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This paper is submission for IEEE, National conference at L&T research institute, Mumbai, dated.

Oct 30 2009

New Generation Wireless Communication Technologies: Flat IP Architecture
Vadan Mehta TATA consultancy services

The wireless industry is now modeling next generation mobile networks (NGN) based on ‘Flat IP architecture’. It would enable mobile operators to deliver data more efficiently and eliminate traffic bottlenecks inherent in traditional mobile networks designed for circuit switched voice architecture. Flat IP architecture reduces the complexity of existing networks. Using such architecture, a mobile network will contain a single base station with single core gateway, connected to internet.. It would eliminate the need for radio network controllers (RNC) and service GPRS support nodes (SGSN) from GSM/UMTS network, while base stations controllers (BSC) and packet data serving nodes (PDSN) from CDMA2000 network .It will simplify network infrastructure and would result in Capital expenditure (Capex) and Oprational expenditure (Opex) savings. The users are also benefited as fast data transfer between end point ,will improve QoS performance for realtime applications such as voice over IP (VoIP), videoconferencing, and online-gaming. NGN technologies as LTE, Wimax 16e/m are based on Flat IP architecture to support high data traffic. As flat IP architecture offers numerous benefits in terms of Capex and Opex, service provider are contemplating to migrate their existing wireless network to flat IP architecture. This paper explains the flat cellular architecture based on LTE/SAE and migration issues of NGN migration.

Cellular systems have been built in a hierarchical manner. Cellular network elements have been designed to form a hierarchical structure. When 2G and later 3G systems were designed there was a good reason to make system hierarchical. From a cost-perspective it was better to concentrate traffic and to share the

cost of processing equipment over a large set of users while keeping the base stations relatively cheap. When cellular systems were first devised, sharing the expensive vocoders over a (large) number of users led to considerable savings when deploying such cellular systems. The savings result from not having to deploy such expensive vocoders in all the cell sites. Secondly, since wireless voice transmissions are compressed, fewer bits needed to be sent over the backhaul connecting the core network to the base stations, so more voice calls could be supported on a T1 or E1. The two fundamental reasons to build cellular systems in a hierarchical manner have disappeared. First, advances in electronics have made the cost argument disappear there is no reason the cost of electronics needs to dictate the cellular system architecture: every base station today can be equipped with cost effective processing environments to perform all access specific functions. Analysts point out that many years ago Base stations would cost around $250000 but new base stations will be likely in $15000 to $25000. Traditional hierarchical cellular system functioned fine when packet data was a small amount of traffic on the network, but as 3G radio technologies are improving and more powerful i-phones, blackberries are emerging, operators are seeing data usage from their customers will skyrocket. Data traffic already may have outpaced voice traffic on most operators' networks and they have to expand their network capacity to meet the primary driver of growth in their networks. Traditional BSC based cellular architecture treat packet data sessions much the same way they do voice sessions, even though the difference between the two is pronounced. One voice session varies very little from another, while a data session could be anything from a few kbps download (such as pinging or text emails) to multi megabyte download(such as movie download or video conferancing) . Some applications are continuously running with an open connection to the network. Others might access the network just


This paper is submission for IEEE, National conference at L&T research institute, Mumbai, dated. Oct 30 2009

once a day for a few minutes. The BSC, however, manages all of these sessions as it would voice sessions, regardless of the amount or type of data being transmitted. The result is a network that doesn't scale easily for data — a network that can support far fewer data subscribers at the core than its radio capacity would imply. A flat network architecture removes that voicecentric hierarchy from the network. Instead of overlaying a packet data core on the voice network, much-simplified data architecture can be implemented that removes the multiple elements from the network chain. BSC/RNC functions are collapsed into the base station itself, which communicates directly with what is essentially an IP router or gateway.

Existing hierarchical system is based on centralized resource for paging, handover and Radio Resource Management (RRM). Figure 1

in contrast to the fact that one RNC can connect to any other RNC in the network, one NodeB can only connect to one RNC. Thus only one RNC is controlling the NodeB. This means that the RNC owns the radio resources of the NodeB. In case of a macro-diversity connection across RNCs, the two RNCs agree between themselves about the use of the radio resources. The NodeB is a logical node handling the transmission and reception of a set of cells. Logically, the antennas of the cells belong to the NodeB but they are not necessarily located at the same antenna site. The NodeB owns its hardware but not the radio resources of its cells. Thus, the NodeB can reject a connection due to hardware limitations, but not due to radio resource shortage. With its hardware, the NodeB performs the physical layer functions. As per figure 2, RNC manages Radio Link Control Layer(RLC), Medium Access Control Layer(MAC), Radio Resource Control layer (RRC) and Packet Data Convergence Protocol (PDCP).

Figure 2: WCDMA control plan

Figure 1: 3G Architecture

shows an overview of the WCDMA/HSPA radio access network. As per figure 1, the RAN consists of two fundamental logical nodes: the RNC and the node connecting to the antenna of the cells, the NodeB. The RNC is the node connecting the RAN to the core network via the Iu interface. The principle of the Iu interface is that it should be possible to use it toward different RNCs, not only WCDMA/HSPA RAN. Each RNC in the network can connect to every other RNC in the same network using the Iur interface. Thus, the Iur interface is a network wide interface making it possible to keep one RNC as an anchor point for a terminal and hide mobility from the core network. As can be seen from Figure 1, one RNC connects to one or more NodeBs using the Iub interface. However,

A central component such as the RNC needs to divide its processing resources between a possibly large numbers of Node Bs (e.g. Ericsson’s GSM solution uses 512 base stations per BSC, serving a very large number of users.) However, as described before, the reason this central component came about was to be able to share the expensive resources for a large number of base stations and thus users. Since cheap processing resources have become abundant, the economic reason for centralization and sharing is no more valid. The concept of distributed processing, instead of centralized processing has opened the way for flat network architecture.


This paper is submission for IEEE, National conference at L&T research institute, Mumbai, dated. Oct 30 2009

The next generation of mobile networks is embracing the notion of flat network architecture, one that runs entirely via IP and collapses the complexity of a mobile network into the base station and a single core gateway. To replace the voice centric hierarchical network to data centric flat IP network, 3GPP has initiated to work on the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and Evolved packet core (EPC), with following characteristics as target:  Peak data rate: DL: 100Mbps ; UL: 50Mbps  Control plane latency (Transition time to active state): < 100ms (for idle to active)  User plane latency: < 5ms  Spectrum flexibility Requirement: 1.25, 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20Mhz LTE is the latest standard in the mobile network technology tree. LTE, whose radio access is called Evolved UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access Network (E-UTRAN), is expected to substantially improve end-user throughputs, sector capacity and reduce user plane latency, bringing significantly improved user experience with full mobility. With the emergence of Internet Protocol (IP) as the protocol of choice for carrying all types of traffic, LTE is scheduled to provide support for IP-based traffic with end-to-end Quality of service (QoS). Voice traffic will be supported mainly as Voice over IP (VoIP) enabling better integration with other multimedia services. The evolved RAN for LTE consists of eNodeB. ENode B is single point interface to UE. To achieve the flat network architecture, many of RNC functions are transferred to eNodeB. The eNodeB hosts the PHYsical (PHY), Medium Access Control (MAC), Radio Link Control (RLC), and PacketData Control Protocol (PDCP) layers that include the functionality of user-plane header-compression

and encryption(see figure 3). It also offers Radio Resource Control (RRC) functionality corresponding to the control plane. It performs many functions including radio resource management, admission control, scheduling, enforcement of negotiated UL QoS, cell information broadcast, ciphering/deciphering of user and control plane data, and compression/decompression of DL/UL user plane packet headers. While eNode B is handling most of RRM functions, paging, mobility and security functions have been transferred to Moblity Management Entity

The ‘SAE’ core network: the Evolved Packet Core

Figure 4: EPC architecture

When the LTE RAN standardization was started, the corresponding work was started for the core network. This work was called the System Architecture Evolution (SAE). The core network defined in the SAE work is a radical evolution from the GSM/GPRS core network and therefore it has got a new name, Evolved Packet Core (EPC) as figure 4. The SAE scope only covers the packet-switched domain, not the circuit-switched domain. Looking back at the discussions in standardization, the philosophy of minimizing the number of nodes also reigns in the core network standardization. As a consequence, the Evolved Packet Core network started off as single-node architecture with all the functions in one node, except the Home Subscriber Server (HSS) which were kept outside the node. HSS is a node/database corresponding to the HLR in GSM/WCDMA core network. The EPC connects to the LTE RAN via the S1 interface and to internet via the SGi interface.

Figure 3: LTE/SAE control plan


This paper is submission for IEEE, National conference at L&T research institute, Mumbai, dated. Oct 30 2009

Furthermore, the EPC connects to the HSS using the S6 interface. S1 is the interface between eNodeBs and MME/SGW.. (see figure 5).

(terminating S4 interface and relaying the traffic between 2G/3G systems and PDN GW). For idle state UEs, the SGW terminates the DL data path and triggers paging when DL data arrives for the UE. It manages and stores UE contexts, e.g. parameters of the IP bearer service, network internal routing information. It also performs replication of the user traffic in case of lawful interception

Packet Data Network Gateway (PDN GW)
Figure 5: HSS/EPC

Mobility Management Entity (MME)
The MME is the key control-node for the LTE access- network. It is responsible for idle mode UE tracking and paging procedure including retransmissions. It is involved in the bearer activation/deactivation process and is also responsible for choosing the SGW for a UE at the initial attach and at time of intra-LTE handover involving Core Network (CN) node relocation. It is responsible for authenticating the user (by interacting with the HSS). The Non- Access Stratum (NAS) signaling terminates at the MME and it is also responsible for generation and allocation of temporary identities to UEs. It checks the authorization of the UE to camp on the service provider’s Public Land Mobile Network (PLMN) and enforces UE roaming restrictions. The MME is the termination point in the network for ciphering/integrity protection for NAS signaling and handles the security key management. Lawful interception of signaling is also supported by the MME. The MME also provides the control plane function for mobility between LTE and 2G/3G access networks with the S3 interface terminating at the MME from the SGSN. The MME also terminates the S6a interface towards the home HSS for roaming UEs.

The PDN GW provides connectivity to the UE to external packet data networks by being the point of exit and entry of traffic for the UE. A UE may have simultaneous connectivity with more than one PDN GW for accessing multiple PDNs. The PDN GW performs policy enforcement, packet filtering for each user, charging support, lawful Interception and packet screening. Another key role of the PDN GW is to act as the anchor for mobility between 3GPP and non-3GPP technologies such as WiMAX and 3GPP2 (CDMA 1X and EvDO).

Function split between Control plan and User plan
A key feature of the EPC is the separation of the network entity that performs control-plane functionality (MME) from the network entity that performs bearer-plane functionality (SGW) with a well defined open interface between them (S11). Since E-UTRAN will provide higher bandwidths to enable new services as well as to improve existing ones, separation of MME from SGW implies that SGW can be based on a platform optimized for high bandwidth packet processing, where as the MME is based on a platform optimized for signaling transactions. This enables selection of more cost-effective platforms for, as well as independent scaling of, each of these two elements. Service providers can also choose optimized topological locations of SGWs within the network independent of the locations of MMEs in order to optimize bandwidth reduce latencies and avoid concentrated points of failure.

Serving Gateway (SGW)
The SGW routes and forwards user data packets, while also acting as the mobility anchor for the user plane during inter-eNB handovers and as the anchor for mobility between LTE and other 3GPP technologies

In LTE, the EPC acts as an anchor in the SAE core network for mobility, that is the EPC node handling the user plane of the terminal is not changed during a connection. Due to the flat architecture, the EPC node handling the user


This paper is submission for IEEE, National conference at L&T research institute, Mumbai, dated. Oct 30 2009

plane of the terminal needs to be able to connect to essentially every eNodeB in the network. Since the EPC(MME) is the anchor and the LTE RAN only consists of the eNodeB, the EPC need to be updated on to which eNodeB it shall route the packets of the user. This is a large difference compared to WCDMA/HSPA RAN where the RNC hides this kind of mobility from the core network.

Migration from legacy network to flat network architecture, involves certain important issues which needs to consider while adapting new network architecture.

Radio frequency is a valuable and finite resource and, today there is simply not enough spectrum available to satisfy demand. The need for spectrum is being driven by the pervasive convenience of mobile communications and the need for increased penetration combined with improved performance and the falling costs of wireless devices & services. Existing and new Mobile Broadband networks will quickly consume current spectrum allocations as they deliver a highly compelling user experience by allowing multimedia applications anywhere. One of major challenge for service provider to deploy Flat IP architecture (LTE/SAE) is availability of required spectrum. Service provider has to find ways to utilize their existing spectrum (re-farming) or apply for additional spectrum. As LTE has greater spectrum flexibility (from 1.24 Mhz to 20 Mhz), a service provider can re-farm their existing 5 Mhz band into 1X1.24 Mhz (for LTE) and 2X1.24 (2 CDMA carriers). To save the cost, it is advisable to deploy the LTE network with refarming existing spectrum and add the required spectrum as on requirement arise. While refarming the existing spectrum, service provider has to plan according to expected data traffic volume and voice to data traffic ratio, interference calculations and other RF parameters.

latest wireless services at very cheap rate. To maintain minimum capex/opex while transforming network to newer technologies are quite a Herculean task. Service provider will opt for technology which has strong business case and restraint deployment expenditure. Flat network architecture offers quite expenditure savings in long run by removing network entities (as RNC) and offers revenue generating data application. Migration from hierarchical to Flat network requires skillful planning and network up-gradation. The successful migration will be maximum re-usage of old assets as, Site infrastructure, Mast, Spectrum etc. Node Bs has to be transformed to eNodeBs by hardware/software up-grade depends on equipment vendor specification. Vendor, who offers minimum network up-grade cost, will have higher possibility to get succeed in LTE market.

As LTE/SAE is primarily designed for data, voice will be an issue for service providers. 3GPP has suggested VoIP for voice in LTE but given the rough nature of wireless communication, latency will be an issue for VoIP traffic. Besides LTE has minimum transmission bandwidth (RB) as 180 Khz, comparing to GSM’s RB as 16 Khz. Higher RB makes LTE not efficient technology for narrow bandwidth application, such as voice. Service provider may opt for existing 2.5/3G network for voice and LTE overlay network for data, but it will increase opex cost for service provider as, it has to maintain two separate networks. There is another option of using VoLGA (Voice over LTE via Generic access), which creates tunnel for voice packet in LTE network. Again VoLGA will add capex and increase the complexity of network. Thus, carrying voice in LTE will be prime issue for service provider, while transforming network to LTE/SAE.

Currently wireless networks are designed in voice centric hierarchical manner. As data traffic is growing at tremendous speed, voice centric hierarchical network will pose a great deal of bottlenecks. Flat network architecture removes the hierarchy and creates IP centric flat network architecture. 3GPP Rel 8 has defined LTE/SAE as flat network architecture where RNC functions are collapsed into eNodeB and MME.

Network Up gradation
As Voice revenue is declining and competition in wireless market, is getting stiffer, upcoming challenge for any service provider is to provide


This paper is submission for IEEE, National conference at L&T research institute, Mumbai, dated. Oct 30 2009

While flat network architecture offers capex/opexx saving and scalability, it has certain migration issues such as Spectrum availability, Network up gradation cost and carrying voice into data specific network.


“ Flat Cellular (UMTS) Networks” by Peter Bosch, Louis Samuel, Sape Mullender, Paul Polakos, Gee Rittenhouse (Bell Laboratories) 3GPP TS 25.401 V8.1.0 (2008-09) “3G evolution – HSPA and LTE for Mobile Broadband” by Erik Dahlman, Stefan Parkvall, Johan Skold, and Per Beming Three Tactics for Winning the LTE Game Addressing the Challenges by Nadine Manjaro

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