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IMPROVING THE MF-TDMA SPECTRAL EFFICIENCY THROUGH

SYMBOL SYNCHRONOUS OPERATION

G. Gallinaro, F. Di Cecca
Space Engineering S.p.A. - Rome, Italy
P. Burzigotti
European Space Agency - ESTEC - Noordwijk, The Netherlands

Abstract
This paper investigates the feasibility and potential performances of a symbol synchronous
MF-TDMA access scheme for the Reverse link of a satellite star network.
The use of a symbol synchronous scheme would allow to improve the spectral efficiency with
respect to current MF-TDMA systems (as used for example by the DVB-RCS standard) of about 25%.
Such an achievement is obtained by enforcing symbol synchronous transmission on the
terminal side coupled with rectangular symbol shaping (instead of square root raised cosine filtering).
The two features above allow, in fact, the use of orthogonal carrier spacing, i.e. to use a
separation between carriers equal to the symbol rate. This is somewhat similar to what is done in an
OFDMA access. However, each terminal could be restricted to operate with a single carrier, this
avoiding the sensitivity to non-linear distortion typical of OFDM waveforms. With single carrier and
rectangular shaping, a constant signal envelope will result for PSK constellation thus avoiding any
non-linear distortions when such modulation formats are used.

1 Introduction
MF-TDMA is the access scheme currently used in several satellite networks for supporting the
Reverse Link communication channel. The DVB-RCS [1] is an example of a standard using MF-TDMA
for sharing the satellite channel capacity between a large number of ground terminals.
DVB-RCS currently adopts a physical layer waveform with a QPSK modulation and roll-off
factor of 35%, resulting in a typical carrier separation of 1.35 times the symbol rate, Rs. A slightly lower
spacing may be also adopted when targeting the maximization of the spectral efficiency but, in
practical terms, a carrier spacing lower than 1.25 Rs is not possible because of the significant signal
degradation which would be experienced with consequent increase in the required operational SNIR
of the carrier.
Several strategies have been proposed to improve the spectral efficiency of a DVB-RCS like
system. For example, more powerful coding could be used: two improved turbo codes (the turbo-Φ [2]
and turbo-3D [3]) were recently proposed for application in next generation DVB-RCS standard. These
codes may improve the power efficiency by about 1 dB with respect to the current DVB-RCS code.
Such improved power efficiency may clearly be exploited for adopting a higher coding rate thus
indirectly improving the system spectral efficiency. A more effective strategy is the adoption of
advanced system concept, e.g. multibeam payloads exploiting a more aggressive frequency reuse
than it is currently adopted thanks to suitable ground beamforming strategies as well as interference
cancellation [4].
In this paper we propose yet another approach for improving the spectral efficiency on the
reverse link of up to about 30% with respect to the current DVB-RCS standard. Moreover the
proposed approach here is agnostic with respect to coding or other advanced processing as
beamforming / interference cancellation and it can be used together with such advanced techniques.
Thus further improvement in terms of spectral efficiency is possible.
The proposed approach for improving the spectral efficiency of a DVB-RCS-like system relies
on the use of a symbol synchronous transmission at the terminal side coupled with rectangular symbol
shaping (instead of square root raised cosine filtering). These two features allow, in fact, the use of
orthogonal carrier spacing, i.e. to use a separation between adjacent carriers equal to the symbol rate.
This is somewhat similar to what is done in an OFDMA access.
Moreover, each terminal could be restricted to operate with a single carrier, to avoid the
sensitivity to non-linear distortion typical of OFDM waveforms. In that case, in fact, if a PSK
modulation is adopted, a constant signal envelope will result as consequence of the rectangular
impulse shaping and any non-linear distortions due to ground terminal HPA will be avoided.
In order to exploit the orthogonal carrier spacing all carriers belonging to the MF-TDMA group
shall have the same symbol rate. Clearly this would limit the possibility to accommodate operation of
terminals of different EIRP classes (and traffic requirements) within a given network. Two possible
strategies can be envisaged to overcome this issue:
(i) partition the available bandwidth in separate groups of MF-TDMA carriers. The same carrier
bandwidth is used within a group but the bandwidth may be different from group to group according
the served terminal EIRP class. A given terminal may be thus assigned traffic slots in the group of
carriers matching its requirements in terms of peak rate,
(ii) use a single carrier bandwidth but, if required, simultaneously assign multiple carriers to a terminal.
In this paper we will address the second case (ii). Such a case will actually result in a hybrid
TDMA-OFDMA access.
OFDMA operation will unfortunately results in a significant envelope fluctuation when multiple
carriers are simultaneously assigned to a terminal. Well known variants of OFDMA are, however,
described in the literature to reduce the envelope fluctuation problem. In particular, DFT precoding can
be used before the IFFT of OFDMA resulting in a so-called SC-FDMA [5] system (Figure 1).
Different strategies for sub-carrier mapping can be devised each one possibly resulting in
some peculiar access scheme characteristics. In this paper we will not advocate the use of any
specific sub-carrier mapping. Actually, for higher flexibility in resource management no specific
mapping strategy should be imposed in the system. Anyway, for information only two possible
mapping strategies are indicated in Figure 2: Localized FDMA (LFDMA) and Interleaved FDMA
(IFDMA) [4].
In the LFDMA approach a given user is always assigned a sequence of sub-carriers which are
adjacent in the frequency domain. In the IFDMA approach the sub-carrier mapping is such to assign to
a given users sub-carriers which are maximally distant. Hence, the sub-carriers of a given user are
interleaved with those of the other users.

Figure 1 SC-FDMA principle diagram. It is Figure 2 Two common sub-carrier mapping


assumed that N < M in SC-FDMA

Notwithstanding the peculiarity of the physical layer here proposed, the access scheme
maintains a close relationship with a conventional DVB-RCS-like scheme. The basic access scheme
proposed here can be considered a derivation of the present MF-TDMA access scheme where symbol
synchronous operation and orthogonal carrier spacing is enforced.
The TDMA frame can be organized according to the same principle as in current DVB-RCS
systems, i.e. with the frame divided into traffic slots, SYNC slots and CSC slots, with SYNC slots
dedicated to synchronization maintenance (at symbols synchronous level) and CSC slots used for
initial acquisition and login purposes.
Once initial acquisition is performed, it is assumed that transmission on SYNC slots and traffic
slots is done with tight synchronization (symbol synchronous accuracy). Figure 3 shows a pictorial
example of frame organization with different areas used for traffic, SYNC slots and CSC slots. Table 1
shows possible parameter for the signal and frame design for two hypotheses on carrier granularity
(125 KHz and 500 KHz).
SYNC

SYNC
CSC

CSC
Frequency

SYNC

SYNC
CSC

CSC

SYNC

SYNC
CSC

CSC

Figure 3 Pictorial example of resource assignments (time/frequency)

2 Performance in Non-linear channel


LFDMA and IFDMA are preferred over straight OFDMA because of the better signal envelope
characteristics with respect to conventional OFDMA. This better behavior is due to the fact that DFT
precoding actually makes the system more equivalent to a single carrier system rather than to a multi-
carrier system (hence the generic name SC-FDMA). In particular, the LFDMA sub-carrier mapping
approach is equivalent to perform an interpolation of an aliased copy of the original time domain signal
(aliasing is due to the fact the first DFT operate on a signal sampled at the symbol rate). The aliasing
is responsible of some PAPR degradation which would be otherwise absent.
Frequency Spacing MHz 0.125 0.5
GW Processed Bandwidth MHz 32 32
Useful Bandwidth MHz 20 20
GW FFT size - 256 64
OFDM Symbol Duration microsec. 8 2
Chip Period nanosec. 31.25 31.25
CP size - 16 4
OFDM +CP Rx Symbol Duration microsec. 8.5 2.125
SuperFrame Period ms. 29.75 29.75
N. of OFDM Symbols per SuperFrame - 3500 14000
CSC Area (in OFDM symbols) - 252 1000
SYNC area in OFDM Symbols - 248 1000
N. of terminals with preallocated SYNC
12400 12,500
(one per about 600 ms)1
Table 1 Example of a possible frame structures

The IFDMA sub-carrier mapping produces instead a repetition of the time domain symbols
apart for a phase rotation applied between each successive copy of each input symbol. No envelope
signal fluctuations are thus generated (at least in the ideal case).

1
These assume that each SYNC slot is 8 (2) OFDM symbols in the scenario with 500 KHz (125 KHZ)
frequency bin.
As a matter of fact, both LFDMA and IFDMA can also be generated in the time domain instead
of the frequency domain construction depicted in Figure 1.
In practice, PAPR advantages of IFDMA mapping over LFDMA are minimal when the need for
signal oversampling is considered and LFDMA may be actually preferred to IFDMA for the lower
sensitivity to synchronization errors (see section 3).
Figure 4 shows the Total Degradation (TD) experienced by a terminal transmitting multiple
carriers (8 carriers per terminal) assuming to use straight OFDMA transmission (i.e. with no DFT
precoding) or SC-FDMA (either LFDMA or IFDMA). QPSK modulation of each sub-carrier was
assumed. The advantages of SC-FDMA with respect to OFDMA are evident from the figure as the
total degradation can be limited to about 1 dB with a penalization, with respect to a conventional
system (i.e. first generation DVB-RCS), of only about 0.5 dB.
We stress that in case a single carrier is actually transmitted by the terminal we have no
degradation at all from the non-linearity thus potentially gaining about 0.5 dB in the power budget with
respect to a first generation DVB-RCS system.
7.00E+00

6.00E+00

5.00E+00

4.00E+00
TD (dB)

3.00E+00

OFDMA TD
2.00E+00
LFDMA TD

1.00E+00 IFDMA TD

0.00E+00
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

OBO (dB)

Figure 4 QPSK ½ total degradation (TD) curves evaluated at BER ≈ 10-3 (15 users each
transmitting 8 tones). A linearized TWTA was used at the terminal.

3 Sensitivity to Synchronization Errors


With an OFDMA-like access (including the SC-FDMA variants) a strict synchronization shall
be maintained between the users, otherwise unwanted interference will results. To reduce the
criticality of synchronization a Cyclic Prefix (CP) can be added. In that case if relative timing error of
users is lower than the CP duration no actual interference is experienced as consequence of a
possible timing error.
Clearly the CP represents an overhead in the system which has to be minimized as otherwise
the benefits of operating with the orthogonal carrier spacing.
As a matter of fact, if the users timing error is contained in the CP, no interference arises.
However, if one user has an error exceeding the CP, interference between the users is generated.
Such interference is here referred as IBI (Inter-Block Interference) to distinguish it from the ISI (Inter-
Symbol Interference). Figure 5 shows a situation where IBI is generated due to one user having
excessive timing error. It is clear that the user#1 in the cited figure also experience ISI due to the
mismatch of the GW FFT position with respect to the user#1 OFDM symbol timing.
The advantage of OFDMA and LFDMA access schemes in presence of IBI are showed and
described in Figure 6. The IFDMA overall performance are worst than that of OFDMA and LFDMA
since the sub-carriers of the IBI-generating user (user #1) are interleaved with the sub-carriers of the
other users.
Figure 5 Pictorial representation of three users affected by timing errors. In this figure the
length of the OFDM block, the position of the GW’s FFT window and the delay of each user with
respect to a common reference time are reported. The CP part of each block is outlined in
yellow and the part that introduces the IBI is outlined in red. The FFT window is also
highlighted in dark red.

U#0 0
U#1 1 → IBI generating user subcarrier
U#2 2

OFDMA/LFDMA IFDMA

0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 0 1 2 0 1 2 0 1 2 0 1 2

Figure 6 LFDMA and OFDMA have better performance in case of IBI presence since the IBI
generating user sub-carriers add sensible interference only to a limited number of other users
sub-carriers. In IFDMA instead the sub-carriers of the different users are interleaved. Thus a
IBI-generating user will produce more interference on the other users.

4 Interference on other systems


The absence of a symbol shaping filter has the positive consequence of allowing the use of
orthogonal spacing between the user carriers. However, if a given satellite transponder has to be
shared between different networks each one having their independent reference clock, mutual
interference between frequency adjacent systems will arise due to the fact each carrier has a
[sin(x)/x]2 power spectral density. Such a spectrum has sidelobes whose amplitude slowly decays (6
dB per octave) with frequency. Hence interference would result on adjacent band signals which are
not properly synchronized. As mutual synchronization between independent systems is likely not
desirable from the operation point of view, such interference will be unavoidable. Figure 7 shows as an
example the resulting C/I produced by a given network on a frequency adjacent one having the same
characteristics (i.e. equilevel carriers with the same frequency bin width) under a time offset between
the two networks of half a OFDM symbols (this representing the worst case scenario, at least for the
edge frequency bins).
To reduce the interference between two adjacent networks a frequency bin could be used as
guard band between the two networks. Alternatively, the edge frequency bins could be used with a
much protected MODCOD.
Even with a frequency bin guard band, there is still a net gain in spectral efficiency. Please
note that such a loss may not be incurred at all if the same GW is controlling the whole transponder or,
alternatively, a strict synchronization between the GWs is implemented.
To reduce the interference level some limited windowing can be also applied to the
transmitted signal. However, only minor improvement will be possible given that only very short
windowing can be applied (to not decrease the system spectral efficiency).
Anyway, even without windowing, the resulting interference level should not significantly
impact on the achievable spectral efficiency, particularly in future multibeam satellite systems where it
is expected that the inter-beam interference is higher than the one resulting here as consequence of
the asynchronicity (apart for the very edge frequency bins).
30
20 Active carriers
Wind: 2+2
25
No Wind
20

C/I (dB)
15

10

0
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Frequency Bin #

Figure 7 Worst case C/I produced by a group of 20 OFDMA active carriers on a group of
adjacent OFDMA carriers. The two OFDMA group have a time reference offset of half an
OFDMA symbol.

5 Timing Synchronization
We will still here to two example scenarios in both of which the overall bandwidth managed by
a single GW is 20 MHz. In the first scenario the 20 MHz available bandwidth is divided into 40
frequency bins (500 KHz per bin). In the second scenario the frequency bin width is assumed 125
KHz.
In the first scenario (500 KHz frequency bin), assuming a four samples CP size (out of a 64-
points FFT), we should guarantee that in the steady state a terminal has a timing error lower than
2
±62.5 ns if we wish to avoid any signal degradation due to the terminal timing errors .
In the option with 125 KHz frequency bin width, the FFT size is assumed to be 256-points. In
such a case a CP prefix of 16 points can be considered as it leads to the same 6.25% inefficiency. In
such a case we should guarantee, in the steady state, a timing error lower than ±250 ns, at least if we
wish to avoid any signal degradation caused by the timing error.
5.1 Timing Error measurements
In order to assure the required synchronization accuracy a suitably highly accurate timing
error shall be measurable on the SYNC slots.
Clearly the resolution with which a timing error can be measured on the SYNC slot will depend
also on the SYNC slot bandwidth, the worst case being that the SYNC slot only occupies one
frequency bin.
For example, Figure 7 shows the S-Curve and error std. dev. of a particular error detector
operating on a preamble of length 64 symbols composed by an alternating 0, 0, π, π, ... sequence. The
std. dev. is normalized to the symbol period.
This particular sequence was here chosen as it allows a very simple timing error
measurement at the GW side. However, a conventional UW could have also been used. This last
alternative haves the advantage of not presenting ambiguity in the timing error measurement (i.e. no
periodicity in the S-Curve) as well as better energy dispersion characteristics. Its disadvantage would
instead be a somewhat larger complexity in the timing error measurement.
In the following we will preliminary assume the use of the 0, 0, π, π, ... sequence for timing
measurement. However, the achievable performance should be similar for a random UW and its use
could be in the end preferred due to its non periodic S-curve.
From Figure 8a it appears that at the S/N ratio considered in that figure (3 dB) the
measurement error standard deviation is about 4% of the symbol period. If the SYNC slot is made only
one frequency bin wide that standard deviation is equivalent to 80 ns for the 500 KHz frequency bin-
width or 320 ns for the 125 KHz frequency bin case.

2
If a 2+2 sample windowing is also used, a shorter CP has to be used to avoid the increase of the overhead. In
such a case the maximum allowed timing error would reduce to ±31.25 ns.
In order to reduce the measurement error standard deviation we may actually use a wider
band SYNC slot whilst reducing its time duration correspondingly. For limited power terminals, a
reduction of the operating SNR is also experienced due to the larger signal bandwidth.
For example using a SYNC slot spanning 8 frequency bins we would experience a reduction
of 9 dB for the SNR. Figure 8b shows the S-Curve and the measurement error standard deviation for
such a case. It appears now that for timing errors close to zero the std. dev (normalized to the symbol
period) has now increased to about 11.25% which, in absolute terms, corresponds to about 28 ns for
the 500 KHz frequency bin width assumption. This should be sufficient to maintain steady state
synchronization also because some measurement smoothing can also be done by the terminal
tracking loop. It shall be further observed that the same measurement standard deviation can be
assumed for the 125 KHz frequency-bin case if we maintain the same bandwidth for the SYNC slots
as in the previous case (i.e. 4 MHz or 32 frequency bins) and if we can assume that the terminal EIRP
does not depend on the frequency-bin width choice.
Clearly, even better std. dev. could be achieved by using longer preambles although this
would increase the SYNC overhead.

1 1 1 1
0.8 0.9

Measurement Std. Dev. /Ts


0.8 0.9 Es/No = -6 dB
Es/No=3 dB

Meas. Std. Dev. / Ts


0.6 0.8 0.6 0.8
0.4 0.7 0.4 0.7

S-Curve
0.2 0.6
S-Curve

0.2 0.6
0 0.5 0 0.5
-0.2 0.4 -0.2 0.4
-0.4 0.3 -0.4 0.3
-0.6 0.2 -0.6 0.2
-0.8 0.1 -0.8 0.1
-1 0 -1 0
-1.5 -1 -0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5 -1.5 -1 -0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5
Timing Error/Ts Timing Error/Ts

a) b)
Figure 8 S-Curve and standard dev. at S/N of 3 dB and -6 dB of a timing error detector
operating on a 0, 0, π, π, ... preamble of length 64 symbols

5.2 Synchronization Loop performances


Given the large round trip delay (in the order of 600 ms), a low loop bandwidth has to be used
thus preventing tracking of very fast variation of the reference timing. These variations may be
produced by a lot of sources including oscillator stability and electrical GW-to-satellite path length
variations.
Regarding oscillator stability, the short term stability (Allan variance) of a terminal quartz
oscillator is typically in the order of 10-9 over 0.2 to 10 s time-period or even better. So it should not
create problems here.
Regarding path length variations, a constant range rate variation can be tracked by a second
order loop without resulting static errors. Non-constant range rate variations shall however also be
taken into account. Worst case accelerations for geostationary satellites are those experienced during
maneuvers. At this regard, assuming a thrust of 22 N (typical for chemical thrusters) and a satellite
2
mass (EOL) of 400 Kg, the resulting acceleration would be 0.055 m/s . It shall be stressed that the
actual acceleration towards a given earth station is dependent on the earth station location and the
direction of the thrust, i.e. whether inclination or longitude corrections are being performed. In
particular, the acceleration seen by an earth station during the N/S station keeping maneuvers is
higher for stations closer to the poles, whilst is minimum for stations at the equator. The opposite is
true for E/W correction. In the following we will assume as worst case acceleration seen by an earth
station the value 5 10-2 m/s2 which corresponds to a Doppler variation of about 5.3·10-3 Hz/s for an
assumed 32 MHz sample clock. These acceleration, and corresponding frequency drifts, are well
manageable by a properly designed loop.
Path length variations due to ionosphere and troposphere should also be considered as far as
assessment of synchronization feasibility is concerned. Their effects, particularly when operating in
Ku-band or higher, can also be shown to be negligible with a properly designed loop.
Figure 9 shows the maximum time synchronization error experienced in 4000 different
acquisition transient simulations. Looking at the figure, it may be noted that for the case of 125 KHz
frequency bin width, the timing error is well below the allowed maximum value of ±250 ns
(corresponding to a CP of 16 samples out a 256-points FFT) even in the initial acquisition transient.

250
200

Max/Min Time Error (nanosec.)


Measurement std dev: 12.5 ns
150
100
50
0
-50
-100
-150
-200
-250
0 10 20 30 40 50
Time (sec.)

Figure 9 Max/Min Time Error Envelope resulting from 4000 acquisition transients. An initial
-7 -10
normalized frequency error of 10 and a normalized frequency drift of 1.6 10 were assumed.
Measurement standard deviation was 12.5 ns.

6 Conclusions
We have shown above the possibility to improve the spectral efficiency of the RCS physical
layer thanks to the use of a symbol synchronous transmission and rectangular symbol shaping.
In addition to the reduced carrier spacing and absence of guard times (at least for traffic
bursts) a reduction of the overhead in traffic bursts may also be experienced. This last advantage may
be particularly significant for QPSK modulations with code rate higher than 2/3 where non-data aided
carrier frequency and phase recovery may be easily feasible. In such cases, only a preamble for
resolving the recovered carrier phase ambiguity may be required. For example, the operating SNR for
a QPSK 6/7 MODCOD is about 7 dB or higher. To solve the phase ambiguity a four to eight symbol
long preamble may be sufficient depending on the target FER.

7 References
1 ETSI EN 301 790, “Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB); Interaction channel for satellite distribution
systems, V1.3.1, 2002
2 S. Benedetto, R. Garello, G. Montorsi; C Berrou, C. Douillard et al, “MHOMS: High-Speed ACM
Modem for Satellite Applications”, IEEE Wireless Comm., April 2005.
3 C. Douillard, “3D Turbo Codes For DVB-RCS NG”, Proposal submission to DVB-TM-RCS-55
3 M Debbah, G. Gallinaro, R. Muller, R. Rinaldo, A. Vernucci, “Interference Mitigation for the
Reverse-Link of Interactive Satellite Networks,” SPSC 2006.
4 T. Frank, A. Klein, E. Costa, “IFDMA: a scheme combining the advantages of OFDMA and CDMA”,
IEEE Wireless Comm., June 2007.
5 H. G. Myung, J. Lim, D. J. Goodman, “Single Carrier FDMA for Uplink Wireless Transmission”,
IEEE Vehicular technology Magazine, September 2006.