Physics-Based Modeling and Scalable Optimization of Large Intelligent Reflecting Surfaces

Marzieh Najafi, Vahid Jamali, Robert Schober, H. Vincent Poor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Scopus citations


Intelligent reflecting surfaces (IRSs) have the potential to transform wireless communication channels into smart reconfigurable propagation environments. To realize this new paradigm, the passive IRSs have to be large, especially for communication in far-field scenarios, so that they can compensate for the large end-to-end path-loss, which is caused by the multiplication of the individual path-losses of the transmitter-to-IRS and IRS-to-receiver channels. However, optimizing a large number of sub-wavelength IRS elements imposes a significant challenge for online transmission. To address this issue, in this article, we develop a physics-based model and a scalable optimization framework for large IRSs. The basic idea is to partition the IRS unit cells into several subsets, referred to as tiles, model the impact of each tile on the wireless channel, and then optimize each tile in two stages, namely an offline design stage and an online optimization stage. For physics-based modeling, we borrow concepts from the radar literature, model each tile as an anomalous reflector, and derive its impact on the wireless channel for a given phase shift by solving the corresponding integral equations for the electric and magnetic vector fields. In the offline design stage, the IRS unit cells of each tile are jointly designed for the support of different transmission modes, where each transmission mode effectively corresponds to a given configuration of the phase shifts that the unit cells of the tile apply to an impinging electromagnetic wave. In the online optimization stage, the best transmission mode of each tile is selected such that a desired quality-of-service (QoS) criterion is maximized. We consider an exemplary downlink system and study the minimization of the base station (BS) transmit power subject to QoS constraints for the users. Since the resulting mixed-integer programming problem for joint optimization of the BS beamforming vectors and the tile transmission modes is non-convex, we derive two efficient suboptimal solutions, which are based on alternating optimization and a greedy approach, respectively. We show that the proposed modeling and optimization framework can be used to efficiently optimize large IRSs comprising thousands of unit cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9306896
Pages (from-to)2673-2691
Number of pages19
JournalIEEE Transactions on Communications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


  • Intelligent reflecting surfaces (IRSs)
  • anamolous reflection
  • codebook design
  • physics-based modeling
  • two-stage optimization


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