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Channel Estimation with Superimposed Pilot Sequence

Peter Hoeher
Information and Coding Theory Lab
University of Kiel
Kaiserstr. 2, D-24143 Kiel, Germany
E-mail: ph@techfak.uni-kiel.de

Abstract

For the purpose of various synchronization tasks (including carrier phase, time, frequency, and frame synchronization), one may add a known pilot sequence, typically
a pseudo-noise sequence, to the unknown data sequence.
This approach is known as a spread-spectrum pilot technique or as a superimposed pilot sequence technique.
In this paper, we apply the superimposed pilot sequence
technique for the purpose of channel estimation (CE).
We propose and verify a truly coherent receiver based on
the Viterbi algorithm, which is optimal in the sense of
per-survivor processing. We also suggest a generic lowcost receiver structure based on reduced-state sequence
estimation. Among the distinct advantages compared to
conventional pilot-symbol-assisted CE are (i) a lack of
bandwidth expansion and (ii) a signi cantly improved
performance in fast fading environments. The proposed
Viterbi receiver may also be used as an alternative receiver for pilot-symbol-assisted CE.

1 Introduction

ONSIDER digital data transmission over timeselective (i.e., non-frequency-selective) fading channels. Assuming coherent demodulation, one of the main
problems is carrier synchronization, both in terms of acquisition and tracking, particularly when the channel is
fast and when a line-of-sight component is absent [1, 2].
A popular technique to maintain coherent demodulation for a wide class of digital modulation schemes has
been proposed by Moher and Lodge [3, 4], and is known
as pilot-symbol-assisted CE1 . The main idea of pilotsymbol-assisted CE is to multiplex known pilot symbols (also called training symbols) into an unknown data
stream. The receiver rstly obtains tentative channel estimates at the positions of the pilot symbols by means
of re-modulation, and then computes nal estimates by
means of interpolation. Aghamohammadi and Cavers

Fredrik Tufvesson
Department of Applied Electronics
Lund University
P.O. Box 118, SE-221 00 Lund, Sweden
E-mail: Fredrik.Tufvesson@tde.lth.se
were among the rst analyzing and optimizing pilotsymbol-assisted CE given di erent interpolation lters
[5, 6]. Due to the pilot symbols the bandwidth slightly
increases.
In this paper, we explore a related technique proposed
by Makrakis and Feher [7, 8], originally called spreadspectrum pilot technique. This scheme has also been
invented about a dozen years ago, but is less known.
The clue is to linearly add a known pilot sequence to
the unknown data sequence, see Section 2. Makrakis
et al. applied the technique to phase synchronization
[7, 8]. Later, the technique has been applied for the purposes of frame synchronization [9] and joint time and
frequency synchronization of OFDM signals [10], respectively. However, to our best knowledge only suboptimal
receivers have been studied so far.
Within this paper, we assume a synchronous symbolby-symbol superposition, where the power of the pilot
symbols is typically much less than the power of the
data symbols. By construction, there is no increase in
bandwidth. Therefore, we use the notion of a superimposed pilot sequence technique as suggested in [9], because
\spread-spectrum" techniques may suggest a wider spectrum. As opposed to pilot-symbol-assisted CE, no interpolation is necessary. The superimposed pilot sequence
technique is therefore more bandwidth and power ecient than pilot-symbol-assisted CE, particularly in fast
fading conditions.
Our main contribution is the derivation of an optimal
recursive receiver structure for the purpose of CE (phase
synchronization), see Section 3, as well as structured simpli cations thereof. The proposed transmission scheme is
evaluated in Section 4, before the conclusions are drawn
in Section 5.

2 Transmission Scheme with Superimposed Pilot Sequence

A block diagram of the transmission scheme featuring

1 Channel estimation may be seen as a generalization of carrier synchronization, since estimates of the quadrature components the transmitter, the channel and the receiver is shown
cover the carrier phase as well as reliability information, often in Fig. 1. In the following, we use the complex baseband notation and assume perfect time, frequency and
called channel state information.

frame synchronization. In the transmitter a known pilot sequence, typically a pseudo-noise (PN) sequence, is
synchronously added to the unknown data sequence. The
chips of the known pilot sequence and the i.i.d. data symbols are denoted as p 2 CI and u 2 CI , respectively,
where k is the time index. (We assume that the chip
duration is equal to the symbol duration.) Our scheme
relies on a low correlation between the pilot sequence
and the data sequence in order to resolve phase ambiguities. Both sequences are assumed to be M -ary with zero
mean: E [u ] = E [p ] = 0. Let the energy of the pilot
symbols be E [jp j2 ] =   E and the energy of the data
symbols be E [ju j2 ] = (1 ? )  E , respectively. Hence,
the average energy of the composite symbols is E , if the
sequences are mutually independent: E [u  p ] = 0. The
average energy per information bit is E = E = log2 M .
The normalized power of the pilot symbols, , corresponds to the amount of known information transmitted, and should be optimized. In pilot-symbol-assisted
CE systems the related parameter is the spacing of the
pilot symbols. In the remaining,  is assumed to be constant for all k, since our focus is on tracking. In order
to improve the acquisition phase,  may be larger for the
rst symbols within a data frame [10].
Note that in pilot-symbol-assisted CE systems the data
and pilot symbols are orthogonal by means of timedivision multiplexing, whereas here the cross-correlation
between the data and pilot symbols typically is nonzero. However, the superimposed pilot sequence is known
and therefore the disturbance can be made small. The
negative e ect on the bit error rate (BER) is overcompensated by the lack of interpolation, as we will
show in Section 4. The transmission system may be interpreted as a two-user system, where one user transmits information unknown to the receiver, and the other
user transmits known information. Correspondingly, the
transmission technique is related to multi-user systems,
and the synchronization/detection problem is related to
multi-user detection. Also note the similarities with watermarking schemes.
The matched lter output samples, y 2 CI , can be written as
y = (u + p )  f + n ;
(1)
where f 2 CI is a multiplicative (time-selective) fading
process with E [jf j2 ] = 1, and n 2 CI are zero-mean
white Gaussian noise samples with one-sided power spectral density N0 . Oversampling is not treated within this
paper, but could be used to improve the performance in
fast fading.
In the transmitter, the major di erence between the
spread-spectrum pilot technique proposed by Makrakis
and Feher and the scheme described above is that in
the original proposal the linear addition was done after
D/A conversion, whereas we do digital baseband processing. Therefore, we guaranty symbol-synchronous transmission, which is an important property for our novel
k

receiver. As a side e ect, the power density spectrum


is una ected by the superimposed pilot sequence when
using a PN sequence.

3 Receiver Structure

The conventional receiver for the superimposed pilot sequence technique splits the received signal, and feds it
into a carrier recovery unit and a detection unit [7, 8],
respectively. The output signal of the carrier recovery
unit is fed into the detection unit. In order to partly
compensate the interference due to the pilot sequence, a
simple cancellation scheme is proposed.
The conventional receiver for the pilot-symbol-assisted
CE technique operates similarly: the received signal is
demultiplexed, and fed into a channel estimation unit
(i.e., an interpolator) and a detection unit [3, 4, 5, 6],
respectively. Interference cancellation is not necessary
by design.
As opposed to these receivers, we will now introduce a
recursive receiver based on the Viterbi algorithm, which
directly outputs estimates of the data symbols, see Fig. 1.
This receiver is primarily designed for the superimposed
pilot sequence technique, but is also suitable for the conventional pilot-symbol-assisted CE technique. Di erent
channel estimates are computed for di erent hypothesis by means of the principles of per-survivor processing
[11, 12]. Interference cancellation is done inherently.
The goal is to recursively compute the maximumlikelihood sequence. Since the noise is assumed to be
Gaussian, a suitable metric increment is
 (~u ; u~ ?1 ; : : : ; u~ ? ) = jy ? (~u + p )  f~ j2 ; (2)
where u~ is a hypothesis for the kth data symbol and f~
is a channel estimate, which depends on the hypotheses
u
~ ?1 ; : : : ; u~ ? . (The parameter L will be de ned soon.)
We compute u~ and f~ as follows: According to (1), a
tentative channel estimate, f^ ? , can be obtained by remodulation:
f^ ? = y ? =(~
u ? + p ? );
(3)
where l is an arbitrary integer number. Note that the
rst part of the denominator is based on a hypothesis,
whereas the second part is known: the pilot symbols
helps to resolve the phase ambiguity. Given hypotheses u~ ?1 ; : : : ; u~ ? , the channel estimate f~ can be computed by linear prediction [11]:
k

f~ =
k

X
L

=1

al

 f^ ? =
k

X
L

=1

al yk?l =(~
uk?l

+ p ? );
k

(4)

where L is the predictor order. Substituting (4) into


(2), we then obtain the desired metric increment. If the

4 Performance Evaluation

channel is wide-sense stationary, the optimal predictor


coecients, a , 1  l  L, are the solution of the Wiener- We have veri ed our receiver given the following set-up:
Hopf equations:
We used 2-PSK modulation (M = 2) for the data and
pilot symbols (no staggering, no phase o set), i.e. real?
1
(a1 ; : : : ; a ) = a =   ;
(5) valued symbols. For this particular modulation scheme,
the performance could be improved by transmitting the
where  = E [f  y? ] = r are the elements of the cross- pilot sequence as the quadrature component. However,
correlation vector ,  = E [y ?  y? ] = N0 =E  here we want to demonstrate the feasibility of using a
 + r ? are the elements of the autocorrelation matrix common channel instead of two independent channels.
, where l; j = 1; : : : ; L, and r = r? is the lth auto- The pilot sequence was a long PN sequence known to the
correlation coecient. Instead of prediction, it is also receiver, as opposed to a short sequence applied in [8].
possible to use ltering or smoothing to calculate the Data and pilot symbols were generated by independent
pseudo-random generators. We averaged our results over
channel estimates.
several thousands of possible pilot sequences. The block
The hypotheses u~ ?1 ; : : : ; u~ ? belong to the states of length was chosen to be 2000 symbols.
a trellis with M states, and u~ belongs to the ac- The channel model was a at Rayleigh fading channel
tual branch. The trellis has M branches/state. Since
\classical" Doppler spectrum with autocorrelation
the noise is assumed to be white, the metric increments with
coecients
= J0 (2f max T l). The performance was
are additive. Therefore, the familiar add-compare-select studied for arwide
range of di erent fading rates f max T ,
operation can be applied and the maximum-likelihood where f denotes the
Doppler frequency, f max the maxpath can be found by back-tracing or related opera- imum Doppler frequency
tions. A rule of thumb for the decision delay is D  T the symbol duration. (?f max  f  f max ), and
(L + 1) : : : 4(L + 1). Due to the maximum-likelihood
sequence estimation, the receiver can cope with a low- In the receiver, the proposed Viterbi receiver with a sufpower pilot sequence.
ciently long decision delay was applied. The Doppler
spectrum and the signal to noise ratio were assumed to
For large M and L, the complexity can be signi cantly be known in the predictor design. This assumption does
reduced by applying the principles of reduced-state se- not appear to be critical as indicated in related work.
quence estimation [13, 14]:
The BER was chosen as a performance criteria. Focus
was on the tracking phase, i.e. we did not take the rst
part of the block into account.
f~ =
a  y ? =(~
u ? +p ? )
In a rst set of Monte Carlo simulations we optimized the
=1
normalized power, , of the superimposed pilot symbols,
see Fig. 2. The signal to noise ratio per information bit
+
a  y ? =(^
u ? + p ? );
(6) was E =N0 = 15 dB and the predictor order was chosen
= +1
to be L = 6, which corresponds to 2 = 64 states. It
appears that the BER is not sensitive with respect to 
where the trade-o between complexity and performance over a wide range. The optimum normalized power is
can be adjusted by the parameter K , 0  K  L. about  = 0:02 : : : 0:05 for all Doppler frequencies of inu
~ ?1 ; : : : ; u~ ? belong to a trellis with M states and terest: The power of pilot symbols should only be about
M branches/state, whereas u
^ ? ?1 ; : : : ; u^ ? belong to 2 % . . . 5 % of the power of the data symbols. In the
the path history (survivor sequence) of the correspond- following,  = 0:05 is applied.
ing state. Therefore, K = L corresponds to maximumlikelihood sequence estimation and K = 0 is related to In a second set of simulations we investigated the in\parallel decision feedback estimation". For M > 2, fur- uence of the predictor order L, see Fig. 3. Again,
ther simpli cations can be achieved by the principles of E =N0 = 15 dB. It appears from the two bottom curves
that a predictor order of about L = 6 is sucient for
set-partitioning [13].
all Doppler frequencies of interest. The two top curves
The novel receiver is suitable to process pilot-symbol- feature the mean squared error of the predictor. These
assisted CE too. In contrast to the conventional pilot- analytical results show the same principle behavior.
symbol-assisted channel estimator, all matched lter output samples, i.e. also the data symbols, are used for CE. Given these optimizations, we nally plotted the BER
Although not treated further, the proposed receiver may versus E =N0 for the scheme under investigation, see
be extended to accept a priori information and to de- Fig. 4. As a benchmark, the BER performance of 2liver soft-outputs (which is necessary for iterative pro- PSK on a at Rayleigh fading channel given perfect chanis plotted as well. For fading rates up to
cessing). Furthermore, the receiver may be generalized nel?estimation
2 the loss is less than 2 dB, and even for fast fading
10
for frequency-selective channels.
l

opt

l;j

l;j

k
L

X
X
K

5 Conclusions

In this paper, we explored the superimposed pilot sequence technique for the purpose of channel estimation.
Due to the redundancy, truly coherent demodulation is
achieved. The main contribution was the derivation of a
receiver based on the Viterbi algorithm, which is optimal
in the sense of per-survivor processing. Further, the ratio between the power of the data symbols and the pilot
symbols was optimized.
Compared to pilot-symbol-assisted CE, which is currently state-of-the-art, distinct advantages are as follows:
 No bandwidth expansion
 Better power eciency in fast fading environments
 The technique is more universally applicable. (The
same sequence may be used for time, phase, frequency, and frame synchronization and as a unique
word without additional overhead.)
 Pilot-symbol-assisted CE, with isolated pilot symbols, fails when the pilot symbols are a ected by
frequency-selective fading
 Data symbols are equally sensitive against transmission errors when acquisition is not considered.
However, the proposed Viterbi receiver is, due to persurvivor processing, much more complex than an interpolation lter. Therefore, simpli ed structures based on
reduced-state sequence estimation were proposed as well.
Future work may be devoted to optimizations of the
pilot sequence, an evaluation of nonbinary modulation
schemes, multi-carrier modulation schemes (e.g., OFDM
with 2-D pilot array), receiver structures with oversampling, and a detailed performance analysis including the
acquisition behavior.

References

[1] J.G. Proakis, Digital Communications. New York:


McGraw-Hill, 3rd ed., 1995.
[2] H. Meyr, M. Moneclaey, and S.A. Fechtel, Digital Communication Receivers. New York: Wiley, 1998.

[3] M.L. Moher and J.H. Lodge, \A time diversity modulation strategy for the satellite-mobile channel," in
Proc. 13th Biennial Symp. Commun., Queen's Univ.,
Kingston, Canada, June 1986.
[4] M.L. Moher and J.H. Lodge, \TCMP: A modulation
and coding strategy for Rician fading channels," IEEE
J. Select. Areas Commun., vol. 7, no. 9, pp. 1347-1355,
Dec. 1989.
[5] A. Aghamohammadi, H. Meyr, and G. Ascheid, \A
new method for phase synchronization and automatic
gain control of linearly modulated signals on frequency at fading channels," IEEE Trans. Commun., vol. 39,
pp. 25-29, Jan. 1991.
[6] J.K. Cavers, \An analysis of pilot symbol assisted modulation for Rayleigh fading channels," in IEEE Trans.
Veh. Techn., vol. 40, pp. 686-693, Nov. 1991.
[7] D. Makrakis and K. Feher, \A novel pilot insertionextraction method based on spread spectrum techniques," presented at Miami Technicon, Miami, 1987.
[8] T.P. Holden and K. Feher, \A spread spectrum based
system technique for synchronization of digital mobile
communication systems," IEEE Trans. Broadcasting,
pp. 185-194, Sept. 1990.
[9] A. Steinga, A.J. Wijngaarden, and W. Teich, \Frame
synchronization using superimposed sequences," in
Proc. IEEE ISIT '97, Ulm, Germany, p. 489, JuneJuly 1997.
[10] F. Tufvesson, M. Faulkner, P. Hoeher, and O. Edfors,
\OFDM time an frequency synchronization by spread
spectrum pilot technique, in Proc. Eighth Communication Theory Mini-Conference in conjunction with IEEE
ICC '99, Vancouver, Canada, pp. 115-119, June 1999.
[11] J.H. Lodge and M.L. Moher, \Maximum likelihood sequence estimation of CPM signals transmitted over
Rayleigh at-fading channels," IEEE Trans. Commun.,
vol. 38, pp. 787-794, June 1990.
[12] R. Raheli, A. Polydoros, and C.-K. Tzou, \Per-survivor
processing: A general approach to MLSE in uncertain environments," IEEE Trans. Commun., vol. 43,
no. 2/3/4, pp. 354-364, Feb./Mar./Apr. 1995.
[13] M.V. Eyuboglu and S.U. Qureshi, \Reduced-state sequence estimation with set partitioning and decision
feedback," IEEE Trans. Commun., vol. 36, pp. 13-20,
Jan. 1988.
[14] A. Duel-Hallen and C. Heegard, \Delayed decisionfeedback sequence estimation," IEEE Trans. Commun.,
vol. 37, pp. 428-436, May 1989.
uk
+

transmitter

(f max T = 0:1) no error oor is visible in the interesting


range.
To provide a reference, Fig. 5 shows analytical BER
curves for conventional pilot-symbol-assisted CE. The
spacing between the pilot symbols is assumed to be 5
(1 pilot symbol per 4 data symbols); this corresponds
to an SNR-loss of 1 dB and a bandwidth expansion of
25 %. Note that the SNR-loss is included in Fig. 5. A
Wiener interpolator with L = 6 taps is applied. Again,
the Doppler spectrum and the signal to noise ratio are assumed to be known. For slow fading the results are very
similar, compare Fig. 4 and Fig. 5, whereas the superimposed pilot sequence technique signi cantly outperforms
conventional pilot-symbol-assisted CE in the presence of
fast fading, although we have no bandwidth expansion.

fk

nk

equivalent
channel

Viterbi
receiver

^
uk-D

receiver

Figure 1: Block diagram of the transmission scheme.

Rayleigh fading, Eb/N0=15 dB, L=6

Rayleigh fading, =0.05, L=6

10

10

Bit Error Rate

Bit Error Rate

10

10

10

10

fD max Ts=10
2
fD max Ts=10
1
fD max Ts=10

10

fD max Ts=10
2
fD max Ts=10
1
fD max Ts=10
perfect CE (no SNRloss)

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

10

10

15
Eb/N0, dB

20

25

30

Figure 2: Optimization of the power, , of the superim- Figure 4: Bit error rate versus signal to noise ratio for
posed signal.
channel estimation with superimposed PN pilot sequence
and novel receiver.
Rayleigh fading, Eb/N0=15 dB, =0.05
10

Rayleigh fading, Wiener interpolation with 6 taps, Ndata/Npilot=4

10

10

Bit Error Rate

Bit Error Rate, Mean Squared Error

fD max Ts=10
1
fD max Ts=10

Mean Squared Error

10

10

fD max Ts = 10
2
fD max Ts = 10
1
fD max Ts = 10
perfect CE (no SNRloss)

10

Bit Error Rate


1

Figure 3: In uence of the predictor order, L.

10

10

10

15
Eb/N0, dB

20

25

30

Figure 5: Bit error rate versus signal to noise ratio for


conventional pilot-symbol-assisted channel estimation.