 4G). In fact, ant factors is a power-efficient transmission ent frequency bands in different bandwidths,
LTE includes many of the features originally scheme, in order to maximize coverage and and comes as both paired and unpaired spec-
considered for a future 4G system. lower terminal cost and power consump- trum. Spectrum flexibility, which enables

Radio interface basics


An intrinsic characteristic of radio communi- TERMS AND ABBREVIATIONS
cation is that the instantaneous radio-channel
quality varies in time, space, and frequency. 3GPP Third Generation Partnership Project
ARQ Automatic repeat request/query
This includes relatively rapid variations due Beamforming Use of multiple transmit antennas to improve signal quality at the receiver
to multipath propagation. Radio-channel DFT Discrete Fourier transform
quality is thus dependent on the detailed FDD Frequency-division duplex
structure of reflected radio waves (Figure 1). FDMA Frequency-division multiple access
FSTD Frequency-shift time diversity
Traditionally, methods for mitigating
HARQ Hybrid ARQ
these variations (that is, different kinds of HSPA High-speed packet access
diversity transmission) have been employed LTE Long-term evolution
to maintain a constant data rate over the ra- Multistream Use of multiple transmit antennas to transmit several streams of data
dio link. However, for packet-data services, transmission
OFDM Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing
end-users do not usually notice rapid short- SFBC Space-frequency block coding
term variations in the instantaneous data rate. TDD Time-division duplex
Consequently, one of the fundamental prin- VoIP Voice over IP

Ericsson Review No. 2, 2008 77


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operation under all these conditions, is one of uses is the same for different bandwidths and voice over IP (VoIP), where relatively low
the key features of LTE radio access. similar for FDD and TDD. user data rates do not justify the additional
Besides being able to operate in differ- overhead associated with channel-dependent
ent frequency bands, LTE can be deployed Multi-antenna transmission scheduling. In summary, transmit diversity
with different bandwidths ranging from ap- The use of multi-antenna transmission tech- techniques increase system capacity and cell
proximately 1.25MHz (suitable for the initial niques in mobile-communication systems range.
migration of, for example, cdma2000/1xEV- enhances system performance, service capa- Multistream transmission employs multiple
DO systems) up to approximately 20MHz. bilities, or both. At its highest level, LTE antennas at the transmitter (network) and re-
Furthermore, LTE can operate in both paired multi-antenna transmission can be divided ceiver (terminal) side to provide simultaneous
and unpaired spectrum by providing a sin- into transmission of multiple parallel data streams
gle radio-access technology that supports • transmit diversity; and over a single radio link. This technique signif-
frequency-division duplex (FDD) as well as • (pre-coder-based) multistream transmission icantly increases the peak data rates over the
time-division duplex (TDD) operation. including beamforming as a special case. radio link – for example, given four base sta-
Where terminals are concerned, FDD can In Figure 1, the example fading patterns for tion transmit antennas and four correspond-
be operated in full- and half-duplex modes. two users can equivalently represent the sig- ing receive antennas at the terminal side, one
Half-duplex FDD, in which the terminal nals received by a single user from two differ- can deliver up to four parallel data streams
separates transmission and reception in fre- ent transmit antennas. In this context, trans- over the same radio link, effectively increas-
quency and time (Figure 2), is useful because mit diversity can be seen as a technique for ing the data rate by a factor of four.
it allows terminals to operate with relaxed averaging the signals received from the two In lightly loaded or small cell deploy-
duplex-filter requirements. This, in turn, antennas, thereby avoiding the deep fading ments, multistream transmission yields
reduces the cost of terminals and makes it dips that occur per antenna. very high data rates and makes more ef-
possible to exploit FDD frequency bands LTE transmit diversity is based on space- ficient use of radio resources. In other
that could not otherwise be used (too narrow frequency block coding (SFBC) techniques scenarios – for example, large cells and
duplex distance). Together, these solutions complemented with frequency-shift time di- heavy load – the basic channel qual-
make LTE fit nearly arbitrary spectrum al- versity (FSTD) when four transmit antennas ity does not allow for extensive multistream
locations. are used. Transmit diversity is primarily transmission. In this case, the multiple trans-
One challenge when designing a spectrum- intended for common downlink channels mit antennas are best used for single stream
flexible radio-access technology is to preserve that cannot make use of channel-dependent beamforming in order to enhance the quality
commonality between the spectrum and du- scheduling. It can, however, also be applied of the signal.
plexing modes. The frame structure that LTE to user-data transmission – for example, In the context of Figure 1, beamforming

78 Ericsson Review No. 2, 2008


can be seen as a means of controlling the fad- uling is used to achieve high cell throughput. user quality (data rate or voice quality);
ing pattern by pre-coding the transmitted Transmissions can be carried out with higher and
signals to adjust the phases so that fading data rates (the result of using higher-order • reducing power consumption.
peaks appear at the receiver. modulation, less channel coding, additional To reach these objectives, power-control
In summary, to yield good performance streams, and fewer retransmissions) by trans- mechanisms typically attempt to maximize
over a broad range of scenarios, LTE provides mitting on time or frequency resources with the received power of desired signals while
an adaptive multistream transmission scheme relatively good channel conditions. This way, limiting interference.
in which the number of parallel streams can fewer radio resources (less time) are con- The LTE uplink is orthogonal, which is to
be continuously adjusted to match the in- sumed for any given amount of information say there is, at least in the ideal case, no inter-
stantaneous channel conditions. transferred, resulting in improved overall ference between users in the same cell. The
• When channel conditions are very good, system efficiency. Figure 1 illustrates how amount of interference to neighbor cells de-
up to four streams can be transmitted in radio channels with fast fading vary for two pends, among other things, on the position
parallel, yielding data rates up to 300Mbps users. The OFDM time-frequency grid fa- of the mobile terminal – more specifically,
in a 20MHz bandwidth. cilitates the selection of resources in the time on the path gain from the terminal to these
• When channel conditions are less favor- and frequency domains. cells. In general, the closer a terminal is to a
able, fewer parallel streams are used. The For services with small payloads and regular neighboring cell the stronger the interference
multiple antennas are instead partly used packet arrivals, the control signaling required to that cell. Accordingly, terminals that are
in a beamforming transmission scheme for dynamic scheduling might be dispropor- farther away from the neighboring cell may
that improves overall reception quality tionately large relative to the amount of user transmit with higher power than terminals
and, as a consequence, system capacity and data transmitted. For this reason, LTE also that are near to the cell. In addition, there is
coverage. supports persistent scheduling (in addition to a correlation between proximity to the serv-
• To achieve good coverage (for instance, in dynamic scheduling). Persistent scheduling ing cell and distance from neighboring cells.
large cells or to support higher data rates at implies that radio resources are allocated to a The LTE uplink power control takes all
cell borders), one can employ single stream user for a given set of subframes. these characteristics into consideration. The
beamforming transmission as well as trans- Link-adaptation techniques are employed orthogonal LTE uplink makes it possible to
mit diversity for common channels. to make the most of instantaneous channel multiplex signals from terminals with differ-
quality. In essence, link adaptation adapts ent received uplink power in the same cell.
Scheduling and link adaptation the selection of modulation and channel- In the short term, this means that instead
In general, scheduling refers to the process coding schemes to current channel condi- of compensating for peaks in multipath fad-
of dividing and allocating resources between tions. This in turn determines the data rate ing by reducing power, one can exploit these
users who have data to transfer. In LTE, dy- or error probabilities of each link. peaks to increase the data rates by means of
namic scheduling (1ms) is applied both to scheduling and link adaptation. In the long
the uplink and downlink. Uplink power control term, one can set the received power target
Scheduling should result in a balance be- Power control is about setting transmit pow- based on the path gain to the serving cell,
tween perceived end-user quality and overall er levels, typically with the aim of giving terminals that generate little interfer-
system performance. Channel-dependent sched- • improving system capacity, coverage, and ence a larger received power target. In the

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LTE spectrum (bandwidth and duplex)
flexibility. Half-duplex FDD is seen from a
terminal perspective.

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Ericsson Review No. 2, 2008 79


context of Figure 1, this corresponds to rais- ARQ retransmissions are only rarely needed.
ing the average signal level. In LTE, the HARQ and ARQ protocols
are terminated in the base station, which
Retransmission handling gives tighter coupling between the HARQ
In practically any communications system, and ARQ protocol layers. The benefits of
occasional data transfer errors arise from, for this architecture are manifold, including fast
example, noise, interference, and fading. Re- handling of residual HARQ errors and vari-
transmission schemes are used to safeguard able ARQ transmission size.
against these errors and to guarantee the
quality of transferred data. The more effi-
cient the retransmission handling, the better
Conclusion
use one can make of the radio capabilities. To The building blocks of the LTE radio inter-
make the most of its high-performance radio face are the key to its high performance.
interface, LTE supports a dynamic and effi- Spectrum flexibility – in terms of variable
cient two-layered retransmission scheme: A frequency bands, bandwidths, and FDD and
fast hybrid automatic repeat request (HARQ) TDD operation – makes LTE suitable for
protocol with low overhead feedback and re- just about any available spectrum.
transmissions with incremental redundancy LTE supports several features that exploit
is complemented by a highly reliable selec- instantaneous radio conditions in a con-
tive repeat ARQ protocol. structive way. Channel-dependent schedul-
The HARQ protocol gives the receiver ing allocates the very best resources to users;
redundancy information that enables it to multi-antenna technologies are employed to
avoid a certain amount of errors. The HARQ make fading conditions on resources even
retransmissions also provide additional re- more favorable; and link-adaptation tech-
dundancy, should the initial transmission niques adapt the modulation and coding
not be sufficient to avoid errors. In addi- scheme to the achieved signal quality. In
tion, the ARQ protocol provides a means of the uplink, a power-control mechanism is
completely retransmitting packets that the employed to allow very high average signal
HARQ protocol could not correct. quality, and to control interference.
This design yields low latency and over- Aggressive use of these features is made
head without sacrificing reliability. Most er- possible thanks to a combination of rapid
rors are captured and corrected by the light- retransmission of data and soft-combining
weight HARQ protocol; therefore, the more of transmission, which yields incremental
expensive (in terms of latency and overhead) redundancy.

REFERENCES

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3. Dahlman, E. et al: 3G Evolution: HSPA
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80 Ericsson Review No. 2, 2008