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Signaling Measurements on the Packet Domain of 3G-UMTS Core Network

G. Stephanopoulos1, G. Tselikis2, R. Ratz3, N. Stephanopoulos2, N. Papadoukakis2

1 National Technical University of Athens, 2 4Plus Technologies S.A., 3Siemens ICMN Munich

Abstract - There is significant signaling message activity in Universal Mobile Telecommunication Systems (UMTS) among Core Network (CN) elements for the mobility management of UMTS subscribers. The time-overhead introduced with the performance of these signaling operations is a crucial factor that determines the overall performance of UMTS technology and affects greatly the application Quality of Service (QoS). This paper presents the experiments conducted towards the Packet Domain of a real UMTS CN and provides timing results concerning the performance evaluation of GPRS Mobility Management (GMM) signaling procedures and the establishment, maintenance and release of GMM contexts.
I. INTRODUCTION Figure 1: UMTS architecture

UMTS [1] provides a seamless communication scheme for the integration of a wide range of services with diverse QoS characteristics. One of the main issues that still concern UMTS service providers and equipment manufacturers is the signaling performance. Signaling affects mobility management, session management, radio resource management and context establishment, therefore it has a direct impact on the QoS of applications. Examination of UMTS specifications reveals that there is significant signaling message activity among the CN elements, when a subscriber attaches to the CN. Performance characterization of UMTS signaling traffic is presented in [2,3,13,14]. However, the signaling scenarios presented in these papers are not performed in a real UMTS testing platform. Signaling measurements and traffic management aspects towards the UMTS Packet Switch (PS) domain is presented in [15]. To the best of author s knowledge, there is a lack of papers in the literature that either deal with the issue of UMTS signaling performance or present signaling experiments in real UMTS platforms. The originality of this paper is the presentation of performance results regarding the latencies of the Attach, Routing Area Update and Detach signaling procedures measured between the Radio Network Controller (RNC) and the Serving GPRS Support Node (SGSN) of a real UMTS CN. The signaling activity produced by these procedures is often called background traffic . This kind of traffic does not bring any profit to the service provider, since it is just signaling traffic and no user data transfer takes place. However, this signaling traffic consumes resources of the SGSN s processors. This paper presents indicative results regarding the unprofitable utilization of the SGSN s processors versus the generated signaling load. As shown in Fig. 1, the fundamental concept of UMTS is the separation of the radio access functionality from the CN functionality.

Figure 2: Iu-PS Signaling Protocol Stack

In order to keep the access network independent from the CN the Iu interface is introduced [4]. The UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access Network (UTRAN) [5] provides user access to the CN through the Iu interface integrates radio resources management functions and supports the necessary control and transport protocol mechanisms for user data transfer. The RNC is in charge of controlling the use of the radio resources and performing handover functions. The Iu interface specifies all the necessary procedures for the interconnection of RNCs with CN access points and the inter-working with existing networks. It also allows the access network to keep all radio access technology dependent and hide mobility functions from the CN. The Iu interface towards the Packet Switch domain is called Iu-PS and towards the Circuit Switch domain is called IuCS. This article is organized as follows. Section 2 provides a brief description of the Iu-PS stack shown in Fig. 2. Section 3 describes the signaling activity between the RNC and the CN during the execution of GMM signaling procedures. Section 4 describes the testing platform, the performed experiments and presents the computed timing results.





A. Non Access Stratum (NAS) SCCP(CR,RANAP(Initial_UE,NAS(Routing_Area_Update_ SCCP(CR,RANAP(Initial_UE,NAS(Attach_Request))) In the general description of Request))) Phase 1 SCCP(CC,RANAP(Common_ID))) SCCP(CC,RANAP(Common_ID))) the 3GPP layer 3, the defined functional models are for the SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Direct_Transfer,NAS(Authentication SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Direct_Transfer,NAS(Authentication Call Control (CC) of CS _Ciphering_Request))) _Ciphering_Request))) SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Direct_Transfer,NAS(Authentication SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Direct_Transfer,NAS(Authentication connections, Session _Ciphering_Response))) _Ciphering_Response))) Management (SM) for GPRS Phase 2 SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Security_Mode_Command)) SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Security_Mode_Command)) services, Mobility Management SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Security_Mode_Complete)) SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Security_Mode_Complete)) (MM) and Radio Resource Management (RR) for CS and SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Direct_Transfer,NAS(Routing_Area_U SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Direct_Transfer,NAS(Attach pdate_Accept))) GPRS services. This functional Phase 3 _Accept))) SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Direct_Transfer,NAS(Routing_Area SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Direct_Transfer,NAS(Attach set is realized in the upper layer _Update_Complete))) _Complete))) of the signaling stack, referred as SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Iu_Release_Command)) NAS [6]. The NAS messages SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Iu_Release_Command)) SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Iu_Release_Complete)) exchanged between the CN and SCCP(DT1,RANAP(Iu_Release_Complete)) the UE are transported Phase 4 SCCP(Release(RLSD)) SCCP(Release(RLSD)) transparently by the RNC in the SCCP(Release_Complete(RLC)) SCCP(Release_Complete(RLC)) payload of RANAP messages. Routing Area Updating Procedure Attach Procedure This paper focuses on the signaling performance of MM functions. MM functions are Figure 3:Attach and RAU procedures used to establish, maintain and release connections between the UE and the network, over which user The signaling message flow for the GMM procedures is information will be exchanged. The MM entities support shown in Fig. 3 and 4. the mobility of user terminal, such as informing the network of its present location and providing user identity A. The Attach Procedure The Attach [6] procedure is a GMM procedure that is confidentiality. always initiated by the UE and it is used either to perform B. Radio Access Network Application Part (RANAP) a normal GPRS attach for GPRS services only or to The service that Access Stratum provides to the NAS perform a combined GPRS attach for GPRS and nonfor data transfer between UE and CN is referred to as GPRS services, provided that the CN operates in the Radio Access Bearer (RAB). The layer that is mainly proper mode. responsible for the overall RAB management in terms of Phase 1. Before initiating the Attach procedure a Radio setting up, modifying and releasing RABs, is the RANAP Resource Connection (RRC) should be established [7]. The RANAP layer handles all RAB related between the UE and the UTRAN. After that, the UE procedures and conveys NAS messages transparently initiates the Attach procedure by transmitting the between the CN and UE without interpreting them. Attach_Req (NAS) message to the CN. Since connection oriented services are required for the transfer of user C. SCCP/MTP3b/SAAL The SCCP [8] connection oriented services are used for messages, the NAS layer of the selected RNC invokes the the transfer of the upper layer signaling messages between RANAP to establish an Iu-PS signaling connection. The the CN and the RNC. An SCCP connection is established Initial_UE_Msg (RANAP) message contains routing area each time the UE needs to communicate with the CN and information and the Iu signaling connection identifier, no SCCP connection exists between them. Upper layer which is allocated by the RNC and which the CN requires signaling messages are transferred transparently through to store and remember for the duration of the Iu-PS the established SCCP connection. The SCCP uses the signaling connection. The RANAP layer triggers the routing services of the MTP3b [9] and the SAAL [10] SCCP to establish a new signaling connection. The user field of the transmitted Connection_Req transport mechanisms that enable the reliable transfer of the signaling messages with protection from loss, (SCCP) message transfers the Initial_UE_Msg, which encapsulates the Attach_Req message in its payload. The missinsertion, corruption and disordering. applied rule is that each NAS message is encapsulated III. IU-PS GPRS MOBILITY MANAGEMENT SIGNALING inside a RANAP message, which in its turn is copied in the information field of an SCCP message. The Mobility Management (MM) sublayer provides the The CN and specifically the SGSN, which is the main means for the user attachment to the network, the CN element for packet services decomposes the received maintenance and control of the established connection. message and analyses the content of the Attach_Req. If The term GPRS MM (GMM) reflects MM procedures on the Attach_Req can be initially accepted, the CN responds PS domain, dealing with GPRS functionality. This with the Connection_Confirm (SCCP). This message section presents the GMM procedures and the signaling verifies to the RNC the establishment of the Iu-PS activity that takes place between the RNC and the CN. signaling connection identified by the signaling identifier chosen by the RNC. It may include the Common_ID

(RANAP) message, which conveys the permanent NAS UE identity. This element identifies the UE uniquely in both the RNC and the CN. Phase 2. The CN may invoke user identification and authentication procedures to check whether the identity provided by the UE is acceptable or not. In this case it sends an authentication and ciphering message to the UE, which contains the necessary information to perform the authentication and calculate the response parameters. The UE replies and the CN compares the response values with the expected ones; if the authentication procedure is completed successfully the new ciphering and integrity keys calculated from the challenge information shall overwrite the existing ones in both the UE and the CN. In case that the CN decides that the ciphering mode setting procedure must be invoked it sends the Security_Mode_Cmd (RANAP), which specifies the ciphering mode and the integrity protection algorithms that may be used by the UE. Upon reception of the Security_Mode_Cmd, the UE shall internally select appropriate algorithms and reply with the Security_Mode_Complete identifying the chosen integrity protection and encryption algorithms. Phase 3. If the Attach_Req is accepted by the CN and the authentication and ciphering and security procedures are successfully performed, an Attach_Accept (NAS) message is sent to the UE. This message indicates the successful creation of a mobility management context and its registration in the CN. The Attach_Accept message is transported transparently by the RANAP in the payload of the Direct_Transfer (RANAP) message. If the Attach_Req message includes the IMSI, the CN shall allocate a PTMSI value and insert it in the Attach_Accept message together with new routing area information. Upon the reception of an Attach_Accept message the UE stores the received routing area identification. If a P-TMSI is contained, the UE shall delete its old P-TMSI and use this value as the new temporary identity as long as it remains attached. In this case, the UE replies to the CN with the Attach_Complete message. At this point a GMM context is established between the UE and the CN and the user may proceed with the invocation of other procedures, such as the establishment of Packet Data Protocol (PDP) contexts. Phase 4. After the successful completion of the Attach procedure the next step is the optional release of the established Iu-PS SCCP signaling connection. In case that the UE has indicated a follow-on request pending in the Attach_Req message this signaling connection will remain active. Otherwise, the CN initiates the normal release termination of all the associated GMM entities and the release of all the reserved radio resources by sending the Iu_Release_Cmd (RANAP) message. After the transmission of the Iu_Release_Cmd no further RANAP messages will be sent on that particular Iu-PS signaling connection. In a similar way the RNC releases all the RAB reserved resources related to that connection and replies with the Iu_Release_Comp message. After the clearing of the radio resources, the CN proceeds with the termination of the SCCP connection. This last step releases the SCCP resources reserved for the reliable

transfer of the UE signaling messages. At the end of this phase no Iu-PS signaling connection exists between the RNC and the CN. B. The Routing Area Update Procedure The Routing Area Updating (RAU) [6] procedure is a GMM procedure that is always initiated by the UE and it is used either to periodically notify the availability of the UE to the CN or whenever a routing area border is crossed. Phase 1. The UE initiates the RAU procedure by transmitting the RAU_Req (NAS) message to the CN. This message contains the P-TMSI value received within the Attach_Accept message. Similarly to the Attach procedure, since no Iu-PS signaling connection exists, the NAS layer invokes the RANAP to establish one. The user field of the transmitted Connection_Req (SCCP) message transfers the Initial_UE_Msg (RANAP), which encapsulates the RAU_Req in its payload. The CN decomposes the Connection_Req message and analyses the content of the RAU_Req message. Phase 2. This phase is similar to the phase_2 of the Attach procedure. Notice, that it is performed only if the provided authentication key expires. Phase 3. If the RAU_Req is accepted by the CN a RAU_Accept (NAS) message is sent to the UE. The CN may assign a new P-TMSI, which together with new routing area information are inserted in the reply. The CN may also provide a list of equivalent PLMNs that shall be regarded as equivalent to each other for PLMN selection, cell selection/re-selection and handover. Upon the reception of the RAU_Accept message the UE stores the received routing area identification. If a P-TMSI is contained, the UE shall delete its old P-TMSI and use this value as the new temporary identity as long as it remains attached. In this case, the UE replies to the CN with the RAU_Complete message. Phase 4. The release of the Iu-PS signaling connection is similar to the Attach procedure. C. The Detach Procedure The Detach procedure [6] is a GMM procedure that may be triggered by either the UE or the CN. It is invoked by the UE, when it is switched off or the SIM card is removed or its service capabilities are disabled. It is invoked by the CN, when either the asked services are no longer allowed or a re-attach is required. Phase 1. The UE initiates the Detach procedure by transmitting the Detach_Req (NAS) message to the RNC. This message contains the P-TMSI value received within the Attach_Accept message and the detach type that indicates if switching off will be performed. Similarly to the Attach procedure, since no Iu-PS signaling connection exists, the NAS layer invokes the RANAP to establish ones. The user field of the transmitted Connection_Req (SCCP) message transfers the Initial_UE_Msg (RANAP), which encapsulates the Detach_Req in its payload. Upon reception of the Detach_Req message the CN releases all allocated resources and if the detach type indicates that the request has not been sent due to switching off a Detach_Accept will be sent to the UE.

UE/RNC Phase 1



SCCP(CREF,RANAP(Direct_transfer,NAS(Detach _Accept)))

Detach Procedure

Figure 4: Detach procedure

If switching off is indicated the procedure is regarded completed and no reply is sent. The main difference with the other signaling procedures is that, since the UE is going to be detached, no Iu-PS signaling connection is required to be established between the UE and the CN. Thus, the SCCP layer of the CN replies with the Connection_Refuse message, which contains the Detach_Accept message for the NAS layer.

Figure 5: Testing Platform

serving throughput. Therefore, in case of 1.2M BHCA (Scenario 6) the utilization of the SGSN s processing units was less than the 30% of the maximum throughput. The author s intention in the near future is to perform the same experiments by increasing the Nu parameter in order to reach the maximum BHCA value supported by the SGSN. C. Results The main purpose of the experiments is to calculate the completion time of the GMM procedures and to check if these completion times are affected by the increase of the simulated number of users. Thus, the Nu parameter is gradually increased from 80.000 to 500.000 in the last scenario. The completion time for the Attach procedure is the time in msecs, from the transmission of the Attach_Req until the reception of the Attach_Accept message, which indicates that the user is successfully attached. Similarly, the completion time for the Detach procedure is the time between the Detach_Req and Detach_Accept and for the RAU procedure the time between the RAU_Req and RAU_Accept messages. The message signaling flow for all procedures is analysed and depicted in Section 3. Fig. 6-9 depict the mean completion times for the Attach, RAU and Detach procedures. D. Analysis As shown in Fig. 9, the computed mean latencies for the Attach, the RAU and the Detach procedures are 210250 ms, 70-80 ms and 30-40 ms respectively. The higher values of latency in the Attach case are due to the heavier internal processes taking place within the CN as opposed to the other procedures. Such actions involve user authentication, admission control, registration and creation of management table entries on node databases, where part of the subscriber s data resides. The highest latency is due to the authentication and ciphering procedures where SGSN-HLR and SGSN-VLR dialogue takes place. RAU latency appears to be smaller due to the absence of the authentication procedure, that is the Phase_2 in Fig. 3, since the RAU_Req message is submitted before the expiration of the existing authentication key.
TABLE I SCENARIO PARAMETERS Scenario 1 2 3 4 5 6 BHCA 200,000 400,000 600,000 800,000 1,000,000 1,200,000 Requests/Sec 55 111 166 222 277 333 Nu (Number of Users) 80,000 170,000 250,000 340,000 420,000 500,000

A. Testing Platform The trials were conducted at the UMTS Benchmarking Laboratory located at Siemens premises in Munich (GER) and focus on the signaling performance of GMM procedures in the Iu-PS interface. The testing platform is shown in Fig. 5 and consists of Siemens SGSN/GGSN nodes and the respective HLR, EIR and VLR entities. The platform is completed with the UTRAN emulator developed by 4Plus [11]. The UTRAN emulator emulates the RNC and UE functionality by supporting the Iu-PS signaling protocol stack of Fig. 2. B. Experiments The experiments simulate the most common subscriber s behavior [12] that is, switch on the UE, attach to the CN, remain within the same Routing Area (RA) for nearly 10 hours and then detach. According to statistical reports [12] and the RAU periodic timer values defined in [6] each subscriber performs approximately 2.2 RAU requests per hour. Therefore, the most common user behavior is modelled as execution of the Attach procedure, then perform (22) RAU procedures, either Periodic RAU or intra-RAU when the UE moves from one radio cell to another within the same RA, and conclude with the Detach procedure. In hour level, the total number of signalling requests transmitted by each subscriber is 0.1 Attach_Req + 2.2 RAU_Req + 0.1 Detach_Req = 2.4 Reqs/hour. The UTRAN simulator was scheduled to transmit 2.4 Reqs/hour for several thousands of users, as shown in Table 1. The Busy Hour Call Attempt (BHCA) term refers to the transmitted signaling requests per hour and it is the product of the number of users (Nu) multiplied by the 2.4 Reqs/hour. Keep in mind that all users follow the same traffic model that is (0.1)Attach (2.2)RAU (0.1)Detach per hour. The middle column in Table 1 represents the number of transmitted signalling requests in each second. The duration of each scenario was more than 1 hour, that is 70 minutes. The maximum number of parallel Iu-PS signaling connections that can be served in the same second by the utilized SGSN is 1200, which corresponds to 4.3M BHCA

As expected, the detach procedure consumes the less time since a small number of signaling messages is exchanged and the performed actions deal with the release of resources and deletion of entries, which is not a timeconsuming process. Also, the gradual increase of the number of simulated users seems that does not affect the completion times. This result was expected since the utilized SGSN may serve millions of users, so even the 500.000 users in the last scenario do not consume much of the SGSN s resources. As mentioned, the signaling activity produced by these procedures does not bring any profit to the service provider, since it is just signaling traffic and no user data transfer takes place. However, this signaling traffic consumes resources of the SGSN s processors.

TABLE II SGSN PROCESSOR UTILIZATION Scenario 1 2 3 4 5 6 BHCA 200,000 400,000 600,000 800,000 1,000,000 1,200,000 Mean Processor Usage (%) 8.4 10.6 13.3 16.3 19.1 22

The result is that this unprofitable traffic consumes significant processor resources when the signaling load increases. Thus, service providers and equipment manufacturers should take into account this significant consumption in the network design and employment phases. CONCLUSIONS

Attach Mean Time (msec)



scenario 1 scenario 2 scenario 3 scenario 4




scenario 5
150 0 10 20

scenario 6





time (min)

Figure 6: Attach Performance

100 90

RAU mean time (msec)

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70

scenario 1 scenario 2 scenario 3 scenario 4 scenario 5 scenario 6

time (min)

Figure 7: RAU Performance

scenario 1
100 90

This paper presents signaling activity that takes place between RNC and UMTS Core Network entities during the execution of GMM operations. Several experiments were performed for the time evaluation of these procedures in a real UMTS CN. The performed experiments simulate the usual subscriber s behavior, which indicates that the GMM procedures and specifically the RAU procedure consume the most part of the network signaling activity. As expected, the Attach procedure, due to the absence of the authentication procedure in the RAU procedure, is the most consuming procedure since higher signaling activity takes place within the CN. Also, the results show that this signaling traffic, which does not bring any profit to the service provider, consumes significant network resources. The next author s step is to perform a more thorough analysis in the obtained results, in order to identify which are the phases and the CN procedures (i.e. authentication) that contribute the most in the overall latency. REFERENCES
[1] [2] [3] http://www.3gpp.org. A.Mishra, Performance Characterization of Signaling Traffic in UMTS CN, GlobeCom 2003, pp 1141-1146. A.Mishra, Performance of Signaling Architecture for UMTS, 13th International Conference on Wireless Communications, Calgary, July 2001, pp 361-370. 3GPP TS 25.410 UTRAN Iu interface: General Aspects and Principles. 3GPP TS 25.401UTRAN Overall Description. 3GPP TS 24.008 Mobile radio interface layer 3 specification; Core Network Protocols - Stage 3. 3GPP TS 25.413 UTRAN Iu interface RANAP signaling. ITU-T Q.713-Q.714 Signaling Connection Control Part formats and codes. ITU-T Q.701-Q.704 Message Transfer Part - Signaling network functions and messages. ITU-T Q.2100-Q.2140 B-ISDN Signaling ATM Adaptation Layer (SAAL) Overview Description. http://www.4plus.com. Requirement Specification: Load Test Equipment for CS/PO, December 00, Siemens. B.Marchent, Performance Evaluation of Signalling Procedures for 3rd Generation Mobile Systems, Journal of Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation On Computer and Telecommunication Systems, pp 427-431, 1995. D.Lawniczak, J.Dahlstrom, Evaluation of Call Setup and Handover Procedures in UMTS, Workshop, Netherlands, 17-19th May, 1994. G.Eneroth et al, Applying ATM/AAL2 as a Switching Technology in 3rd Generation Mobile Networks, IEEE Communication Magazine, June 1999, vol.37, pp. 112-122.

scenario 2 scenario 3 scenario 4 scenario 5 scenario 6

Detach Mean Time (msec)

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 0 10 20 30 40 50

60 70

time (min)

[5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Figure 8: Detach Performance

Completion Time (msec)

250 200 150 100 50 0 45 90 135 180 225 270 315 360
Requests per second RAU Detach Attach

[10] [11] [12] [13]

Figure 9: Performance Results


Table 2 depicts the usage of the SGSN s processors versus the generated signaling load.