# Another take on matched sources and channels

Ehsan Ardestanizadeh posed a little problem in Young-Han Kim‘s group meeting before break and Paolo Minero presented a cute solution which I thought might be of interest. It’s related to ideas my advisor, Michael Gastpar worked on in his thesis.

Suppose I have a Gaussian variable $S$ that is $\mathcal{N}(0,1)$, so zero-mean and unit variance. If I observe $Y = S + Z$ where $Z$ is also $\mathcal{N}(0,1)$ and independent of $S$, the minimum mean-square error (MMSE) estimate of $S$ given $Y$ is just $\mathsf{MMSE}( S | Y) = \frac{1}{2} Y$

and the MSE is $\mathbb{E}[ (S - \hat{S})^2 ] = 1/2$. The question is this: can we somehow get an MSE of less than 1/2 by “encoding” $S$? Suppose now we can take any function $f$ and let $X = f(S)$, and $Y = X + Z$ but with the restriction that $\mathsf{Var}(X) \le 1$. That is, the encoding cannot take any more power.

The answer is no, and comes via an “information theoretic” argument. Consider the vector version of the problem where you have $n$ iid unit variance Gaussians $S^n$ and you want to estimate $S^n$ from $Y^n = f(S^n) + Z^n$ where $Z^n$ is iid unit variance Gaussian as well. The goal is to minimize the average per-letter distortion: $d(\hat{S}^n, S^n) = \frac{1}{n} \sum_{i=1}^{n} \mathbb{E}[ (S_i - \hat{S}_i)^2 ]$

This is just the problem of joint source-channel coding of a Gaussian source over an AWGN channel with quadratic distortion and encoding function $f$ must satisfy a unit power constraint. For this problem the rate distortion function is $R(D) = \frac{1}{2} \log \frac{1}{D}$

and the capacity of the channel is $\frac{1}{2} \log(1 + 1) = \frac{1}{2}$. Since separate source coding (compression) followed by channel coding (error control) is optimal, in order to get distortion $D$ the rate $R(D) \le 1/2$ so $D \ge 1/2$. Furthermore, this is achievable with no coding at all by just setting $f(S^n) = S^n$.

Now if there was a scheme for the single-letter case which got MSE less than 1/2, we could concatenate it to get a vector scheme with distortion less than 1/2. But since $D \ge 1/2$ in the optimal code, we get a contradiction. Thus encoding does not help in the single-letter case either. If $S$ isn’t Gaussian the whole story changes though.