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Architecture on Mobility Management in OpenFlowbased Radio Access Networks

Wei Tan
Guolin Sun, Guisong Liu, Hangming Zhang
School of Computer Science and Engineering
University of Electronic Science and Technology of China
Chengdu, China,

AbstractWith the aim to simplify network management and

control, Software defined network is proposed as a new paradigm
and architecture in networking areas. The concept of Cloud and
cognitive cellular network will be important features in the next
generation radio access networks. In this paper, we propose a
distributed hierarchical architecture for heterogeneous radio
access networks based on OpenFlow. SDN architecture enables
resource and infrastructure sharing among heterogeneous radio
access networks. Mobility management in this new heterogeneous
radio access network architecture and a OpenFlow-enabled node
architecture for AP infrastructures are defined. We compared it
with the one defined in 3GPP LTE standard to show the required
changes. An architecture of cognitive information processing is
defined to support new features of mobility management, which
is taken as an service of network operation system. In the end,
typical network applications of mobility management in this SDN
architecture are introduced. New topics with technical challenges
are analyzed in this SDN based heterogeneous RANs towards the
ongoing research and prototypes.
KeywordsOpenFlow;Software defined network; Heterogeneous
radio access network; Mobility management



With paradigm changes from operator-oriented to serviceoriented in networking, the current architecture of radio access
network has major limitations in the future. First, a complex
heterogeneous radio access network environment leads us to
access information on some isolated islands. Service-oriented
network should provide us a way to use information just like
the water, electricity and gas. It will change our means on
information transmission, data storage and resource sharing
greatly. With various types of network interfaces available on
hardware terminals, such as LTE, Wi-Fi and UMTS, seamless
mobile services and Quality of user Experience (QoE) can be
improved in heterogeneous radio access network environment.
Therefore, service-oriented SDN architecture in heterogeneous
radio access networks is required by heterogeneous network
fusion. The concept of SDN targets to merge these networks
with a Cloud network of controllers.

Communication Technology Lab.

Huawei Technologies LTD Co.
Shenzhen, China

Second, Big Data brought a lot of new challenges for our

current wireless access networks. This leads to an increase in
the amount of traffic and network load will increase in form of
orders of magnitude in the coming years. While the available
radio spectrum and spectral efficiency are both difficult to be
promoted further. In fact, spectrum efficiency of 4G reaches
within 20%, which is quite close to Shannon capacity limits[1].
To solve challenges brought by Big Data, LTE femtocell and
Wi-Fi network are taken as an important way to offload traffic
on 4G macrocell networks in the next generation network. The
concept of small cells in femtocell and Wi-Fi network without
cell planning may appear to provide more spectrum occupancy
per user by reducing the number of users per cell. However,
this will lead to a more complex network management with
current network architecture. The concept of SDN can provide
a centralized way to manage it with a network of view.
With the motivations above, SDN architecture defined for
broadband radio access networks is our interest in this paper to
simplify design and management of heterogeneous wireless
access network and create a variety of new services. As far as
we know, this is the first one to discuss mobility management
problem of heterogeneous wireless access networks with SDN
architecture. This architecture enables seamless services and
improve QoE through monitoring rich network state statistics
to make context-aware decisions for network control. Actually,
the proposed cognitive information processing is also another
new feature in the next generation of wireless access networks.
We organize this paper as following: Section II provides
the concept of SDN and mobility management, combined with
LTE femtocell and Wi-Fi networks. The literature of SDN
application in wireless network is reviewed and summarized.
We propose a SDN architecture in heterogeneous radio access
networks to enable heterogeneous network handover in section
III. We analyze the required changes to current architecture
defined in the 3GPP LTE standards. An universal architecture
for wireless Access Point(AP) is provided to support SDN
architecture. Section IV provides technical challenges in the
defined SDN enabled network handover environment. We
make conclusion for this paper in Section V.



OpenFlow is one kind protocol, initiated at Stanford, to

enable all switches on the wired network programmable and
intelligent via a standard interface. The Open-Flow protocol is
standardized by ONF to lower operation cost while enhance
network functionality through simplified hardware, software
and management[2]. Open-Flow moves forwarding intelligence
into a controller, while keeps the switches simple. With the
method of SDN, we could customize networks according to
local needs, eliminate the unuseful features and create our
virtual network. The thought of OpenFlow extends from wire
switches to wireless infrastructures now. The OpenRoad is
dedicated to explore and test new solutions for mobility with
new routing protocols and controllers based on OpenFlow[3][4].
OpenRoads was tested on a topology with five switches, thirty
Wi-Fi APs and a WiMax AP. The seamless handover between
Wi-Fi and WiMax systems is successfully managed with the
mobility management controllers. The OpenFlow for wireless
mesh networks are also investigated[5]. The CellSDN is the
first one architecture that brought SDN concept into cellular
networks, but it is an initial step, not in deep[6].
The Follow-Me Cloud(FMC) is a technology developed at
NEC Laboratories Europe, which allows transparent migration
of services in TCP/IP networks with dynamic configuration of
a set of coordinated OpenFlow switches located at the edge of
the network[7]. However, in this paper, we are working toward
a method based on Cloud MAC instead of IP layer, which can
improve handover performance on real-time demand-response.
With introduction of SDN and OpenFlow, OpenFlow based
mobility management can enable heterogeneous radio access
network fusion, because SDN makes network service-oriented
with a centralized network control. Mobility management can
be defined as a new service on the network controller and
implemented as a component of network OS, e.g. NOX.

control-plane protocols. They perform hop-by-hop signaling to

handle session setup, tear-down and reconfiguration, as well
as mobility in coordination with Mobility Management Entity
(MME), e.g. location update, paging and handoff.

Figure 1 Data/Control Plane Architecture for LTE Femtocells

Based on the thought of SDN, we need decouple data plane
and control plane in the 3GPP architecture, shown in Fig.1.
The network control applications are all centralized programs
on Controllers, as opposed to the distributed algorithms over
low-level address we are forced to work today. A SDN
controller is configured with a network operating system, e.g.
NOX, to manage applications in this local wireless access
network[9]. The location of controller just like replaces MME,
as show in Fig.2.

In this paper, we design an Open-Flow based architecture

for the coexistence scenario in a heterogeneous network of the
LTE femtocell and Wi-Fi networks. Based on my knowledge,
this paper is the first one to consider Cloud-MAC based
mobility management in a SDN based heterogeneous wireless
access network till now. So, what will happen in the future
with the introduction of SDN and OpenFlow?
A. SDN Architecture for Heterogeneous WAN
In 3GPP architecture, LTE Femtocell network connects HeNB
to Internet using IP networking equipment. The UEs connect
to HeNB, who directs traffic via Serving Gate Way (SGW)
over a GPRS Tunneling Protocol[8]. The SGW serves as a
local mobility coordination entity to guarantee the seamless
communication when UEs move from one AP to another. The
SGW must handle frequent changes of a UEs location and
store a large amount of state information since UEs retain their
IP addresses when they move. The HeNB, HeNB-GW and
SGW, as shown in Fig. 1, are all involved in data-plane and

Figure 2 SDN-based Mobility Management Architecture

Most of the control plane functions in 3GPP standards are all
moved to controllers as components. To improve real-time
response to events and control the traffic volume to controllers,
we propose an architecture with local controller (LC) and
global controller(GC) in the Fig.2. The LC process the events
inside single a standard network situated on the entry of the
wireless local area network access to Internet. The GC will
deal with the events among different standard networks as an
entrance of access network to the backbone Internet. The LC1

manages the LTE femtocell A. The LC1 controls Wi-Fi access

network B. GC will control this heterogeneous network with
LTE and Wi-Fi. We take the scenario of LTE Femtocells and
Wi-Fi network as an example, a local controller manages the
intra-network handover with a local monitoring database. A
global view of network state will be stored in a database of a
monitoring server, which gets data through query local sensing
database, as show in Fig. 2. Mobile terminals can access LTE
HeNBs or Wi-Fi APs under decisions of network controller.
LC is able to handover wireless devices from one AP to the
other inside an access network, while GC can switch mobile
terminals from one wireless access network to another with
network state statistics. In Section C, we will discuss how to
collect network state statistics with SNMP. Therefore, network
resource could be utilized in an efficient manner.
Data packet forwarding function of network infrastructures is
supported with the Open-Flow protocols. OpenFlow enables
operators to distribute data-plane rules over cheaper switches
and provides a flexible way to manage network . The SGW in
the Fig. 2 provide a data tunnel only for LTE femtocell to
internet without control plane. The GC and LCs can support
mobility management applications with component, shown in
Fig. 2. Except the original features embedded in network OS
NOX mobility management is a new feature including gather
AP statistics and STA statistics. SDN provides operators
network view through GUI and reconfigure virtual network on
controllers via web access.The virtual network management
will left to virtual operators with Web access interface instead
of physical network operators.
B. Open-Flow Wireless Infrastructure Architecture

based AP provides us measurements from PHY to High-Level.

For example, wireless channel utilization rate will be collected
from MAC layer as a metric of traffic load on infrastructures.
The control agent is used to carry out the decision of controller.
Control signaling in PHY and MAC layer will be decoupled
from data transmission to enable Cloud MAC protocols via
security link(SSL) to a controller[9]. As shown in Fig. 3, data
block and path are all drawn in grey, but control plane in white.
The software defined radio architecture enable PHY-MAC for
LTE and Wi-Fi to be reconfigurable.
C. Cognitive Information Processing Architecture
SDN controller cooperate with a monitoring server to collect
network statistics, which is taken as information support to
make decision on network control. The SDN architecture can
extend handover function in mobility management to enhance
its intelligence. To coordinate heterogeneous resources in an
efficient way, channel utilization, the number of associated
clients, traffic load of each AP, SINR and RSSI of each client
are all useful statistics in monitoring server[10]. How to define
statistics for heterogeneous networks mobility management?
How to collect statistics for SDN controllers? How to define
an software architecture to handle a lot of events in LC and
GC? We will consider the questions above from information
processing aspects in this section.
In this SDN architecture, REM is one kind of databases on the
monitoring server[11]. Local SNMP manager at local controller
needs such information to decide single network control on
mobility management. Global SNMP manager at GC collects
information that LC cant deal with it to control heterogeneous
network on mobility management. The SNMP agent at each
AP collects the statistics from the measured radio environment
and radio signal characteristics from client stations in each
network based on air interface specification, 3GPP LTE or
IEEE 802.11. LC gathers the measured statistics from all of
the APs via SNMP. SDN controllers can query information in
database via Jason, XML etc.










Figure 3 OpenFlow based Architecture of SDR AP

Infrastructures in heterogeneous wireless access network
include OpenFlow switches and wireless APs. Each AP will
be configured with physical wireless transmission functions of
LTE femtocell or Wi-Fi. Each physical interface will provide
two logical protocol interfaces. One is used to transfer control
signaling with SNMP for network monitoring and statistics
collection. The other is built on SSL to report events to NOX.
The sensing agent is used to get statistics from each protocol
layer, defined in SNMP. For handover operation, OpenFlow




Figure 4 SNMP based Statistics Collection

Information processing in the defined SDN architecture is a
cognitive procedure. First, LCs can gather statistics from the
SNMP agents at APs in a database. Second, LC will parse and

handle the incoming events from the monitoring server and

network. Third, LC decides to control network with the aid of
statistics in database. LC will send control signals to AP to
instruct it what need to deal with. Based on event type, LC
will deliver it to the On-Line Transaction Processing (OLTP),
On-Line Analytical Processing (OLAP) block, or redirect it to
GC. The components in OLTP as well as OLAP will handle
events with the predefined algorithms. On function, OLTP
handles the time-constraint, low-level events with current
measurements, e.g. mobility based handover. OLAP usually
handles high-level events due to historical changes of network
state, e.g. Traffic load balance based network handover. In
this paper, we figure out four typical handover scenarios of
mobility management in this software defined heterogeneous
wireless access network architecture, shown in Fig. 5. They
are intra-network mobility based handover, load-balance based
network handover, price-based network handover and QoSbased network handover. The specific research topics and
technique challenges will be explained in the section IV.

Figure 5 Architecture for Cognitive Information Processing



A. Mobility-based hand-off
The SDN based heterogeneous radio access networks
must support mobile handoff due to the mobility of client
stations. Heterogeneous network resources available vary over
time and space, as make it difficult to provide seamless and
reliable connection to mobile clients going across multiple
domains[13,14]. Mobile client handoff is an inherent operation in
heterogeneous radio access networks to keep resilient and
continuous communications. SDN based heterogeneous radio
access networks can mitigate resource burden by controller
through heterogeneous network handoff, which makes client
stations access information blind to air interface types. The
four types of handoff events and components, shown in Fig. 4,
are discussed below.
The classical intercell handoff in cellular network due to
physical user mobility. In the SDN based heterogeneous radio
access networks, all the infrastructures of wireless are shared
as a transmission tunnel of data. The hand-off and location

update will be handled in the Cloud of controllers. They dont

need care about network type, but choose the AP around with
the best signal quality to client stations. Selection of the radio
access network at application launch. This role is ensured by
mobility management functions here referred to as service-toradio mapping control. Triggering of the handover during a
session.The mobility management function aims at always
providing the best access network to the terminal.
Terminal-centric selection without network assistance is
recommended. Network-controlled handover selection within
network entities is based on both terminal and access network
measurements, enforcing decisions on the terminal. Networkassisted selection on the terminal side, the network providing
operator policies and access/core load information (joint
terminal/network decisions). When only one access remains
available, network-assisted selection is applied; when access
selection is triggered by network load considerations, network
control may be used for load balancing. Finally, for access
network selection, the mobility management function must
retrieve the status of resource usage in each access network.
This information is provided by an REM database in controller,
which computes a technology-independent abstracted view of
access resource availability
B. Load Balance-based network hand-off
In mobile handover scenario, clients dynamically access
different radio access networks around them. To improve the
QoE and increase network capacity, the Cloud-MAC scheme
with SDN controller could provide a large gain in network
capacity[15]. The Cloud-MAC algorithms considering multiuser scenario with heterogeneous network resources should be
an important technical challenge in SDN based radio access
network. It is difficult to achieve a perfect solution with single
objective decision theory due to heterogeneity. Each client is
required to access options of multiple objects at the same time
to achieve the best solution. How to achieve a trade-off under
constraints with limited resources is a technical challenge in
this multi-objective optimization problem.
With network topology and statistics stored in databases,
controller has a view of network state. Load balance is one of
basic requirements from network to enable full utilization
resource among infrastructures. The metric of Load definition
is the most important issue for isolated wireless access
networks. Therefore, load balance is an important issue with
mobile hand-off operation. In this problem, the definition of
load can be varied. How to choose overload APs and the right
clients is the main algorithm challenge.
C. Price-based Inter-network Handoff
Resource slicing allow to isolate and separate traffic on
different resource slices with tags defined in semantic space.
Flow-visor should provide functions to create and delete
resource slice at least[16]. Therefore, how to configure virtual
APs to create a resource slice will be a technical challenge. In
this SDN architecture, slice configuration of APs can be asked
by controller via Jason file. If resource is not available at the

SDR based Open-Flow AP, the Jason configuration file will

point to controller.
The Flow-visor can also support high-level semantic space
definition[16]. A slice of semantic space is the set of packets
whose subscriber attributes satisfy the same predicates. For
example, client stations in the heterogeneous radio access
networks would be configured with different capability, e.g.
Mixed transmission rates. This allows network provider to
isolate traffic for clients with a certain capability using legacy
protocols. How to slice and map radio resources to high-level
semantic space depends on specific application scenarios. In
home network, semantic spaces include smart grid, security
monitoring and smart appliance control[17].

This study is supported by Grant YB2012120193 from
Research Fund for Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd, China and
the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities.


With the fact that load changes spatially and temporally with
changing user demand. In this SDN defined architecture, all of
the virtual operators provide their services sharing a common
physical network. Therefore, there always is an opportunity
for Virtual Operators(VO) to maximize their profits by selling
current unutilized spectrum, if it exists, directly to secondary
temporarily for a fixed price per fixed time window set by
VOs[18]. The fixed price within the time window could be the
price per minute (price/min) or the price per Megabyte
(price/MB) depending on the application class in consideration.
As a simple user case, clients can switch and handoff its
operation resource based on dynamic pricing to save money.


D. QoS-based inter-network hand-off

Although physical network interface is data transfer tunnels
to clients, it still provide different QoS guarantee for specific
service. The QoS is a collection of a variety of criteria, such as
RSSI, delay, throughput. The CSMA-based network might
coexist gracefully in terms of very low packet error rate, but
with significantly increased channel access time, whereas the
TDMA-based systems depends on both load and scheduling
mechanism used. OFDMA based system provide better QoE
for the mixed-rate clients than CSMA-based one.




This paper presents a critical study of service-oriented,

Open-Flow and SDN enabled architecture for heterogeneous
radio access networks on mobility handover scenarios of LTE
femtocells and Wi-Fi. The required changes on 3GPP LTE
specification are analyzed with the hierarchically distributed
SDN architecture. Open-Flow enabled wireless infrastructure
architecture is defined with sensing and control agents for
network management. With event-component architecture on
NOX, cognitive information processing for handover is given
with the thoughts of event-classification. A possible stepwise
approach to different functional elements of the presented
architecture is defined. New components include mobilitybased, price-based, load-balance based, QoS-based handover
for intra-network and inter-network operations. This work is
an initial step towards SDN and Open-Flow enabled mobility
management in heterogeneous radio access networks, which
will be further developed on our prototype .













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