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Cooperation is viewed as a key ingredient for interference management in wireless networks. This paper shows that cooperation has fundamental limitations. First, it is established that in systems that rely on pilot-assisted channel estimation, the spectral efficiency is upper-bounded by a quantity that does not depend on the transmit powers; in this framework, cooperation is possible only within clusters of limited size, which are subject to out-of-cluster interference whose power scales with that of the in-cluster signals. Second, an upper bound is also shown to exist if the cooperation extends to an entire (large) system operating as a single cluster; here, pilot-assisted transmission is necessarily transcended. Altogether, it is concluded that cooperation cannot in general change an interference-limited network to a noise-limited one. Consequently, the existing literature that routinely assumes that the high-power spectral efficiency scales with the log-scale transmit power provides only a partial characterization. The complete characterization proposed in this paper subdivides the high-power regime into a degree-of-freedom regime, where the scaling with the log-scale transmit power holds approximately, and a saturation regime, where the spectral efficiency hits a ceiling that is independent of the power. Using a cellular system as an example, it is demonstrated that the spectral efficiency saturates at power levels of operational relevance.
Date of Publication: Sept. 2013