Tutorial: GSM Network Architecture
The GSM architecture consists of three major interconnected subsystems that interact with themselves and with users through certain network interfaces. The subsystems are Base Station Subsystem (BSS), Network Switching Subsystem (NSS) and Operational Support Subsystem (OSS). Mobile Station (MS) is also a subsystem but it is considered a part of BSS.
1. Mobile Station (MS): Mobile Station is made up of two entities.
A. Mobile equipment (ME):
- It is a portable, vehicle-mounted, handheld device.
- It is uniquely identified by an IMEI number.
- It is used for voice and data transmission. It also monitors the power and signal quality of surrounding cells for optimum handover. 160 characters long SMS can also be sent using Mobile Equipment.
B. Subscriber Identity module (SIM):
- It is a smart card that contains the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number.
- It allows users to send and receive calls and receive other subscriber services. – It is protected by a password or PIN.
- It contains encoded network identification details. it has key information to activate the phone.
- It can be moved from one mobile to another.
2. Base Station Subsystem (BSS): It is also known as the radio subsystem, provides and manages radio transmission paths between the mobile station and the Mobile Switching Centre (MSC). BSS also manages the interface between the mobile station and all other subsystems of GSM. It consists of two parts.
A. Base Transceiver Station (BTS):
- It encodes, encrypts, multiplexes modulates and feeds the RF signal to the antenna.
- It consists of transceiver units.
- It communicates with mobile stations via radio air interface and also communicates with BSC via Abis interface.
B. Base Station Controller (BSC):
- It manages radio resources for BTS. It assigns frequency and time slots for all mobile stations in its area.
- It handles call set-up, transcoding and adaptation functionality handover for each MS radio power control.
- It communicates with MSC via A interface and also with BTS.
3. Network Switching Subsystem (NSS): it manages the switching functions of the system and allows MSCs to communicate with other networks such as PSTN and ISDN. It consists of
A. Mobile switching Centre:
- It is the heart of the network. It manages communication between GSM and other networks.
- It manages call set-up function, routing and basic switching.
- It performs mobility management including registration, location updating and inter BSS and inter MSC call handoff.
- It provides billing information.
- MSC does a gateway function while its customers roam to other networks by using HLR/VLR.
B. Home Location Registers (HLR): – It is a permanent database about mobile subscribers in a large service area. – Its database contains IMSI, IMSISDN, prepaid/post-paid, roaming restrictions, and supplementary services.
C. Visitor Location Registers (VLR): – It is a temporary database which updates whenever a new MS enters its area by HLR database. – It controls mobiles roaming in its area. It reduces the number of queries to HLR. – Its database contains IMSI, TMSI, IMSISDN, MSRN, location, and area authentication keys.
D. Authentication Centre: – It provides protection against intruders in the air interface. – It maintains authentication keys and algorithms and provides security triplets (RAND, SRES, Ki).
E. Equipment Identity Registry (EIR):
- It is a database that is used to track handsets using the IMEI number.
- It is made up of three sub-classes- the white list, the black list and the grey list.
4. Operational Support Subsystem (OSS): It supports the operation and maintenance of GSM and allows system engineers to monitor, diagnose and troubleshoot all aspects of the GSM system. It supports one or more Operation Maintenance Centres (OMC) which are used to monitor the performance of each MS, Bs, BSC and MSC within a GSM system. It has three main functions:
- To maintain all telecommunication hardware and network operations with a particular market.
- To manage all charging and billing procedures
- To manage all mobile equipment in the system.
Interfaces used for GSM network : (ref fig 2)
1)UM Interface –Used to communicate between BTS with MS
2)Abis Interface— Used to communicate BSC TO BTS
3)A Interface– Used to communicate BSC and MSC
4) Singling protocol (SS 7)- Used to communicate MSC with another network.
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