What are queues

  • Items (customers, patients, cars) enter a system (check-out, hospital, repair shop) for service.

  • They may have to wait in-line, in the queue, to be serviced.

  • When they finally receive service, this also takes time.

  • When they are done, they depart the system, this may also take time.

  • Queuing time and service time, (and departure time) are often considered together.

  • We are interested in quantities such as how many items are in a system at a time \(t\), average time in the system, and the stability of the queue.

Some terminology and common assumptions

  • The discipline of a queue refers to how items are serviced: first in first out (FIFO) being a common assumption.

  • Usually one or more servers.

  • Arrival time to the queue are often assumed to correspond to a renewal process.

  • Service times are often assumed to be i.i.d.

  • Technical maths tools that are used in analysing queues include finding hidden Markov chains.

Kendall notation

  • A/S/c; three parameters denoting the inter-arrival times, service times, and the number of servers.

  • Inter-arrival times and service times are i.i.d. and the queue is by default FIFO.

  • M stands for Markov (exponential times)

  • M/M/1 or \(M(\lambda)/M(\mu)/1\) refers to a queue with one server, where inter-arrival and service times are exponential (with not necessary the same rate).

  • G/G/1 refers to a general (and not necessarily the same) distribution for arrivals and service.

Code M/M/1

Hidden in an early exercise, we had considered such a queue, with \(\lambda = 1\) and \(\mu = 1.5\). We had code that produced a histogram of the total an item spends in such a system.

inter=rexp(1000, 1)
service = rexp(1000,1.5)

output <- arr[1] + service[1]
for (i in 1:999){
if (arr[i+1] < output[i]){output <- c(output, output[i] + service[i+1])}
if (arr[i+1] > output[i]){output <- c(output, arr[i+1] + service[i+1])}


time = output - arr
x = seq(0,max(time)+1, by=0.01)
b = seq(0,max(time)+1, by=0.1)
hist(time, prob=T, breaks=b)
curve(dexp(x,0.5), add=T)

General results

The ratio of the expected service time over expected inter-arrival time is the traffic intensity. Let \(Q(t)\) be the number of customers in the system (waiting and being serviced) at time \(t\). We say that \(Q\) is stable if the law of \(Q(t)\) converges to a probability distribution as \(t \to \infty\). For a G/G/1 queue, we have:

  • If the traffic intensity is strictly less than \(1\), then \(Q\) is stable

  • If the traffic intensity is greater than \(1\), then \(Q\) is not stable

  • If the traffic intensity is \(1\), then \(Q\) is not stable, provided one of the service time or inter-arrival time is not deterministic.

Little’s law; \(L = \lambda W\);

Exact version in \([0,T]\): For a system that is empty at \(0\) and \(T\)

  • \(Q(t)\) = number of items in the system at time \(t\)

  • \(\lambda\) = average arrival rate in \([0,T]\)

  • \(N\) = the total number of items arriving in \([0,T]\)

  • \(L\) = average number of items in the system in \([0,T]\)

  • \(W\) =average waiting time of an item in \([0,T]\)

  • \(A = \int_0^T Q(t)dt\) area under \(Q\) curve


Here average is defined so that

  • \(L = A/T\)

  • \(\lambda = N/T\)

  • \(W = A/N\)

  • Hence \[L = (A/T) = (A/N) * (N/T) = \lambda W.\]


  • Little advocates for this version of his law.

  • Basically no assumptions required.

  • The quantities \(L\), \(\lambda\), and \(W\) are locked-in a relationship like Ohm’s law.

  • One quantity can be easily calculated assuming the others can be measured.

Long-term average version via renewal-reward

  • Customers arrive one at a time with the \(n\)th customer spending time \(V_n\)

  • There exists a regeneration time \(T_1\) that is finite almost surely, so that the queue is empty, and restarts a fresh at this random time, like a stopping time.

  • Thus the inter-arrival times of these regeneration times \(X_i = T_i - T_{i-1}\) are i.i.d. and the regeneration times form a renewal process. Take \(T_0 = 0\).

  • Each time cycle \([T_{i-1}, T_i)\) behaves independently. That is, if \(N_1\) is the number of arrivals in \([T_0, T_1)\) then it is independent of \(N_2\), but identically distributed.

Standing assumption

  • We assume that \(\mathbb{E} N_1 < \infty\), \(\mathbb{E} T_1 < \infty\), and \(\mathbb{E}(N_1 T_1) < \infty\).

  • These assumptions did not show up in the previous verison of these slides.


  • Consider the reward at each cycle to be given by

\[ R_i = \int_{T_{i-1}} ^ {T_{i}} Q(t)dt\]

  • Clearly, the \(R_i\) are i.i.d. and \(\mathbb{E} R_1 \leq \mathbb{E}N_1T_1 < \infty\).

  • By the law of large numbers for renewal processes it follows that if \(C(t)\) is the total reward up to time \(t\), we have

\[ \lim_{t \to \infty} \frac{1}{t}\int_0 ^t Q(u)du = \lim_{t \to \infty} C(t)/t = \mathbb{E} R_1 / \mathbb{E} T_1=:L\]


  • Similarly, give ourselves the reward \(N_i\) on each cycle, the total of number of items \(N(t)\) satisfies

\[ N(t)/t \to \mathbb{E} N_1 / \mathbb{E} T_1:= \lambda\]


  • Consider another inter-arrival process with inter-arrival times \(N_i\) and give ourselves the reward of the total waiting time in the \(i\)th cycle; in particular, \(S_1 = \sum_{k=1}^ {N_1} V_k\), and the \(S_i\) are i.i.d. with

\[ \mathbb{E}S_1 \leq \mathbb{E} N_1 T_1 < \infty\]

  • Again, by the renewal-reward theorem, we have

\[\lim_{n \to \infty} \frac{1}{n}\sum_{k=1} ^n V_k \to \mathbb{E} S_1 / \mathbb{E} N=:W\]

Little’s theorem \(L = \lambda W\).

Observe that

\[\mathbb{E} S_1= \mathbb{E} \Big( \sum_{k=1} ^{N_1} V_k \Big) = \mathbb{E} \Big( \int_0 ^{T_1} Q(u)du \Big) = \mathbb{E} R_1\] Thus \[ \begin{eqnarray*} L &=& ( \mathbb{E} R_1 /\mathbb{E} T_1 ) \\ &=& ( \mathbb{E} R_1 /\mathbb{E} N_1 )* (\mathbb{E} N_1 / \mathbb{E} T_1) \\ &=& (\mathbb{E} S_1 / \mathbb{E} N_1) * \lambda \\ &=& \lambda W. \end{eqnarray*} \]


Version: 04 December 2023