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Publication# Re-proving Channel Polarization Theorems

Abstract

The general subject considered in this thesis is a recently discovered coding technique, polar coding, which is used to construct a class of error correction codes with unique properties. In his ground-breaking work, Arikan proved that this class of codes, called polar codes, achieve the symmetric capacity --- the mutual information evaluated at the uniform input distribution ---of any stationary binary discrete memoryless channel with low complexity encoders and decoders requiring in the order of $O(N\log N)$ operations in the block-length $N$. This discovery settled the long standing open problem left by Shannon of finding low complexity codes achieving the channel capacity. Polar codes are not only appealing for being the first to 'close the deal'. In contrast to most of the existing coding schemes, polar codes admit an explicit low complexity construction. In addition, for symmetric channels, the polar code construction is deterministic; the theoretically beautiful but practically limited "average performance of an ensemble of codes is good, so there must exist one particular code in the ensemble at least as good as the average'' formalism of information theory is bypassed. Simulations are thus not necessary in principle for evaluating the error probability which is shown in a study by Telatar and Arikan to scale exponentially in the square root of the block-length. As such, at the time of this writing, polar codes are appealing for being the only class of codes proved, and proved with mathematical elegance, to possess all of these properties. Polar coding settled an open problem in information theory, yet opened plenty of challenging problems that need to be addressed. This novel coding scheme is a promising method from which, in addition to data transmission, problems such as data compression or compressed sensing, which includes all types of measurement processes like the MRI or ultrasound, could benefit in terms of efficiency. To make this technique fulfill its promise, the original theory has been, and should still be, extended in multiple directions. A significant part of this thesis is dedicated to advancing the knowledge about this technique in two directions. The first one provides a better understanding of polar coding by generalizing some of the existing results and discussing their implications, and the second one studies the robustness of the theory over communication models introducing various forms of uncertainty or variations into the probabilistic model of the channel. See the fulltext of the thesis for the complete abstract.

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The year 2016, in which I am writing these words, marks the centenary of Claude Shannon, the father of information theory. In his landmark 1948 paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication", Shannon established the largest rate at which reliable communication is possible, and he referred to it as the channel capacity. Since then, researchers have focused on the design of practical coding schemes that could approach such a limit. The road to channel capacity has been almost 70 years long and, after many ideas, occasional detours, and some rediscoveries, it has culminated in the description of low-complexity and provably capacity-achieving coding schemes, namely, polar codes and iterative codes based on sparse graphs. However, next-generation communication systems require an unprecedented performance improvement and the number of transmission settings relevant in applications is rapidly increasing. Hence, although Shannon's limit seems finally close at hand, new challenges are just around the corner. In this thesis, we trace a road that goes from polar to Reed-Muller codes and, by doing so, we investigate three main topics: unified scaling, non-standard channels, and capacity via symmetry. First, we consider unified scaling. A coding scheme is capacity-achieving when, for any rate smaller than capacity, the error probability tends to 0 as the block length becomes increasingly larger. However, the practitioner is often interested in more specific questions such as, "How much do we need to increase the block length in order to halve the gap between rate and capacity?". We focus our analysis on polar codes and develop a unified framework to rigorously analyze the scaling of the main parameters, i.e., block length, rate, error probability, and channel quality. Furthermore, in light of the recent success of a list decoding algorithm for polar codes, we provide scaling results on the performance of list decoders. Next, we deal with non-standard channels. When we say that a coding scheme achieves capacity, we typically consider binary memoryless symmetric channels. However, practical transmission scenarios often involve more complicated settings. For example, the downlink of a cellular system is modeled as a broadcast channel, and the communication on fiber links is inherently asymmetric. We propose provably optimal low-complexity solutions for these settings. In particular, we present a polar coding scheme that achieves the best known rate region for the broadcast channel, and we describe three paradigms to achieve the capacity of asymmetric channels. To do so, we develop general coding "primitives", such as the chaining construction that has already proved to be useful in a variety of communication problems. Finally, we show how to achieve capacity via symmetry. In the early days of coding theory, a popular paradigm consisted in exploiting the structure of algebraic codes to devise practical decoding algorithms. However, proving the optimality of such coding schemes remained an elusive goal. In particular, the conjecture that Reed-Muller codes achieve capacity dates back to the 1960s. We solve this open problem by showing that Reed-Muller codes and, in general, codes with sufficient symmetry are capacity-achieving over erasure channels under optimal MAP decoding. As the proof does not rely on the precise structure of the codes, we are able to show that symmetry alone guarantees optimal performance.

Polar coding is a recently invented technique for communication over binary-input memoryless channels. This technique allows one to transmit data at rates close to the symmetric-capacity of such channels with arbitrarily high reliability, using low-complexity encoding and decoding algorithms. As such, polar coding is the only explicit low-complexity method known to achieve the capacity of symmetric binary-input memoryless channels. The principle underlying polar coding is channel polarization: recursively combining several copies of a mediocre binary-input channel to create noiseless and useless channels. The same principle can also be used to obtain optimal low-complexity compression schemes for memoryless binary sources. In this dissertation, the generality of the polarization principle is investigated. It is first shown that polarization with recursive procedures is not limited to binary channels and sources. A family of low-complexity methods that polarize all discrete memoryless processes is introduced. In both data transmission and data compression, codes based on such methods achieve optimal rates, i.e., channel capacity and source entropy, respectively. The error probability behavior of such codes is as in the binary case. Next, it is shown that a large class of recursive constructions polarize memoryless processes, establishing the original polar codes as an instance of a large class of codes based on polarization methods. A formula to compute the error probability dependence of generalized constructions on the coding length is derived. Evaluating this formula reveals that substantial error probability improvements over the original polar codes can be achieved at large coding lengths by using generalized constructions, particularly over channels and sources with non-binary alphabets. Polarizing capabilities of recursive methods are shown to extend beyond memoryless processes: Any construction that polarizes memoryless processes will also polarize a large class of processes with memory. The principles developed are applied to settings with multiple memoryless processes. It is shown that separately applying polarization constructions to two correlated processes polarizes both the processes themselves as well as the correlations between them. These observations lead to polar coding theorems for multiple-access channels and separate compression of correlated sources. The proposed coding schemes achieve optimal sum rates in both problems.

Information theory is the field in which we study the fundamental limitations of communication. Shannon proved in 1948 that there exists a maximum rate, called capacity, at which we can reliably communicate information through a given channel. However, Shannon did not provide an explicit construction of a practical coding scheme that achieves the capacity. Polar coding, invented by Arikan, is the first low-complexity coding technique that achieves the capacity of binary-input memoryless symmetric channels. The construction of these codes is based on a phenomenon called polarization. The study of polar codes and their generalization to arbitrary channels is the subject of polarization theory, a subfield of information and coding theories. This thesis consists of two parts. In the first part, we provide solutions to several open problems in polarization theory. The first open problem that we consider is to determine the binary operations that always lead to polarization when they are used in Arikan-style constructions. In order to solve this problem, we develop an ergodic theory for binary operations. This theory is used to provide a necessary and sufficient condition that characterizes the polarizing binary operations, both in the single-user and the multiple-access settings. We prove that the exponent of a polarizing binary operation cannot exceed 1/2. Furthermore, we show that the exponent of an arbitrary quasigroup operation is exactly 1/2. This implies that quasigroup operations are among the best polarizing binary operations. One drawback of polarization in the multiple-access setting is that it sometimes induces a loss in the symmetric capacity region of a given multiple-access channel (MAC). An open problem in MAC polarization theory is to determine all the MACs that do not lose any part of their capacity region by polarization. Using Fourier analysis, we solve this problem by providing a single-letter necessary and sufficient condition that characterizes all these MACs in the general setting where we have an arbitrary number of users, and each user uses an arbitrary Abelian group operation on his input alphabet. We also study the polarization of classical-quantum (cq) channels. The input alphabet is endowed with an arbitrary Abelian group operation, and an Arikan-style transformation is applied using this operation. We show that as the number of polarization steps becomes large, the synthetic cq-channels polarize to deterministic homomorphism channels that project their input to a quotient group of the input alphabet. This result is used to construct polar codes for arbitrary cq-channels and arbitrary classical-quantum multiple-access channels (cq-MAC). In the second part of this thesis, we investigate several problems that are related to three orderings of communication channels: degradedness, input-degradedness, and the Shannon ordering. We provide several characterizations for the input-degradedness and the Shannon ordering. Two channels are said to be equivalent if they are degraded from each other. Input-equivalence and Shannon-equivalence between channels are similarly defined. We construct and study several topologies on the quotients of the spaces of discrete memoryless channels (DMC) by the equivalence, the input-equivalence and the Shannon-equivalence relations. Finally, we prove the continuity of several channel parameters and operations under various DMC topologies.