The irruption of the cell-free (CF) massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) network topology has meant taking one step further the concept of massive MIMO as a means to provide uniform service in large coverage areas. A key property of massive MIMO networks is channel hardening, by which the channel becomes deterministic when the number of antennas grows large enough relative to the number of serviced users, easing the signal processing and boosting the performance of simple precoders. However, in CF massive MIMO, the fulfillment of this condition depends on several aspects that are not considered in classical massive MIMO systems. In this work, we address the presence of channel hardening in both CF massive MIMO and the recently appeared user-centric (UC) approach, under a spatially correlated Ricean fading channel using distributed and cooperative precoding and combining schemes and different power control strategies for both the downlink (DL) and uplink (UL) segments. We show that the line-of-sight (LOS) component, spatially correlated antennas and UC schemes have an impact on how the channel hardens. In addition, we examine the existent gap between the estimated achievable rate and the true network performance when channel hardening is compromised. Exact closed-form expressions for both the hardening metric and achievable DL/UL rates are given as well.
mimo communication; fading channels; precoding; channel estimation; training; measurement; central processing unit; antenna arrays; power control; rician channels