Network information flow

  • Authors:
  • R. Ahlswede;Ning Cai;S. -Y.R. Li;R. W. Yeung

  • Affiliations:
  • Fakultat fur Math., Bielefeld Univ.;-;-;-

  • Venue:
  • IEEE Transactions on Information Theory
  • Year:
  • 2006

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We introduce a new class of problems called network information flow which is inspired by computer network applications. Consider a point-to-point communication network on which a number of information sources are to be multicast to certain sets of destinations. We assume that the information sources are mutually independent. The problem is to characterize the admissible coding rate region. This model subsumes all previously studied models along the same line. We study the problem with one information source, and we have obtained a simple characterization of the admissible coding rate region. Our result can be regarded as the max-flow min-cut theorem for network information flow. Contrary to one's intuition, our work reveals that it is in general not optimal to regard the information to be multicast as a “fluid” which can simply be routed or replicated. Rather, by employing coding at the nodes, which we refer to as network coding, bandwidth can in general be saved. This finding may have significant impact on future design of switching systems