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GSM transport evolution

Per Ola Andersson, Hkan Asp, Aldo Bolle, Harry Leino, Peter Seybolt and Richard Swardh

The success of GSM to date has been nothing short of sensational. What previously used to maintain a constant bit
is more, its future continues to hold great promise. However, two important rate to fit the PDH channel format) are no
challenges must yet be resolved to make GSM the mobile communica- longer inserted.
tions system for the next billion users and to guarantee the commercial Ericsson has integrated the Abis Optimization
success of its mobile data services: focus on low total cost of ownership solution into its base station subsystem (BSS).
(TCO), and deployment of enhanced GPRS (EGPRS) in every network. In The Abis Optimization feature is based on a
addressing these challenges, GSM transport or backhaul constitutes one software upgrade of the RBS, and the intro-
very interesting and dynamic area of development. duction of a packet gateway (PGW) in the
BSC, to terminate the Packet Abis protocol.
To save even more bandwidth, one may add a
Background Technical overview, Packet site integration unit (SIU) at RBS sites to ex-
ploit statistical multiplexing gains between
Transmission to radio base station (RBS) sites Abis RBSs.
accounts for a large part of the cost of operat- Packet Abis, Ericssons collective solution for
ing radio access networks. Where operators these developments (Figure 2), includes a Dimensioning example, Abis Optimization
have built their own transport networks, new protocol for transferring data over the The number of E1/T1 links required per site
transmission also represents substantial in- Abis link. Simply put, from the air inter- with Abis Optimization depends on site con-
vestment (Figure 1). face the solution sends all traffic (voice, data figurations and traffic mix. In T1 markets,
Traditional transmission from RBSs to and signaling) in packets over Abis with a one RBS 2106/2206 with up to 12 TRXs can
a base station controller (BSC) is realized minimum of repacking and reformatting. cover three sectors with only one T1. With
using static time-division multiplexing The solution can be used over TDM trans- classic Abis, two T1s would be required for
(TDM) circuits. This technology has not port networks as well as with IP or Ethernet this configuration.
been optimized for efficient transmission of transport services. Ericssons Packet Abis so- In E1 markets, one E1 can support two
bursty data traffic, however. Nor is it easily lution is built around two main features: RBSs with up to 18 TRXs. For standard base
adapted to the low-cost transport technolo- Abis Optimization; and station configurations, this could translate
gies, such as IP and Ethernet, which are be- Abis over IP. into a savings of up to 50%.
ing rolled out over copper, fiber, and micro-
wave networks. Low TCO using TDM transport Low TCO with Packet Abis using IP or
The good news is that recent develop- networks Ethernet transport services
ments in GSM transport and switching Abis Optimization, which is Ericssons solu- The Abis over IP solution enables operators
technologies promise to overcome these is- tion for delivering Packet Abis over TDM to use IP and Ethernet transport networks
sues, making GSM suitable to provide ser- transport networks, saves bandwidth by to connect RBSs to the BSC and thereby
vices both to low-revenue users and to users solely transferring bits that contain data. benefit from the lower costs of IP- and
of high-speed data services. All other bits (for example, those that were Ethernet-based transport services. The solu-
tion also opens the door to shared transport
with WCDMA and to integrated transport
Figure 1 solutions for RBS sites.
Breakdown of the costs of operating radio access networks. The solution is fully interoperable with
Ericssons other products. At an RBS site,
HeVgZh!hjeedgi!igV^c^c\ all IP features are implemented in the new
IgVchb^hh^dc STN function, connecting the site to IP or
Ethernet transport networks. The STN is a
software function that can be implemented
G6CZfj^ebZci in Ericssons base stations.
The site transport node is implemented
on a family of platforms that have been op-
EdlZg timized to fit pico, micro, and macro RBSs.
The packet-switched termination unit
(PSTU) platform for micro RBSs, for in-
stance, has been completely integrated into
Ericssons micro RBS.
H^iZZfj^ebZci In macro RBSs, Ericsson has integrated
the STN into the site integration unit (SIU),
which is designed to serve as a single point
DeZgVi^dcVcY of connection that supports common, inte-
bV^ciZcVcXZ grated transport to the RBS site. With the
SIU (Figure 3), one can efficiently manage
8^k^aldg`h CGD and share backhaul transport for GSM RBSs,

26 Ericsson Review No. 1, 2007

WCDMA RBSs, and other equipment that G7H
connects via IP or Ethernet.
The packet gateway used for Abis Optimi- IGJ
zation can simultaneously handle IP traffic
and traffic from the TDM transport network,
and terminate Abis over IP at the BSC site. G7H
IgVchedgicZildg` H>J
Quadrupling the performance of EDGE IGJ
without extra transmission
Many operators who deploy EDGE have
deemed it necessary to constrain throughput 7H8 Iddi]ZgG7Hh
to match the limitations of available TDM <H
:I8 E^XdG7H
transmission capacity. The classic TDM-
based Abis interface has a fixed allocation of IG=

transmission timeslots to basic radio channels. 7H8

Therefore, the subordinate 16kbps timeslot IG6 E<L A6C
Hl^i" B^XgdG7H
on the Abis interface permanently allocated X]Zh
to a traffic channel (TCH) for voice service <E=
>Edg:i]ZgcZi EHIJ
will never be available to carry EDGE data. igVchedgihZgk^XZ IGJ IGJ

With packet Abis the transport resources

make up a common pool that is used by the
traffic offered at each moment in time. HncX#hZgkZg >E$:i]ZgcZi
The new Packet Abis, however, has no
such permanent connection. Therefore, E1 or IGJ IGJ
T1 transmission can now offer a multilink
point-to-point protocol (MLPPP) bit pipe CZlhd[ilVgZ
CZl]VgYlVgZVcYhd[ilVgZ Iddi]ZgG7Hh
that may be freely used by every service of-
fered by the RBS until it reaches saturation
Figure 2
(congestion). At that point, the BSC dynami-
Packet Abis system solution.
cally reduces the generated load through its
control of mobile terminals.
In many locations, operators have also lim- ernet, for example, does not currently sup- data. This solution, which is very accurate,
ited EGPRS to one timeslot, giving subscrib- port layer-1 timing for RBS synchronization. is also used to synchronize radio networks.
ers a peak performance of at most 59.2kbps. Other means must thus be used to synchro- Notwithstanding, it requires a clear line of
However, by deploying Packet Abis, opera- nize RBSs. Operators who employ Abis over sight from the GPS antenna to the satellites
tors can quadruple the speed at most times of IP can synchronize their radio base stations in the sky. In many installations this is im-
the day without adding transmission capac- using timing information from possible to achieve, which eliminates GPS
ity, thereby giving users the ability to, say, a GPS receiver at the RBS site; or as the synchronization solution of choice for
surf the internet at more than 230kbps. the IP network. such sites.

Synchronization GPS receiver at RBS site

At an RBS site equipped with a GPS receiver,
RBS synchronization with Abis over IP
In Ericssons solution, the STN provides
To comply with GSM specifications and one can synchronize RBSs using GPS timing RBSs with the timing they need to fulfill the
guarantee proper GSM network function,
the RBSs must maintain a stable and con-
trolled radio frequency over the air interface.
Depending on the type of RBS, the stipu- Figure 3
lated level of accuracy is 50 or 100ppb. The site integration unit (SIU).
RBSs with traditional TDM-based Abis
are synchronized to timing provided by the
transport network layer-1 clock rate. TDM
networks are typically synchronized to an ac-
curacy of 16ppb, which with added wander
and a holdover budget, is well within the re-
quirements of the air interface.
With Abis over IP, however, one cannot
assume that the transport network carries
timing for synchronization on layer-1. Eth-

Ericsson Review No. 1, 2007 27

is not sensitive to packet loss or long peri-
I^bZhZgkZg 8a^Zci ods (months) of interruption toward the time
The supported network may be a switched
I' I& or routed network that includes xDSL-
through-DSLAM access or a satellite hop.
The WAN interface of the STN can be
I^b^c\eVX`Zi Ethernet 10/100/1000BASE or E1/T1. Due
to traffic-load-dependent processing and
scheduling delays in network nodes, the IP
packet transfer delay (IPTD) can accommo-
date wander components with a periodicity
of days. Calibration may continue for up to
15 days on IP networks with large IPTD
AVhii^bZadXVaXadX` The Ericsson Abis over IP solution to RBS
lVhhZi$XdggZXiZY I^b^c\eVX`Zi synchronization can be employed over IP
GZ[ZgZcXZi^bZhiVbe networks with existing switching and rout-
ing equipment in intermediate nodes. The
solution can handle the packet delay varia-
tion added by these intermediate nodes. All
existing intermediate nodes support the mes-
sage data format used by the timing packets.
The highly stable OCXO keeps startup time
I( I) independent of packet delay variation in the
AdXVagZXZ^kZ IP network.
i^bZhiVbe In the future, the IEEE 1588 protocol
might be implemented in some telecommu-
Figure 4 nications networks. However, this will not
RBS synchronization with Abis over IP: time-stamping example. improve the performance of synchronization
or calibration through existing networks un-
less every network node is replaced with a
frequency requirements of the air interface. in NTP is used for transferring timing pack- node that supports an IEEE 1588 boundary
The RBSs can use existing synchronization ets with time-stamp information. clock or transparent clock. With IEEE 1588
functionality. The basis for this solution is a Available NTP time servers with Stratum- techniques implemented in every node, the
highly stable oscillator (OCXO) built into the 1 accuracy (for instance, NTP time servers clients will experience less packet delay vari-
Pico, PSTU (later version), and SIU hardware. which are synchronized to GPS and which ation, which in turn, means that less stable
To compensate for aging and to avoid site vis- provide a time-stamping accuracy of better oscillators may be used in client nodes. One
its to recalibrate the oscillator, the OCXO is than 100s) can be used and shared with consequence of using a less stable oscillator
further calibrated over the packet network. other applications. Thanks to the very low is that startup time becomes dependent on
With this solution, the startup time is kept timing packet rate, one time server can serve packet delay variation.
independent of IP network performance. Five a large number of clients. The robustness of
minutes after power-on, the OCXO can pro- the total synchronization functionality has
vide an accurate frequency that can be used made it possible to relax the requirements
as a timing source for RBS synchronization put on time server availability Connecting RBSs over IP networks instead
functionality. An STN can provide accurate The STN calibration application analyzes of over TDM-based networks sometimes
timing for several months from initial start- and filters received timing packets using an raises security concerns. Although these
up without timing or calibration support algorithm developed by Ericsson. The cali- concerns are not generally motivated by any
from the network. bration application can work over every IP technical property of IP, a solution is never-
When put into operation, a calibration ap- network path that can be used for Abis over IP theless often required. There are two main
plication in the STN compensates for OCXO traffic. The calibration application thus sup- reasons for this:
aging. The STN serves as a client to a time ports IP network paths with a packet delay the IP network provides connectivity from
server, regularly sending time-stamped tim- variation of up to 50ms. This is comparable RBSs to the BSC, OSS, and time server.
ing packets at a very low packet rate. The to the quality of service (QoS) class-1 defi- Depending on how it has been configured,
time server returns packets with receive and nition in ITU-T Y.1541, which is intended a network that is shared with other sys-
transmit time stamps. On reception of these for voice over IP (VoIP) using network tech- tems might offer widespread connectivity;
packets, the STN adds a receive time stamp niques with less constrained requirements on and
(Figure 4). The message data format defined routing and distances. The robust algorithm operators often consider using public or

28 Ericsson Review No. 1, 2007

semi-public IP networks as a means of re-
ducing their costs.
Some operators may also have a corporate
strategy that mandates specific security solu-
tions when a generic IP network is used.

Limiting access and potential intrusion DHH HH=hZhh^dc

Ericssons Abis over IP solution incorporates
a number of measures to improve security 8dgZ>E
cZildg` 6XXZhh>E
(Figure 5). For example, it employs cZildg`
access control lists in BSC and RBS IP in- G7H
optional firewalls in front of sensitive >EhZXijccZa
nodes, such as BSC and OSS, or at inter- ;^gZlVaaVcY>EhZX H^iZ^ciZ\gVi^dcjc^i
connection points between the Abis and
core IP networks; and
IPsec tunnels from the RBS site to BSC
and OSS sites or to a secure IP backbone.
IP is implemented natively in all RBS site
transport nodes. IPsec termination at BSC 7H8
and OSS sites is implemented using specific
firewalls, and IPsec tunnels are managed Figure 5
from the OSS. Security in Ericssons Abis over IP solution.

O&M security
Because O&M traffic is particularly sensitive
from a security viewpoint, all O&M traffic coverage and services to small or medium- nection that provides point-to-point connec-
that runs over IP is realized using secure sized enterprises, which benefit from dedi- tivity. Transmission for these sites is expen-
socket shell (SSH) and secured FTP (SFTP). cated GSM telephony. In this scenario, op- sive because the satellite connection requires
Likewise, user authentication is mandatory erators could even offer special tariffs when the full SCPC bandwidth even when there is
for all O&M connections. The system logs an users are in the office. This solution repre- no traffic from the site.
audit trail of operator activity and periodi- sents a replacement to fixed phones. Previ- Today, however, the introduction of Abis
cally uploads it to the OSS. ously, the backhaul cost of an E1 prohibited over IP and advances in satellite modem
these types of solutions, but with Abis over IP technology make it possible to reduce trans-
Protection of insecure transmission and a cheaper DSL type of backhaul (or even mission expenses for remote sites. Advanced
If the access IP network is untrusted that the corporate LAN itself), the Pico solution modulation techniques increase the bit rate
is, if it is shared or public then IPsec should becomes economically feasible. per hertz, and bandwidth-sharing technolo-
always be used to prevent wiretapping and Femto cell solutions give operators similar gy allows sites to share satellite bandwidth
traffic manipulation. A typical example opportunities to go after the home market by means of point-to-multipoint connections
would be pico base stations, such as the RBS with an offer of inexpensive (or free) calls at and a resources-in-pool concept.
2409 (Figure 6), which target low-power fre- home using any standard GSM or WCDMA With current satellite bandwidth pric-
quency licenses for the enterprise market. phone. The Femto runs Abis over IP to the
BSC/RNC using the home broadband IP
Pico and Femto base connection for backhaul. Special optimiza- Figure 6
tions handle low-cost, low-bandwidth ADSL
stations links. Abis over IP thus creates a completely
Pico base station, RBS 2409.

In addition, the new architecture opens up new business opportunity by giving opera-
completely new business segments. Abis over tors an entirely new way of building GSM
IP yields cost-effective transport for base sta- networks where end-users introduce new
tions with low traffic, enabling operators to cells into the network.
address Pico and Femto-types of solutions
(small base stations that require data rates
of up to a few hundred kilobits per second
between the RBS and BSC). Satellites have been used for a number of
The Pico cell solution, for example, is a years to provide connectivity with base
complete RBS 2000 base station with one station sites in remote locations. Single-
TRX. Among other things, operators can channel-per-carrier (SCPC) connections have
use this solution to offer dedicated capacity, traditionally served as a leased E1/T1 con-

Ericsson Review No. 1, 2007 29

GZXZ^kZYh^\cVa tion in costs in an IP or Ethernet scenario.
In a network deployment, on the other hand,
the aggregation and statistical multiplexing
gains result in more efficient handling of
traffic capacity. Therefore substantial gains
may also be achieved by moving to Packet
Abis over traditional microwave links that
support Ethernet over TDM. In addition,
gZXZ^kZg new-generation microwave links with na-
i]gZh]daY tive Ethernet transport, QoS support, and
8FEH@ adaptive modulation microwave links offer
gZXZ^kZg a unique way of providing best-effort traffic
transport in combination with guaranteed
transport for TDM traffic. This further sup-
I^bZ ports the evolution of the packet-based trans-
port in the radio access network.
Adaptive modulation microwave links en-
&*%BWeh ..#.. able operators to transport best-effort traffic
alongside guaranteed TDM traffic. The idea
()BWeh ..#...VkV^aVW^a^in
is to plan the microwave links for a target
availability, say 99.999%, when operating at
a given modulation, for example, 4QAM. In
Figure 7 practice, the links usually operate far above
Availability of a microwave link running at different modulation rates. the receiver threshold and only approach
the receiver limit during very adverse fad-
ing conditions. As a consequence, Ericsson
plans to introduce microwave systems that
ing (wholesale average USD 1.2 million per use, allowing for rapid, small-scale deploy- adapt modulation schemes to fading condi-
36MHz transponder per year), it is often un- ments. As demand grows, operators can tions. These systems will deliver different
profitable to provide GSM services to remote easily adjust satellite transport as needed. transport bit rates for different atmospheric
sites with satellite transmission. To lower the If demand justifies terrestrial transport, one conditions.
total cost of ownership, one must make more can redeploy satellite equipment and band- Figure 7 shows availability when a mi-
efficient use of available bandwidth. To this width, since it is not dependent on location crowave link runs at different modulation
end, Ericssons integrated IP solution moni- (ordinarily, one satellite can cover an entire rates. A link that uses 4QAM, for example,
tors the transport network and IP transport continent). can deliver 34Mbps with 99.999% availabil-
quality of service to make it bandwidth However, to take full advantage of these ity. When it uses 256QAM, this same link
aware and to give a better end-user experi- advances in technology, one must carefully has 99.999% availability and can deliver
ence. engineer the system end-to-end. With its 196Mbps. This capacity could be employed
These enhancements reduce the demand for combined knowledge of radio access, IP to provide 34Mbps guaranteed traffic with
bandwidth, which lowers TCO. Low TCO is backbone and satellite technology, Ericsson 99.999% availability and best-effort capac-
particularly relevant where ARPU is low, for is uniquely positioned to deliver the lowest ity of approximately 150Mbps, also with
example, in emerging markets. When used TCO for BTSs connected via satellite. 99.999% availability. Links of this kind can
in conjunction with modern satellite technol- provide a competitive, cost-effective alterna-
ogy, Ericssons IP-BTS enables operators to tive for a capacity-growth scenario in which
profitably bring communications to people
Microwave the bulk of traffic is mobile data with best-
and places that could not otherwise have it. Microwave links are used extensively for effort characteristics.
With non-optimized transmission based on base station backhaul at present, more
traditional E1 SCPC, for instance, one can fit than 60% of all base stations are connected Future Packet Abis
35 BTSs with 6 TRXs into a 36MHz satellite via microwave links. The majority of op-
transponder. By contrast, with careful end- erators seek to minimize their operating ex- development
to-end engineering using Abis over IP and penses (OPEX) by owning their own trans- The site-transmission-node function and the
optimization together with advanced satel- port networks instead of leasing capacity. In Abis over IP feature also constitute the cor-
lite modem technology one can fit 75 BTSs operator-owned transport networks, up to nerstone of Ericssons evolving Mobile Soft-
into the same available bandwidth. Further- 95% of associated base stations are connected switch concept, which reaches all the way to
more, with local switching and PSTN inter- via microwave links. the RBS. Given that the majority of calls are
connect, one can fit more than 200 BTSs into Although traditional microwave links local, the ability to keep payload within the
one satellite transponder. might provide bridged Ethernet capability, RBS and route it directly to the RBS that
Satellite transport is flexible and easy to this does not automatically imply a reduc- serves B-subscribers will further reduce op-

30 Ericsson Review No. 1, 2007

erator TCO. Ericsson has thus introduced a Conclusion to connect RBSs to the BSC and thereby
new IP payload interface between RBSs and benefit from the lower costs of IP- and
M-MGWs, to enable direct transfer of pay- Traditional transmission from RBSs to a Ethernet-based transport services. The solu-
load from a mobile subscriber to a local fixed BSC has not been optimized for efficient tion also opens the door to shared transport
exchange. transmission of bursty data traffic, nor is it with WCDMA and to integrated transport
RBS local switching and direct transfer easily adapted to the low-cost transport tech- solutions for RBS sites.
of payload are optional features deployed on nologies, such as IP and Ethernet. However, To improve security, Ericssons Abis over
existing GSM network infrastructure from recent developments in GSM transport and IP solution incorporates access control lists
Ericsson. No additional hardware is required switching technologies promise to overcome in BSC and RBS IP interfaces, optional
to deploy RBS local switching apart from the these issues, making GSM suitable to pro- firewalls in front of sensitive nodes or at in-
Abis over IP feature, with its SIU hardware vide services both to low-revenue users and terconnection points between the Abis and
at the RBS and PGW hardware in the BSC. to users of high-speed data services. core IP networks, and IPsec tunnels from the
Instead, one can realize RBS local switching Packet Abis, Ericssons collective solution RBS site to BSC and OSS sites or to a secure
and direct transfer of payload to M-MGWs for these developments, includes a new pro- IP backbone. All O&M traffic that runs over
by means of new functionality in the BSS tocol for transferring data over the Abis link. IP is realized using SSH and SFTP.
MAP signaling protocol between the MSC-S From the air interface, the solution sends all The new architecture opens up completely
and BSC. Ericssons BSS MAP interface ex- traffic in packets over Abis with a minimum new business segments. Abis over IP yields
changes information between nodes, making of repacking and reformatting. The solution, cost-effective transport for base stations with
it possible to analyze the codec capabilities which is built on Abis Optimization and Abis low traffic, enabling operators to address Pico
of involved terminals, and to select the best over IP features, can be used over TDM trans- and Femto types of solutions.
common denominator. This eliminates the port networks as well as with IP or Ethernet What is more, the introduction of Abis over
need for intermediate transcoding, effectively transport services. IP and advances in satellite modem technol-
removing two transcoding steps, while render- Abis Optimization delivers Packet Abis over ogy makes it possible to reduce transmission
ing better voice quality and reducing delay. TDM transport networks, saving bandwidth expenses for remote sites.
The same basic AXE functionality used to by solely transferring bits that contain infor- Finally, operators who move to Packet
transform the MSC into an MSC-S has been mative data. Ericsson has integrated the Abis Abis over traditional microwave links that
applied to the BSC. Likewise, the signaling Optimization solution into its BSS. support Ethernet over TDM may enjoy
protocol between the BSC PGW and the The Abis over IP feature enables operators substantial gains in the handling of traffic
STN has been enhanced to facilitate soft- to use IP and Ethernet transport networks capacity.
switch functionality in the STN.
To transfer payload directly from RBSs to
M-MGWs, the GCP protocol has been en-
hanced and the M-MGW has been comple-
mented to support every codec used in GSM. ADSL Asymmetrical DSL MSC-S MSC system
With these additions of functionality on ARPU Average revenue per user NTP Network time protocol
top of the packet-switched Abis over IP solu- BSC Base station controller O&M Operation and maintenance
tion, Ericsson has evolved the GSM architec- BSS Base station subsystem OPEX Operating expenses
BTS Base station transceiver OSS Operations support system
ture from its original hierarchical structure CS Circuit switched OCXO Oven compensated crystal
to a completely flat architecture. Ericssons DSL Digital subscriber line oscillator
GSM system is thus poised for the final DSLAM DSL access multiplexer PDH Plesiochronous digital hierarchy
phase of building GSM coverage for every- DTX Discontinuous transmission PGW Packet gateway
one, everywhere. The flat architecture elimi- E1 2.048Mbps data circuit (Europe) PSTU Packet-switched termination unit
EDGE Enhanced data for GSM evolution QAM Quadrature amplitude multiplexing
nates the problem of tromboning local traffic EGPRS Enhanced GPRS RAN Radio access network
in remote locations which are served by few FTP File transfer protocol RBS Radio base station
RBSs and which cannot carry the cost of a GCP Gateway control protocol SCPC Single channel per carrier
remotely located BSC. GFP Generic framing procedure SFTP Secured FTP
GPRS General packet radio service SDH Synchronous digital hierarchy
By reducing costs, the new architecture GPS Global positioning system SIU Site integration unit
enables operators to profitably build cover- GRE Generic routing encapsulation SONET Synchronous optical network
age in heretofore unfeasable locations. In GSM Global system for mobile SSH Secure socket shell
addition, large areas covered by sites con- communications STM Synchronous transfer mode
nected via satellite benefit from reduced IP Internet protocol STN Site transport node
IPsec Secure IP T1 1.544Mbps data circuit
OPEX. This, in turn, lowers optimal sub- IPTD IP packet transfer delay TCH Traffic channel on the air interface
scriber tariffs and makes service available to LAN Local area network TCO Total cost of ownership
an even larger group of users. The flat GSM MAP Mobile application part TDM Time-division multiplexing
architecture will also create new business MGW Media gateway TRX Transceiver
MLPPP Multilink point-to-point protocol VoIP Voice over IP
opportunities where there are large volumes M-MGW Mobile MGW WAN Wide area network
of local calls, for example, at corporate cam- MPLS Multiprotocol label switching WCDMA Wideband code-division
puses. MSC Mobile switching/service center multiple acce

Ericsson Review No. 1, 2007 31