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PCI planning

Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) defines Long Term Evolution (LTE)
standards towards fulfilling the objectives of IMT Advanced 4G standards. The
primary goals of LTE is to achieve over 300Mbps and about 75Mbps on the
downlink (DL) and uplink (UL). Also LTE is designed to serve a large number of users
in every cell leading to higher capacity as compared to 3G. Achieving these two
objectives along with the requirement of deploying LTE networks with frequency
reuse of 1 (i.e., every cell should use the same set of frequency resources) will pose
many challenges to the RF planning engineers. One such challenge is the Physical
Cell ID (PCI) planning. Traditionally, while doing PCI planning, Primary
Synchronization Signal (PSS) and Secondary Synchronization Signal (SSS) are
considered as input. But one needs to also take into account the PCFICH location
on the first OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) symbol as it
plays a very crucial role in ensuring a good throughput at the cell edges. Thus,
optimizing the overall throughput is achieved by proper PCFICH planning.


3GPP LTE technology defines a data shared channel (PDSCH - Physical Downlink
Shared Channel) to carry both users' data traffic and control signaling/messages
that provides life line to User Equipments (UEs) for the day to day operations. The
mantra (or telltale) here is to ensure optimum resource utilization for data traffic
to increase cell throughputs. Better efficiency of scheduling with shared channel
and conservation of vital (UE's) battery power is enabled with the use of PDCCH
(Physical Downlink Control Channel).

In LTE, all UEs that expect any data (system information, random access response,
paging, common control messaging and user specific data or control messages) on
the DL has to monitor the PDCCH first. The PDCCH informs the UEs about the DL
resource allocation information. The allocation information includes the number
of Resource Blocks (RBs), Modulation and Coding Schemes (MCS), Multiple Input
Multiple Output (MIMO) schemes and UL power control command with an
indication for Channel Quality Index (CQI) report.

Since both the PDDCH and PDSCH share the available resources in every subframe
(Transmit Time Interval -TTI of 1ms duration), the number of simultaneous users
(a measure of capacity) who can be served in a cell will be limited by the
availability of PDCCH resources. Looking the other way, PDSCH throughput is
inversely proportional to the PDDCH size (or resources). That is, the smaller the
resources reserved for PDCCH the larger the resources available for PDSCH which
means higher throughput is achieved in the TTI. Another scenario is the case
where PDCCH occupies larger resources due to the requirement of higher number
of users to be served which means large capacity. Now, PDSCH is left with lesser
resources to carry data leading to lower throughput. From the above discussion
we see that LTE provides us with a handle to leverage either capacity or
throughput every TTI as the scenario may warrant. The key to this kind of
leverage is through the use of the PCFICH (Physical Control Format Indicator
Channel). The PCFICH provides the information about the PDCCH resources
(number of OFDMA - Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access symbols) in
the present TTI or subframe. Figure 1 provides a pictorial representation of the
resource utilization in a generic subframe by PDSCH, PDCCH and PCFICH in LTE.

Figure 1: A generic subframe in LTE

Till now our discussions were limited to only time domain. When we shift our
focus to frequency domain (i.e., subcarriers) yet another PDCCH constraint will be
seen. That is the PDCCH resources are made up of OFDM symbols on the time
domain and subcarriers in the frequency domain. The number of subcarriers
available for communication is dependent on the available (deployed) bandwidth.
LTE supports scalable bandwidth deployments of 1.4MHz, 3MHz, 5MHz, 10MHz,
15MHz and 20MHz with 6, 15, 25, 50, 75 and 100 RBs, respectively. To achieve
the same capacity in two (2) different deployment bandwidths (say 5MHz and
10MHz), the PDCCH may have to span further OFDM symbols in lower bandwidth
leading to more degradation in cell throughput. This leads to yet another
dimension to the design of a radio network. LTE supports a variable number of
OFDMA symbols (maximum 3 in case of higher bandwidth and 4 OFDMA symbols
in case of less bandwidths like 1.4MHz deployment) to take care of all the
scenarios discussed so far. Physically, PCFICH carries this information (number of
OFDMA symbols that constitutes the PDCCH channel for the present subframe) to
all users monitoring the DL. In summary, LTE UE needs to first decode the PCFICH
to decode PDCCH and then listen to PDCCH for PDSCH resources and then decode
the data on PDSCH.

PCFICH Details - What, where and how

PCFICH carries CFI (Control Format Indicator) that informs 4 values 1, 2, 3, or 4

suggesting that PDCCH occupies 1, 2, 3 or 4 OFDM symbols in the present
subframe. Figure 2.below provides more information about PCFICH and what CFI

PCFICH is mapped to 4 REGs (labeled p, q, r and s in Figure 2) which are

equidistant and spread across the bandwidth in frequency domain. These four
REG locations are a function of PCI and the deployed bandwidth. In time domain,
it is mapped to the first OFDMA symbol of the subframe (see Figure 1). LTE
defines a REG (Resource Element Group) as 4 useful REs (Resource elements) or
modulation symbols grouped together. But with 2 MIMO Reference signals
associated, 6 REs are grouped into a REG in the first OFDMA symbol of the
subframe (Figure 2 shows sample position of Reference signals marked as x).
Fig 2: PCFICH - Where and What

The Math of PCFICH has

4REGs = 4 time 4 useful REs or 16 modulation symbols

With QPSK modulation PCFICH always carry 32 bit of information which are
mapped to CFI values 1 to 4 as shown in Figure 2.

PCI Planning

In PCI planning we usually consider the Primary Sync Signal (PSS) and Secondary
Sync Signal (SSS) where every cell has a unique PCI. A PCI is a combination of one
of the three unique (orthogonal) PSS sequences and one of 168 cell group identity
(or SSS) sequences that make a range of 0 to 503 unique identities. To minimize
interference, the thumb rule is to ensure that neighboring cells shall not transmit
the same PSS. This ensures that sync signal and reference signals do not interfere
with each other.

PCFICH issues with PCI planning

Now let's focus on PCFICH issues while planning the PCIs. A careful observation of
LTE standards shows that PCFICH location is a function of two variables the PCI
and the bandwidth deployed. In popular deployments of 10Mz, we see that first
OFDM symbol of every sub frame has 100 REGs (@ of 2REGs per RB). Likewise we
can have 12, 30, 50, 150 and 200 REGs for bandwidths 1.4MHz, 3MHz, 5MHz,
15MHz and 20MHz respectively. Also PCFICH spans four (4) locations across the
bandwidth and are equidistant. But PCIs are 504 (five hundred and four), so cells
with different PCI are bound to have overlapping PCFICH locations. Hence we see
two scenarios arising, first a set of PCIs for a given bandwidth will have exactly
same PCFICH positions and secondly a group of cells that have one or more
overlapping PCFICH locations. If the PCIs within a set happens to be assigned for
neighbor cells, the UEs at cell edges will experience interference while decoding
PCFICH. Any problems in reading PCFICH leads to a situation where UE is not
reading either or both PDCCH and PDSCH thereby reducing the cell edge

First let us see the scenario of neighboring cells with PCIs from a set that has the
same PCFICH positions are very same. Figure 3 shows one such case where three
10MHz neighbor cells with PCIs 0, 25 and 50 (from the same set) deployed. PCI
planning with synchronization and reference signals point of view looks perfect.
i.e., PCIs 0, 25 and 50 have Primary Synchronization signals 0, 1 and 2
respectively. Also the DL cell specific reference signal positions do not overlap,
minimizing the interference. Hence we see that interference is better managed.
But there's an element of surprise when you analyze interference due to

With 100 REGs in a 10MHz deployment, only 25 (=100/4) unique PCFICH locations
(with four equidistant REGs) are possible. Here we see cells with PCIs separated
by a distance of 25 has the same PCFICH positions (REGs 0, 25, 50 and 75). This
will drastically reduce the cell edge throughputs.
Figure 3: Scenario showing neighbor cells have same PCFICH location.

Now let us look the other scenario where neighbor cell have one or more PCFICH
location in common as seen in figure 4. Here we consider three 5MHz cells having
few PCFICH positions overlapping being deployed. Like in the previous case with
5MHz deployed, a total of 25 * 2 = 50 REG location are possible within the
bandwidth. With 4 equidistant locations we can have only 12 unique PCFICH
positions. Figure 4 shows three neighbor cells having PCIs 0, 12 and 25. When we
consider the cell with PCI 0 and 12 or 12 and 25, we see that two REG positions 72
and 222 are overlapping that decreases the probability of decoding PCFICH, while
PCIs 0 and 25 have all the four positions in common making it even worse to
decode PCFICH. When the PCIs have a difference of 13, we see other two REG
positions 0 and 150 overlapping. Hence it is not advisable to have PCIs with
multiples of 12/13 or 25 in neighborhood.

A summary of above discussion can be seen in Table 1 below. Extra care must be
taken while deploying neighbor cells with PCI distances such that those
mentioned in the table are not used leading to better cell edge throughputs.
Figure 5 below shows an example scenario that abides by PCFICH plan to ensure a
better cell throughput.

Figure 4: Scenario showing neighbor cells with few (1 or more) overlapping PCFICH

Table 1: PCFICH Separation distance for various LTE deployments

Figure 5: Scenario of PCI plan with PCFICH check


Maximum throughputs can be achieved by careful cell planning considering the

PCFICH locations additionally. The cell planning should see that neighboring cells
in the cluster or across clusters do not have a distances mentioned in Table 1.
PCFICH positions have a randomized interference due to individual REGs of cells
overlapping with other cell individual REGs.