We consider the primitive relay channel, where the source sends a message to the relay and to the destination, and the relay helps the communication by transmitting an additional message to the destination via a separate channel. Two well-known coding techniques have been introduced for this setting: decode-and-forward and compress-and-forward. In decode-and-forward, the relay completely decodes the message and sends some information to the destination; in compress-and-forward, the relay does not decode, and it sends a compressed version of the received signal to the destination using Wyner–Ziv coding. In this paper, we present a novel coding paradigm that provides an improved achievable rate for the primitive relay channel. The idea is to combine compress-and-forward and decode-and-forward via a chaining construction. We transmit over pairs of blocks: in the first block, we use compress-and-forward; and, in the second block, we use decode-and-forward. More specifically, in the first block, the relay does not decode, it compresses the received signal via Wyner–Ziv, and it sends only part of the compression to the destination. In the second block, the relay completely decodes the message, it sends some information to the destination, and it also sends the remaining part of the compression coming from the first block. By doing so, we are able to strictly outperform both compress-and-forward and decode-and-forward. Note that the proposed coding scheme can be implemented with polar codes. As such, it has the typical attractive properties of polar coding schemes, namely, quasi-linear encoding and decoding complexity, and error probability that decays at super-polynomial speed. As a running example, we take into account the special case of the erasure relay channel, and we provide a comparison between the rates achievable by our proposed scheme and the existing upper and lower bounds.
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