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Channel estimation is of paramount importance in most communication systems in order to optimize the data rate/energy consumption tradeoff. In modern systems, the possibly large number of transmit/receive antennas and subcarriers makes this task difficult. Designing pilot sequences of reasonable size yielding good performance is thus critical. Classically, the number of pilots is reduced by viewing the channel as a random vector and assuming knowledge of its distribution. In practice, this requires estimating the channel covariance matrix, which can be computationally costly and not adapted to scenarios with high mobility. In this paper, an alternative view is considered, in which the channel is a function of unknown deterministic parameters. In this setting, the problem of designing optimal pilot sequences of smallest possible size is studied for any parametric channel model. To do so, the Cramér-Rao bound (CRB) for this general channel estimation problem is given, highlighting its key dependency on the introduced variation space . Then, the minimal size of pilot sequences and minimal value of the CRB are determined. Moreover, a general strategy to build optimal minimal length power constrained pilots sequences is given, based on an estimation of the variation space. The theoretical results are finally illustrated in a massive MIMO system context. They conveniently allow to retrieve well known previous results, but also to exhibit minimal length optimal pilot sequences for a new strategy based on a nonlinear physical model.
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