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)
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.
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.
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
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 Onlineand Offline charging mechanisms. They may be performed simultaneously and independently for the same charging events.
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.
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.
Maybe you remember what I said about Group Messaging. That all the RCS deployments would be done faster without this feature. A similar thing we can say about VoLTE Conferencing. Ad-Hoc Multi Party Conference Call (CONF) is one of the basic requirements we have on VoLTE calling. Simply put each VoLTE network has to support conference calling. But to troubleshoot this great functionality can be a nightmare.
Ad-Hoc Multi Party Conference is one of the Supplementary Services supported by Telephony Application Server (TAS) (a dedicated Conference AS is an option too) and it is described in GSMA IR.92, which then refers to 3GPP TS 24.605 and 24.147. Today we’ll take a look at the conference call flow, along with the Mr’ interface between TAS and Media Resource Function (MRF).
Add participant button
Although we talk about conferencing, in fact it’s just a multi-party call. We don’t schedule any conference call for a given list of participants. We can only add additional numbers to an existing call. That’s why we describe the service as an ad-hoc conference. From the mobile operator point of view the conferencing service provides the means for a user to create, manage, terminate, join and leave conferences as well as the ability to update the involved parties. But most of the stuff is truly hidden to the end subscribers.
In general both voice and video conference can be supported, but only the support of audio media is required by VoLTE standard. The maximum number of participants differs network to network, usually it is between 6 and 10. Note, that the functionality is not limited to VoLTE users only, we can add to the call the CS users too.
Our current economy is digitized and generates an exponential growth of person-to-person (P2P) transactions. On the other hand we often face challenges around flexibility, trust, identity and authorization that existing financial instruments are sometimes struggling to address.
And that’s where blockchain comes into play. Blockchain is designed as a secure distributed system with high Byzantine fault tolerance. The most successful use cases for blockchain today are related to financial transactions and the management of financial assets. The most famous examples include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple or Hyperledger.
GSMA has just recently published the final numbers for 2017. As expected the last year we’ve seen less 4G deployments than in 2016.
4G Deployments in 2017
The only exception was the RCS. (Btw. GSMA released its Universal Profile Version 2.0 for Advanced RCS Messaging.)
From the population coverage point of view the last year meant a great step forward. Although many developing countries have been still more focused on 3G (4G coverage is on average 35% there), the overall number of 4G coverage increased significantly.
It’s very interesting (and well, a bit suspicious) that the main focus of most VoLTE textbooks and trainings is signalling. But from the user-point-of-view, it is the voice data, what matters. As an end-subscriber I don’t care about signalling. My only interest is the call quality. But times they are a changin and engineers are asking about how to improve the overall voice-call quality and user experience. Today we’ll go through the basics as jitter, mouth-to-ear delay, packet loss rate or MOS, needed for QoS analysis.
For real-time multimedia we used to have dedicated telephone/radio networks. That has changed and voice/video streams are transported over IPnetwork now.
We should understand that these IP networks were originally designed for data transport. To transport data we prefer the best-effort service model, which allows an easy network scaling and simple routers’ logic. On the other hand we don’t care much if packets arrive in-order or what are the delays between particular packets. We simply wait until we receive a whole file. If any packet is lost, TCP will re-transmit it.
Packets in Data Networks
It’s a different story with the real-time communication services though. RTC applications are less sensitive to packet loss, but they are very sensitive to packet delay. Usage of IP data network as a carrier brings a lot of challenges which have to be addressed by media protocols and network elements.
The last time we discussed 5G and IMS. One of the main drivers for 5G is Machine-2-Machine (M2M) communication. But surely 5G is not the only technology which enables Internet of Things (IoT). Many operators already do support proprietary technologies such as SigFox or LoRaWAN. But there are also 3GPP standardized (Release 13) networks for IoT other than 5G. They are LTE-M and NB-IoT, and they both operate on licensed spectrum. These technologies came a bit later, however now it seems they are gaining momentum.
On GSMA pages you can now find an interactive map with the existing IoT deployments.
Maybe you have already heard about some features as Dynamical Network Slicing, CloudRAN, Network-as-a-Services, … Some basic 5G principals we’ll briefly discussed also in this post. However my question is: What will be the change from the real-time communication point of view? What will be the 5G calling look like? Is the IMS (IP Multimedia Services, don’t confuse with International Microwave Symposium) to stay in the operators’ networks?
5G Deployments Sep, 2019 by 5G Americas
Seems that at the first stage the change will be less dramatic than when we introduced 4G. 4G was in many ways a revolution, whereas 5G is “only” an evolution. In fact 4G and 5G, at least in the beginning, will coexist and complement one each other. Still 5G will have a big impact on our existing technologies and the way we work with telecommunication networks.