GSM Network Interfaces

2G GSM uses defined standard interfaces to connect the network entities to enable interoperability for equipment different manufacturers.

GSM primer includes:
GSM introduction     Network architecture     Network interfaces     RF interface / slot & burst     GSM frames     Power classes & control     Channels     Audio codecs / vocoders     Handover    

In order to ensure that networks could be assembled from elements from different manufacturers, standard interfaces were defined. In this way it could be guaranteed that the way they communicated would be the same whatever manufacturer.

This approach enabled a large number of equipment manufacturers to enter the market and grew the overall number of suppliers and level of competition.

The interfaces varied dependent upon the connection, i.e. which network elements or entities were being connected.

GSM network interfaces list

A series of different interface definitions were written and each given names as seen below.

  • Um interface   The "air" or radio interface standard that is used for exchanges between a mobile (ME) and a base station (BTS / BSC). For signalling, a modified version of the ISDN LAPD, known as LAPDm is used.
  • Abis interface   This is a BSS internal interface linking the BSC and a BTS, and it has not been totally standardised. The Abis interface allows control of the radio equipment and radio frequency allocation in the BTS.
  • A interface   The A interface is used to provide communication between the BSS and the MSC. The interface carries information to enable the channels, timeslots and the like to be allocated to the mobile equipments being serviced by the BSSs. The messaging required within the network to enable handover etc to be undertaken is carried over the interface.
  • B interface   The B interface exists between the MSC and the VLR . It uses a protocol known as the MAP/B protocol. As most VLRs are collocated with an MSC, this makes the interface purely an "internal" interface. The interface is used whenever the MSC needs access to data regarding a MS located in its area.
  • C interface   The C interface is located between the HLR and a GMSC or a SMS-G. When a call originates from outside the network, i.e. from the PSTN or another mobile network it ahs to pass through the gateway so that routing information required to complete the call may be gained. The protocol used for communication is MAP/C, the letter "C" indicating that the protocol is used for the "C" interface. In addition to this, the MSC may optionally forward billing information to the HLR after the call is completed and cleared down.
  • D interface   The D interface is situated between the VLR and HLR. It uses the MAP/D protocol to exchange the data related to the location of the ME and to the management of the subscriber.
  • E interface   The E interface provides communication between two MSCs. The E interface exchanges data related to handover between the anchor and relay MSCs using the MAP/E protocol.
  • F interface   The F interface is used between an MSC and EIR. It uses the MAP/F protocol. The communications along this interface are used to confirm the status of the IMEI of the ME gaining access to the network.
  • G interface   The G interface interconnects two VLRs of different MSCs and uses the MAP/G protocol to transfer subscriber information, during e.g. a location update procedure.
  • H interface   The H interface exists between the MSC the SMS-G. It transfers short messages and uses the MAP/H protocol.
  • I interface   The I interface can be found between the MSC and the ME. Messages exchanged over the I interface are relayed transparently through the BSS.

In some cases the 2G GSM interfaces were not as rigorously defined as many might have liked, but the did at least provide a large element of the definition required, enabling the functionality of GSM network elements to be defined sufficiently.

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