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Core Network Planning, Optimization and Forecasting in GSM/GPRS


C.N.Konstantinopoulou, K.A.Koutsopoulos, G.L.Lyberopoulos

and M.E.Theologou

National Technical University of Athens (NTUA)

Dept. of Electrical Eng. and Computer Sci.
9, Heroon Polytechniou Str.
157 73, Zographou, Athens, GREECE
Keywords: GSM/GPRS Core Network Planning, Network Dimensioning, Optimization, Network
Evolution, Evaluation Algorithm

QoS improvement can be achieved by expanding the
Despite the wide theoretical and technical knowledge coverage area and by optimally utilizing the available
about the capabilities of Global System for Mobile resources on both the access and the core network parts.
communications (GSM) elements, there is no specific An “optimized” network:
methodology for designing from scratch either the
Network Sub-System (NSS) nor the Base Station § increases network availability and efficiency,
Subsystem (BSS) parts or optimizing and expanding the § increases subscriber satisfaction by improving the
existing NSS/BSS architecture, by forecasting future overall network quality,
requirements in terms of network elements/resources. § increases competitiveness,
Thus, for an evolving network operator who wishes to § reduces operational costs
have a network running at lower cost, offering a
and therefore, shall constitute one of the “core” network
competitive Quality of Service (QoS) to its subscribers,
planning and dimensioning activities.
a Planning, Optimization & Forecasting Tool
(POFTool) is of pivotal importance. Despite the wide theoretical and technical knowledge
about the capabilities of GSM elements [1], there is no
This paper aims at identifying the main features of a
specific methodology for designing from scratch either
proper POFTool that efficiently supports dimensioning
the NSS nor the BSS parts or optimizing and expanding
and optimization studies for combined GSM / General
the existing NSS/BSS architecture, by forecasting future
Packet Radio System (GPRS) networks and to propose
requirements in terms of network elements/resources. In
an evaluation methodology which enables the
most cases, the operator instinctively chooses one of the
prioritization of alternative core network configurations
alternative configurations, mainly based on previous
according to operator-driven criteria.
experience, availability and ease. It is obvious that this
is not the proper way for operating an optimized
1 Introduction network. This task requires intense and persistent effort,
The revenue increase is of pivotal importance for each time the network configuration needs to be
every mobile network operator. Operators’ strategies changed. Things are getting more complicated for
focus on capturing new subscribers, reducing churn, network designers due to the introduction of the GPRS
increasing customers’ loyalty, increasing subscriber related elements and the incorporation of IP-based
satisfaction in service provisioning, reducing fraud, etc. backbone data network to the existing GSM
Among the “methods” used are: the enrichment of infrastructure.
service portfolio with new, innovative services attractive GSM/GPRS architecture [1-5] is illustrated in Figure
and relevant to the user, service differentiation offerings, 1.
handset subsidization, QoS improvements, etc.
SMS-GMSC type) increase dramatically. To select the optimum
SMS-IWMSC scenario (as well as the evolution steps) a methodology
E C to identify, evaluate and prioritize them, based on
Gd certain operator-driven criteria, is mandatory.
MSC/VLR HLR For an evolving network operator who wishes to have
D a network running at lower cost, offering a competitive
A Gc QoS to its subscribers, a POFTool, fulfilling many
Gb Gi diverse requirements (see section 2), is of pivotal
R Um Gn Gf
Gp The purpose of this paper is to identify the main
EIR features of a proper POFTool that efficiently supports
SGSN GGSN dimensioning and optimization studies for GSM/GPRS
networks and to propose a methodology, which enables
Other PLMNs
the identification of candidate network evolution
Signalling Interface
scenarios and their prioritization according to operator-
Signalling and Data Transfer Interface
driven criteria.

Figure 1: GSM/GPRS Network Architecture 2 Generic Operators’ Requirements

The BSS part is composed of the Base Station A network planning tool shall enable the operator to
Transmitter (BTS) and the Base Station Controller import the existing network architecture (including
(BSC). The BSC includes the so called Packet Control GSM access and core network elements, GPRS network
Unit (PCU), which supports all relevant GPRS protocols elements, ATM/IP switches), the relevant Points of
for communication over the air-interface. Interconnection (POIs) (e.g., VMS platform, prepaid
The NSS part comprises: platform, SMSC, PSTN, PBXs, other PLMNs, internet,
corporate intranets), the routing plan as well as traffic,
q The functional entities of GSM: subscriber and network element related information
§ Mobile Switching Center (MSC) through a user-friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI).
§ Visitor Location Register (VLR) Another potential feature of the tool shall be the
§ Home Location Register (HLR) possibility of predicting future network dimensioning
§ Short Message Service Centers (SMSCs) requirements, based on traffic/subscriber related data,
enhanced by additional interfaces for interworking and selecting (through an appropriate methodology) the
with GPRS. proper evolution path based on certain evaluation
q The two new GPRS nodes: criteria. This will enable the operator to:
§ Serving GPRS Support Node (SGSN), which § Identify all possible configurations of network
switches the packets to the correct BSS. Its task elements (i.e., MSCs, number of PCUs per BSC,
includes ciphering, authentication, session and SGSNs, GGSNs, Charging Gateway (CG), Border
mobility management and logical link Gateway (BG), ATM/IP infrastructure, etc.) taking
management to the Mobile Station (MS). into consideration the available network elements
§ Gateway GPRS Support Node (GGSN), which types.
is the gateway node between the GPRS and § Select the most preferred scenario(s) (i.e., network
external packet data networks (IP) or Packet- elements combination) based on certain criteria
Switched (PS) data networks (X.25). driven by the operator such as, cost, simplicity,
Additionally its task is to assign the correct transferability, re-usability, etc.
SGSN for an MS depending on its location. § Proceed with and evaluate alternative network
As far as medium- and long-term network expansion configurations, so as to identify the optimum
is concerned, the operator need to timely predict the scenario.
required number of network elements (e.g., number of A POFTool shall contribute to network optimization
MSCs, HLRs, SMSCs, SGSNs, etc.) for a given studies1. Additionally a POFTool shall enable the
subscriber and traffic distribution. As long as, the
number of subscribers and the MSC/SMSC/ Voice Mail 1
Network optimization shall aim at: (a) increasing the internal traffic
System (VMS) -types available in the market increase,
per MSC/SGSN/GGSN and (b) increasing the terminating (to
the candidate scenarios (number of MSCs per MSC- connected BSS) traffic coming from external POIs. In both cases, the
inter-element traffic and therefore the demand in inter-element Pulse
operator to alter the network configuration and § Routing Plan: The tool shall enable the operator
“observe” the impact onto the network performance. to import its own routing plan. Service-based
Example changes are given below: and destination-based routing per network
element (where applicable) shall be supported2.
§ The subscribers' distribution per BSC, MSC, SGSN
and GGSN (as a result of BSC rehomings). q Traffic-related data
§ The distribution of originating and terminating § Total number of subscribers (contract and
traffic. prepaid) per network element (MSC/BSC).
§ The interconnections between network elements. § Originating/terminating traffic (in Erl) per
§ The POIs each network element serves. contract/prepaid subscriber per service (voice,
§ The routing plan. data) and per destination.
§ The incorporation of new technologies, such as, § Portion of prepaid subscribers traffic.
Voice over IP (VoIP) and Voice over ATM § Number of incoming/ outgoing calls per service
(VoATM). and per BSC/MSC during the busy hour.
§ Average time for a mobile call, (PLMN
3 POFTool Description towards PSTN, from PSTN towards PLMN,
The POFTool functionality can be decomposed in etc.).
two main sub-tools: (a) The Network Dimensioning § Requested bitrate per GPRS subscriber and per
Sub-tool and (b) the Network Evolution Sub-tool. The service during busy hour, or average bitrate
outcome of the Network Dimensioning Sub-tool is the (Mbits per day per subscriber and per service).
evaluation of the network configuration under study and q Network elements' related data
the computation of network parameters like the number
of PCM lines, the throughput of SGSNs/GGSNs, the • BSC related data
Erlangs/Busy Hour Call Attempts (BHCA) per MSC, § Number of cells/TRXs per BSC.
etc. The outcome of the Network Evolution Sub-tool is § Max. number of BSCs/MSC.
the selection of the “optimum” network configuration § Max. number of PCUs/BSC.
for a given traffic and subscriber distribution and for a
specific time period. • MSC/VLR related data
§ Max. VLR capacity.
3.1 Input And Output Data § Max. load per MSC (in Erl).
§ Max. BHCA per MSC.
3.1.1 Input Data
• SGSN/GGSN related data
The input data can be categorized into: § Max. number of simultaneously attached
q Configuration-related data users per SGSN.
§ Max. number of Packet Data Protocol
§ The location of GSM/GPRS network elements
(PDP) context activations per GGSN.
(e.g., X, Y coordinates).
§ Max. throughput (Mb/sec, packets/sec) for
§ GSM/GPRS network elements' names,
installation date, notes, etc.
§ Max. number of BSCs that can be
§ GSM/GPRS core network configuration and
connected to an SGSN.
network elements' interconnections to external
networks/systems (e.g. PSTN, VMS, Internet,
3.1.2 Output Data
other PLMN).
§ Restrictions to e.g., max. number of PCM lines A non-exhaustive list of the POFTool output data is
per route. given below:
§ Number of cells/TRXs per BSC. § Required number of PCM lines per internal and
§ Average number of Packet Data CHannels external route (POI).
(PDCHs) per cell. § Originating traffic load per network element
and for specific destinations.

Code Modulation (PCM) lines will be reduced decreasing thus the

related cost. Keeping the number of PCM lines unchanged the traffic In certain cases, the operator shall route the prepaid originated traffic,
load (utilization) of the existing PCM lines will be reduced and the before reaching the terminating MSC, to the PrePaid platform for
overall performance under high load conditions will be improved. charging purposes.
§ Outgoing, incoming and total traffic load per (voice, data, SMS, fax, etc.)- per route, (b) the
internal and external route (POI). required number of PCM lines per route, (c) the
§ Terminating traffic per network element. number of signalling links/link-sets per route, (d)
§ Indication of element(s) that have reached their the Erlangs/BHCA per MSC, (e) the throughput
capacity limits. per SGSN/GGSN (Mbps, packets/sec), (f) the
number of PDP context activations per GGSN,
§ Cost Indication. (g) the number of attached users per SGSN, etc..
§ Indication of the max. traffic increase (with the The results shall be provided in both textual and
same distribution) that can be supported by the graphical form.
current configuration.
§ The operator shall be able to impose restrictions
§ Number of Frame Relay (FR) timeslots where applicable e.g., the number of max. PCM
required in the Gb interface. lines to certain routes.
§ Number of required PCUs per BSC. § Depiction of network elements’ performance
§ Number of SGSNs, GGSNs, CGs, BGs. (capacity, rate of requests handled, etc.);
indication of those that have reached their bounds
3.2 Network Dimensioning Sub-Tool (along with the relevant parameter).
A non-exhaustive list of the most desirable § Indication of the max. traffic increase (with the
POFTool’s capabilities regarding network dimensioning same distribution) that can be supported by the
are described below: current configuration.
§ Definition, storage and retrieval of a A graphical representation of the network dimensioning
core/switching network configuration via a user- sub-tool’s capabilities is given in Figure 2.
friendly GUI.
§ A library or a set of libraries containing candidate Netw Element
network elements from various vendors (e.g.,
GGSNs, ATM/IP switches, etc.). The elements’ Input
characteristics (e.g., max. number of ð Define/Retrieve/Store
Network Configuration
GUI Data
ð Assign Destinations/Routes
subscribers/MSC, max. BHCA, max. attached per Network Element
ð Results’ Depiction/Storage, etc.
users per SGSN, max. PDP context activations ð Configuration related Data
ð Traffic related Data
per GGSN) shall automatically be incorporated to ð Network Element -related Data

the model. Calculations

§ Possibility to: (a) modify the characteristics of
existing elements, (b) define new network
elements and store them at the respective
“library”, (c) delete network elements from the
“library”. Formulation
§ Possibility to alter the network configuration by
introducing additional elements with ‘drag & Figure 2: POFTool: Network Dimensioning Sub-tool
drop’ capability directly from the respective Capabilities.
§ Network configuration/modification with ‘drag & 3.3 Network Evolution Sub-Tool
drop’ capabilities (e.g., ability to connect a POI
The POFTool shall be able to provide the means for
to another MSC, SGSN, GGSN).
the identification of future network configuration
§ Possibility to the operator to select among a alternatives, the selection of the preferred scenario(s)
variety of alternative input data (statistics), and finally, the assessment of the optimum network
depending on their availability. configuration. More specifically, the sub-tool’s
§ Incorporation of the operator's specific routing functionality can be decomposed into (see Figure 3):
1. The candidate scenarios identification phase. The
§ The tool shall be able to evaluate the network
aim of this phase is to obtain a rough estimation of
configuration under study i.e., to identify routing
the number and the type3 of the required network
problems, etc.
§ The tool shall keep track of network changes.
§ The tool shall enable the computation of: (a) the 3
Different scenarios result from the fact that different MSC types (i.e.,
traffic –coming from different call/traffic types transit, partial transit, pure MSC) with different characteristics in terms
elements so as to fulfil traffic and subscriber-related dimensioning includes the identification of the number
requirements. of PCUs/BSC, the number of FR timeslots in the Gb
2. The evaluation phase. During this phase, the interface, the number of SGSNs and GGSNs required
alternative scenarios are being evaluated based on taking into account: (a) the number of GPRS subscribers
operator-driven criteria and a prioritized list is having active PDP contexts, (b) the requested bitrate per
generated. service, (c) the number of traffic channels that can be
3. The optimum network configuration selection used for GPRS, (d) the number of cells per BSC, etc.
phase. The top-ranked scenarios of the prioritized
list are being inserted to the POFTool, alternative 3.3.2 Evaluation Phase
configurations are being investigated and the The proposed methodology can be decomposed into
“optimum” network configuration option is being the following subtasks:
selected, using the network dimensioning sub-tool.
q Identify an exhaustive list of evaluation criteria
Note: To achieve the best possible result (e.g., reuse of against which the candidate scenarios will be
existing infrastructure) for medium and large-scale evaluated (section
networks, it should be given the possibility to divide the q Define the algorithm according to which the
service area into large Geographical Areas (GAs) - evaluation will be performed and assign “proper
based on population distribution and mobility values” to the weighting factors (section
characteristics- and then to apply the phases 1 & 2 to
q Apply the algorithm for each scenario. The
each GA.
outcome will be a prioritized list of scenarios


Traffic Estimation

Data The Evaluation Criteria
Apply Dimensioning
Rules An exhaustive list of criteria according to which the
identified scenarios will be evaluated is given below:
Identify # of Required Data
Data q Cost (Q1): This factor will be highly determined by
Network Elements
the number of new elements or upgrades of existing
ones (MSCs, SGSNs, GGSNs, ATM/IP switches)
Apply Evaluation Criteria

Criteria required. The higher the re-use of the existing


Methodology Values
elements the lower the cost. It should be stressed
Prioritized List of Weighting that the re-use shall be considered in a network-
Candidate Scenarios Factors wide approach (i.e., transfer of material to another
q Reusability (Q2): This factor concerns the degree

Dimensioning Sub-Tool
of reusing the existing infrastructure (network
elements) in the GA under consideration so as to
fulfil the network “evolution requirements”.
q Transferability (Q3): This factor concerns the
Figure 3: Proposed Evaluation Methodology possibility of transferring redundant network
elements -not considered for future use- from the
3.3.1 Candidate Scenarios Identification Phase GA under study to another GA fulfilling the latter
GA’s network “evolution requirements”.
The aim of this phase is the identification of the
number and type of required GSM/GPRS elements, q Performance (Q4): This factor is mainly
based on the corresponding dimensioning rules (see determined by the capacity/load offset. It can be
network-elements related data). decomposed into three sub-criteria:
§ (Q41) Performance with regard to the number
The GSM dimensioning requires the estimation of the of subscribers.
“BSS traffic”4 and the “transit traffic”5, while the GPRS
§ (Q42) Performance with regard to the BSS
traffic handled.
of number of subscribers, max. BHCA, etc. can be utilized. The same
applies for SGSNs in terms of the number of attached subscribers and
the throughput. 5
This traffic stream represents the mobile-originating/terminating
This traffic stream represents the sum of the originating and the traffic destined/ coming to/from POIs (PSTN, other PLMNs, internet)
terminating traffic (in Erl) from/to the BTSs. connected to the G-MSCs and GGSNs.
§ (Q43) Performance with regard to the transit Criterion Factor
traffic handled. Performance W11
q Simplicity (Q5): This criterion concerns the Group 1 New Generation Network Elements W12
minimum number of required network elements to Reusability-Transferability-Simplicity W13
handle sufficiently the total traffic. The minimum
Cost W21
the number of network elements is, the lower the Group 2
number of interconnections/routes/links required Reusability-Transferability-Simplicity W22
and therefore the lower the network complexity is. Reusability W31
q New Generation Elements (Q6): This criterion Group 3 Transferability W32
will be of high value in supporting the operator's Simplicity W33
decision to use new generation network elements Table 1: Weighting Factors
types in the future. Algorithm Description Cost

The general guidelines of the algorithm are the

following [6]: Performance
§ Identify tradable and not-tradable criteria.
§ Tradable quantities are added together, so that it
is the sum of the question responses that Transferabilty
contributes to the overall figure of merit. NewGenerat
§ Not-tradable quantities (question responses) are
multiplied. Not-tradable criteria contribute Simplicity
independently to the “quality” of a proposed
scenario. Multiplying independent criteria (or
independent groupings of tradable criteria)
emphasizes the importance of each one Figure 4: Tradable and not-Tradable Criteria
individually and minimizes the potential Finally the top-ranked scenarios of the prioritized list
selection of scenarios that are extremely poor are being inserted to the POFTool, alternative
performers in any one independent category. configurations are being investigated and the “optimum”
§ To weight the criteria so that they reflect the network configuration option is being selected.
desired emphasis, tradable question responses in
the same added grouping are each multiplied by Application Example
a weighting factor to reflect their relative level of
We assume that we have to evaluate five different
importance. Multiplied question responses in the
network configuration scenarios. The values assigned
same grouping are each raised to an exponent to
for each factor (serving here as operator choices), are
reflect their relative level of importance. Weights
depicted in Table 2. The weighting factors that have
in the same added (or multiplied) group are then
been chosen are shown in Table 3.
independently normalized.
Applying the formula (1), scenarios “E” and “C” (see
In our case, the tradable quantities are (see Figure 4):
Table 2) appear to be the most promising ones and
Cost versus (Simplicity, Reusability and
therefore the operator shall proceed with more detailed
dimensioning-related studies for specific network
The application of the algorithm (according to the configurations (inter-connections, assignment of POIs to
guidelines described above) results in the following MSCs, use of partial-transit MSCs, routing plan, etc.).
Scenario Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Scoring
1 A 3 5 1 3 1 2 0.3627
Score= {Q4w11Q6w12 {[W21Q1 + W22(Q2w31Q3w32 Q5w33 )]w13 − 1} (1) B 4 5 2 3 2 2 0.5342
C 3 3 3 5 4 5 0.7486
The quantity 1 is abstracted to shift the range from D 2 1 4 5 5 5 0.6129
zero to four. Then the entire expression is divided by E 5 5 3 5 3 4 0.8558
four to scale it between zero and one. The weighting Table 2: Application of Evaluation Algorithm and
factors are shown in Table 1. Note that the weighting Results
factors’ values shall be among 1 and 5.
Criterion Factor Value
Performance W11 3 0.3
New Generation MSCs W12 2 0.2
W13 5 0.5
Cost W21 5 0.5
W22 5 0.5
Reusability W31 4 0.33
Transferability W32 3 0.25
Simplicity w33 5 0.4167
Table 3: Weighting Factors' Values

4 Conclusions
In this paper the main features of a POFTool enabling
mobile operators to optimize their network and forecast
future requirements concerning network elements and
resources have been presented.
In addition a network evolution methodology based
on which the operator can evaluate alternative network
configuration scenarios and prioritize them according to
specific criteria. Finally an application example of this
methodology was given.

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