Global System for Mobile Communications
History of GSM
During the early 1980s, analog cellular telephone systems were experiencing rapid growth in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, but also in France and Germany. Each country developed its own system, which was incompatible with everyone else's in equipment and operation. This was an undesirable situation, because not only was the mobile equipment limited to operation within national boundaries, which in a unified Europe were increasingly unimportant, but there was also a very limited market for each type of equipment, so economies of scale and the subsequent savings could not be realized.
The Europeans realized this early on, and in 1982 the Conference of European Posts and Telegraphs (CEPT) formed a study group called the Groupe Spécial Mobile (GSM) to study and develop a pan-European public land mobile system. The proposed system had to meet certain criteria:
• 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
• Spectral efficiency
• ISDN compatibility
In 1989, GSM responsibility was transferred to the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), and phase I of the GSM specifications were published in 1990. Commercial service was started in mid-1991, and by 1993 there were 36 GSM networks in 22 countries. Although standardized in Europe, GSM is not only a European standard. Over 200 GSM networks (including DCS1800 and PCS1900) are operational in 110 countries around the world. In the beginning of 1994, there were 1.3 million subscribers worldwide, which had grown to more than 55 million by October 1997. With North America making a delayed entry into the GSM field with a derivative of GSM called PCS1900, GSM systems exist on every continent, and the acronym GSM now aptly stands for Global System for Mobile communications.
Services provided by GSM
Using the ITU-T definitions, telecommunication services can be divided into
The most basic teleservice supported by GSM is telephony. As with all other communications, speech is digitally encoded and transmitted through the GSM network as a digital stream. There is also an emergency service, where the nearest emergency-service provider is notified by dialing three digits.
A variety of data services is offered. GSM users can send and receive data, at rates up to 9600 bps, to users on POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), ISDN, Packet Switched Public Data Networks, and Circuit Switched Public Data .Since GSM is a digital network, a modem is not required between the user and GSM network, although an audio modem is required inside the GSM network to interwork with POTS.
Other data services include Group 3 facsimile, which is supported by use of an appropriate fax adaptor. A unique feature of GSM, not found in older analog systems, is the Short Message Service (SMS). SMS is a bidirectional service for short alphanumeric (up to 160 bytes) messages. Messages are transported in a store-and-forward fashion.. SMS can be used in point-to-point and cell-broadcast mode, for sending messages such as traffic updates or news updates. Messages can also be stored in the SIM card for later retrieval.
Supplementary services are provided on top of teleservices or bearer services. They include several forms of call forward (such as call forwarding when the mobile subscriber is unreachable by the network), call barring of outgoing or incoming calls, caller identification, call waiting, multi-party conversations.
Architecture of the GSM network
A GSM network is composed of several functional entities, whose functions and interfaces are specified. Figure 1 shows the layout of a generic GSM network. The GSM network can be divided into three broad parts.
The Mobile Station is carried by the subscriber.
The Base Station Subsystem controls the radio link with the Mobile Station.
The Network Subsystem, the main part of which is the Mobile services Switching Center (MSC), performs the switching of calls between the mobile users, and between mobile and fixed network users. The MSC also handles the mobility management operations. The Operations and Maintenance Center oversees the proper operation and setup of the network.
The Mobile Station and the Base Station Subsystem communicate across the Um interface, also known as the air interface or radio link.
The Base Station Subsystem communicates with the Mobile services Switching Center across the A interface.
Figure 1. General architecture of a GSM network
The mobile station (MS) consists of the mobile equipment (the terminal) and a smart card called the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM). The SIM provides personal mobility, so that the user can have access to subscribed services irrespective of a specific terminal. By inserting the SIM card into another GSM terminal, the user is able to receive calls at that terminal, make calls from that terminal, and receive other subscribed services.
The mobile equipment is uniquely identified by the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI). The SIM card contains the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) used to identify the subscriber to the system, a secret key for authentication, and other information. The IMEI and the IMSI are independent, thereby allowing personal mobility. The SIM card may be protected against unauthorized use by a password or personal identity number.
Base Station Subsystem
The Base Station Subsystem is composed of two parts, the Base Transceiver Station (BTS) and the Base Station Controller (BSC). These communicate across the standardized Abis interface, allowing (as in the rest of the system) operation between components made by different suppliers.
The Base Transceiver Station houses the radio tranceivers that define a cell and handles the radio-link protocols with the Mobile Station. In a large urban area, there will potentially be a large number of BTSs deployed, thus the requirements for a BTS are ruggedness, reliability, portability, and minimum cost.
The Base Station Controller manages the radio resources for one or more BTSs. It handles radio-channel setup, frequency hopping, and handovers, as described below. The BSC is the connection between the mobile station and the Mobile service Switching Center (MSC).
The central component of the Network Subsystem is the Mobile services Switching Center (MSC). It acts like a normal switching node of the PSTN or ISDN, and additionally provides all the functionality needed to handle a mobile subscriber, such as registration, authentication, location updating, handovers, and call routing to a roaming subscriber.The MSC provides the connection to the fixed networks (such as the PSTN or ISDN). Signalling between functional entities in the Network Subsystem uses Signalling System Number 7 (SS7), used for trunk signalling in ISDN and widely used in current public networks.
The Home Location Register (HLR) and Visitor Location Register (VLR), together with the MSC, provide the call-routing and roaming capabilities of GSM. The HLR contains all the administrative information of each subscriber registered in the corresponding GSM network, along with the current location of the mobile. The location of the mobile is typically in the form of the signalling address of the VLR associated with the mobile station. The actual routing procedure will be described later. There is logically one HLR per GSM network, although it may be implemented as a distributed database.
The Visitor Location Register (VLR) contains selected administrative information from the HLR, necessary for call control and provision of the subscribed services, for each mobile currently located in the geographical area controlled by the VLR. Although each functional entity can be implemented as an independent unit, all manufacturers of switching equipment to date implement the VLR together with the MSC, so that the geographical area controlled by the MSC corresponds to that controlled by the VLR, thus simplifying the signalling required. Note that the MSC contains no information about particular mobile stations --- this information is stored in the location registers.
The other two registers are used for authentication and security purposes. The Equipment Identity Register (EIR) is a database that contains a list of all valid mobile equipment on the network, where each mobile station is identified by its International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI). An IMEI is marked as invalid if it has been reported stolen or is not type approved. The Authentication Center (AuC) is a protected database that stores a copy of the secret key stored in each subscriber's SIM card, which is used for authentication and encryption over the radio channel.
Radio link aspects
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which manages the international allocation of radio spectrum (among many other functions), allocated the bands 890-915 MHz for the uplink (mobile station to base station) and 935-960 MHz for the downlink (base station to mobile station) for mobile networks in Europe. Since this range was already being used in the early 1980s by the analog systems of the day, the CEPT had the foresight to reserve the top 10 MHz of each band for the GSM network that was still being developed. Eventually, GSM will be allocated the entire 2x25 MHz bandwidth.
Multiple access and channel structure
Since radio spectrum is a limited resource shared by all users, a method must be devised to divide up the bandwidth among as many users as possible. The method chosen by GSM is a combination of Time- and Frequency-Division Multiple Access (TDMA/FDMA).
The FDMA part involves the division by frequency of the (maximum) 25 MHz bandwidth into 124 carrier frequencies spaced 200 kHz apart. One or more carrier frequencies are assigned to each base station. Each of these carrier frequencies is then divided in time, using a TDMA scheme.
The fundamental unit of time in this TDMA scheme is called a burst period and it lasts 15/26 ms (or approx. 0.577 ms). Eight burst periods are grouped into a TDMA frame (120/26 ms, or approx. 4.615 ms), which forms the basic unit for the definition of logical channels. One physical channel is one burst period per TDMA frame.
A traffic channel (TCH) is used to carry speech and data traffic. Traffic channels are defined using a 26-frame multiframe, or group of 26 TDMA frames. The length of a 26-frame multiframe is 120 ms, which is how the length of a burst period is defined (120 ms divided by 26 frames divided by 8 burst periods per frame). Out of the 26 frames, 24 are used for traffic, 1 is used for the Slow Associated Control Channel (SACCH) and 1 is currently unused (see Figure 2). TCHs for the uplink and downlink are separated in time by 3 burst periods, so that the mobile station does not have to transmit and receive simultaneously, thus simplifying the electronics.
In addition to these full-rate TCHs, there are also half-rate TCHs defined, although they are not yet implemented. Half-rate TCHs will effectively double the capacity of a system once half-rate speech coders are specified (i.e., speech coding at around 7 kbps, instead of 13 kbps). Eighth-rate TCHs are also specified, and are used for signalling. In the recommendations, they are called Stand-alone Dedicated Control Channels (SDCCH).
Figure 2. Organization of bursts, TDMA frames, and multiframes for speech and data
Common channels can be accessed both by idle mode and dedicated mode mobiles. The common channels are used by idle mode mobiles to exchange the signalling information required to change to dedicated mode. Mobiles already in dedicated mode monitor the surrounding base stations for handover and other information. The common channels are defined within a 51-frame multiframe, so that dedicated mobiles using the 26-frame multiframe TCH structure can still monitor control channels. The common channels include:
Broadcast Control Channel (BCCH)
Continually broadcasts, on the downlink, information including base station identity, frequency allocations, and frequency-hopping sequences.
Frequency Correction Channel (FCCH) and Synchronisation Channel (SCH)
Used to synchronise the mobile to the time slot structure of a cell by defining the boundaries of burst periods, and the time slot numbering. Every cell in a GSM network broadcasts exactly one FCCH and one SCH, which are by definition on time slot number 0 (within a TDMA frame).
Random Access Channel (RACH)
Slotted Aloha channel used by the mobile to request access to the network.
Paging Channel (PCH)
Used to alert the mobile station of an incoming call.
Access Grant Channel (AGCH)
Used to allocate an SDCCH to a mobile for signalling (in order to obtain a dedicated channel), following a request on the RACH.
There are four different types of bursts used for transmission in GSM. The normal burst is used to carry data and most signalling. It has a total length of 156.25 bits, made up of two 57 bit information bits, a 26 bit training sequence used for equalization, 1 stealing bit for each information block (used for FACCH), 3 tail bits at each end, and an 8.25 bit guard sequence, as shown in Figure 2. The 156.25 bits are transmitted in 0.577 ms, giving a gross bit rate of 270.833 kbps.
The F burst, used on the FCCH, and the S burst, used on the SCH, have the same length as a normal burst, but a different internal structure, which differentiates them from normal bursts (thus allowing synchronization). The access burst is shorter than the normal burst, and is used only on the RACH.
Signal Processing in GSM
GSM is a digital system, so speech which is inherently analog, has to be digitized. For speech coding, GSM uses Regular Pulse Excited -- Linear Predictive Coder (RPE--LPC) with a Long Term Predictor loop. Basically, information from previous samples, which does not change very quickly, is used to predict the current sample.Speech is divided into 20 millisecond samples, each of which is encoded as 260 bits, giving a total bit rate of 13 kbps. This is the so-called Full-Rate speech coding. Recently, an Enhanced Full-Rate (EFR) speech coding algorithm has been implemented by some North American GSM1900 operators. This is said to provide improved speech quality using the existing 13 kbps bit rate.
Channel coding and modulation
Because of natural and man-made electromagnetic interference, the encoded speech or data signal transmitted over the radio interface must be protected from errors. GSM uses convolutional encoding and block interleaving to achieve this protection. The exact algorithms used differ for speech and for different data rates. The method used for speech blocks will be described below.
Recall that the speech codec produces a 260 bit block for every 20 ms speech sample. From subjective testing, it was found that some bits of this block were more important for perceived speech quality than others. The bits are thus divided into three classes:
• Class Ia 50 bits - most sensitive to bit errors
• Class Ib 132 bits - moderately sensitive to bit errors
• Class II 78 bits - least sensitive to bit errors
Class Ia bits have a 3 bit Cyclic Redundancy Code added for error detection. If an error is detected, the frame is judged too damaged to be comprehensible and it is discarded. It is replaced by a slightly attenuated version of the previous correctly received frame. These 53 bits, together with the 132 Class Ib bits and a 4 bit tail sequence (a total of 189 bits), are input into a 1/2 rate convolutional encoder of constraint length 4. Each input bit is encoded as two output bits, based on a combination of the previous 4 input bits. The convolutional encoder thus outputs 378 bits, to which are added the 78 remaining Class II bits, which are unprotected. Thus every 20 ms speech sample is encoded as 456 bits, giving a bit rate of 22.8 kbps.
To further protect against the burst errors common to the radio interface, each sample is interleaved. The 456 bits output by the convolutional encoder are divided into 8 blocks of 57 bits, and these blocks are transmitted in eight consecutive time-slot bursts. Since each time-slot burst can carry two 57 bit blocks, each burst carries traffic from two different speech samples.
Recall that each time-slot burst is transmitted at a gross bit rate of 270.833 kbps. This digital signal is modulated onto the analog carrier frequency using Gaussian-filtered Minimum Shift Keying (GMSK). GMSK was selected over other modulation schemes as a compromise between spectral efficiency, complexity of the transmitter, and limited spurious emissions. The complexity of the transmitter is related to power consumption, which should be minimized for the mobile station. The spurious radio emissions, outside of the allotted bandwidth, must be strictly controlled so as to limit adjacent channel interference, and allow for the co-existence of GSM and the older analog systems (at least for the time being).
At the 900 MHz range, radio waves bounce off everything - buildings, hills, cars, airplanes, etc. Thus many reflected signals, each with a different phase, can reach an antenna. Equalization is used to extract the desired signal from the unwanted reflections. It works by finding out how a known transmitted signal is modified by multipath fading, and constructing an inverse filter to extract the rest of the desired signal. This known signal is the 26-bit training sequence transmitted in the middle of every time-slot burst. The actual implementation of the equalizer is not specified in the GSM specifications.
GSM makes use of this inherent frequency agility to implement slow frequency hopping, where the mobile and BTS transmit each TDMA frame on a different carrier frequency. The frequency hopping algorithm is broadcast on the Broadcast Control Channel. Since multipath fading is dependent on carrier frequency, slow frequency hopping helps alleviate the problem. In addition, co-channel interference is in effect randomized.
Discontinuous transmission (DTX) is a method that takes advantage of the fact that a person speaks less that 40 percent of the time in normal conversation , by turning the transmitter off during silence periods. An added benefit of DTX is that power is conserved at the mobile unit.
The most important component of DTX is, of course, Voice Activity Detection. It must distinguish between voice and noise inputs, a task that is not as trivial as it appears, considering background noise. If a voice signal is misinterpreted as noise, the transmitter is turned off and a very annoying effect called clipping is heard at the receiving end. If, on the other hand, noise is misinterpreted as a voice signal too often, the efficiency of DTX is dramatically decreased. Another factor to consider is that when the transmitter is turned off, there is total silence heard at the receiving end, due to the digital nature of GSM. To assure the receiver that the connection is not dead, comfort noise is created at the receiving end by trying to match the characteristics of the transmitting end's background noise.
Another method used to conserve power at the mobile station is discontinuous reception. The paging channel, used by the base station to signal an incoming call, is structured into sub-channels. Each mobile station needs to listen only to its own sub-channel. In the time between successive paging sub-channels, the mobile can go into sleep mode, when almost no power is used.
There are five classes of mobile stations defined, according to their peak transmitter power, rated at 20, 8, 5, 2, and 0.8 watts. To minimize co-channel interference and to conserve power, both the mobiles and the Base Transceiver Stations operate at the lowest power level that will maintain an acceptable signal quality. Power levels can be stepped up or down in steps of 2 dB from the peak power for the class down to a minimum of 13 dBm (20 milliwatts).
The mobile station measures the signal strength or signal quality (based on the Bit Error Ratio), and passes the information to the Base Station Controller, which ultimately decides if and when the power level should be changed. Power control should be handled carefully, since there is the possibility of instability. This arises from having mobiles in co-channel cells alternatingly increase their power in response to increased co-channel interference caused by the other mobile increasing its power. This in unlikely to occur in practice but it is (or was as of 1991) under study.
In a cellular network, the radio and fixed links required are not permanently allocated for the duration of a call. Handover, or handoff as it is called in North America, is the switching of an on-going call to a different channel or cell. The execution and measurements required for handover form one of basic functions of the RR layer.
There are four different types of handover in the GSM system, which involve transferring a call between:
• Channels (time slots) in the same cell
• Cells (Base Transceiver Stations) under the control of the same Base Station Controller (BSC),
• Cells under the control of different BSCs, but belonging to the same Mobile services Switching Center (MSC), and
• Cells under the control of different MSCs.
The first two types of handover, called internal handovers, involve only one Base Station Controller (BSC). To save signaling bandwidth, they are managed by the BSC without involving the Mobile services Switching Center (MSC), except to notify it at the completion of the handover. The last two types of handover, called external handovers, are handled by the MSCs involved. An important aspect of GSM is that the original MSC, the anchor MSC, remains responsible for most call-related functions, with the exception of subsequent inter-BSC handovers under the control of the new MSC, called the relay MSC.
Handovers can be initiated by either the mobile or the MSC (as a means of traffic load balancing). During its idle time slots, the mobile scans the Broadcast Control Channel of up to 16 neighboring cells, and forms a list of the six best candidates for possible handover, based on the received signal strength. This information is passed to the BSC and MSC, at least once per second, and is used by the handover algorithm.