An Overview of Signaling System #7

Kevin Heisler January 2000

Signaling System #7 (SS7) continues to be an extremely important
area for developers of many types of telecommunications equipment including enhanced services platforms, Voice over IP (VoIP) gateways, Central Office (CO) switching platforms, and other platforms which are deployed by carriers inside the telco network. This is primarily because the SS7 protocol is almost universally used inside the world's telephone networks to provide call control and to support Intelligent Networking applications. The evolution of the telecommunications infrastructure from a closed single-vendor system into an open multivendor user-responsive network is the result of economic forces and rapid technological change. From a business perspective, telecommunications carriers and service providers face competition from many sources. They compete against each other on price, service quality, bandwidth and reliability, and-increasingly-the range of special services they offer. Carriers and service providers also compete against alternative technologies, such as computer telephony, which seeks to migrate valueadded services to the periphery of the network and the Internet. Short term, the Internet offers tantalizing possibilities of bypassing traditional carriers for "free" communications. Nonetheless, someone eventually has to pay the bill to maintain the infrastructure, and the challenges of achieving secure and reliable communications across the Internet have yet to be fully resolved. Technologically, the world's telecommunications infrastructure has become almost entirely digital, with modern transmission, switching and signaling protocols migrating telephone technology ever closer to the software-dominated open-system approach pervasive in the computer industry. As the SS7 signaling protocol becomes a universally deployed standard, it increasingly enables the development of a new kind of telecommunications infrastructure, easily controllable and configurable by carriers, service providers and ultimately users-in short, an intelligent network (IN). This paper provides the reader with an overview of the SS7 protocol and the Intelligent Network or 'IN'.

What is SS7 SS7 is the common channel signaling protocol used for call handling within the telephone network and as the basis of the Intelligent Network. SS7 is the underlying data communications protocol used by telephone networks to control call set-up and call routing, and to provide services such as 800- number (toll free) rerouting, wireless roaming, and caller ID and CLASS (Custom Local Area Signaling Services) features. SS7 is able to offer telephone network management functions

there can be some significant regional variations in its deployment. this approach allows data to be associated with each call. fully redundant data network. and offered several important advantages including greater speed. the network can take necessary actions to route a call. Design objectives for SS7 include high efficiency and low delay between the time a call is placed and when it is received. With in-band signaling. In any telephone system. running the two functions in parallel. While many of the elements of SS7 are common. when to start and stop the water. more reliable. the transmission acts as water in a hose. SS7 replaced the first Common Channel Interoffice Signaling system. and efficiently and reliably transferred between CO switches and other network elements to support advanced applications. route it. telephone systems such as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) used in-band signaling to carry signals. signals such as DTMF tones (which are used for call set-up) are carried in the same circuit as the talk path. monitor it and terminate it across either a physical or virtual circuit. voice circuits need not be allocated for calls that do not complete. supervision. SS7's broad capabilities mean that it can support services much more flexibly than previous generations of signaling technologies. Signaling determines where to point the hose. SS7 is also referred to as CCS7 by AT&T. and SS#7 by ANSI. For example.which are faster. Users build and operate services by interacting with the features of the SS7 stack to communicate with elements of the network. C7 in Europe. To adopt a gardening metaphor. Also. SS7 is a layered protocol designed for reliable transfer and delivery of signaling information across a network. which can greatly increase overall efficiency of the telephone network. some form of signaling mechanism is required to set up and tear down calls. SS7 was originally designed in the mid 1970s for exchanging call control information between the various network switches and databases of the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). tear down and application processing. which was based on SS6. The SS7 pattern of software's controlling network hardware gives users greater opportunity to access and control available network services. The network separates signaling from actual voice and data transmission. report and diagnose network failures and ultimately deliver a call to its intended destination. whose functions were typically hard-coded in the switches. The SS7 is a signaling control protocol that enables exchange of messages through the public network for call setups. "Signaling" has a special meaning in the telecommunications world: It refers to the information associated with a call needed to set it up. SS7 was later used for more sophisticated purposes including enabling the deployment of new technologies such as ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network). SS7 signaling uses an entirely separate data network just for transferring signaling information. and the highest possible network availability and integrity. In contrast. and more advanced than earlier technology by managing voice/media circuit functions on a separate. Originally. . diagnose flow problems and calculate a water bill. The SS7 Stack is similar to the OSI Stack. Responding to signaling information.

This describes functions and procedures for end-to-end routing of messages across the signaling network. These are the mechanisms for guaranteeing reliable data transfer. . It prescribes functions and procedures for an application running on one network node to invoke execution of an application of another node and exchange results stemming from the remote application.Broadband ISDN User Part (B-ISUP).Signaling Connection Control Part (SCCP). . signaling-error monitoring and flow control. This part also provides signaling message transfer and directing messages to proper signaling links or user parts. TUP supports analog circuits.From its foundations to its top. link management and traffic management. signal-error detection. signal-unit error correction.ISDN User Part (ISUP). This defines physical characteristics of bi-directional signal paths for transmission of signaling information. basic connection-oriented and flow-control connection-oriented service classes.Transaction Capabilities Part (TCAP). signaling-link initial alignment. This part is especially important to providing IN capabilities within the network. .Message Transfer Part Level 3 (MTP Level 3). SCCP can handle connectionless. signal-unit alignment. encompassing error checking. sequenced connectionless. with additional support for narrow band digital circuits and data transmission. This expands ISUP support to additionally handle broadband digital circuits and data transmission using both physical circuits and virtual circuits used by advanced technologies such as ATM and Frame Relay . .Telephone User Part (TUP). Management functions .Message Transfer Part Level 2 (MTP Level 2). including routing. signal-unit delimitation.Message Transfer Part Level 1 (MTP Level 1). TCAP also provides capabilities to exchange database information. . This performs the same functions of TUP. . global title translation and management capabilities. the main SS7 protocol layers (called "parts" in SS7 terminology) include: . These involve services for the establishment. supervision and release of network connections. This describes functions and procedures for message handling and signaling-route network management. but not digital circuits or data transmission. This resembles the Unix world's remote procedure call in its power and functioning.

Rounding out the OSISS7 comparison." portable phone numbers. the SS7 TUP. Computer telephony places intelligence on the periphery of the network.Presentation ISUP TUP 5 . Session Presentation and Application Layers.Physical Examples of In-Band The Intelligent Network The IN allows users to customize the operations of the telecommunications infrastructure to meet their needs. MTP Level 1 corresponds to the OSI Physical Layer. Thus. Computer telephony treats the network primarily as a transparent pipe and generally is not able to take full advantage of its possibilities. The IN offers a model for the control and invocation of services available through the network. MTP Level 2 matches up with the OSI Data Link Layer and MTP Level 3 and SCCP perform the functions of the OSI Network Layer. there is not an exact correlation between the SS7 protocol stack and the OSI seven-layer model. For those viewing SS7 from the perspective of the data processing world. per-call "rate shopping. ISUP. At the lower layers of the SS7 protocol stack.Application INAP 6 .Session 4 . B-ISUP and TCAP components are spread across the OSI Transport. Such a network should not be confused with the computer-telephony concept. Its elements are those parts of the network that execute IN applications. automatic call distribution.Transport MTP Layer 3 MTP Layer 2 MTP Layer 1 3 . people and processes provides opportunities for service development and puts the power of the network at the command of users. Capabilities include cellular phone. data base services. By contrast. while the SS7 architecture describes the rules for communicating between elements. with PCs and embedded systems attempting to perform services more efficiently performed within the network.Network 2 . Key IN elements include: . paging. the IN model classifies relationships among the elements themselves and IN applications providing services. personal communication services. nomadic computing and many other emerging services.SS7 Stack Transaction-oriented Call Control-oriented OSI Stack Application Specific Layers GSM MAP/ IS-41 TCAP SCCP 7 .Data Link 1 . the IN with its almost universal access and extensive infrastructure of equipment.

. monitor and control applications from either inside or outside the network from a wide .Service Switching Point (SSP). SCPs respond to messages from SSPs to invoke these functions.. almost all STPs are mated to a redundant back-up STP. . directing signaling information to the next appropriate signaling transfer point. receive and transmit signaling messages from one link to another. OSS encompasses vital functions for which carriers and service providers need to retain control such as provisioning. These can originate. but some carriers and service providers are granting NM spectator status to IN users as a way to help optimize the running of user applications in the ebb and flow of network operations. The SSP communicates with other IN elements and controls resources used to process IN activities. such as line information databases and call management services databases. This encompasses the development environments. adjunct processors are connected via high-speed links rather than ordinary SS7 links. software tools. etc. . To assure network reliability.Signaling Transfer Point (STP). This element provides IN services such as voice response. This can be any intelligent switch and its remotes that detect IN activation events from users. STP D-Link STP A-Link SCP A-Link D-Link A-Link C-Links C-Links A-Link SSP A-Link D-Link D-Link A-Link STP STP SCP . hardware.Service Control Point (SCP). Functionally equivalent to SCPs.Intelligent Peripheral (IP). voice messaging. voice recognition.Service Creation Environments (SCE). call origination. this offers the ways and means to develop and deploy IN services. Again. . STPs act as routers. In other words. call termination. service providers and users launch. IN carriers. billing and call supervision. utilities and libraries used to define IN services.Adjunct Processor (AP). this is largely closed to users. . SCPs contain applications available through the IN. .Network Management (NM).Operations Support Systems (OSS).

This includes determining how SS7 signaling information should be handled when the VoIP network needs to either process or generate the SS7 information as the call connects between a PSTN and VoIP network. debug and test IN applications. VoIP standards continue to evolve. The main reason is that in order for VoIP (packet-based) networks to offer ubiquitous access to telephone service. Support for SS7 by VoIP gateways. Transport of SS7 over IP involves the transparent transport of SS7 signaling information between PSTNs which are connected over an IP network. workstations. Windows NT) or real-time operating systems. yet ideally callers would have access to the same features and services as before. infrastructure to provide transport of SS7 over IP has the potential to be significantly less costly than traditional SS7 infrastructure equipment. Both networks use inherently different signaling. The two key problems being addressed are transport of SS7 over IP and interconnection of circuit and packet networks. An example of this would be a call originating on a PSTN network and terminating on a VoIP network.range of platforms running under general-purpose multitasking (Unix. fault-tolerant computers or embedded systems such as VMEbus computers. Additionally. These platforms also provide applicationdevelopment environments and software required to build.) from signaling. . but a strong emerging trend is the decomposition of media (voice. therefore. regardless of which network happens to be used. they must connect to the circuit-based PSTN a network that uses SS7 as its signaling mechanism of choice. The goal is to provide telephone sub-scribers the same ubiquitous access and sets of service features regardless of whether the back-haul for the call is over a circuit-based PSTN network or over a VoIP network. These platforms can consist of PCs. fax. becomes critical. various signaling approaches are being proposed and it appears today that SS7 or some variant is likely to play an important role in emerging VoIP standards. SS7 and VoIP The interest in SS7 by the VoIP community continues to grow. Additionally. etc.

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