Tuesday, 30 June 2020

A Look into 5G Virtual/Open RAN - Part 6: Inter-gNB CU Handover involving Xn

In previous blog posts I have discussed intra-gNB-DU handover and inter-gNB-DU handover scenarios.Now it is time to look at inter-gNB-CU handover that uses the Xn interface.

At the RRC protocol layer there will be the measurement setups and measurement reports as in the intra-gNB handover cases. And F1AP UE Context Setup and Release Procedures are identical with the ones discussed for inter-gNB-DU handover. Only the cause values are expected to be different, e.g. "successful handover".

Thus, I do not want to  focus here on la adder diagram call flow (that is by the way very well described in 3GPP 38.401, chapter 8.9.4), but invite you to have a look at a "big picture" that you see below.

(click image to enlarge)

What characterizes the inter-gNB handover is the transfer of the UE RRC/NGAP context form the source gNB-CU to the target gNB-CU. When the Xn interface is available to connect two neighbor gNBs this context transfer is executed using the XnAP Handover Preparation procedure. The Initiating Message of this procedure transfers the UE context parameters to the target gNB-CU. Then embedded in the Successful Outcome message the handover command is sent in return to the source gNB-CU that forwards it to the UE. In addition a temporary user plane transport tunnel for the purpose of data forwarding is established and later on released on the Xn user plane interface.

Once the UE performed the handover on the radio interface all the transport tunnels for the payload transmission need to be switched from the old gNB to the new one. This includes the tunnel to the UPF that is managed by the NGAP. Thus, the target gNB-CU starts the NGAP Path Switch procedure. 

In the target gNB environment it is necessary to establish a new F1AP UE context, new E1AP Bearer Context and new F1-U payload transport tunnel. All this happens BEFORE the Handover Command is sent to the source gNB/UE. And once there is an indication that the handover is completed all the radio and transport resources controlled by the source gNB will be released.

So the figure above looks complicated, but actually the underlying logic of context/data forwarding, radio resource allocation and transport tunnel switching is quite simple.

Special note: In case there is no Xn interface available the UE context/handover information can be transmitted using NGAP Handover Preparation procedure on the source side of the connection and NGAP Handover Resource Allocation procedure on the target side of the connection.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Comparison Layer 2 Measurements LTE vs. 5G NR


Yesterday (2020-06-22) 3GPP uploaded the version 1.0 of TS 38.314 "Layer 2 Measurements" for 5G New Radio Rel. 16.

I was wondering about the difference compared to the same LTE standard defined in 3GPP TS 36.314.

The initial look at the table of contents shows significantly less measurements in the NR spec, but a new counter for the number of stored inactive UE contexts. This is due to the introduction of RRC Inactive state in NR RRC specified in 3GPP TS 38.331)

All other differences in the NR standard are related to chapter number 4.2.1.6 "Other measurements defined in TS 28.552".

Here one finds the references to Data Volume, Average Throughput Measurement per UE and DRB as well as PRB usage measurements.

Adding these additional measurements to the list we see in the table of contents it emerges that indeed the number of stored inactive UE contexts is the only major difference in comparison with the LTE standard. 

Monday, 22 June 2020

Carrier Aggregation (CA) and Dual Connectivity (DC)


This topic keeps coming up every few months with either someone asking me for clarifications or someone asking us to make a video. While I don't think I will mange to get round to making a video sometime soon, there are some excellent resources available that should help a new starter. Here they are in an order I think works best



The first resource that I think also works best is this webinar / training from Award Solutions. It covers this topic well and the image at the top of the post is a god summary for someone who already understands the technology.


It may also help to understand that in the 5G NSA can have 4G carrier aggregation as well as 5G carrier aggregation in addition to dual connectivity.


If you saw the video earlier, you noticed that DC actually came as part of LTE in Release-12. We covered it in our Telecom Infrastructure blog here. NTT Docomo Technical journal had a detailed article on 'Carrier Aggregation Enhancement and Dual Connectivity Promising Higher Throughput and Capacity' that covered DC in a lot more technical detail, albeit from LTE point of view only. The article is available here. A WWRF whitepaper from the same era can also provide more details on LTE Small Cell Enhancement by Dual Connectivity. An archived copy of the paper is available here.

Another fantastic resource is this presentation by Rapeepat Ratasuk and Amitava Ghosh from Mobile Radio Research Lab, Nokia Bell Labs. The presentation is available here and details the MCG (Master Cell Group) Split Bearer and SCG (Secondary Cell Group) Split Bearer, etc. This article from Ericsson also provides more detail on this topic while ShareTechNote takes it one level even deeper with technical details and signalling here and here.

So hopefully this is a good detailed starting point on this topic, until we manage to make a simple video someday.

Friday, 12 June 2020

A Look into 5G Virtual/Open RAN - Part 5: Inter-gNB DU Handover

My last blog post discussed the intra-gNB-DU handover. Now it is time to look at inter-gNB-DU handover. This means: the target cell is located in the same gNB, but connected to a different gNB Distributed Unit (gNB-DU) than the source cell.

The figure below shows the message flow:

(Click on the image to enlarge)

As you can see it was not so easy to show all the messages in one flow chart and again I have simplified things a little bit. So it is not shown that NR RRC messages are transparently forwarded by the gNB-DU when sent to or received from the UE.

It should also be noted that between step 8 and 9 the UE performs a random access procedure on the radio interface that is also not shown.

Beside this the RRC measurement configuration and measurement report is identical with the same procedure in the intra-gNB-DU handover case (step 1+2)

However, due to the fact the target cell is connected to a different gNB-DU a new F1AP UE context must be established on the incoming F1-C leg (step 3+4). As in a new connection setup scenario the target gNB-DU provides all necessary lower layer parameters for the target cell radio link including a new c-RNTI.

Since we need also a new user plane transport tunnel to exchange payload on the F1-U interface between the target gNB-DU and the gNB-CU UP an E1AP Bearer Context Modification procedure is performed in step 5+6.

The following F1AP UE Context Modification Request is used to transmit the handover command (NR RRC Reconfiguration message with target cell parameters) towards the UE (step 7). In step 8 the F1AP UE Context Modification Response confirms that the handover command was forwarded to the UE.

After successful random access the UE sends NR RRC Reconfiguration Complete message on the new radio link (step 9) and this triggers the F1AP UE Context Release procedure on the outgoing F1-C leg.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

5G Roaming with SEPP (Security Edge Protection Proxy)

SEPP (Security Edge Protection Proxy) is part of the roaming security architecture as shown in the figure above. Ericsson's article, "An overview of the 3GPP 5G security standard" describes the use of SEPP as follows:

The use of SBA has also pushed for protection at higher protocol layers (i.e. transport and application), in addition to protection of the communication between core network entities at the internet protocol (IP) layer (typically by IPsec). Therefore, the 5G core network functions support state-of-the-art security protocols like TLS 1.2 and 1.3 to protect the communication at the transport layer and the OAuth 2.0 framework at the application layer to ensure that only authorized network functions are granted access to a service offered by another function.

The improvement provided by 3GPP SA3 to the interconnect security (i.e. security between different operator networks) consists of three building blocks:

  • Firstly, a new network function called security edge protection proxy (SEPP) was introduced in the 5G architecture (as shown in figure 2). All signaling traffic across operator networks is expected to transit through these security proxies
  • Secondly, authentication between SEPPs is required. This enables effective filtering of traffic coming from the interconnect
  • Thirdly, a new application layer security solution on the N32 interface between the SEPPs was designed to provide protection of sensitive data attributes while still allowing mediation services throughout the interconnect

The main components of SBA security are authentication and transport protection between network functions using TLS, authorization framework using OAuth2, and improved interconnect security using a new security protocol designed by 3GPP.

NG.113 5G Roaming Guidelines v2.0 clarifies:

4.2 Inter PLMN (N32) Interface

The Inter-PLMN specification 3GPP TS 29.573 has been produced by 3GPP to specify the protocol definitions and message flows, and also the APIs for the procedures on the PLMN (Public Land Mobile Network) interconnection interface (i.e. N32)

As stated in 3GPP TS 29.573 the N32 interface is used between the SEPPs of a VPLMN and a HPLMN in roaming scenarios. Furthermore, 3GPP has specified N32 to be considered as two separate interfaces: N32-c and N32-f.

N32-c is the Control Plane interface between the SEPPs for performing the initial handshake and negotiating the parameters to be applied for the actual N32 message forwarding. See section 4.2.2 of 3GPP TS 29.573.

Once the initial HTTP/2 handshake is completed the N32-c connection is torn down. This connection is End-to-End between SEPPs and does not involve IPX to intercept the HTTP/2 connection; although the IPX may be involved for IP level routing.

N32-f is the Forwarding interface between the SEPPs, that is used for forwarding the communication between the Network Function (NF) service consumer and the NF service producer after applying the application level security protection. See section 4.2.3 of 3GPP TS 29.573.

N32-f can provide Application Level Security (ALS) as specified in 3GPP TS 33.501 between SEPPs, if negotiated using N32-c. ALS provides the following protection functionalities: -

  • Message protection of the information exchanged between NF service consumer and producer
  • Forwarding of the application layer protected message from a SEPP in one PLMN to another PLMN by way of using IPX providers on the path. The IPX providers on the path may involve the insertion of content modification instructions which the receiving SEPP applies after verifying the integrity of such modification instructions.

The HTTP/2 connection used on N32-f is long lived; and when a SEPP establishes a connection towards another PLMN via IPX, the HTTP/2 connection from a SEPP terminates at the next hop IPX.

N32-f makes use of the HTTP/2 connection management requirements specified in 3GPP TS 29.500. Confidentiality protection shall apply to all IE’s for the JOSE protected message forwarding procedure, such that hop-by-hop security between SEPP and the IPXs should be established using an IPSec or TLS VPN.

If an IPX is not in the path between SEPPs, then an IPSec of Transport Layer Security, TLS VPN will be established directly.

Note: N32-f shall use “http” connections generated by a SEPP, and not “https”

The SEPP will act as a non-transparent Proxy for the NF’s when service based interfaces are used across PLMNs, however inside IPX service providers, an HTTP proxy may also be used to modify information elements (IE’s) inside the HTTP/2 request and response messages.

Acting in a similar manner to the IPX Diameter Proxy used in EPC roaming, the HTTP/2 Proxy can be used for inspection of messages, and modification of parameters. 


The picture in the tweet above shows how SEPP will play a role in Local Break Out (LBO) roaming as well as Home Routed (HR) roaming.

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Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Embedded SIM (eSIM) and Integrated SIM (iSIM)

It's been a while since I wrote detailed posts explaining UICC and SIM cards. Since then the SIM cards have evolved from Mini SIM to Micro SIM and Nano SIM. They are evolving even further, especially for M2M / IoT devices as embedded SIM (eSIM or eUICC) and integrated SIM (iSIM).


Embedded SIMs (eSIMs) or embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Cards (eUICCs) are physical SIMs that are soldered into the device and enable storage and remote management of multiple network operator profiles (remote SIM provisioning). The form factor of eSIM is known as MFF2.

The integrated SIMs (iSIMs) moves the SIM from a separate chip into a secure enclave alongside the application processor and cellular radio on a purpose-built system on a chip (SoC).

We made a short tutorial explaining UICC & SIM and then looking at eSIM, iSIM and how remote SIM provisioning works. The video and slides are embedded below. The slides contain a lot of useful links for further reading.







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