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5 NSS Interfaces







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5 NSS Interfaces...................................................................... 1
5.1 SS7 Signalling and NSS Interfaces.................................. 3
5.2 The OSI Reference Model (1/4) ......................................... 4
5.3 The SS7 System................................................................ 8
5.3.1 Message Transfer Part MTP.......................................................... 9
5.3.2 Telephone User Part TUP ............................................................ 10
5.3.3 Signalling Connection and Control Part SCCP........................... 11
5.4 SS7 Applications in GSM Networks............................... 12
5.4.1 Base Station Subsystem Application Part (BSSAP) ................... 13
5.4.2 Transaction Capabilities Application Part (TCAP)....................... 14
5.4.3 Mobile Application Part (MAP) ..................................................... 15
5.5 Protocols of the GSM Elements..................................... 16
5.5.1 Protocol Structure in the MSC...................................................... 17
5.5.2 Protocol Structure in the HLR and the BSC................................ 18
5.5.3 Communication between Different Network Elements................ 19
5.5.4 Other GSM Signalling Protocols................................................... 20
5.6 Overview of the NSS-Interfaces (1/3) ............................. 21




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5.1 SS7 Signalling and NSS Interfaces




To enable GSM customers to use speech-, fax- and data services wherever they are within
the network, information and data must be exchanged within as well as between different
networks. This process is called signalling. To set up a call, signalling takes place between
subscriber interface points, that is between the user and the network, as well as between
different network elements. To make sure that the individual elements through which the
information travels can understand each other, they must, as it were, agree on a common
official language. This language is specified by protocols. The protocol used in the Network
Subsystem NSS is called Signalling System No 7 – or SS7. SS7 is based on the Open
System Interconnection model, also called the OSI reference model.




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5.2 The OSI Reference Model (1/4)





We will now illustrate in general terms the OSI reference model with an example from
business life. A car manufacturer B orders 1000 tyres from supplier A. This deal is concluded
and signed by two managers at the highest level. For the two managers, only the outcome of
this business deal is important. The process that takes place in the lower hierarchy to get the
tyres from the supplier to the car manufacturer does not interest them. The managers rely on
their purchasing- and sales departments, which will deal with practical details. The car
manufacturer’s purchasing department, however, only communicates with the supplier’s
sales department. As soon as the financial transactions are concluded, the goods can be
delivered from A to B.




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5.2 The OSI Reference Model (2/4)





The purchasing and sales departments are not interested in the practical details of delivery.
At the supplier, the warehouse workers must pack the tyres and load them on trucks, to get
them ready for transport. As soon as the tyres arrive at the manufacturer, the warehouse
workers will unpack the tyres and store them.

In summary, we can say: It’s always several levels of a company that collaborate in a
business transaction. The higher levels give the lower levels instructions, without paying
attention to the details of the processes. Communication between the two companies takes
place only between peer levels. With the OSI model, it’s similar.






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5.2 The OSI Reference Model (3/4)




OSI is a reference model consisting of 7 layers that are based on each other. Each layer has
its own tasks. The lower layer always provides support functions for the layer above. For a
layer, the data transported in the layers underneath is irrelevant. Communication only takes
place between the elements of the same layer. This type of communication between
elements belonging to the same layer in different systems is known as peer-to-peer
communication.






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5.2 The OSI Reference Model (4/4)





The layers take over the following tasks:

The lowest layer, layer No 1, is the Physical layer. It is responsible for transmission,
encoding, and modulation.

Layer 2 is the Data Link layer. It is responsible for the signalling link management and data
security.

Layer 3 is the Network layer. It contains the information needed for switching and routing,
and handles call set-up, -supervision and -clear down.

Layer 4 is the Transport layer. Here, the peer-to-peer connections‘ dataflow is controlled.
Layer 5 is the Session layer. It handles the connections for application processes as well as
charging.

Layer 6 is the Presentation layer. It takes over the transfer of application-oriented formats, as
well as encryption and translation.

At the top resides layer No 7, the Application layer. It is responsible for the application
protocols and the user interfaces.




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5.3 The SS7 System


The basic SS7 version consists of two parts:

• The Message Transfer Part (MTP), which is responsible for message transfer

and

• The Telephone User Part (TUP) on the user’s side, which receives, sends and
acts on these messages.

Let’s turn our attention to MTP first.




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5.3.1 Message Transfer Part (MTP)



The Message Transfer Part (MTP), represents the basis for the entire SS7 system. It
transmits messages between network elements. MTP is composed of three layers. MTP
layer 1 defines the physical and electrical characteristics of the connection. MTP layer 2
supports the error free transmission of signalling messages between neighboring network
elements. MTP layer 3 is responsible for taking the message from any element in a signalling
network to any other element within the same network.






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5.3.2 Telephone User Part (TUP)



While MTP is responsible for message transfer, the Telephone User Part (TUP) represents
the protocol used for sending, receiving, and acting on these messages from the user’s point
of view. TUP handles call set-up, call supervision and clear down, and exists for normal
public fixed networks, which are also known as Public Switched Telephone Networks, or
PSTN. With the introduction of the more capable ISDN network, some extra sets of
messages became necessary. These features are contained in the ISUP which replaces the
TUP.






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5.3.3 Signalling Connection and Control Part (SCCP)



To guarantee virtual connections and connectionless signalling, that is signalling which is not
bound to a call, another protocol layer on top of MTP is required, parallel to TUP. This is the
Signalling Connection and Control Part, SCCP. TUP and SCCP take over different tasks, but
both make use of the services provided by MTP.

In contrast to MTP, SCCP uses sequence numbers to make sure that messages arrive at the
receiver in a determined order, so a virtual connection can be guaranteed. SCCP also
enables the routing of signalling messages across multiple networks in the absence of a call.

This layer structure, consisting of MTP and TUP/ISUP, as well as SSCP, represents the SS7
protocol, which is the protocol used for signalling within Public Switched Telephone Networks
and ISDN networks.






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5.4 SS7 Applications in GSM Networks





In GSM networks, signalling is not as easy as in a fixed network. This is because, due to the
network architecture, a digital mobile radio network makes much higher demands on
signalling. GSM requires a considerably higher amount of non-call-related signalling
information. After all, it must be considered that the GSM customer is mobile, in contrast to
the user of a fixed network, who telephones from a fixed device. Therefore, the mobile
station must continuously be provided with localization signals, to enable the Location
Update. The Location Update is an example of a non-call-related communication between
the phone and the network. To guarantee that the signalling demands in GSM networks are
met, additional standard sets of messages are required. The following protocol layers are
necessary:

• The Base Station Subsystem Application Part (BSSAP)
• The Transaction Capabilities Application Part (TCAP)

and

• The Mobile Application Part (MAP)





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5.4.1 Base Station Subsystem Application Part (BSSAP)



The Base Station Subsystem Application Part (BSSAP) is a protocol layer responsible for
communication between the MSC and the BSC in GSM. BSSAP is responsible for the entire
management and control of the radio resources in the BSS. It resides on top of the Signalling
Connection and Control Part, SCCP.






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5.4.2 Transaction Capabilities Application Part (TCAP)



The Transaction Capabilities Application Part (TCAP) is a protocol layer which resides
directly on top of SCCP.

TCAP is able, for example, to organize a complex dialogue between an MSC and an HLR,
including a sequence of successive requests and replies. TCAP functions like a secretary’s
office, where many different requests are brought into the correct sequence and distributed.
TCAP handles the access to data bases like the HLR or the VLR. It must exist so that a
higher protocol – the Mobile Application Part (MAP) – can be used.






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5.4.3 Mobile Application Part (MAP)



The Mobile Application Part (MAP) is a GSM specific protocol for non-call-related
applications between elements in the NSS. MAP resides directly on top of TCAP, which can
be used as a „secretary’s office“ by the MAP, and which coordinates and guarantees a
smooth MAP communication.

A MAP-based communication takes place when data is exchanged between NSS elements
in the absence of a call.

This is the case for example with normal call set-up. To put a call through to the subscriber,
the Gateway MSC must request necessary routing data from the HLR. Thus, there is no data
exchange between the GMSC and the HLR, without the actual call being routed to the HLR.
In such cases, the network relies on MAP, which is used for signalling communication
between NSS elements. Please note: in the MSC-MSC communication, MAP is only used for
non-call-related signalling. To forward a call from an MSC to another MSC, TUP or ISUP is
used.






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5.5 Protocols of the GSM Elements



Not every GSM element must be able to understand every language. Consequently, only
those protocol layers which the network element actually requires for carrying out its task
need to be implemented. A BSC, for example, will never need the TUP protocol, because call
supervision – which this layer supports – is not its task. In the following lessons, the SS7
requirements of the individual GSM elements will be introduced.






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5.5.1 Protocol Structure in the MSC




As in all the other elements, MTP is the basis protocol in the MSC/VLR. Without it, there
would be no SS7-based signalling. Furthermore, the MSC needs TUP/ISUP for call
supervision. Since the MSC communicates with the BSC and the HLR, it also requires
BSSAP and MAP, which are both based on SCCP. The use of MAP requires the presence of
TCAP. Thus the MSC, as the key element of the Network Subsystem NSS, must include the
whole range of SS7 protocols.






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5.5.2 Protocol Structure in the HLR and the BSC



The HLR is not responsible for call control, and therefore does not need TUP/ISUP.
Furthermore, since it does not have to communicate directly with the Base Station Controller,
BSSAP is not implemented in the HLR. Thus, only the four protocols MTP, SCCP, TCAP and
MAP must be present in the HLR.

Normally, the BSC would manage on BSSAP. But since, in modern networks, BSSAP is
based on the SCCP protocol, whose functionality in turn requires the presence of MTP, the
BSC contains MTP, SCCP and BSSAP.







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5.5.3 Communication between Different Network Elements



Communication between network elements always takes place using the relevant protocols,
each protocol relying on the protocols of the layers below. For example, the signalling from
the MSC to a PSTN for call set-up is carried out by TUP, which is based on MTP in both
elements. Or, if an MSC wants to know the current location of a subscriber, it communicates
with the responsible HLR using MAP. In this communication, TCAP, SCCP and MTP are
required. The BSSAP protocol, on the other hand, is only needed by the MSC when it wants
to communicate with the BSC.







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5.5.4 Other GSM Signalling Protocols



Whereas the elements in the Network Subsystem use SS7, further protocol types are
needed in the Base Station Subsystem.

The BSC and BTS communicate using the Link Access Protocol for the ISDN „D“ channel, or
LAP-D. This protocol is also used between the end user and the net in ISDN networks.
A slightly modified version of the same protocol also exists between the BTS and the mobile
station. Due to the modifications imposed by the characteristics of the air interface, the
protocol is called LAP-Dm. The message structure within LAP-D resembles that of SS7, but
it‘s limited to the support of point-to-point connections.











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5.6 Overview of the NSS Interfaces (1/3)



Between the NSS elements, data is either exchanged over copper cable or optical fiber, or
via microwave.

All NSS interfaces offer data rates of at least 64 kbps. 2 Mbit/s connections are the rule. The
protocols are based on the SS7 standard.

Two kinds of information are transferred over the different interfaces.
Signalling information such as addressing and „mobility data“, and user data, that means
speech, fax- and data messages.






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5.6 Overview of the NSS Interfaces (2/3)




Between the NSS elements we find the following interfaces. Note that the Mobile Services
Center (MSC) and the Visitor Location Register (VLR) form a spatial unit.

Between the MSC and the VLR we find the B-interface. This interface is used to transmit
signalling data.

The C-interface is located between the MSC and the Home Location Register (HLR). It is
also used exclusively for signalling data.

The D interface provides the connection between the VLR and the HLR. Like the interfaces B
and C, it transmits signalling data.







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5.6 Overview of the NSS Interfaces (3/3)



The E interface is located between two MSCs. Apart from signalling data, user data and
speech can be transmitted as well.

The F interface is located between the MSC and the Equipment Identity Register (EIR).
If an EIR exists, the interface is used exclusively for signalling data concerning the IMEI
control.

The MSCs which provide connections to another mobile radio network, that is a Public Land
Mobile Network (PLMN), or a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), and which are
connected to the HLR, are also known as Gateway-MSCs, or GMSCs. The interface
between the visited network and a GMSC transmits user- and signalling data.

As a rule, every MSC can function as a GMSC nowadays. From the network operators‘ point
of view, this is cost-efficient, because the more MSCs can function as Gateways to other
networks, the longer a call can be routed within the own network before it is handed over to a
different network.






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