Cellular-enabled UAV communication: A connectivity-constrained trajectory optimization perspective

Shuowen Zhang, Yong Zeng, Rui Zhang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

148 Citations (Scopus)


Integrating the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the cellular network is envisioned to be a promising technology to significantly enhance the communication performance of both UAVs and existing terrestrial users. In this paper, we first provide an overview on the two main research paradigms in cellular UAV communications, namely, cellular-enabled UAV communication with UAVs as new aerial users served by the ground base stations (GBSs), and UAV-assisted cellular communication with UAVs as new aerial communication platforms serving the terrestrial users. Then, we focus on the former paradigm and study a new UAV trajectory design problem subject to practical communication connectivity constraints with the GBSs. Specifically, we consider a cellular-connected UAV in the mission of flying from an initial location to a final location that are given, during which it needs to maintain reliable communication with the cellular network by associating with one of the available GBSs at each time instant that has the best line-of-sight channel (or shortest distance) with it. We aim to minimize the UAV's mission completion time by optimizing its trajectory, subject to a quality-of-connectivity constraint of the GBS-UAV link specified by a minimum receive signal-to-noise ratio target, which needs to be satisfied throughout its mission. To tackle this challenging non-convex optimization problem, we first propose an efficient method to verify its feasibility via checking the connectivity between two given vertices on an equivalent graph. Next, by examining the GBS-UAV association sequence over time, we obtain useful structural results on the optimal UAV trajectory, based on which two efficient methods are proposed to find high-quality approximate trajectory solutions by leveraging the techniques from graph theory and convex optimization. The proposed methods are analytically shown to be capable of achieving a flexible tradeoff between complexity and performance, and yielding a solution in polynomial time with the performance arbitrarily close to that of the optimal solution. Numerical results further validate the effectiveness of our proposed designs against benchmark schemes. Finally, we make concluding remarks and point out promising directions for future work.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8531711
Pages (from-to)2580-2604
Number of pages25
JournalIEEE Transactions on Communications
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • cellular network
  • convex optimization
  • graph theory
  • trajectory design
  • Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering

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