Saturday 10 September 2022

CUPS for Flexible U-Plane Processing Based on Traffic Characteristics

I looked at Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) in a tutorial, nearly five years back here. Since then most focus has been on 5G, not just on my blogs but also from the industry. 

Earlier this year, NTT Docomo's Technical Journal looked at CUPS for Flexible U-Plane Processing Based on Traffic Characteristics. The following is an extract from the article:

At the initial deployment phase of 5th Generation mobile communication systems (5G), the 5G Non-Stand-Alone (NSA) architecture was widely adopted to realize 5G services by connecting 5G base stations to the existing Evolved Packet Core (EPC). As applications based on 5G become more widespread, the need for EPC to achieve higher speed and capacity communications, lower latency communications and simultaneous connection of many terminals than ever has become urgent. Specifically, it is necessary to increase the number of high-capacity gateway devices capable of processing hundreds of Gbps to several Tbps to achieve high-speed, high-capacity communications, to distribute gateway devices near base station facilities to achieve even lower latency communications, and to improve session processing performance for connecting massive numbers of terminals simultaneously.

Conventional single gateway devices have both Control Plane (C-Plane) functions to manage communication sessions and control communications, and User Plane (U-Plane) functions to handle communications traffic. Therefore, if the previously assumed balance between the number of sessions and communications capacity is disrupted, either the C-Plane or the U-Plane will have excess processing capacity. In high-speed, high-capacity communications, the C-Plane has excess processing power, and in multiple terminal simultaneous connections, the U-Plane has excess processing power because the volume of communications is small compared to the number of sessions. If the C-Plane and U-Plane can be scaled independently, these issues can be resolved, and efficient facility design can be expected. In addition, low-latency communications require distributed deployment of the U-Plane function near the base station facilities to reduce propagation delay. However, in the distributed deployment of conventional devices with integrated C-Plane and U-Plane functions, the number of sessions and communication volume are unevenly distributed among the gateway devices, resulting in a decrease in the efficiency of facility utilization. Since there is no need for distributed deployment of C-Plane functions, if the C-Plane and U-Plane functions can be separated and the way they are deployed changed according to their characteristics, the loss of facility utilization efficiency related to C-Plane processing capacity could be greatly reduced.

CUPS is an architecture defined in 3GPP TS 23.214 that separates the Serving GateWay (SGW)/Packet data network GateWay (PGW) configuration of the EPC into the C-Plane and U-Plane. The CUPS architecture is designed so that there is no difference in the interface between the existing architecture and the CUPS architecture - even with CUPS architecture deployed in SGW/PGW, opposing devices such as a Mobility Management Entity (MME), Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF), evolved NodeB (eNB)/ next generation NodeB (gNB), and SGWs/PGWs of other networks such as Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) and roaming are not affected. For C-Plane, SGW Control plane function (SGW-C)/PGW Control plane function (PGW-C), and for U-Plane, SGW User plane function (SGW- U)/PGW User plane function (PGW-U) are equipped with call processing functions. By introducing CUPS, C-Plane/U-Plane capacities can be expanded individually as needed. Combined SGW-C/PGW-C and Combined SGW-U/PGW-U can handle the functions of SGW and PGW in common devices. In the standard specification, in addition to SGW/PGW, the Traffic Detection Function (TDF) can also be separated into TDF-C and TDF-U, but the details are omitted in this article.

From above background, NTT DOCOMO has been planning to deploy Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS) architecture to realize the separation of C-Plane and U-Plane functions as specified in 3rd Generation Partnership Project Technical Specification (3GPP TS) 23.214. Separating the C-Plane and U-Plane functions of gateway devices with CUPS architecture makes it possible to scale the C-Plane and U-Plane independently and balance the centralized deployment of C-Plane functions with the distributed deployment of U- Plane functions, thereby enabling the deployment and development of a flexible and efficient core network. In addition to solving the aforementioned issues, CUPS will also enable independent equipment upgrades for C-Plane and U-Plane functions, and the adoption of U-Plane devices specialized for specific traffic characteristics.

In the user perspective, the introduction of CUPS can be expected to dramatically improve the user experience through the operation of facilities specializing in various requirements, and enable further increases in facilities and lower charges to pursue user benefits by improving the efficiency of core network facilities.

Regarding the CUPS architecture, a source of value for both operators and users, this article includes an overview of the architecture, additional control protocols, U-Plane control schemes based on traffic characteristics, and future developments toward a 5G Stand-Alone (5G SA) architecture.

The article is available here.

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