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**2, FEBRUARY 2010 399
**

On Using Transmission Overhead Efﬁciently for

Channel Estimation in OFDM

Christian Oberli, Member, IEEE, María Constanza Estela, and Miguel Ríos, Senior Member, IEEE

Abstract—The limited time available for acquiring the channel

state in mobile broadband wireless communication systems

makes it crucial to count with channel estimation methods that

attain the highest accuracy with a given preamble length. For

the family of preambles that probe channels repeatedly at equi-

spaced frequencies, we ﬁnd that the shortest preamble that

attains a given mean square error is a sequence that under-

samples the channel spectrum, thereby allowing for a better

mitigation of white Gaussian noise by averaging a higher number

of observations.

Index Terms—Channel estimation, interpolation, training over-

head, OFDM.

I. INTRODUCTION

C

HANNEL estimation in Orthogonal Frequency Division

Multiplexing (OFDM) systems is often done by trans-

mitting pilot symbols on selected subcarriers and feeding the

received values into an estimator, such as a least squares or

minimum mean square estimator [1]–[4]. Simpliﬁed estimators

[5]–[10], optimal sequence design [11]–[16], optimal pilot

symbol placement [12], [13], [17], [18], for single-antenna as

well as multi-antenna OFDM systems, are topics well covered

in the literature. However, with the exception of [19], whose

approach is information-theoretical, one area that falls outside

the scope of past attention is to study the relationship between

channel estimation quality and the amount of transmission

overhead necessary to attain it.

Gaining a better understanding of how to use transmission

overhead efﬁciently is crucial for future mobile broadband

wireless communication systems. In effect, under mobility, the

maximum amount of training data that is useful to transmit

for acquiring the channel state is proportional —by some

measure— to the coherence time of the channel. As the

coherence time shortens when a mobile’s speed increases, and

as bandwidth and number of antenna elements grow, a point is

eventually reached at which the channel can only be acquired

with sufﬁcient accuracy if the transmission overhead is used

efﬁciently.

In order to motivate our work, consider the problem of

acquiring the channel state in an OFDM system that uses

**subcarriers for payload transmission. Approach A consists
**

of simply probing all

**channel coefﬁcients times, as
**

Paper approved by S. N. Batalama, the Editor for Spread Spectrum

and Estimation of the IEEE Communications Society. Manuscript received

October 12, 2007; revised June 20, 2008 and April 28, 2009.

C. Oberli and M. Ríos are with the Department of Electrical Engineering,

Pontiﬁcia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile (e-mail: {obe,

mrios}@ing.puc.cl).

M. Constanza Estela is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the

Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom (e-mail:

m.estela09@imperial.ac.uk).

Digital Object Identiﬁer 10.1109/TCOMM.2010.02.070530

64 samples

DC 31 −31

N repetitions = MN samples

frequency

frequency

(b)

64 samples

symbol

First OFDM

(a)

time

Bandwidth B

T

time

DC M/2−1 −M/2

M samples

Bandwidth B

T

Synch preamble

symbol

First OFDM

10 short symbols 2 long symbols with cyclic prefix

( ) r n

l

Fig. 1. (a) Approach A: preamble structure used for channel estimation in

IEEE 802.11a. (b) Approach B: alternative preamble structure.

it is envisioned to be done with the = 2 long symbols

of the IEEE 802.11a speciﬁcation [20] (Figure 1a). Ignoring

the cyclic preﬁx that precedes the transmission of the ﬁrst

training symbol (later repetitions of the symbol are preﬁxed

by the previous one), the entire acquisition preamble is ×

**samples long. While using this kind of a preamble provides a
**

simple means for estimating the channel on all subcarriers,

it is clearly spectrally inefﬁcient, because it does not take

advantage of the correlation of the channel over frequency.

Consider thus Approach B, which probes the channel only

on <

**equi-spaced frequencies (Figure 1b). This may be
**

attained by repeatedly transmitting an -point OFDM symbol

—a symbol that only has subcarriers; the bandwidth, and

hence the sample rate, is the same as in Approach A. The

symbol’s duration in the time domain is therefore samples.

The channel on the desired

**payload subcarriers must then
**

be obtained by interpolation.

Given the same preamble length, Approach B allows for

observing the channel more often than Approach A (albeit

with coarser resolution). This leads to better estimates on

the observed frequencies, because Additive White Gaussian

Noise (AWGN) is averaged out more. On the other hand, an

interpolation error is incurred when computing the

-point

channel estimate. The question that arises is how to choose

and optimally, so that the minimum channel estimation

Mean Square Error (MSE) is attained with a given preamble

length.

0090-6778/10$25.00 c ⃝ 2010 IEEE

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400 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON COMMUNICATIONS, VOL. 58, NO. 2, FEBRUARY 2010

Our approach does not seek nor claim optimality in a global

sense. We rather seek to ﬁnd optimum performance among

the family of training preambles that consist of repeatedly

transmitting a unique training symbol, as it is common in

current commercial systems and likely in future ones.

This letter is organized as follows. Section II describes

our signal model and the estimator used on the probed

frequencies. Section III presents the interpolation procedure

and derivation of the estimation MSE. The result is then used

in Section IV for deriving optimal (, ) pairs for a preamble

of given length. Examples based on the IEEE 802.11a OFDM

standard [20] are given for illustration. Finally, Section V

summarizes the main conclusions.

II. OFDM SIGNAL MODEL AND CHANNEL ESTIMATION

Consider sounding a frequency selective channel of band-

width

**by repeatedly transmitting an OFDM symbol of
**

subcarriers, each one modulated with random symbols

(), = 0, . . . , − 1. The symbols are drawn from

a modulation such as QPSK, with unit energy per symbol.

The -point inverse Discrete Fourier Transform (DFT) is

used for generating the corresponding time-domain symbol

(), with = 0, . . . , − 1 (all DFT operations in this

letter are unitary). Its cyclic extension, ˜ () = (∣), with

= 0, 1, 2, . . . and ∣ denoting the modulo operation, is

transmitted over the air.

The received signal is given by

() = ˜ () ∗

ℎ() +(), ≥ 0, (1)

where ℎ() is the channel impulse response, ∗

indicates linear

discrete convolution, and () represents AWGN of power

spectral density

0

.

The maximum excess delay of the channel (

samples)

may be larger or smaller than the period of the preamble

(). In either case, () is -periodic for ≥

− 1.

contiguous periods of samples are extracted from the

periodic portion of (). Perfect knowledge of symbol timing

and frequency offset are assumed at the receiver. The

resulting sequences are deﬁned as (cf. Figure 1b)

() = ( + [ − 1]), (2)

with = 1, . . . , and = 0, . . . , −1. Because each cycle

of ˜ () is a cyclic preﬁx to the following one, it is simple to

show that

() = () ∗

ℎ() +

(), (3)

where ∗

indicates cyclic convolution and

() = (+[ −

1]), with = 1, . . . , and = 0, . . . , − 1. Taking an

-point forward FFT on

() yields

() =

√

()

() +

(), (4)

where

**() is the -point FFT of ℎ(). It is straightfor-
**

ward to show that

ˇ

() =

1

√

∗

()

∑

=1

() (5)

is the maximum likelihood channel estimator for subcarrier

, when no information of other subcarriers is known [21].

It is to be noted that when = 1 and equals the number

of subcarriers of the OFDM payload transmission (

), then

(5) is van de Beek’s LS estimator [1].

III. INTERPOLATION AND MSE DERIVATION

Given the channel estimates

ˇ

() at equi-spaced

frequencies, we seek to obtain

channel estimates

ˆ

(),

= 0, . . . ,

**− 1, by means of interpolation. We consider
**

using the DFT for this task. This method is more accurate

than e.g. linear interpolation, it is mathematically tractable,

and can be provided at little extra cost with a careful receiver

design that reuses hardware of the

**-point FFT used for data
**

transmission. Because a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) would

be used in practice, the values of interest for are integer

powers of two.

FFT interpolation requires ﬁrst taking an -point inverse

FFT on

ˇ

(), then zero-padding the result with

− zeros

and, ﬁnally, taking a forward

**-point FFT on the zero-padded
**

sequence. The result is

ˆ

() =

1

√

−1

∑

=0

(

−1

∑

=0

ˇ

()

+2/

)

−2/

.

(6)

Using (4) in (5) and the result in (6), we ﬁnd

ˆ

() =

1

√

−1

∑

=0

(

−1

∑

=0

()

+2/

)

⋅

−2/

(7)

+

1

√

−1

∑

=0

(

−1

∑

=0

[

∑

=1

()

]

+2/

)

⋅

−2/

,

with

() =

1

√

()

∗

(). (8)

Considering an ensemble of frequency selective channels

with Rayleigh fading exponentially decaying power proﬁles

and RMS delay spread

RMS

(cf. Appendix A), we show

in Appendix B that the expected MSE of the estimated and

interpolated channel with respect to the exact channel is

MSE

{

ˆ

}

=

{

2

(

−

RMS

−

−

RMS

)

+

0

, <

0

, ≥

.

(9)

The MSE of (9) is shown with solid lines in Figure 2 as

a function of the preamble sequence length × for a

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 7 dB. For each curve,

is ﬁxed and increases. The markers on top of the curves

are simulation results. Each point collects statistics from 3000

channel realizations whose expected

RMS

, normalized to the

sampling rate, is one (E{

RMS

} = 1). This represents, for

instance, indoor ofﬁce environments for OFDM transmissions

conﬁgured with IEEE 802.11a parameters [20].

The channel impulse response sequences used in the curves

of Figure 2 are

**= 16 samples long (Appendix A). Let us
**

focus then, for instance, on the curves for = 8 and =

16 at a preamble length of 112 samples (markers “8/14” and

“16/7”, respectively). One would expect the curve = 16

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OBERLI et al.: ON USING TRANSMISSION OVERHEAD EFFICIENTLY FOR CHANNEL ESTIMATION IN OFDM 401

0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200

−22

−20

−18

−16

−14

−12

−10

−8

−6

Preamble length M×N [samples]

M

S

E

[

d

B

]

4/8

4/18

4/28

4/38

8/4

8/9

8/14

8/19

16/2

16/7

64/2

M=4

M=8

M=16

M=64

Fig. 2. Channel estimation MSE according to (9) (curves) and simulation

(markers). Circled data points indicate “/”. SNR=7 dB.

to provide better estimates, because it satisﬁes the sampling

theorem for a channel with

**= 16 taps, while = 8 does
**

not. However, the best estimation performance is attained with

= 8 samples of the channel spectrum, when 8 multipath

components out of the 16 of the channel impulse response alias

in the time domain. Disregarding the sampling theorem allows

for doubling the number of observations (), which in turn

serves the purpose of averaging-out AWGN. Therefore, there

is a trade-off between mitigating AWGN () and avoiding

aliasing () for attaining the minimum MSE.

The trade-off between aliasing and AWGN is explicit in

(9). The term 2

(

−/

RMS

−

−

/

RMS

)

depends solely on

and on the channel parameters

RMS

and

, and not on

the number of observations . As increases, the MSE

decreases until reaches the value of

**. From this point on,
**

the estimation is free of aliasing and this error term becomes

zero. Therefore, this term represents the interpolation error,

while the term

0

**exclusively captures the estimation error
**

due to AWGN. This aspect can be observed graphically in the

curve for = 4 in Figure 2, which reaches an asymptote

at MSE ≈ −14.4 dB. As increases, the AWGN eventually

becomes negligible and the interpolation error (constant to

) dominates. is then the limiting parameter in estimation

accuracy.

Also shown in Figure 2 is the curve for = 64. At

= 2, this curve illustrates the MSE for a channel estimation

performed using the two “long” symbols of the IEEE 802.11a

preamble. The standard’s approach clearly trades transmission

overhead for simplicity.

Even though result (9) is speciﬁc for channels whose

multipath components are Rayleigh fading and whose power

proﬁle decays exponentially, the above discussion does give

an insight for channels with other power proﬁles as well. In

effect, by considering that the exponentially decaying proﬁle

represents worst-case multipath propagation conditions, (9)

can be taken as an upper bound of the MSE attainable when

estimating channels whose power proﬁle is more benign,

such as the Ricean channels (these proﬁles have the same

0 50 100 150 200 250

−30

−25

−20

−15

−10

−5

preamble length M×N [samples]

M

S

E

[

d

B

]

M=4

M=8

M=16

4/8

8/8

8/12

8/16

8/20

8/24

8/28

8/32

8/4

8/8

8/12

8/16

8/20

8/24

8/28

8/32

8/4

8/8

8/12

8/16

8/20

8/24

8/28

8/32

SNR = 5 dB

SNR = 10 dB

SNR = 15 dB

IEEE 802.11a

Fig. 3. MSE with optimal choice of and .

maximum excess delay but a smaller

RMS

than the expo-

nentially decaying channel). Note also that when

RMS

→ 0

(frequency ﬂat fading channel), the MSE of (9) becomes

0

**and is independent of . This prompts the intuitive result to
**

maximize by setting = 1 (i.e. to transmit the same pilot

symbol times).

IV. OPTIMAL VALUES OF AND FOR A GIVEN MSE

The best channel estimate as a function of the transmission

overhead is attained by following the lower envelope of the

curves in Figure 2 (dashed line). This envelope is composed

piecewise by curves of (9) whose value of is different.

Therefore, determining the envelope requires ﬁnding the inter-

section points between those curves. By analyzing (9), one can

show that the intersection points always occur between curves

whose value of differs by a factor of 2. The MSE at the

intersection points can then be shown to be (cf. Appendix C)

MSE

×

= 4

−

RMS

− 2

−2

RMS

− 2

−

RMS

, (10)

which does not depend on . Thus, given a desired channel

estimation MSE, (10) can be solved for and the result used

in (9) for ﬁnding . The lower envelope and optimal (, )

pairs obtained this way are plotted in Figure 3 for various SNR

(environment as in Figure 2 with expected

RMS

equal one).

Figure 3 also shows the intervals of MSE that lead to different

choices of , as well as the MSE attained when estimating

the channel using the two “long” symbols of the IEEE 802.11a

preamble (square markers, equal

0

2

, from (9); to be fair, the

standard does not mandate to estimate the channel using only

the two long symbols.) In practice, it is clear that and

cannot be adjusted as a function of SNR. The pair = 8 and

= 4 attains or surpasses the estimation MSE obtained with

the two “long” symbols for all SNRs considered, but uses a

preamble four times shorter.

V. CONCLUSIONS

The problem of attaining initial channel estimates in OFDM

with minimum transmission overhead was considered. The

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402 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON COMMUNICATIONS, VOL. 58, NO. 2, FEBRUARY 2010

relationship between the estimation mean square error and

the preamble length was established for an estimator based

on observing the channel spectrum a given number of times

at a given number of equi-spaced frequencies, followed by

interpolation. The result was used for ﬁnding the shortest

training sequence that attains a given channel estimation mean

square error. An example based on IEEE 802.11a parameters

illustrates that the optimal preamble is at least four times

shorter than the one used by 802.11a.

APPENDIX A

CHANNEL MODEL

The channel model used in our mathematical analysis and

simulations is the exponentially decaying Rayleigh fading

channel model. Its discrete impulse response sequence is

ℎ() =

√

1

2

(1 −

−2

)

−

[() +()], (11)

where () and () are independent and identically dis-

tributed Gaussian random sequences with zero mean and unit

variance, = 0, 1, . . . ,

**−1 is a discrete time index whose
**

underlying sampling time is the inverse of the transmission

bandwidth.

**is the maximum excess delay of the channel
**

(length of the impulse response sequence, in samples) and

=

1

2

RMS

. In our simulations and numerical examples

(but not in the mathematical derivations) we assumed

=

⌈16

RMS

⌉. This corresponds to eight time-constants of the

decaying exponential of (11), and ensures that no multipath

components with signiﬁcant power are neglected.

APPENDIX B

DERIVATION OF THE MSE (9)

In order to simplify the notation in (7), we deﬁne

() =

1

√

−1

∑

=0

()

2

(12)

() =

1

√

−1

∑

=0

[

∑

=1

()

]

2

, (13)

and denote the exact channel by

**(). Then, the channel
**

estimation MSE for subcarrier is

MSE

{

ˆ

()

}

= E

{

ˆ

() −

()

2

}

=

1

−1

∑

1

=0

−1

∑

2

=0

E{(

1

)

∗

(

2

)}

−2

(

1

−

2

)

(14)

−

2

√

Re

{

−1

∑

=0

E

{

()

∗

()

}

−2

}

(15)

+E

{

()

∗

()

}

(16)

+

1

−1

∑

1

=0

−1

∑

2

=0

E{(

1

)

∗

(

2

)}

−2

(

1

−

2

)

. (17)

For deriving the expectations in (14) to (17), we generically

denote the -point frequency response of the channel impulse

response ℎ() by

(). Then

E{

1

(

1

)

∗

2

(

2

)} = (18)

1

√

1

2

−1

∑

1

=0

−1

∑

2

=0

E{ℎ(

1

)ℎ

∗

(

2

)}

−2

1

1

1

2

2

2

2

,

where E{ℎ(

1

)ℎ

∗

(

2

)} can be obtained using (11). Thus,

E

{

1

(

1

)

∗

2

(

2

)

}

= (19)

1

√

1

2

−1

∑

=0

(

1 −

−2

)

−2

−2

1

1

2

2

2

.

Using (19), the expected values in (14) to (17) are given by

E{(

1

)

∗

(

2

)} =

1

2

−1

∑

1

=0

−1

∑

2

=0

−1

∑

=0

(1 −

−2

)

⋅

−2

−2

(

1

−

2

)

2

1

1

−

2

2

, (20)

E

{

()

∗

()

}

=

1

√

(21)

⋅

−1

∑

=0

−1

∑

=0

(

1 −

−2

)

−2

−2

2

2

,

E

{

()

∗

()

}

=

1

−1

∑

=0

(

1 −

−2

)

−2

, (22)

and

E{(

1

)

∗

(

2

)} = (23)

1

−1

∑

1

=0

−1

∑

2

=0

(

∑

1

=1

∑

2

=1

E

{

1

(

1

)

∗

2

(

2

)

}

)

⋅

+2

1

1

−

2

2

.

Using (8) and recalling that ∥()∥

2

= 1, we ﬁnd

E

{

1

(

1

)

∗

2

(

2

)

}

=

{

0

2

,

1

=

2

,

1

=

2

0, otherwise

,

(24)

where

0

is the variance of the noise. Then, (23) becomes

E{(

1

)

∗

(

2

)} =

0

2

−1

∑

=0

+2

(

1

−

2

)

. (25)

By replacing (20), (21), (22) and (25) into (14) to (17),

respectively, and averaging over all subcarrier frequencies

we obtain

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OBERLI et al.: ON USING TRANSMISSION OVERHEAD EFFICIENTLY FOR CHANNEL ESTIMATION IN OFDM 403

MSE

{

ˆ

}

=

1

2

−1

∑

=0

−1

∑

1

=0

−1

∑

2

=0

[

−1

∑

1

=0

−1

∑

2

=0

(26)

(

−1

∑

=0

(

1 −

−2

)

⋅

−2

⋅

−2(

1

−

2

)/

)

⋅

+2(

1

⋅

1

−

2

⋅

2

)/

]

⋅

−2(

1

−

2

)/

−

2

Re

{

−1

∑

=0

−1

∑

=0

[

−1

∑

=0

(27)

(

−1

∑

=0

(

1 −

−2

)

⋅

−2

⋅

−2/

⋅

+2/

)

⋅

+2/

]

⋅

−2/

}

+

1

−1

∑

=0

−1

∑

=0

(

1 −

−2

)

⋅

−2

(28)

+

0

2

−1

∑

=0

−1

∑

1

=0

−1

∑

2

=0

(29)

(

−1

∑

=0

+2(

1

−

2

)/

)

⋅

−2(

1

−

2

)/

.

The MSE (26) to (29) can be simpliﬁed signiﬁcantly. We

do this in the sequel and thus obtain the components of (9).

Simpliﬁcation of (26): If

1

∕=

2

, then the only part that

depends on is

−2(

1

−

2

)/

**. Then, the geometric series
**

∑

−1

=0

−2(

1

−

2

)/

evaluates to zero.

If

1

=

2

Δ

= and

1

∕=

2

, then the

∑

−1

=0

only

operates on

2(

1

−

2

)/

. This is also a geometric series

that evaluates to zero.

If

1

=

2

and

1

=

2

, then (26) is a geometric series

in and can be reduced to 1 −

−2

.

Simpliﬁcation of (27): The second line in (27) (round brack-

ets), is a geometric series. After solving it, the expression in

square brackets can be broken up into the following geometric

series of

terms:

(

1 −

−2

)

−1

∑

=0

(

1 +

−(2−2

)

−2

+. . . (30)

+

−(2−2

)(

−1)

−2

(

−1)

)

2

.

The

∑

−1

=0

is then applied to each summand in (30), and

the corresponding geometric series is evaluated. The result,

denoted (30)-bis, is the argument of the

∑

−1

=0

(ﬁrst sum

outside square brackets in (27)). Using (30)-bis, it is simple

to show that for each value of <

**, only one summand in
**

(30) is nonzero, and all summands are zero for ≥

). This

allows to re-write the sum on as

min{,

}−1

∑

=0

(30)

−2

= (31)

(

1 −

−2

)

min{,

}−1

∑

=0

−2

2

−2

,

which is a straighforward geometric series that yields

(

1 −

−2 min{,

}

)

. Finally, the

∑

−1

=0

evaluates to

(

1 −

−2 min{,

}

)

.

Simpliﬁcation of (28): This is a straightforward geometric

series.

Simpliﬁcation of (29): If

1

∕=

2

, then the sum on in

round brackets is a geometric series that evaluates to zero.

When

1

=

2

the sums are trivial and yield

0

.

APPENDIX C

DERIVATION OF (10)

Eq. (10) is obtained by a system of 3 equations. The ﬁrst

equation restricts two preambles to have the same MSE. This

is imposed by evaluating (9) once with pair (

1

,

1

), another

time with pair (

2

,

2

), and then by setting both expressions

equal. The second equation restricts both preambles to have

the same length,

1

1

=

2

2

, and the third equation

forces

2

= 2

1

. Solving for

1

and replacing the result in

(9) yields (10).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This work was supported by grants FONDECYT 1060718

and ADI-32 2006 from CONICYT Chile.

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