GSM Logical & Physical Channels

- a tutorial, description, overview of GSM channels including transport and logical channels, SACCH, SDCCH, FACCH, etc.

GSM uses a variety of channels in which the data is carried. In GSM, these channels are separated into physical channels and logical channels. The Physical channels are determined by the timeslot, whereas the logical channels are determined by the information carried within the physical channel. It can be further summarised by saying that several recurring timeslots on a carrier constitute a physical channel. These are then used by different logical channels to transfer information. These channels may either be used for user data (payload) or signalling to enable the system to operate correctly.

Common and dedicated channels

The channels may also be divided into common and dedicated channels. The forward common channels are used for paging to inform a mobile of an incoming call, responding to channel requests, and broadcasting bulletin board information. The return common channel is a random access channel used by the mobile to request channel resources before timing information is conveyed by the BSS.

The dedicated channels are of two main types: those used for signalling, and those used for traffic. The signalling channels are used for maintenance of the call and for enabling call set up, providing facilities such as handover when the call is in progress, and finally terminating the call. The traffic channels handle the actual payload.

The following logical channels are defined in GSM:

TCHf - Full rate traffic channel.

TCH h - Half rate traffic channel.

BCCH - Broadcast Network information, e.g. for describing the current control channel structure. The BCCH is a point-to-multipoint channel (BSS-to-MS).

SCH - Synchronisation of the MSs.

FCHMS - frequency correction.

AGCH - Acknowledge channel requests from MS and allocate a SDCCH.

PCHMS - terminating call announcement.

RACHMS - access requests, response to call announcement, location update, etc.

FACCHt - For time critical signalling over the TCH (e.g. for handover signalling). Traffic burst is stolen for a full signalling burst.

SACCHt - TCH in-band signalling, e.g. for link monitoring.

SDCCH - For signalling exchanges, e.g. during call setup, registration / location updates.

FACCHs - FACCH for the SDCCH. The SDCCH burst is stolen for a full signalling burst. Function not clear in the present version of GSM (could be used for e.g. handover of an eight-rate channel, i.e. using a "SDCCH-like" channel for other purposes than signalling).

SACCHs - SDCCH in-band signalling, e.g. for link monitoring.

By Ian Poole


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