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Global System for Mobile Communication GSM

Published on Dec 12, 2015


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 to create a common European mobile telephone standard that would formulate specifications for a pan-European mobile cellular radio system operating at 900 MHz.

It is estimated that many countries outside of Europe will join the GSM partnership.Throughout the evolution of cellular telecommunications, various systems have been developed without the benefit of standardized specifications. This presented many problems directly related to compatibility, especially with the development of digital radio technology.

The GSM standard is intended to address these problems. GSM provides recommendations, not requirements. The GSM specifications define the functions and interface requirements in detail but do not address the hardware. The reason for this is to limit the designers as little as possible but still to make it possible for the operators to buy equipment from different suppliers. The GSM network is divided into three major systems: the switching system (SS), the base station system (BSS), and the operation and support system (OSS).

The operations and maintenance center (OMC) is connected to all equipment in the switching system and to the BSC. The implementation of OMC is called the operation and support system (OSS). The OSS is the functional entity from which the network operator monitors and controls the system. The purpose of OSS is to offer the customer cost-effective support for centralized, regional, and local operational and maintenance activities that are required for a GSM network. An important function of OSS is to provide a network overview and support the maintenance activities of different operation and maintenance organizations.

Services provided by GSM

From the beginning, the planners of GSM wanted ISDN compatibility in terms of the services offered and the control signaling used. However, radio transmission limitations, in terms of bandwidth and cost, do not allow the standard ISDN B-channel bit rate of 64 kbps to be practically achieved.

Using the ITU-T definitions, telecommunication services can be divided into bearer services, teleservices, and supplementary services. 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 (similar to 911).

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 Networks using a variety of access methods and protocols, such as X.25 or X.32. 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, as described in ITU-T recommendation T.30, 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. For point-to-point SMS, a message can be sent to another subscriber to the service, and an acknowledgement of receipt is provided to the sender. SMS can also be used in a 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. In the current (Phase I) specifications, they include several forms of call forward (such as call forwarding when the mobile subscriber is unreachable by the network), and call barring of outgoing or incoming calls, for example when roaming in another country. Many additional supplementary services will be provided in the Phase 2 specifications, such as caller identification, call waiting, multi-party conversations.

2.3 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. Not shown is the Operations and Maintenance Center, which 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.

2.3.1 Mobile Station

GSM Subscriber

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.

2.3.2 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).

2.3.3 Network Subsystem

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. These services are provided in conjuction with several functional entities, which together form the Network Subsystem. The MSC provides the connection to the fixed networks (such as the PSTN or ISDN). Signaling between functional entities in the Network Subsystem uses Signaling System Number 7 (SS7), used for trunk signaling 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 signaling 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 signaling 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.

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