Cell-Free Massive MIMO Versus Small Cells

Hien Quoc Ngo, Alexei Ashikhmin, Hong Yang, Erik G. Larsson, Thomas L. Marzetta

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A Cell-Free Massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) system comprises a very large number of distributed access points (APs), which simultaneously serve a much smaller number of users over the same time/frequency resources based on directly measured channel characteristics. The APs and users have only one antenna each. The APs acquire channel state information through time-division duplex operation and the reception of uplink pilot signals transmitted by the users. The APs perform multiplexing/de-multiplexing through conjugate beamforming on the downlink and matched filtering on the uplink. Closed-form expressions for individual user uplink and downlink throughputs lead to max-min power control algorithms. Max-min power control ensures uniformly good service throughout the area of coverage. A pilot assignment algorithm helps to mitigate the effects of pilot contamination, but power control is far more important in that regard. Cell-Free Massive MIMO has considerably improved performance with respect to a conventional small-cell scheme, whereby each user is served by a dedicated AP, in terms of both 95%-likely per-user throughput and immunity to shadow fading spatial correlation. Under uncorrelated shadow fading conditions, the cell-free scheme provides nearly fivefold improvement in 95%-likely per-user throughput over the small-cell scheme, and tenfold improvement when shadow fading is correlated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1834-1850
JournalIEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2017


  • Cell-Free Massive MIMO system, conjugate beamforming, Massive MIMO, network MIMO, small cell


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