The encoding complexity of network coding

Michael Langberg, Alexander Sprintson, Jehoshua Bruck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the multicast network coding problem, a source s needs to deliver h packets to a set of k terminals over an underlying communication network G. The nodes of the multicast network can be broadly categorized into two groups. The first group incudes encoding nodes, i.e., nodes that generate new packets by combining data received from two or more incoming links. The second group includes forwarding nodes that can only duplicate and forward the incoming packets. Encoding nodes are, in general, more expensive due to the need to equip them with encoding capabilities. In addition, encoding nodes incur delay and increase the overall complexity of the network. Accordingly, in this paper, we study the design of multicast coding networks with a limited number of encoding nodes. We prove that in a directed acyclic coding network, the number of encoding nodes required to achieve the capacity of the network is bounded by h3k2. Namely, we present (efficiently constructible) network codes that achieve capacity in which the total number of encoding nodes is independent of the size of the network and is bounded by h3k2. We show that the number of encoding nodes may depend both on h and k by presenting acyclic coding networks that require Ω(h2k) encoding nodes. In the general case of coding networks with cycles, we show that the number of encoding nodes is limited by the size of the minimum feedback link set, i.e., the minimum number of links that must be removed from the network in order to eliminate cycles. We prove that the number of encoding nodes is bounded by (2B + 1)h3k2, where B is the minimum size of a feedback link set. Finally, we observe that determining or even crudely approximating the minimum number of required encoding nodes is an NP-hard problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2386-2397
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Information Theory
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Manuscript received March 15, 2005; revised December 20, 2005. This work was supported in part by the Caltech Lee Center for Advanced Networking and by the National Science Foundation under Grants ANI-0322475 and CCF-0346991. The material in this paper was presented in part at the IEEE International Symposium on Information theory, Adelaide, Australia, September 2005.


  • Coding networks
  • Encoding links
  • Encoding nodes
  • Multicast
  • Network coding


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