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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Circuit Switched Fallback (CSFB): A Quick Primer

I have explained CSFB with basic signalling here and there is a very interesting Ericsson whitepaper explaining all Voice issues in LTE here.

The following CSFB details have been taken from NTT Docomo Technical Journal:

The basic concept of CS Fallback is shown in Figure 1. Given a mobile terminal camping on LTE, a mobile terminating voice call arrives at the terminal from the existing CS domain via EPC. On receiving a paging message, the mobile terminal recognises that the network is calling the mobile terminal for CS-based voice and therefore switches to 3G. The response confirming the acceptance of a call request is then sent from the mobile terminal to the 3G-CS system, and from that point on, all call control for the voice service is performed on the 3G side.

The CS Fallback consists of a function to notify a mobile terminal of a call request from the CS domain and combined mobility management functions between CS domain and EPC for that
purpose. The network architecture of CS Fallback is shown in Figure 2.


One of the remarkable characteristics of the EPC supporting CS Fallback is that it connects the Mobile Switching Center (MSC) and Visited Location Register (VLR) in the 3G CS domain
with the Mobility Management Entity (MME), which provides EPC mobility management functionality. The interface connecting MSC/VLR and MME is called an SGs reference point. This
interface is based on the concept of the Gs reference point that exchanges signalling with MSC, which connects to the Serving General Packet Radio Service Support Node (SGSN), a 3G
packet switch. The SGs provides nearly all the functions provided by the existing Gs.

The CS Fallback function uses this SGs reference point to transfer the mobile terminating call requests from the CS domain to LTE. It also provides combined mobility management
between the 3G CS domain and the EPC to enable this transfer to take place.


Combined Mobility Management between CS Domain and EPC Network:

A mobile communications network must always know where a mobile terminal is located to deliver mobile terminating service requests to the mobile user on the mobile terminating side. The procedure for determining terminal location is called “mobility management". As a basic function of mobile communications, 3G and LTE each provide a mobility management function.

To complete a call using the CS Fallback function, the CS domain needs to know which LTE location registration area the mobile terminal is currently camping on. To this end, the MME must correlate mobility management control of the CS domain with that of EPC and inform MSC/VLR that the mobile terminal is present in an LTE location registration area.

The 3G core network already incorporates a function for linking mobility management of the CS domain with that of the Packet Switched (PS) domain providing packet-switching functions. As described above, the CS domain and PS domain functions are provided via separate switches. Thus, if combined mobility management can be used, the mobility management procedure for the terminal only needs to be performed once, which has the effect of reducing signal traffic in the network. This concept of combined mobility management is appropriated by the CS Fallback function. Specifically, MSC/VLR uses the same logic for receiving a location registration request from SGSN as that for receiving a location registration request from MME. This achieves a more efficient combined mobility management between the CS domain and EPC while reducing the development impact on MSC.

As described above, a mobile terminal using LTE cannot use 3G at the same time. This implies that the MME, which contains the LTE location registration area (Tracking Area (TA)), is unable to identify which MSC/VLR it should send the mobility management messages to from the TA alone. To solve this problem, the mapping of TAs and 3G Location Areas (LA) within MME has been adopted. The concept behind TA/LA mapping is shown in Figure 3. Here, MME stores a database that manages the correspondence between physically overlapping TAs and LAs. This information is used to determine which MSC/VLR to target for location registration.

The combined TA/LA update procedure for CS fallback is shown in detail in Figure 4. First, the mobile terminal sends to the MME a Tracking Area Update (TAU) request message indicating a combined TAU and the current TA in which the mobile terminal is currently present (Fig. 4 (1)). The MME then performs a location update procedure towards Home Subscriber Server (HSS), which is a database used for managing subscriber profiles (Fig. 4 (2)). Next, the MME uses the TA/LA correspondence database to identify the corresponding LA and the MSC/VLR that is managing that area, and uses the SGs reference point to send a Location Area Update (LAU) request message to the MSC/VLR together with the LA so identified (Fig. 4 (3)). The MSC/VLR that receives the LAU request message stores the correspondence between the ID of the MME originating the request and an ID such as the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) that identifies the subscriber (Fig. 4 (4)). This enables the MSC/VLR to know which MME the mobile terminal is currently connected to and that the mobile terminal is camping on LTE. Following this, the MSC/VLR performs a location registration procedure with the HSS (Fig. 4 (5)). Finally, the MSC/VLR informs the MME of temporary user identity (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity (TMSI)), which is used at the time of a mobile terminating call in the CS domain, and indicates that location registration has been completed. The MME then informs the mobile terminal of the TMSI and of the LA that the mobile terminal has been registered with thereby completing combined location registration (Fig. 4 (6) (7)).

CS Fallback Call Control Procedures - Mobile Originating Call:


To originate a voice call using the CS Fallback function, a mobile terminal in the LTE location registration area must first switch (fall back) to 3G. The mobile-originating voice call procedure is shown in Figure 5. To originate a call, the mobile terminal begins by sending a CS fallback service request message to the MME (Fig. 5 (1)). Since a packet-communications transmission path (bearer) must always exist in EPC for the purpose of providing an always-on connection, the bearer also has to be handed over to 3G. To accomplish this, the MME issues a handover command to the mobile terminal in LTE and initiates a handover procedure (Fig. 5 (2)). The mobile terminal changes its radio from LTE to 3G during this procedure (Fig. 5 (3)). On completion of handover, the mobile terminal issues an originating request for voice service to the MSC/VLR. A voice-call connection is then established using an existing calloriginating procedure on 3G and the CS Fallback procedure is completed (Fig. 5(4)).

CS Fallback Call Control Procedures - Mobile Terminating Call:

The mobile terminating voice call procedure using CS Fallback is shown in Figure 6. When the MSC/VLR receives a message indicating the occurrence of a mobile terminating call (Fig. 6 (1)), the MSC/VLR identifies the corresponding MME from the call information received (Fig. 6 (2)). Then, the MSC/VLR sends a paging message (Fig. 6 (3)) towards the MME. Next, the MME sends a paging message to the mobile terminal in LTE (Fig. 6 (4)). This paging message includes an indication that the call is a CS service, and on identifying the call as such, the mobile terminal sends a CS fallback service request signal to the MME (Fig. 6 (5)). Following this, a handover procedure to 3G as described above takes place (Fig. 6 (6), (7)). The mobile terminal that is now switched to 3G sends a paging response message to the MSC/VLR at which it is registered (Fig. 6 (8)). Finally, an existing mobile terminating call procedure on 3G is executed and the CS Fallback procedure is completed (Fig. 6 (9)).

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