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Chapter 20: Cellular Communications


A lot has happened in the cellular world since its original introduction in 1984. In 1984 when cellular communications became the hot button in the industry, all systems used analog radio transmissions. Many reasons were used to justify the cellular networks. These included very limited service areas, where you just could not get service where you wanted or needed it. Poor transmission haunted the operators because of the nature of the radio systems at the time. Users experienced excessive call setup delays. Heavy demand and limited channels were some of the more common problems in an operating area.

Analog Cellular radio systems used Frequency Division Multiple Access (FDMA), which is an analog technique designed to support multiple users in an area with a limited number of frequencies. Analog radio systems use analog input, such as voice communications. Because these systems were designed around voice applications, no one had any thought of the future transmission of data, fax, packet data, and so on, from a vehicle.

Back then, no one was sure what the acceptance rate would be. Currently, there are approximately 63 million cellular users in the United States. Approximately 100— 150,000 new users sign up every month. Estimates are that four of five new telephones sold today are wireless telephones. Therefore, acceptance has become a non-issue. The new problem is not one of acceptance, but of retaining users. The churn ratio has been as high as 15—20%.

The answer to the retention problem lies in packaging the service with the handset. By offering service plans with a usage fee of $.10-.15/minute, the acceptance rate skyrocketed. The cellular industry is still primarily running on an analog backbone. Estimates are that 90—95% of the United States has analog coverage, whereas the digital counterpart to the cellular networks only covers between 50—55%. Dual mode telephones have become the salvation for cellular providers, because they would not be able to sustain their customer base without this offering.

Coverage Areas

The cellular operators build out their networks to provide coverage in certain geographically bounded areas. This poses the following dilemmas for the providers:

The carriers need users (more) to generate higher revenues to pay off their

investment. They must continue the evolution from analog to digital systems, allowing more

efficient bandwidth use. Security and protection against theft is putting pressure on the carriers and users alike (cellular carriers lost over $300 million USD in 1997 through fraud and close to $500 million in 1998).

Analog Cellular Systems

Analog systems do nothing for these needs. Using amplitude or frequency modulation techniques to transmit voice on the radio signal uses all of the available bandwidth. This means that the cellular carriers can support a single call today on a single frequency. The limitations of the systems include limited channel availability.

The analog system was designed for quick communication while on the road. Because this service could meet the needs of users on the go, the thought process regarding heavy penetration was only minimally add-ressed. However, as the major Metropolitan Service Areas (MSA) began expanding, the carriers realized that the analog systems were going to be too limiting. With only a single user on a frequency, congestion in the MSA became a tremendous problem. For example, a cellular channel uses 30 kHz of bandwidth for a single telephone call!

Cellular was designed to overcome the limitations of conventional mobile telephone. Areas of coverage are divided into honeycomb-type cells and hexagonal design of smaller sizes, as shown in Figure 20-1 . The cells overlap each other at the outer boundaries. Frequencies can be divided into bands or cells to prevent interference and jamming of the neighboring cell’s frequencies. The cellular system uses much less power output for transmitting. The vehicular transmitter uses 3 watts of power, while the hand- held sets use only 3/10 watts. Frequencies can be reused much more often and are closer to each other. The average cell design is approximately 3—5 miles across. The more users who subscribe to a network, the closer the transmitters are placed to each other. In rural areas, the cells are much further apart.

Analog Cellular Systems Analog systems do nothing for these needs. Using amplitude or frequency modulation techniques

Figure 20-1: The cell patterns

For normal operation, cell sites may be separated by 3—5 miles, but as more users complain of no service due to congestion, cell splitting occurs. A cell can be subdivided into smaller cells, reallocating frequencies for continued use. The smaller the cell, the more equipment and other components are necessary. This places an added financial burden on the carriers as they attempt to match customer needs with returns on investments.

Log On

When the vehicle telephone powers on, it immediately logs onto the network. First, the telephone set sends a message to the Mobile Telephone Switching Office (MTSO). The Mobile Telephone Switching Office is the equivalent of a Class 5 Central Office. It provides all the line-in-trunk interface capabilities, much the same as the CO will do.

The information sent to the MTSO includes the electronic serial number and telephone number from the handset. These two pieces of information combined will identify the individual device.

The telephone set will use an information channel to transmit the information. Several channels are set aside specifically for the purposes of log on capabilities (see Figure 20-2 ).

Log On When the vehicle telephone powers on, it immediately logs onto the network. First, the

Figure 20-2: Log-on process uses specific channels

Monitoring Control Channels

Once a telephone set has logged on, it will then scan the 21 channels set aside as control channels. Upon scanning, the telephone will lock in on the channel that it is receiving the strongest. It will then go into monitoring mode. Although the set has nothing to send, it will continue to listen to the monitored channel in the event the mobile telephone switching office has an incoming call for it. The telephone user has actually done nothing. Upon power-up, the set immediately will log onto the network, identify itself, and go into the monitoring mode.

Failing Signal

One can assume in vehicular communications that the vehicle will be in motion. As the vehicle moves from cell to cell, it will move out of range from the first site, but come into range of the second site. The received signal on the monitoring channel will begin to fail (get too weak to hear), as shown in Figure 20-3 . Immediately the telephone will rescan all the monitoring channels and select a new one. After the vehicle finds a new channel, it will continue to monitor that channel until such time as it rolls out of range again. This concept of rolling from site to site allows the vehicle to be in constant touch with the mobile telephone switching office so long as the set is on.

Failing Signal One can assume in vehicular communications that the vehicle will be in motion. As

Figure 20-3: The failing signal procedure

Setup of a Call

When the user wishes to place a call, the steps are straightforward. The process is very similar to making a wired call.

  • 1. Pick up the handset and dial the digits.

  • 2. After entering the digits, press the send key.

  • 3. The information is a dialogue between the MTSO and the handset.

  • 4. The MTSO receives the information and begins the call setup to a trunk connection.

  • 5. The mobile office scans the available channels in the cell and selects one.

  • 6. The mobile office sends a message to the handset telling it which channel to use.

  • 7. The handset then tunes its frequency to the assigned channel.

  • 8. The mobile office connects that channel to the trunk used to set up the call.

  • 9. The call is connected, and the user has a conversational path in both directions.

Setup of an Incoming Call

When a call is coming in from the network, things are again similar to the wireline network.

  • 1. The mobile office receives signaling information from the network that a call is coming in.

  • 2. The mobile office must first find the set, so it sends out a page through its network.

  • 3. The page is sent out over the control channels.

  • 4. Upon hearing the page, the set will respond.

  • 5. The mobile office hears the response and assigns a channel.

  • 6. The mobile office sends a message telling the set that it has a call and to use channel X.

  • 7. The set immediately tunes to the channel it was assigned for the incoming call.

  • 8. The phone rings, and the user answers.


While the user is on the telephone, several things might happen. The first is that the vehicle is moving away from the center of the cell site. Therefore, the base station must play an active role in the process of handling the calls.

  • 1. As the user gets closer to the boundary, the signal will get weaker.

  • 2. The base station will recognize the loss of signal strength and send a message to the mobile office.

  • 3. The mobile office will go into recovery mode.

  • 4. The MTSO must determine what cell will be receiving the user.

  • 5. The MTSO sends a message to all base stations advising them to conduct a quality of signal measurement on the channel in question.

  • 6. Each base station determines the quality of the received signal.

  • 7. They will advise the MTSO if the signal is strong or weak.

  • 8. The MTSO decides which base station will host the call.

Setting Up the Handoff

After the MTSO has determined which base station will be the new host for the call, it will then select a channel and direct the new base station to set up a talk path for the call. This is all done in the background. An idle channel is set up in parallel between the base station and MTSO.

The Handoff Occurs

  • 1. The original base station is still serving the call.

  • 2. The new base station will host the caller.

  • 3. The parallel channel has been set up.

  • 4. MTSO has notified the cells to set the parallel channel in motion.

  • 5. The MTSO sends a directive to the telephone to retune its frequency to the new one reserved for it.

  • 6. The telephone set moves from one frequency to the new one.

  • 7. The call is handed off from one cell to another.

  • 8. The caller continues to converse and never knew what happened.

This procedure is shown in Figure 20-4 .

The Handoff Occurs 1. The original base station is still serving the call. 2. The new

Figure 20-4: The handoff process

Completion of the Handoff

After the telephone has moved from one base station to the other, and one channel to another, the handoff is complete. However, the original channel is now idle, but in parallel to the original call. Therefore, the base station notifies the MTSO that the channel is now idle. The MTSO is always in control of the call. It manages the channels and the handoff mechanisms. The MTSO commands the base station to set the channel to idle and makes it available for the next call.

The Cell Site (Base Station)

The preceding discussion centered on the process of the call and referred to the base station quite a bit. The cell is comprised of a 3—5 mile radius. The base station is comprised of all the transmission and reception equipment between the base station and MTSO and the base station to the telephone. The cell has a tower with multiple antennae mounted on the top. Each cell has enough radio equipment to service approximately 45 calls simultaneously, as well as to monitor all the channels in each of the adjacent cells to it (see Figure 20-5 ). The equipment varies with the manufacturer and the operator, but typically, an operator will have 35—70 cells in a major location.

The Cell Site (Base Station) The preceding discussion centered on the process of the call and

Figure 20-5: Seven cell pattern

The Mobile Telephone Switching Office (MTSO)

The MTSO is a Class 5 Central Office equivalent. It provides the trunks and signaling interfaces to the wireline carriers. It has a full line switching component and the necessary logic to manage thousands of calls simultaneously. Like the CO infrastructure, the MTSO uses digital trunks between the MTSO and the wireline carriers (ILEC, CLEC, or IEC) either on copper, fiber, or microwave radio systems ..

At the MTSO, there is a separate trunk/line interface between the MTSO and the base station. This is the line side of the switch, and it is used for the controlling call setup. Normally, the MTSO connects to the base station via a T1 operating line at 32 Kbps ADPCM. This T1 will be on copper or microwave. A MTSO is a major investment, ranging from $2 to $6 million, depending on the size and the area being served.

Frequency Reuse Plans and Cell Patterns

Frequency reuse is what started the cellular movement. Planning permits the efficient allocation of limited radio frequency spectrum for systems that use frequency-based channels (AMPS, DAMPS, and GSM). Frequency reuse enables increased capacity and avoids interference between sites that are sharing the frequency sets. Frequency plans exist that specify the division of channels among 3, 4, 7, and 12 cells. They define the organization of available channels into groups that maximize service and minimize interference.

As a mobile unit moves through the network, it is assigned a frequency during transit through each cell. Because each cell pattern has one low power transmitter, air interface signals are limited to the parameters of each cell. Air interface signals from nonadjacent cells do not interfere with each other. Therefore, a group of nonadjacent cells can reuse the same frequencies.

CDMA systems do not require frequency management plans because every cell operates on the same frequency. Site resources are differentiated by their PN offset (phase offset of the Pseudorandom Noise reference). Mobile channels are identified by a code that is used to spread across the baseband signal, and each can be reused in any cell. Using a N=7 frequency reuse pattern, all available channels are assigned to their appropriate cells. It is not necessary to deploy all radios at once, but their use has been planned ahead of time to minimize interference in the future (see Figure 20-5 ).

Overlapping Coverage

Each cell has its own radio equipment with an overlap into adjoining cells. This allows for the monitoring of the adjacent cells to ensure complete coverage. The cells can sense the signal strength of the mobile and hand-held units in their own areas and in the overlap areas of each adjoining cell. This is what makes the handoff and coverage areas work together. The graphic in Figure 20-6 shows the overlap coverage in the 7-cell pattern described previously.

Overlapping Coverage Each cell has its own radio equipment with an overlap into adjoining cells. This

Figure 20-6: Overlap coverage between the cells

Cell Site Configurations

The mode of operation of a cell site is determined by the type of antenna used to support the air interface between the cell site and the mobile phones. When an omnidirectional antenna is used, the site serves a single 360-degree area around itself (see Figure 20-7 ).

Cell Site Configurations The mode of operation of a cell site is determined by the type

Figure 20-7: The omnidirectional antenna

The cell sites using the omnidirectional antenna are supported by a single antenna for both send and receive operations. These devices cover the full 360-degree site independently. One transmit antenna is used for each radio frame at the site (one frequency group per radio frame). Two receive antennas distribute the receive signal to every radio, providing diversity reception for every receiver at the site.

Due to the site’s ability to receive signals from all directions, transmissions from neighboring sites may interfere with the site’s reception. When interference reaches unacceptable levels, the site is usually sectorized to eliminate its ability to receive interfering information. Sectoring may also come into play when the site becomes so congested that the omnidirectional antennae cannot support the operations.

Sectorized Cell Coverage

Directional (sectorized) sites use reflectors positioned behind the antenna to focus the coverage area into a portion of a cell. Coverage areas can be customized to the needs of each site as shown in Figure 20-8 , but the typical areas of coverage are as follows:

2 sectors using 180 degree angles 3 sectors using 120 degree angles 6 sectors using 60
2 sectors using 180 degree angles
3 sectors using 120 degree angles
6 sectors using 60 degree angles

Figure 20-8: Sectorized coverage

At least one transmit antenna is used in each sector (one per radio frame) and two receive antennas provide space diversity for each sector of a two- or three-sectored site. One receive antenna is used in each of the 60 degree sectors, with neighboring sectors providing the sector diversity. This is an economic issue because of the number of antennas required.

Tiered Sites

This configuration places a low power site in the same location with a high power site. Mobiles change channels as they move across the boundary between the two in order to relieve congestion in the center as shown in Figure 20-9 . This configuration is used in all GSM and CDMA applications today. It is not supported on the older AMPS and Digital AMPS configurations, but may be used in newer implementations of AMPS and DAMPS. Each sector requires its own access/paging control channel to manage call setup functions. Voice traffic in each sector is supported by radios connected to antennae supporting that sector.

Figure 20-9: Tiered cell coverage

Figure 20-9: Tiered cell coverage

Reuse of Frequencies

Frequency reuse allows a particular radio channel to carry conversations in multiple locations, increasing overall capacity of the communications systems. Within a cluster, each cell uses different frequencies; however, these frequencies can be reused in cells of another cluster.

One centralized radio site with 300 channels can have 300 calls in progress at any one time. The 300 channels can be divided into four groups of 75 channels and still provide 300 calls at once. Dividing the service area into 16 sections called cells allows each cell to use one of the four groups of channels, increasing the call carrying capacity of the system by a value of 4 (1,200 calls at one time).

The service area can be continually divided into smaller and smaller cells to obtain greater call carrying capacity, increasing the number of calls by a factor of four with each division. The limit on how many cells can be used is determined by this information:

  • 1. The cost infrastructure at each cell

  • 2. Processing power of the switch that controls the system

  • 3. Minimum power output at each site

Allocation Of Frequencies

The allocation of frequencies based on the first cellular arrangement of Advanced Mobile Phone Services (AMPS) was designed around 666 duplex channels. The frequency ranges were allocated in the 825—845 MHz and 870—890 MHz frequency bands. In each band, the channels use a 30 kHz separation, and 21 channels are allocated to control channels. Figure 20-10 is a representation of the channel allocation.

Allocation Of Frequencies The allocation of frequencies based on the first cellular arrangement of Advanced Mobile

Figure 20-10: Frequency allocation for cellular

The FCC approved licenses for two operators of the cellular service; the wireline carrier (usually the telephone company in the area) and the non-wireline carrier (a competitor to the local telephone company). The frequencies were equally split between the wireline and non-wireline operators. This meant that only half the channels were available to each carrier and two sets of control channels were required.

Four signaling paths are used in the cellular network to provide for signaling and control, as well as voice conversation. These can be broken into two basic function groups:

Call setup and breakdown

Call management and conversation

Establishing a Call from a Landline to a Mobile

From a wired telephone, the local exchange office pulses out the cellular number called to the MTSO over a special trunk connecting the telephone company to the MTSO. The MTSO then analyzes the number called and sends a data link message to all paging cell sites to locate the unit called. When the cellular unit recognizes the page, it sends a message to the nearest cell site. This cell site then sends a data link message back to the MTSO to alert the MTSO that the unit has been found. This message further notifies the MTSO which cell site will handle the call.

The MTSO next selects a cell site trunk connected to that cell and sets up a network path between the cell site and the originating CO trunk carrying the call (see Figure 20-11 ).

Establishing a Call from a Landline to a Mobile From a wired telephone, the local exchange

Figure 20-11: Call establishment

The MTSO is now also called the Mobile Switching Center. It is the controlling element for the entire system. The MSC is responsible for the following information:

  • 1. All switching of calls to and from the cells

  • 2. Blocking calls when congestion occurs

  • 3. Providing necessary backup to the network

  • 4. Monitoring the overall network elements

  • 5. Handling all the test and diagnostic capabilities for the system

This is the workhorse of the cellular system. The MSC relies on two different databases within the system to keep track of the mobile stations in its area.

The first of the two databases is called the Home Location Register (HLR). The HLR is a database of all system devices registered on the system and owned by the operator of the MSC. These are the local devices connected to the network. The HLR keeps track of the individual device’s location and stores all the necessary information about the subscriber. This includes the name, telephone number, features and functions, fiscal responsibilities, and the like.

The second database is called the Visiting Location Register (VLR), which is a temporary database built on roaming devices as they come into a particular MSC’s area. The VLR keeps track of temporary devices while they are in an area, including the swapping of location information with the subscriber’s HLR. When a subscriber logs onto a network, and it is not home to that subscriber, the VLR builds a data entry on the subscriber and tracks activity and feature usage to be consistent for the user.

Another set of databases is used by the MSC in some networks. These again are two separate and distinct functions called the Equipment Inventory Register (EIR) and the Authentication Center (AuC). These are very similar to the databases used in the GSM networks and keep track of manufacturer equipment types for consistency. The authentication center is used to authenticate the user to prevent fraudulent use of the network by a cloned device.