GSM Network Architecture

CUSIT Peshawar


Introduction and history.  GSM architecture.  Implementation.  Technology and standards.  Summary 


Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM)
Anybody ± 500 million users (may 2001) Anywhere ± 168 countries (may 2001) Any media ± voice, messaging, data, multimedia

Source: Hillebrand, 1

What is mobile Communication?

GSM ???????? 

Global system for mobile communication (GSM) is a globally accepted standard for digital cellular communication. GSM is the name of a standardization group established in 1982««

Why GSM in 1982?
Good subjective speech quality  Low terminal and service cost  Support for international roaming  Ability to support handheld terminals  Support for range of new services and facilities  ISDN compatibility 

Summary of GSM milestones
1982 1986 1987 1988 1989 1991 1992 1993 1995

GSM formed field test TDMA chosen as access method memorandum of understanding signed validation of GSM system commercial system start-up coverage of larger cities/airports coverage of main roads coverage of rural areas

Phased GSM Approach 1 

GSM Phase 1 features
Call Forwarding All Calls No Answer Engaged Unreachable Global roaming - Visit any other country with GSM and a roaming agreement and use your phone and existing number

Phased GSM Approach 2 

GSM Phase 2 features
SMS - Short Message Service - Allows you to send text messages too and from phones Multi Party Calling - Talk to five other parties as well as yourself at the same time Call Holding - Place a call on Hold Call Waiting - Notifies you of another call whilst on a call Mobile Data Services - Allows handsets to communicate with computers Mobile Fax Service - Allows handsets to send, retrieve and receive faxes Calling Line Identity Service - This facility allows you to see the telephone number of the incoming caller on our handset before answering Advice of Charge - Allows you to keep track of call costs Mobile Terminating Fax - Another number you are issued with that receives faxes that you can then download to the nearest fax machine.

Phased GSM Approach 3 

GSM Phase 2 + features
Available by 1998 Upgrade and improvements to existing services GSM in the local loop Virtual Private Networks Packet Radio SIM enhancements Premium rate services (e.g. Stock prices sent to your phone)

GSM Radio Interface 

900 MHz (and 1800 MHz) 

890-915 MHz Uplink - 935-960 MHz Downlink 

124 carriers under 900 MHz 

8 Time Slots per carrier 

1 (physical) channel per Time Slot
1 channel = 1 communication = 15/26 ms

Cellular System
VLR land link HLR land link VLR
Base Station  


Radio link

MSC Mobile Switching Center VLR Visitor Location Register HLR Home Location Register

The geographic area is divided into cells Each cell has a Base Station managing the communications A set of cells managed by a single MSC is called Location Area

Base Station  

In radio communications, a base station is a wireless communications station installed at a fixed location and used to communicate as part of either: a push-to-talk two-way radio system, or; a wireless telephone system such as cellular CDMA or GSM.

A Typical GSM Base Station (,2008)

Base Station Sub System  

The Base Station Subsystem (BSS) is the section of a traditional cellular telephone network which is responsible for handling traffic and signaling between a mobile phone and the Network Switching Subsystem. The BSS carries out transcoding of speech channels, allocation of radio channels to mobile phones, paging, quality management of transmission and reception over the Air interface and many other tasks related to the radio network.

Base Transceiver Station 

Base Transceiver Station (BTS) is the equipment which facilitates the wireless communication between user equipments (UE) and the network. The Base Transceiver Station, or BTS, contains the equipment for transmitting and receiving of radio signals (transceivers), antennas, and equipment for encrypting and decrypting communications with the Base Station Controller (BSC). A BTS is controlled by a parent BSC via the Base Station Control Function (BCF).  



Base Station Controller 

The Base Station Controller (BSC) provides, classically, the intelligence behind the BTSs. Typically a BSC has 10s or even 100s of BTSs under its control. The BSC handles allocation of radio channels, receives measurements from the mobile phones, controls handovers from BTS to BTS.


The Mobile Switching Center or MSC is the primary service delivery node for GSM, responsible for handling voice calls and SMS as well as other services (such as conference calls, FAX). The MSC sets up and releases the endto-end connection, handles mobility and handover requirements during the call and takes care of charging and real time pre-paid account monitoring.

Packet Control Unit 

The Packet Control Unit (PCU) is a late addition to the GSM standard. It performs some of the processing tasks of the BSC, but for packet data. The allocation of channels between voice and data is controlled by the base station, but once a channel is allocated to the PCU, the PCU takes full control over that channel.


Visitor Location Register (VLR) is a database - part of the GSM mobile phone system - which stores information about all the mobiles that are currently under the jurisdiction of the MSC (Mobile Switching Center) which it serves. The 'Home Location Register' or HLR is a central database that contains details of each mobile phone subscriber that is authorized to use the GSM core network. 

Public switched telephone network 

The public switched telephone network (PSTN) is the network of the world's public circuit-switched telephone networks, in much the same way that the Internet is the network of the world's public IP-based packet-switched networks. Originally a network of fixed-line analog telephone systems, the PSTN is now almost entirely digital, and now includes mobile as well as fixed telephones.

GSM Architecture
PLMN Databases

NSS Network and Switching Subsystem EIR Equipment Identity Register

AuC Authentication Center GMSC Gateway MSC BSS Base Station System BSC Base Station Controller BTS Base Transceiver Station









MS Mobile Station SSP Service Switching Point

Radio Systems

Operation and Support System

OSS is to provide a network overview and support the maintenance activities

Speech Coding

Incoming GSM Call


Where is the cellular phone?
Handset Switched ON > "here I am"  Location update  The radio station relays the information to the nearest exchange: The VLR  The VLR updates the HLR  This way, the home exchange always knows where the phone is  The telephone number of the cellular phone indicates the home exchange. 

Roaming (# Handover)
Roaming is the ability to use your own GSM phone number in another GSM network.  A roaming agreement is a business agreement between two network operators to transfer items such as call charges and subscription information back and forth, as their subscribers roam into each others areas. 

Location Based Services

GSM Architecture
Home Location Register

BTS = Base Transceiver Station AuC = Authentication Center OMC = Operation and Maintenance Center PSTN = Public Switched Telephone Network ME = Mobile Equipment

Network Management Center

Equipment ID

Visitor Location Register


Subscriber Identity Module Subscriber Identity Module Subscriber Identity Module





Base station controller

Mobile switching center

Data communication network




Source: Stallings, 313 Source: Mehrotra, 27

GSM Architecture
MS Transmission Band : 890 ± 915 MHZ
45 MHz

BS Transmission Band : 935 ± 960 MHZ Year Introduced Access method
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

1990 TDMA 200 kHz 125 8 13 kbps 12 kbps 4.6 ms

Channel Bandwidth Number of duplex channels Users per channel Speech coding bit rate Data coding bit rate Frame size

F1 F2 F1' F2' Frequency

SIM (Subscriber Identity Module)
Billions of Calls Millions of Subscribers Thousand of Different Types of Telephones Hundreds of Countries Dozens of Manufacturers«. And only one Card: The SIM ‡Administrative data ‡Security data ‡Subscriber data ‡Roaming data ‡PLMN (Public Land Mobile Network Source: Hillebrand, 369


Decoding Deciphering Demodulation

Voice decoding

>De-Interleaving >Re-formatting


Ciphering Modulation Amplifier

Voice encoding

>Interleaving >Burst generation

Central processor, clock and tone, internal bus system, keyboard (HMI)

SIM = Subscriber Identity Module

Source: Heine, 14

GSM Variants
Variant GSM-400 Uplink (MHz) 451-458 and 479-486 890-915 Downlink (MHz) 461-468 and 489-496 935-960 Total Bandwidth Twice 14 MHz Duplexfrequency 10 MHz Channels Twice 72

GSM-900 (primary band) Extended GSM-900 GSM-R DCS-1800 PCS-1900

Twice 25 MHz

45 MHz

Twice 124

880-915 876-880 1,710-1,785 1,850-1,910

925-960 921-925 1,805-1,880 1,930-1,990

Twice 35 MHz Twice 4 MHz Twice 75 MHz Twice 60 MHz

45 MHz 45 MHz 95 MHz 80 MHz

Twice 174 Twice 19 Twice 373 Twice 300

Source: Bekkers, 299


Logical control channels
Broadcast Control Channel (BCCH) downlink only, used to broadcast Cell specific information; Synchronization Channel (SCH) downlink only, used to broadcast synchronization and BSS identification information; Paging Channel (PCH) downlink only, used to send page requests to Mobile Stations; Random Access Channel (RACH) uplink only, used to request a Dedicated Control Channel; Access Grant Channel (AGCH) downlink only, used to allocate a Dedicated Control CHANNEL; Stand Alone Dedicated Control Channel (SDCCH) bi-directional; Fast Associated Control Channel (FACCH) bi-directional, associated with a Traffic Channel; Slow Associated Control Channel (SACCH) bi-directional, associated with a SDCCH or a Traffic Channel; Cell Broadcast Channel (CBCH) downlink only used for general (not point to point) short message information.

Network architecture  Implementation  Voice application  Data application 

SIM Card


SIM Card 

The SIM - Subscriber Identity Module - is a smart chip card, about the size of a postage stamp.


A SIM card is actually a tiny computer in your phone. Current SIMs typically have 16 to 64 kb of memory, which provides plenty of room for storing hundreds of personal phone numbers, text messages, value-added services and important for us: position data (coordinates) of tracked animals

SIM Content 

User ID
IMSI, Ki, PINs, PUKs, etc

Phone Book  SMS  A3/A8 Algorithm 

Challenge response application 

Other info
Directory structure

SIM and Handy

‡Symbian and other Oss ‡Direct access to HW

APIs e.g. Symbian Hardware

Bekkers, Rudi. Mobile Communications Standards: GSM, UMTS, TETRA, and ERMES. Norwood, MA: Artech House, Inc., 2001. Halonen, Romero, and Melero. GSM, GPRS, and EDGE Performance: Evolution Towards 3G/UMTS. England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2003. Hillebrand, Friedhelm. GSM and UMTS: The Creation of Global Mobile Communications. England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2002. Heine, Gunnar. GSM Networks: Protocols, Terminology, and Implementation. Norwood, MA: Artech House, Inc., 1999. Mehrotra, Asha. GSM System Engineering. Norwood, MA: Artech House, Inc., 1997. Harte, Levine, and Livingston. GSM Superphones. United States: APDG Publishing, Inc. A Division of McGraw-Hill, 1999.