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Switching Division

Migration of Softswitch to IMS


(Release 1)

Abstract
Telecom Network Operators are in the process of migration to NGN (Next
Generation Network), to provide multimedia and innovative value added service to
their customers. Many operators have already deployed softswitchs in their network.
With the commencement of IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), it appears that
softswitches will soon be replaced by IMS platforms. This paper describes how a
network based on softswitch architecture can be migrated to IMS architecture.

1. Introduction
IMS is a further development of NGN technology. A softswitch is more or less like a
traditional digital exchange based on software switching to provide IP based Tele
com. services. Softswitch architecture separates service control from service
access and uses an IP-based core layer in the switching network. It implements
service logic to control external trunking gateways, access gateways and remote
access servers. Softswitches run on commercial computers and operating systems,
and they provide open applications programming interfaces.
IMS is a standardised network architecture that uses SIP protocol. It was originally
designed by the wireless standards body 3GPP for evolving mobile networks beyond
GSM. ETSI/TISPAN enhanced it for fixed line also. It can support services across
any access technology. Now it has been adopted by telecom standardisation bodies,
major service providers and equipment manufactures.
The reason for migration from softswitch to IMS is that IMS is an open, standardised,
operator friendly, multimedia architecture for mobile, wireless and fixed line services.
Now the question is whether to make a one or two-step transition to IMS. By moving
directly from TDM to an IMS-based architecture, operators can skip the intermediary
step of installing a softswitch. However, a two-step migration from TDM to an NGN
softswitch environment and then finally to IMS ensures that operators will be able to
deliver feature parity, while giving the IMS standard more time to harden before
moving it into their networks. Operators that have yet to make a serious investment
in the transformation of their Class 5 networks see more advantage in moving
directly to IMS.

2. Technology
Evolution from softswitch architecture to IMS is depicted in figure 1. IMS further
decomposes softswitch functions and adds a few new concepts. Call control, user’s
database and services, which are the typical functions of softswitch, are controlled
by separate units in IMS. CSCF (Call Session Control Function) handles session
establishment, modification and release of IP multimedia sessions using the
SIP/SDP protocol suite. Services features are separated from call control and
handled by application servers. Subscriber’s database function is separated from
service logic function and handled by HSS using open subscriber directory interface.

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The IMS has following advantages over softswitch.

• Network efficiency increase.


• Rapid service development.
• Unified subscriber management.
• Single service delivery platform for hybrid networks.
• True fixed/mobile service convergence.

Softswitch IMS

Services
Services Users

Services
Users
Call/Session
Call Control Function
Control
Function

Access and Transport Access and Transport

Figure 1: Comparison between softswitch and IMS

3. Logical Network Architecture of IMS


The logical network architecture of IMS is shown in Fig 2. End users are connected
to the IMS network in various ways, using standard Internet Protocol (IP). The SIP
terminals can be connected directly on IMS network, even when they are roaming in
another network or country, the only requirement is that they can use SIP. Legacy
terminals are connected through Access Gateways (AGW). The AGW is controlled
by Access Gateway Control Function (AGCF) through the Megaco/H.248 protocol.
The AGCF interacts with the rest of the IMS core through IMS standard session
initiation protocol (SIP). The AGCF provides IMS-based PSTN/ISDN emulation,
which is transparent to the end user (same equipment, same look and feel).
CSCF handles session establishment, modification and release of call sessions
using the SIP/SDP protocol suite. CSCF can be configured as a standalone
configurations or any combination of P-CSCF, I-CSCF and S-CSCF.
The P-CSCF is the first contact point for the UE in IMS. The P-CSCF receives the
REGISTER message from the terminal and forwards it to an appropriate I-CSCF or
S-CSCF (based upon information received from DNS). The P-CSCF receives all
outbound SIP requests from the UE’s in its domain, regardless of last destination
and sends them to the I-CSCF or S-CSCF for further processing. It also receives all

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Switching Division

inbound SIP requests addressed to the UE’s in its domain and sends them to the
UE.
The P-CSCF performs the following tasks:
• Keeps track of registrations and active call sessions.
• Determines home service domain IP address.
• Enforces min/max registration times.
The I-CSCF performs SIP routing. The I-CSCF is the entry point for all connections
destined to a subscriber of that network operator. The I-CSCF assigns a S-CSCF
during initial registration and routes the terminating session signalling to the
allocated S-CSCF. The I-CSCF supports the ability to select an appropriate S-CSCF
for a subscriber, during the registration procedure. The I-CSCF contacts the HSS to
gain the address of the S-CSCF and then forwards the SIP message to an
appropriate S-CSCF.
The S-CSCF holds both registration and session states and performs the
call/session control services for the UE. It contains a call/session state as needed by
the network operator for support of services. The S-CSCF interacts with the HSS to
obtain subscriber data and to exchange authentication information using DIAMETER
messages. The S-CSCF decides whether an application server is required to receive
information related to an inbound SIP session request to ensure appropriate service
handling. The decision at the S-CSCF is based on information received from the
HSS.

AS HSS Charging
Service/
Functions
Application
Plane

BGCF
S-CSCF I-CSCF
AGCF
MGCF SGW
P-CSCF SLF
Control/
Signalling
Plane MRFC I-BCF PSTN

NASS RACS
AGW
MRFP MGW
Legacy
Terminal
Core
Transport I-BGF Other IP
SIP Networks
Terminal
Media/Transport Plane

Media
Signalling
Figure 2: Logical network architecture of IMS

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BGCF: The BGCF is the logical entity within the IP network that manages the
sessions initiated in the IP network and terminated in a circuit switched network. The
BGCF Selects the MGCF in the network in which the interworking with PSTN domain
is to occur and forwards the SIP signalling to that MGCF.
Interconnect Border Gateway Function (I-BGF): It acts as a gateway between two
IP transport networks.
Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF): It manages the call control protocol
conversion between SIP and ISUP. It is interfaced with signalling gateway and media
gateway. Its functions are like those of a MGC (Media Gateway Controller)
Signalling gateway (SGW): It provides the signalling interface between IP network
and PSTN signalling network. It transforms the lower layer protocols as SCTP (which
is an IP based transport protocol like TCP) into MTP (which is a SS7 protocol) to
pass ISUP from the MGCF to the CS network
Media Gateway: It interfaces the PSTN for the media flow from IPSTN to IP or vice-
versa. It provides functions such as media conversion (circuit to packet, packet to
circuit) and echo control etc.
Media Resource Function Processor (MRFP): The MRFP provides all of the work
related to media functions based on the instructions of the MRFC. Some of the
functions are:
• Mixing of media streams of various conference participants in a conference
call.
• Providing media stream for announcement messages and IVR functionalities.
• Capability of transcoding the codecs
Media Resource Function Controller (MRFC): It acts as a SIP user agent to the S-
CSCF and controls MRFP.
Home Subscriber Server (HSS): The HSS is the database containing the
subscriber related information to support call/session handling. A Home Network
may contain one or more number of HSS. In case of multiple HSS, the Subscribers
Location Function (SLF) selects the proper HSS.
Application server (AS): AS hosts and executes services. It interfaces with
S-CSCF using SIP and with HSS using DIAMETER protocol.
Charging Functions: As the name suggests, this provides data collection and billing
mediation functions for online and offline charging.

4. Migration steps
Softswitch to IMS transitional program enables a service provider to utilize a large
portion of its investment in NGN.
Initially the IMS base architecture may be deployed in parallel with the softswitch
architecture to introduce multimedia-based applications into the operator’s service
mix.
Phase 1: As the first step, the softswitch is decomposed into two logical components
– a subscriber facing unit and a PSTN facing unit. The subscriber facing unit in

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softswitch is upgraded to AGCF (Access Gateway Control Function) and PSTN


facing unit is upgraded to MGCF (Media Gateway Controller Function) to interwork
with IMS as shown in Figure 3. By separating the softswitch into these components,
the network can be more easily scaled for better overall network efficiencies. More
AGCFs can be added as required, allowing the network to scale with increase in
subscribers. Similarly, More PSTN trunks can be added as traffic increases. Once
PSTN and subscriber control functions are separated, the IMS elements, CSCF and
BGCF functions can be introduced. BGCF is the interface for interconnecting IMS
with legacy PSTN networks.

PSTN

TMG +SG

Softswitch IMS
MGCF
BGCF I-CSCF

P-CSCF S-CSCF

AGCF

AGW

UE

Figure 3: Phase 1 of migration

Phase 2: Add SIP-Based Services: To retain existing customers and attract new
customers, new SIP-based services can now be rapidly introduced and delivered by
deploying new Application Servers (AS). IMS introduces the 3GPP specified ISC
interface, which is a SIP-based interface for interfacing to application servers. Using
these constructs, multiple application servers from multiple vendors can be
interconnected over the IMS ISC interface. Application servers can be for faster
rollout of services.
Phase 3: Next phase of the migration to IMS is to focus on the business needs
related to the expansion of the commercial subscriber base. These customers
require a high-quality, business-grade experience and an expanded feature set with
capabilities such as conference calling and integrated voicemail and messaging. To
address this business goal, build on the IMS environment, SIP endpoints may be

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added. These SIP endpoints are interfaced with P-CSCF. The P-CSCF component
should be connected to the policy servers to provide business grade QoS and
security functions.

PSTN

TMG +SG

Softswitch
MGCF

IMS
BGCF
AS

ISC
I-CSCF

S-CSCF
P-CSCF

AGCF

GW

UE

Figure 4: Inserting Application Server

Phase 4: Fixed/Mobile Convergence. Moving toward fixed/mobile convergence


(FMC), a service provider can address several business needs relating to the
introduction of “triple play on the move.” New applications will require high-speed
networks to deliver all the three services (data, voice and video) on three devices
TV, PCs, and handsets. Accomplishing this phase involves the support for dual-
mode handsets, and the introduction of two servers (see Figure 5).
The dual-mode devices can communicate over the cellular network, or act as a new
endpoint on the IP network. The Home Subscriber Server (HSS), the last missing
piece of the IMS architecture, is introduced. It is needed to manage subscriber data
uniformly between the cellular and IP worlds. The Handoff Server is also introduced
in this phase. It runs on top of the ISC interface, and provides a seamless
experience when subscribers move from the cellular network to a Wi-Fi network. The
AGCF remains the functional centre of the network, but with the introduction of the
HSS, has added the Cx and Sh interfaces defined by the IMS, taking it a step further

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to becoming a complete SCSCF. By continuing to take advantage of the AGCF in


each phase, Service Operators accomplish a truly evolutionary move to IMS.

PSTN

TMG +SG

Softswitch
MGCF

IMS
BGCF
AS
HSS
ISC
I-CSCF

S-CSCF Handoff
Server
P-CSCF

AGCF

GW

UE

Figure 5: Inserting HSS and Handoff Server for Fixed/Mobile Convergence

5. Conclusion:

IMS architecture promises launching of new services at a short notice by introducing


a common subscriber data base and standardised interfaces for application servers.
IMS also allows telecom service provides to take full advantage of their existing IP
core network.
The IMS component provides many opportunities for cost savings including
bypassing the PSTN, more flexibly scaling the network, and more quickly integrating
new application servers.

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Abbreviations

AGCF Access Gateway Control Function


AGW Access Gateway
AS Application Server
BGCF Breakout Gateway Control Function
CAPEX Capital Expenditure
CSCF Call Session Control Function
DNS Domain Name Server
DSL Digital Subscriber Line
HSS Home Subscriber Server
IMS IP Multimedia Subsystem
IBCF Interconnect Border Control Function
I-BGF Interconnect Border Gateway Function
I-CSCF Interrogating CSCF
ISC IMS Service Control
IP Internet Protocol
ISDN Integrated Services Digital Network
ISUP ISDN User Part
ITU-T Telecommunication Standardisation Sector of
International Telecommunication Union
MGCF Media Gateway Control Function
MGW Multimedia Gateway
MRFC Media Resource Function Controller
MRFP Media Resource Function Processor
NAT Network Address Translation
NGN Next Generation Network
OPEX Operational Expenditure
OSA Open Service Access
P-CSCF Proxy CSCF
PLMN Public Land Mobile Network
POTS Plain Old Telephone Service
PSTN Public Switched Telephone Network
QoS Quality of Service
SBC Session Border Controller
SCP Service Control point
S-CSCF Serving CSCF
SG Signalling Gateway
SIP Session Initiation Protocol
SLF Subscriber Location Function
TISPAN Telecommunication and Internet converged
Services and Protocols for Advanced Networking
TDM Time Division Multiplex
TMG Trunk Media Gateway
UE User Equipment