Online VoLTE Charging – MMTel

Hello, hello. Finally we are getting to Voice online charging! I admit it took me a long time, it be so nice to work just on posts … As a lesson learnt I’ll start to write shorter articles 🙂 And one more improvement – I’m adding quick overview video, so that you’re quickly briefed on the basics. Please let me know, if that works.

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Rx Interface

Rx interface is often overlooked in IMS training, yet from the network core standpoint it is the most important one. It makes possible for IMS to allocate the data resources required for a media session.

Rx reference point

As we discussed in VoLTE Policy Control, the Rx Reference point is defined between P-CSCF (referred in spec as AF) and PCRF (the PCC architecture is defined in 3GPP 23.203 and 29.212). Via this interface the P-CSCF provides session information to the PCRF. The PCRF then informs the P-CSCF of traffic plane events. It can also verify that the service information provided by the P-CSCF is consistent with the operator defined policy rules. The service information is used to derive the QoS for the media service.

The PCRF can also reject the request received from the P-CSCF. In that case the PCRF indicates the result in the answer and provides to P-CSCF the service information that can be accepted.

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SMSC – 30 years later

In December 1992 there was sent the first SMS. At that time there were several different vendors working on their first SMSCs. I was lucky enough to work later with some of the engineers involved. Anyways that is an ancient history now. Since that the SMS Service and the SMSC have become a must for every mobile network. Perhaps we can go trough the general SMSC network architecture, list some of the typical features and then to discuss the SMS evolution in 5G networks.

2G/3G SMSC Architecture

The SMSC was designed as an integral part of 2G mobile network, supporting several basic message flows, which are mostly valid even in 2022:

  • Person-to-Person (P2P)
  • Application-to-Person (A2P/P2A). This was a real game changer. People in late 90s were texting (and paying) as crazy to get new ringing tones, text-frames on their monochromatic displays or at least a weather forecast or bus schedule. The A2P is still a popular way how to create a significant wholesale interconnection and also valid for MIoT (Mobile Internet of Things). Last but not least we shouldn’t forget the importance of SMS in Two-Factor-Authentication (2FA).
  • Technical enabler: Over the Air OTA messaging for (U)SIM provisioning. OTA is still critical for many operators. Another example is an IP session wake-up, which might be a key technical enabler for some Machine Type Communication MTC/MioT applications.
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VoLTE Online Charging – SMS

Today we will start with Online Charging, or Ro interface in our terminology. And because Online Charging is a bit more complex than Offline Billing, we’ll split it into several posts. In this first one we will take a look at so-call Direct-Debiting, which is used mainly for charging of SMS Service.

Perhaps from our Charging Overview you remember that we can use two different approaches to the Online Charging – Session based or Event based. SMS Ro Charging is using Event based mechanism. It is easier than the Session based and we will also need it later to complement the Session based Charging for the Voice service.

The SMS Charging architecture is standardized in 3GPP 32.274, the SMS online charging then uses the Credit-Control application as specified in TS 32.299.

Ro Reference Point for SMS

The Online Charging is triggered over Ro Reference point. It is up to a Mobile Operator if they will signal charging operations from IP-SM-GW, SMSC, SMS Router or any combination of these. Typically the charging requests are sent from SMSC only. For simplicity we will refer only to the SMSC in the following text. SMSC may either directly support Ro interface, or it can use CAP (CAMEL) protocol which is then translated to Ro by an Interworking Function (IWF) as described in 3GPP 32.293.

The SMS charging may use two different models:

  • Immediate Event Charging (IEC)

or

  • Event Charging with Unit Reservation (ECUR)

In this post we will rather focus on IEC, as the ECUR is more complex and in my personal experience it is less common than IEC. The ECUR principle is specified in TS 32.299.

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VoLTE Offline Charging – Voice Call

In the last post we talked about VoLTE charging on a high level. This time we will zero-in and focus on a role of Telephony Application Server (TAS) in offline charging during a Voice/Video Call. Charging on the TAS is described in the 3GPP 32.260 and 32.275. The basic charging is fairly simple, but we also have to count with Supplementary Services, Roaming Scenarios and rainy-days scenarios.

TAS Charging, Ro, Rf

We already know that the 3GPP specification requires Network Elements like TAS to provide offline billing so that service providers can collect and correlate charging information from a variety of sources as well as to generate CDRs. An IMS system is composed of many entities that can generate charging events which need to be collated in order to generate a bill for the customer. These elements are referred in our terminology as the Charging Trigger Functions (CTF). The CTF function works in connection with TAS call processing by receiving SIP call events, translating SIP messages into Diameter messages with call parameters copied into 3GPP-defined AVP set, and sending Accounting Request (ACR) messages to the external CDF. The CDF acknowledges the receipt of ACR message by sending back an Accounting Answer (ACA) message indicating success or failure of the operation. The communication between CTF (TAS) and CDF happens over the Rf interface, which uses the Base Diameter protocol. 

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It’s All about Money! VoLTE Charging

Charging has been for a long time on my todo list. Now it’s the time and you can expect couple of posts related to charging, mainly Online Charging. Today we’ll go through the most basic stuff. For details refer to 3GPP 32.240.

Charging is a world of its own, it has its own rules, flows and well, also documentation. To really understand how to properly charge your calls, data, or messages is probably the same or even bigger challenge than to understand the actual service.

Charging Specification – source 3GPP 32.240

Charging Mechanisms

GSM/UMTS/EPC networks provide functions that implement offline and/or online charging mechanisms on the bearer (e.g. EPC), subsystem (e.g. IMS) and service (e.g. SMS) levels. In order to support these charging mechanisms, the network performs real-time monitoring of resource usage for those three levels in order to detect the relevant chargeable events.

In general we recognize Online and Offline charging mechanisms. They may be performed simultaneously and independently for the same charging events.

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Rate Limit and Traffic Shaping

Support and operation engineers don’t need to understand the majority of algorithms hidden in telecom software. But time to time it helps if you have an understanding of how some particular functionality is implemented.

The typical situation is Traffic Shaping or Overload Protection. Many operators want to understand and test, how their system behaves under a huge load of calls or messages. There are many ways how to implement these features, so let’s take a look at the most common ones.

Threshold

The easiest way how to protect the system is to define some limit. For example, we can say that our SBC is able to handle only 1.2 mil. parallel calls. If we receive a new invitate which exceeds this threshold, we respond with system error.

Similarly, we can set a limit for CPU or memory consumption. Whenever we reach, let’s say 60 % of the CPU we raise an alarm and don’t allow any new call/registration. As soon as the resource utilization drops below the threshold again, we can resume the standard system behavior and accept new calls.

Sounds reasonable and simple, however, in case that the load is close to our limit – 60 % of CPU – it can lead to so called throttling causing system instability. The last thing which you desire for if you are facing high traffic.

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News: 5G – is our health the toll to pay?

After years in mobile industry with 5G I’ve recently started to be more cautious about health implications. For last 12 months I’m going through various studies and honestly it is difficult to come to any final conclusion. Some researchers claim that there is no evidence cell phones would increase risk of cancer, some argument with studies on rats, where radiation makes rats uniquely prone to a rare tumor called a schwannoma. As a technician it is hard to judge for me, but there are some basic facts, which I’ve noted down:

  • to call only is not that bad, to use mobile for data is a completely different story
  • non-ioinizing radiation maybe more harmful than it was thought
  • studies reveal that the exposure to cell phones, laptops, or Wi-Fi affect sperm in their count, morphology, motility, an increased DNA damage
  • we don’t have much evidence on mobile induced cancer when it comes to humans
  • studies are mostly miles behind the current technological development
  • distance matters – just a few centimeters can make a difference

As I said, I was strugeling a bit while reading through studies. A great summary on this has been published by Julia Belluz and Dylan Collins at Vox – A comprehensive guide to the messy, frustrating science of cellphones and health.

 

What would happen if the scientists would actually prove, that 5G can mean a serious risk to us? Many people are so adicted to Internet, that they are ok to pay by their own health anyway. Not talking about all those companies which invested so much into 5G and AR/VR..  Lets’ wait for some clear data and don’t keep cellphones in our pockets till then – just for sure.

You can monitor your RF emission with free Quanta Monitor app.

Quanta Monitor by Cellraid

Other resources:

https://rbej.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12958-018-0431-1?fbclid=IwAR3edLcWcbenIej07w7YF9a7_mBHV6xaSU3pWRdRTfu7Y7arr7PwfMMxMmE

 

AR, VR – Real-time communication in 5G

GSMA Intelligence forecasts that the number of 5G connections globally will reach 1.3 billion by 2025, covering 40 percent of the world’s population or approximately 2.7 billion people. At that time, the Americas region is expected to account for over 260 million 5G connections or 20 percent of the global market.

The question everyone is asking in telco last couple of years is – do we really need 5G? Do we really need that throughput for our voice, video and messaging services? Can we significantly improve real-time communication services so that customers would be willing to pay for it? RCS aka Advanced Messaging is a great example of how difficult it can be to find the right business model for new technologies. EVS supported in 4G is more than what we need for voice calling. Although video calling is possible in 4G, not that many customers are using this option on their mobile devices. More popular than video is desktop-sharing, collaboration and communication in context. Well, lower latency and better throughput can be useful – but is it a reason strong enough to invest into the new 5G infrastructure, when collaboration applies mainly to fixed networks?

5G Drivers. Source GSMA

Still there are real-time communication applications which require low latency and huge amount of data so that 4G is not enough. Virtual Reality (VR) applications like 360-degree video will necessitate higher resolutions of 8K and above, and stereoscopic video (which separates left and right eye views in VR) also requires additional bandwidth. When most people hear about 3D video, holograms, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), they mostly think about gaming. And yes, gaming can be a good example and people like to spend money for entertainment. But there are other examples, where AR and VR can make a difference.

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News: Wireshark is 20!

Impossible not to mention. Ethereal – these days known as Wireshark – is twenty! In 1998 Gerald Combs publicly released its first version 0.2.0. And he truly changed the IT (and particulary telco) world. Over the years Wireshark has won several industry awards, and it is one of the top-rated sniffers. Wireshark is a real gift for every engineer who works with a protocol stack. At the same time many BIG companies don’t even realize what contribution Wireshark means to their daily business!

 

Wireshark

 

Thank you Gerald and everyone who has helped with this great project!