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GSM (Global System for Mobile)

Global system for mobile (GSM) is a second generation cellular system standard that was developed to solve the fragmentation problems of the first generation cellular systems in Europe. GSM is the worlds first cellular system to specify digital modulation(GMSK) and network level architectures and services, and is the worlds most popular 2G technology. GSM was originally developed to serve as the pan- European cellular service and promised a wide range of network services through the use of ISDN. GSMs success has exceeded the expectations of virtually everyone, and it is now the worlds most popular standard for new cellular radio and personal communications equipment throughout the world. As of 2001, there were over 350 million GSM subscribers worldwide.


GSM services follow ISDN guidelines and are classified as either teleservices or data services. Teleservices include standard mobile telephony and mobile oriented or base originated traffic. Data services include computer to computer communication and packet switched traffic. User services may be divided into three major categories: Telephone service, including emergency calling and facsimile. GSM also supports videotext and teletax, though they are not integral parts of the GSM standard. Bearer services or data services which are limited to layers 1,2 and 3 of the open system interconnection (OSI) reference model. Supported services include packet switched protocols and data rates from 300bps to 9.6 kbps. Data may be transmitted using either a transparent mode or nontransparent mode.

Supplementary ISDN services are digital in nature and include call diversion, closed user groups and caller identification and are not available in analog mobile networks. These services also include the short messaging service (SMS) which allows GSM subscribers and base stations to transmit alphanumeric pages of limited length.

From the users point of view one of the most remarkable features of GSM is the subscribers identity module (SIM), which is a memory device that stores information such as the IMSI(International mobile subscriber identity) no., the networks and countries where the subscriber is entitled to service, privacy keys and other user specific information. Without a SIM installed, all GSM mobiles are identical and non-operational. It is the SIM that gives GSM subscriber units their identity. Subscriber may plug their SIM into any suitable terminal and then are able to have all incoming calls routed to that terminal and have all outgoing calls billed to their home phone, no matter where they are in the world. A second remarkable feature of GSM is the on-the air privacy which is provided by the system. The privacy is made possible by encrypting the digital bit stream sent by GSM transmitter.


The Mobile Station (MS) -- These digital telephones include vehicle, portable and hand-held terminals. A device called the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) that is basically a smart-card

provides custom information about users such as the services they've subscribed to and their identification in the network. The Base Station Sub-System (BSS) -- The BSS is the collection of devices that support the switching networks radio interface. Major components of the BSS include the Base Transceiver Station (BTS) that consists of the radio modems and antenna equipment, and the Base Station Controller (BSC) that manages the radio activities of several BTS and connects to a single NSS. In OSI terms, the BTS provides the physical interface to the MS where the BSC is responsible for the link layer services to the MS. Logically the transcoding equipment is in the BTS, however, an additional component, the Transcoder/Rate Adapter Unit (TRAU) can also provide signal transcoding services. The Network and Switching Sub-System (NSS) -- The NSS provides the switching between the GSM subsystem and external networks along with the databases used for additional subscriber and mobility management. Major components in the NSS include the Mobile Services Switching Center (MSC), Home and Visiting Location Registers (HLR, VLR). The HLR and VLR databases are interconnected through the telecomm standard Signaling System 7 (SS7) control network. The Operation Sub-System (OSS) -- The OSS provides the support functions responsible for the management of network maintenance and services. Components of the OSS are responsible for network operation and maintenance, mobile equipment management, and subscription management and charging.


The GSM network is divided into two systems. Each system comprises a number of functional units or individual components of the mobile network. The two systems are: Switching system (SS) Base station system (BSS)

In addition as with all telecommunications networks, GSM networks are operated, maintained and managed from computerized centers.

AUC authentication center BSC base station controller BTS base transceiver station EIR equipment identity register HLR home location register MS mobile station MSC mobile services switching center VLR visitor location register

The SS is responsible for performing call processing and subscriber related functions. It includes the following functional units: mobile services switching center (MSC) home location register (HLR) visitor location register (VLR) authentication center (AUC) equipment identity register (EIR)

The BSS performs all the radio related functions. The BSS is comprised of the following functional units: Base station controller (BSC) Base transceiver station (BTS)

The OMC performs all the operation and maintenance tasks for the network such as monitoring network traffic and network alarms. The OMC has access to both the SS and the BSS. MSs do not belong to any of these systems.


CELL a cell is the basic unit of a cellular system and is defined as the area of radio coverage given by one BS antenna system. Each cell is assigned a unique number called cell global identity (CGI). In a complete network covering an entire country, the number of cells can be quite high. LOCATION AREA (LA) a location area is defined as a group of cells. Within the network a subscribers location is linked to the LA in which they are currently located. The identity of the current LA is stored in the VLR. When an MS crosses the boundary between two cells belonging to different LAs it must report its new location area to the network. If it crosses a cell boundary within a LA, it does not report its new cell location to the network. When there is a call for an MS, a paging message is broadcast within all the cells belonging to the relevant LA.


Each timeslot on a TDMA frame is called a physical channel. Therefore there are 8 physical channels per carrier frequency in GSM. Physical channels can be used to transmit speech, data or signaling information. A physical channel may carry different messages, depending on the information that is to be sent. These messages are called logical channels. For example, on one of the physical channels used for traffic, the traffic itself is transmitted using a traffic channel (TCH) message while a handover instruction is transmitted using a fast associated control channel (FACCH) message.



Many types of logical channels exists, each designed to carry a different message to or from an MS. All information to and from an MS must be formatted correctly, so that the receiving device can understand the meaning of different bits in the message. For example, as seen previously, in the burst used to carry traffic, some bits represent the speech or data itself, while others are used as a training sequence. channels:
When an MS is switched on, it searches for a BTS to connect to. The MS scans the entire frequency band or uses a list containing the allocated carrier frequencies for this operator. When the MS finds the strongest carrier, it must then determine if it is a control channel. It does so by searching for a particular logical channel called broadcast control channel (BCCH).A frequency carrying BCCH contains important information for an MS, including e.g. the current LA identity, synchronization information and network identity. Without such information, an MS cannot work with a network. This information is broadcast at regular intervals, leading to the term broadcast channel (BCH) information. CHANNELS (BCHs):

1. Logical channel- frequency correction channel (FCCH) Direction- downlink, point to multipoint. BTS- transmits a carrier frequency. MS- identifies BCCH carrier by the carrier frequency and synchronizes with the frequency. 2. Logical channel- synchronization channel (FCCH) Direction downlink, point to multipoint BTS- transmits information about the TDMA frame structure in a cell (e.g frame number) and the BTS identity (base station identity code (BSIC)). MS- synchronizes with the frame structure within a particular cell and ensures that the chosen BTS is a GSM BTS- BSIC can only be decoded by an MS if the BTS belongs to a GSM network. 3. Broadcast control channel (BCCH) Direction downlink, point to multipoint

BTS- broadcasts some general cell information such as location area identity (LAI), maximum output power allowed in the cell and the identity of BCCH carriers for neighboring cells. MS- receives LAI and will signal to the network as part of the location updating procedure if the LAI is different to the one already stored on its SIM. MS sets its output power level based on the information received on the BCCH. The MS stores the list of BCCH carrier frequencies on which Rx level measurement is done for handover decision.

When the MS has finished analyzing the information on a BCH, it then has all the Information required working with a network. However, if the MS roams to another cell, it must repeat the process of reading FCCH, SCH and BCCH in the new cell.If the mobile subscriber then wishes to make or receive a call, the common control channel (CCCH) must be used. control channels (CCCH):

1. Logical channel- paging channel (PCH) Direction- downlink, point to multipoint BTS- transmits a paging message to indicate an incoming call or short message. The paging message contains the identity number of the mobile subscriber that the network wishes to contact. MS at certain time intervals the MS listens to the PCH. If it identifies its own mobile subscribe identity number on the PCH, it will respond. 2. Logical channel- Random access channel (RACH) Direction-uplink, point to point BTS- receives access request from MS for call setup/loc. Update/SMS MS- answers paging message on the RACH by requesting a signaling channel 3. Logical channel- Access grant channel (AGCH) Direction- downlink, point to point BTS- assigns a signaling channel (SDCCH) to the MS.

MS- receives signaling channel assignment (SDCCH). At this stage the MS and RAN are ready to begin call setup procedures. For this the MS and RAN used dedicated control channels (DCCH). Dedicated control channels (DCCH)

1. Logical channel- stand alone dedicated control channel (SDCCH) Direction- uplink and downlink, point to point BTS- the BTS switches to the assigned SDCCH, used for call setup signaling, TCH is assigned on SDCCH (SDCCH is also used for SMS messages to MS). MS- MS switches to the assigned SDCCH. Call setup is performed. The MS receives TCH assignment information 2. Logical channel- Cell broadcast channel (CBCH) Direction- DL, point to multipoint mapped on SDCCH BTS- uses the logical channel to transmit short message service cell broadcast MS- MS receives cell broadcast messages 3. Logical channel- slow associated control channel(SACCH) Direction- uplink and downlink, point to point BTS- instructs the MS on the allowed transmitter power and parameters for time advance. SAACH is used for SMS during a call MS- sends averaged measurements on its own BTS (signal strength and quality) and neighboring BTSs (signal strength). The MS continues to use SACCH for this purpose during a call. 4. Logical channel- fast associated control channel (FACCH) Direction- uplink and downlink, point to point BTS- transmits handover information. MS- transmits necessary handover information in access burst.

1.5.2 Traffic channels

Once call set up procedures have been completed on the control physical channel, the MS tunes to a traffic physical channel. It uses the traffic channel (TCH) logical channel. There are two types of TCH: Full rate (TCH): transmits full rate speech (13 Kbits/s). A full rate TCH occupies one physical channel. Half rate (TCH/2): transmits half rate speech (5, 6 Kbits/s). Two half rate TCHs can share one physical channel, thus doubling the capacity of a cell. Enhanced full rate (EFR) speech coders improve the speech quality offered across one full rate TCH, but still use a full rate TCH logical channel. AMR is a new speech code type which adapts the speech codec rate and channel coding according to the radio environment. It makes the channel more robust to bit errors.

1.5.3 The following traffic case describes a call to an MS and highlights the use of some logical
channels during the call. 1. The MS read the BCCH information and it can request an update in the MSC/VLR and HLR. 2. When a call to the MS is received for the network which sends a paging message to the BTSs in the desired LA. The BTSs transmit the message over the air interface using PCH. 3. When the MS detects a PCH identifying itself, it sends a request for a signaling channel using RACH. 4. The BSC uses AGCH to inform the MS of the signaling channel (SDCCH and SACCH) to use. 5. SDCCH and SACCH are used for call set up. A TCH is allocated and the SDCCH is released.

6. The MS and BTS switch to the identified TCH frequency and time slot. The MS generates ring tone. If the subscriber answers, the connection is established. During the call, signals can be sent and received by the MS using SACCH.


In cellular telecommunications, the term handover or handoff refers to the process of

transferring an ongoing call or data session from one channel connected to the core network to another channel of other network. American English use the term handoff, and this is most commonly used while in British English the term handover is more common.


when the phone is moving away from the area covered by one cell and entering the area covered by another cell the call is transferred to the second cell in order to avoid call termination when the phone gets outside the range of the first cell; when the capacity for connecting new calls of a given cell is used up and an existing or new call from a phone, which is located in an area overlapped by another cell, is transferred to that cell in order to free-up some capacity in the first cell for other users, who can only be connected to that cell;


1.8.1 Inter-cell handoff: The most basic form of handover is when a phone call in progress is redirected from its current cell (called source) to a new cell (called target). In terrestrial networks the source and the target cells may be served from two different cell sites or from one and the same cell site (in the latter case the two cells are usually referred to as two sectors on that cell site). Such a handover,

in which the source and the target are different cells (even if they are on the same cell site) is called inter-cell handover. The purpose of inter-cell handover is to maintain the call as the subscriber is moving out of the area covered by the source cell and entering the area of the target cell. 1.8.2 Intra-cell hand-off: A special case is possible, in which the source and the target are one and the same cell and only the used channel is changed during the handover. Such a handover, in which the cell is not changed, is called intra-cell handover. The purpose of intra-cell handover is to change one channel, which may be interfered or fading with a new clearer or less fading channel. 1.8.3 Hard hand-off: A hard handover is one in which the channel in the source cell is released and only then the channel in the target cell is engaged. Thus the connection to the source is broken before or 'as' the connection to the target is madefor this reason such handovers are also known as breakbefore-make. Hard handovers are intended to be instantaneous in order to minimize the disruption to the call. A hard handover is perceived by network engineers as an event during the call. It requires the least processing by the network providing service. When the mobile is between base stations, then the mobile can switch with any of the base stations, so the base stations bounce the link with the mobile back and forth. This is called ping-ponging. 1.8.4 Soft hand-off: A soft handover is one in which the channel in the source cell is retained and used for a while in parallel with the channel in the target cell. In this case the connection to the target is established before the connection to the source is broken, hence this handover is called make-before-break. The interval, during which the two connections are used in parallel, may be brief or substantial. For this reason the soft handover is perceived by network engineers as a state of the call, rather than a brief event. Soft handovers may involve using connections to more than two cells: connections to three, four or more cells can be maintained by one phone at the same time. When a call is in a state of soft handover, the signal of the best of all used channels can be used for the call at a given moment or all the signals can be combined to produce a clearer copy of the signal. The latter is more advantageous, and when such combining is performed both in

the downlink (forward link) and the uplink (reverse link) the handover is termed as softer. Softer handovers are possible when the cells involved in the handovers have a single cell site.

1.8.5 Inter-system hand-off: If during ongoing call mobile unit moves from one cellular system to a different cellular system which is controlled by different MTSO, a handoff procedure which is used to avoid dropping of call is referred as Inter System Handoff. An MTSO engages in this handoff system. When a mobile signal becomes weak in a given cell and MTSO can not find other cell with in its system to which it can transfer the call then it uses Inter system handoff. Before implementation of Inter System Handoff MTSO compatibility must be checked and in Inter System Handoff local call may become long distance call.

1.8.6 Intra system hand-off: If during ongoing call mobile unit moves from one cellular system to adjacent cellular system which is controlled by same MTSO, a handoff procedure which is used to avoid dropping of call is referred as Intra System Handoff. An MTSO engages in this handoff system. When a mobile signal becomes weak in a given cell and MTSO find other cell with in its system to which it can transfer the call then it uses Intra system handoff. In Intra System Handoff local calls always remain local call only since after handoff also the call is handled by same MTSO.


An advantage of the hard handover is that at any moment in time one call uses only one channel. The hard handover event is indeed very short and usually is not perceptible by the user. In the oldanalog systems it could be heard as a click or a very short beep, in digital systems it is unnoticeable. Another advantage of the hard handoff is that the phone's hardware does not need

to be capable of receiving two or more channels in parallel, which makes it cheaper and simpler. A disadvantage is that if a handover fails the call may be temporarily disrupted or even terminated abnormally. Technologies, which use hard handovers, usually have procedures which can re-establish the connection to the source cell if the connection to the target cell cannot be made. However re-establishing this connection may not always be possible (in which case the call will be terminated) and even when possible the procedure may cause a temporary interruption to the call. One advantage of the soft handovers is that the connection to the source cell is broken only when a reliable connection to the target cell has been established and therefore the chances that the call will be terminated abnormally due to failed handovers are lower. However, by far a bigger advantage comes from the mere fact that simultaneously channels in multiple cells are maintained and the call could only fail if all of the channels are interfered or fade at the same time. Fading and interference in different channels are unrelated and therefore the probability of them taking place at the same moment in all channels is very low. Thus the reliability of the connection becomes higher when the call is in a soft handover. Because in a cellular network the majority of the handovers occur in places of poor coverage, where calls would frequently become unreliable when their channel is interfered or fading, soft handovers bring a significant improvement to the reliability of the calls in these places by making the interference or the fading in a single channel not critical. This advantage comes at the cost of more complex hardware in the phone, which must be capable of processing several channels in parallel. Another price to pay for soft handovers is use of several channels in the network to support just a single call. This reduces the number of remaining free channels and thus reduces the capacity of the network. By adjusting the duration of soft handovers and the size of the areas, in which they occur, the network engineers can balance the benefit of extra call reliability against the price of reduced capacity.

1.10 Implementation of hand-off:

For the practical realisation of handoffs in a cellular network each cell is assigned a list of potential target cells, which can be used for handing-off calls from this source cell to them. These potential target cells are called neighbours and the list is called neighbour list. Creating

such a list for a given cell is not trivial and specialised computer tools are used. They implement different algorithms and may use for input data from field measurements or computer predictions of radio wave propagation in the areas covered by the cells. During a call one or more parameters of the signal in the channel in the source cell are monitored and assessed in order to decide when a handover may be necessary. The downlink (forward link) and/or uplink (reverse link) directions may be monitored. The handover may be requested by the phone or by the base station (BTS) of its source cell and, in some systems, by a BTS of a neighbouring cell. The phone and the BTSs of the neighbouring cells monitor each other others' signals and the best target candidates are selected among the neighbouring cells. In some systems, mainly based on CDMA, a target candidate may be selected among the cells which are not in the neighbour list. This is done in an effort to reduce the probability of interference due to the aforementioned near-far effect. In analog systems the parameters used as criteria for requesting a hard handover are usually the received signal power and the received signal-to-noise ratio (the latter may be estimated in an analog system by inserting additional tones, with frequencies just outside the captured voicefrequency band at the transmitter and assessing the form of these tones at the receiver). In nonCDMA 2G digital systems the criteria for requesting hard handover may be based on estimates of the received signal power, bit error rate (BER) and block error/erasure rate (BLER), received quality of speech (RxQual), distance between the phone and the BTS (estimated from the radio signal propagation delay) and others. In CDMA systems, 2G and 3G, the most common criterion for requesting a handover is Echo ratio measured in the pilot channel (CPICH) and/or RSCP. In CDMA systems, when the phone in soft or softer handoff is connected to several cells simultaneously, it processes the received in parallel signals using a rake receiver. Each signal is processed by a module called rake finger. A usual design of a rake receiver in mobile phones includes three or more rake fingers used in soft handoff state for processing signals from as many cells and one additional finger used to search for signals from other cells. The set of cells, whose signals are used during a soft handoff, is referred to as the active set. If the search finger finds a sufficiently-strong signal (in terms of high Ec/Io or RSCP) from a new cell this cell is added to the active set. The cells in the neighbor list (called in CDMA neighboring set) are checked more frequently than the rest and thus a handoff with a neighboring cell is more likely, however a

handoff with others cells outside the neighbor list is also allowed (unlike in GSM, IS136/DAMPS, AMPS, NMT, etc.).


There are occurrences where a handoff is unsuccessful. Lots of research was conducted regarding this. In the late 80's the main reason was found out. Because frequencies cannot be reused in adjacent cells, when a user moves from one cell to another, a new frequency must be allocated for the call. If a user moves into a cell when all available channels are in use, the users call must be terminated. Also, there is the problem of signal interference where adjacent cells overpower each other resulting in receiver desensitization.