Layering as optimization decomposition: A mathematical theory of network architectures

Mung Chiang, Steven H. Low, A. Robert Calderbank, John C. Doyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1088 Scopus citations


Network protocols in layered architectures have historically been obtained on an ad hoc basis, and many of the recent cross-layer designs are also conducted through piecemeal approaches. Network protocol stacks may instead be holistically analyzed and systematically designed as distributed solutions to some global optimization problems. This paper presents a survey of the recent efforts towards a systematic understanding of layering as optimization decomposition, where the overall communication network is modeled by a generalized network utility maximization problem, each layer corresponds to a decomposed subproblem, and the interfaces among layers are quantified as functions of the optimization variables coordinating the subproblems. There can be many alternative decompositions, leading to a choice of different layering architectures. This paper surveys the current status of horizontal decomposition into distributed computation, and vertical decomposition into functional modules such as congestion control, routing, scheduling, random access, power control, and channel coding. Key messages and methods arising from many recent works are summarized, and open issues discussed. Through case studies, it is illustrated how layering as Optimization Decomposition provides a common language to think about modularization in the face of complex, networked interactions, a unifying, top-down approach to design protocol stacks, and a mathematical theory of network architectures

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4118456
Pages (from-to)255-312
Number of pages58
JournalProceedings of the IEEE
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


  • Ad hoc network
  • Channel coding
  • Computer network
  • Congestion control
  • Cross-layer design
  • Distributed algorithm
  • Feedback control
  • Game theory
  • Internet
  • Lagrange duality
  • Medium access control (MAC)
  • Network utility maximization (NUM)
  • Wireless communications


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