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Mobility Management Entity in LTE/EPC Networks

Why you should procure a RAN-compliant solution when designing your LTE/EPC architecture.
Mobile network operators are evolving toward Long Term Evolution/ Evolved Packet Core (LTE/EPC) architecture for mobile Internet transformation. A key challenge is to strike the right balance between running their existing mobile core network while preparing to meet increased capacity demands. They must optimize CapEx and OpEx investments, invest in future networks and align with proposed LTE/EPC architecture. These goals will affect design, deployment and procurement of mobile broadband network and service elements. This white paper looks specifically at the control plane function performed by the Mobility Management Entity (MME) within the LTE/ EPC architecture. Following a brief overview, we compare MMEs functions and interfaces. This leads to a discussion of practical approaches to deploying and procuring an MME solution. The white paper concludes that MME complexity and interfaces are highly dependent on the RAN/Radio. Thus operators should procure elements directly from the RAN/Radio vendor or a packet core vendor that offers a RAN-compliant MME solution.

Ripin Checker
Director, Product Management, Tellabs

Key goals the LTE/EPC architecture aims to accomplish:

Higher downlink (100 Mbps) and uplink (50 Mbps) speeds for user equipment (UE)/mobile Internet users Flatter, distributed, all-IP architecture. There is no longer a circuit switch domain for dedicated voice bearer support. QoS in the packet domain is critical for real-time delivery of delay and jitter sensitive applications such as VoIP. The LTE/EPC architecture splits the control and data functions. There are separate interfaces for each. Convergence and seamless interworking of different wireless networks (2G, 3G, WiMAX) to and with LTE/EPC

To accomplish the network transformation, 3GPP recommends a distributed IP architecture (Fig. 1).
Management AAA, Billing, Charging, Policy

Mobile operators see a bandwidth gap between demand and capacity. Theyre looking at the LTE/EPC architecture to close that gap while still increasing Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). While LTE/EPC architecture brings significant changes to the access and core networks, it also emphasizes backward compatibility. The architecture is quite innovative and introduces several new concepts. To meet business and technical goals, mobile operators may opt to divide and conquer the architecture evolution, depending on the current status of their network.

Control Plane MME

Radio UE, eNB

Operator IP Services IMS, PSS

Data Plane S-GW, P-GW

Figure 1. LTE/EPC Network Block.

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The separation of control and data plane is a key differentiation from 2G/3G architectures. The control plane manages the bearer plane activation and deactivation while coordinating complex mobility management with the radio and UE. This simplifies the data plane for higher bearer data performance and throughput. Mobile operators can deploy best-of-breed devices for different functions in the network. The most complex part of the control plane is mobility and handoff management within and across radio technologies. Ironically, this puts MME in position as part of the EPC, inherently optimized for data plane performance and management of bearer service differentiation.

MME Overview
MME is the control plane for LTE/EPC and is key to accomplishing many of the architectures goals. To understand the control planes role, it is important to also understand how consumers and producers use the mobile Internet and the chasm theyre creating between demand and capacity. Some of the trends and applications driving the mobile network transformations are:

Proliferation of smartphones and the next generation of user interfaces Emergence of mobile application and platform development environments. These include Apples iOS and Androids SDK. Changing service mix between data, voice, VoIP, streaming and video telephony applications Enterprise remote and mobile teleworker solutions, such as collaboration applications Location aware applications such as GPS and Wi-Fi Social networking such as Facebook and Twitter Rich media entertainment such as video on demand and Internet gaming

MME (1..N) Complex Mobility Management Simpler Bearer Path Management

Changing patterns of mobile internet usage place new requirements on the control plane for the LTE/EPC architecture. Key design considerations for the control plane:
Access Network (AN) UE, eNB Core Network (CN) S-GW, P-GW

Figure 2. LTE/EPC High Level Network.

Increase the control plane scalability by 5-10 times of previous standards. There is no longer co-dependence between control and data plane due to the separation. The number of wireless devices has exceeded that of wired devices. New application-based wireless devices have emerged (manufacturing industry, gaming, education, hotspot devices, etc.). Centralized and distributed control plane deployment models for providing less than 5ms control plane latency The shifting service mix, along with an all-IP architecture, raises the need for control plane to be lighter, modular, flexible and fast. Address increased control plane chattiness due to new applications and interactive web. Provide control plane elasticity for the changing number of bearers in mobile network. This varies by smartphone, markets, number of users and applications. Provide better service continuity experience. Minimize handover latency across routing/tracking areas and across different radio access technologies. For example, service continuity across InterRAT for an established voice call should target an interruption time not greater than 300ms. Facilitate seamless interworking across multiple radio technologies such as 2G, 3G, CDMA, 4G, FemtoCell, etc. Manage efficient use of UE battery across active, idle and roaming states.

To examine this irony in greater detail, Fig. 2 shows a high-level view of the role MME plays in the architecture. The MME manages both the Access Network (AN) and Core Network (CN). This raises the question of whether MME is part of the AN or the CN from a design, deployment and procurement perspective.

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MME Functions and Interfaces

MME is the main control node in the LTE access network. It manages the interfaces to the access network via S1_MME interface and the core network via S11. In addition, it performs a number of critical functions:

MME to RAN and Packet Core Interfaces

MME is the control nucleus of the LTE/EPC network and has interfaces to all critical network elements. The main interfaces the MME supports are S1_MME and S11 (Fig. 3):
MME Common Functions MME Pooling/Load Balancing Overload Mgmt Authentications & Authorization

Network Access Control: MME manages authentication and authorization for the UE. It also facilitates UE access to the network to gain IP connectivity. Radio Resource Management: MME works with the HSS and the RAN to decide the appropriate radio resource management strategy (RRM) that can be UE-specific. Mobility Management: One of the most complex functions MME performs. Providing seamless interworking has multiple use cases such as Inter-eNB and Inter-RAT, among others. The use cases become more complex depending on a change in MME, S-GW, P-GW or interworking across other wireless networks. Roaming Management: MME supports outbound and inbound roaming subscribers from other LTE/EPC systems and legacy networks. UE Reachability: MME manages communication with the UE and HSS to provide UE reachability and activity-related information. Tracking Area Management: Allocates and reallocates a tracking area identity list to the UE. Lawful Intercept: Since MME manages the control plane of the network, MME can provide the whereabouts of a UE to a law enforcement monitoring facility. Load Balancing Between S-GWs: Directs UEs entering an S-GW pool area to an appropriate S-GW. This achieves load balancing between S-GWs.
MME Radio/RAN I/F Network Access Control Radio Resource Mgmt Mobility Management (Handover) Roaming Mgmt (Inboud/Outbound) UE Reachability Tracking Area List Mgmt Lawful Intercept

MME (1..N)

MME Packet Core I/F Bearer Activation, Deactivation Serving GW selection

S11 S1_MME/S1_C

Access Network (AN) UE, eNB

Core Network (CN) S-GW, P-GW

Figure 3. MME Functions and Important Interfaces.

* S1_MME/S1_C: MME UE. This is the interface between the MME and access network. This interface establishes and maintains UE contexts. * S11: MME S-GW. This interface runs between the MME and core network. It controls bearer paths in the core network via GTPv2. Both interfaces have their own level of complexity and requirements. The S1_MME/S1_C interface between the MME and eNB is the most complex, with various legacy implications. Areas that complicate the S1_MME interface and place additional load on the MME:

Different handover algorithms offered by different eNB radio vendors With LTE, ciphering is done at the eNB instead of the RNC. MME plays a critical security management role. Multiple legacy radio implications while managing inter-RAT handovers. MME has to work with 2G/3G-specific protocols as well as 4G/LTE protocols to manage interworking for seamless mobility. Handling of voice calls and circuit switch fallback signaling procedures. With LTE, voice services are primarily delivered via the packet domain. Operators with a hybrid 3G/4G or existing 3G network can use the circuit switch domain for 4G voice fallback. Interactive web, application interactions and application delivery increase the signaling load on the S1_MME interface. There are numerous UE transitions between active and idle state, as well as a higher number of transactions.

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Digging deeper into the OSI stack, we compare the two interfaces. This demonstrates how the control plane stack of the S1_MME (Fig. 4) is more complicated than the S11 interface (Fig. 5).

LTE Messages From MME to RAN and Packet Core

As the previous section indicates, the MME has more work towards the access network (AN) than the core network (CN). In this section well compare the number of messages between the two domains: MME-AN and MME-CN (see Table 1).
LTE Procedure name Initial Attach Detach X2 Handover X2 Handover with S-GW change S1 Handover Tracking Area Update Routing Area Update UE Triggered Service Request Network Triggered Service Request Number of messages MME <-> AN 10 4 2 4 10 6 9 8 9 MME<->CN 4 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 4

Legend: S1 Application Protocol (S1-AP). Application layer protocol between the eNodeB and the MME. SCTP for the control plane. This protocol guarantees delivery of signaling messages between MME and eNodeB (S1). NAS. The NAS protocol supports mobility management functionality and user plane bearer activation, modification and deactivation. It is also responsible of ciphering and integrity protection of NAS signaling.

Figure 4. S1_MME Protocol Stack.

Conclusions derived from Table 1:



Interaction between MME and AN is more complicated than interaction between MME and CN. Compare 62 messages (AN) with 22 messages (CN). The messages between MME and CN are much simpler.

We also can infer that the interoperability testing (IOT) between MME and AN would take considerably more time than between MME and CN. Reducing IOT time is critical for time to market of new services.

MME Deployment Considerations

Legend: GPRS Tunneling Protocol for the control plane (GTPC). Tunnels signaling messages between MME and SGW (S11).

Figure 5. S11 Protocol Stack.

The separation in control and data plane is a major change for customers switching from 2G/3G to LTE. CDMA/GSM networks distribute the control plane across multiple network elements (Fig. 6). In LTE, there is a much cleaner control and data plane separation.







Control Plane

Data Plane

Figure 6. Control and Data Plane Comparisons for 3G and 4G.

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Data Center Internet

Data Center Internet Data Center Internet




Data Center Internet





3G Network Deployment
Figure 7. Typical 3G and LTE Network Deployments.

LTE Network Deployment

In 3G, NodeB, RNC and SGSN handle the complex mobility management function. In LTE, MME and eNodeB take on this role. Optimized mobility management is a key requirement for mobile user experience. To provide this in 3G, operators typically deploy SGSN in the RAN. To accomplish a similar requirement, LTE operators might want to deploy MME in the RAN (Fig. 7). In 3G, the PDN functions are concentrated closer to data center and Internet handoff points. With LTE, the architecture enables the data plane to be far more distributed (Fig. 7).

MME Vendor Selection Analysis

Mobile operators have multiple options to adopt and migrate to LTE/EPC architecture. Lets examine the practical considerations associated with three of these models (Fig. 8).

Option 1: MME from RAN Internet


Option 2: MME from PC Internet


Option 3: RAN, EPC (E2E) Internet


Charging/ PCRF Gx Gy Gz

Charging/ PCRF Gx Gy Gz

Charging/ PCRF Gx Gy Gz











Figure 8. MME Procurement Options.

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MME from RAN/AN In this option, the mobile operator can acquire an MME from the RAN vendor. This enables the operator to keep the core network consistent, best-of-breed and different from the access network. If the operator plans different RAN vendors in different markets, each RAN vendor can provide their own MME solution. Additional considerations:

End-to-End solution from RAN vendor The mobile operator can procure all LTE/EPC network elements from the RAN vendor. Additional points:

Can restrict the mobile operators long-term evolution plan for best-of-breed LTE/EPC network elements. Might lock mobile operators in with a single vendor; not enough leverage. A single vendor might mean slower time-to-market. Needs to align all network elements for specific market differentiation.

RAN vendor can offer optimized mobility and handoff management. Operators can achieve faster time to market because the RAN vendor offers IOT between MME and RAN. Mobile operator has flexibility to procure different RAN vendors for different markets based on specific market needs. Keeping the core network the same across markets provides consistent differentiation and better traffic management. Significantly reduces the risk of IOT between MME and RAN due to the complexity of the functions. Radio vendors have a great deal of experience with existing cellular deployments, and one of the main goals of LTE is backward compatibility. The MME plays a major role in seamless interworking; its possible to leverage all experience.

The separation of control plane and date plane in the LTE/EPC architecture drives much of the discussion regarding MME. It affects design, deployment and procurement from an appropriate vendor. With increasing demand in seamless mobility and service continuity, the MME needs to be in lock step with the radio access network. MME must have a distributed design to scale to much higher signaling loads and be interoperable with the radio vendors for ease of deployment and time to market.

LTE Specification 3GPP TS 23.401 LTE Specification 3GPP TS 22.2278

MME with EPC The mobile operator can procure the MME solution from the packet core vendors. Benefits are similar to Option 1, with the MME closer to the core network. This provides a consistent MME solution across different RAN vendors if present. Additional points to consider:

Packet core vendors will need to interoperate the MME with different radio vendors. Radio vendors and packet core vendors would need to work closely on optimizing mobile handoff use cases and interoperability with 2G/3G networks.

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