GPRS Operation & States

- an introduction, overview or tutorial of the basics of the operation of the GPRS cellular system.

When looking at the way in which GPRS operates, it can be seen that there are three basic modes in which it operates. These are: initialisation / idle, standby, and ready.

Initialisation / idle

When the mobile is turned on it must register with the network and update the location register. This is very similar to that performed with a GSM mobile, but it is referred to as a location update. It first locates a suitable cell and transmits a radio burst on the RACH using a shortened burst because it does not know what timing advance is required. The data contained within this burst temporarily identifies the mobile, and indicates that the reason for the update is to perform a location update.

When the mobile performs its location update the network also performs an authentication to ensure that it is allowed to access the network. As for GSM it accesses the HLR and VLR as necessary for the location update and the AuC for authentication. It is at registration that the network detects that the mobile has a GPRS capability. The SGSN also maintains a record of the location of the mobile so that data can be sent there is required.


The mobile then enters a standby mode, periodically updating its position as required. It monitors the MNC of the base station to ensure that it has not changed base stations and also looks for stronger base station control channels.

The mobile will also monitor the PPCH in case of an incoming alert indicating that data is ready to be sent. As for GSM, most base stations set up a schedule for paging alerts based on the last figures of the mobile number. In this way it does not have to monitor all the available alert slots and can instead only monitor a reduced number where it knows alerts can be sent for it. In this way the receiver can be turned off for longer and battery life can be extended.


In the ready mode the mobile is attached to the system and a virtual connection is made with the SGSN and GGSN. By making this connection the network knows where to route the packets when they are sent and received. In addition to this the mobile is likely to use the PTCCH to ensure that its timing is correctly set so that it is ready for a data transfer should one be needed.

With the mobile attached to the network, it is prepared for a call or data transfer. To transmit data the mobile attempts a Packet Channel Request using the PRACH uplink channel. As this may be busy the mobile monitors the PCCCH which contains a status bit indicating the status of the base station receiver, whether it is busy or idle and capable of receiving data. When the mobile sees this status bit indicates the receiver is idle, it sends its packet channel request message. If accepted the base station will respond by sending an assignment message on the PAGCH on the downlink. This will indicate which channel the mobile is to use for its packet data transfer as well as other details required for the data transfer.

This only sets up the packet data transfers for the uplink. If data needs to be transferred in the downlink direction then a separate assignment is performed for the downlink channel.

When data is transferred this is controlled by the action of the MAC layer. In most instances it will operate in an acknowledge mode whereby the base station acknowledges each block of data. The acknowledgement may be contained within the data packets being sent in the downlink, or the base station may send data packets down purely to acknowledge the data.

When disconnecting the mobile will send a packet temporary block flow message, and this is acknowledged. Once this has taken place the USF assigned to the mobile becomes redundant and can be assigned to another mobile wanting access. With this the mobile effectively becomes disconnected and although still attached to the network no more data transfer takes place unless it is re-initiated. Separate messages are needed to detach the mobile from the network.

By Ian Poole

<< Previous   |   Next >>

Share this page

Want more like this? Register for our newsletter

Securing the future of IoT | Rutronik
Securing the future of IoT
Co-authored by Bernd Hantsche, Head of the GDPR Team of Excellence and Marketing Director Embedded & Wireless and Richard Ward, ‎Semiconductor Marketing Manager at Rutronik. is operated and owned by Adrio Communications Ltd and edited by Ian Poole. All information is © Adrio Communications Ltd and may not be copied except for individual personal use. This includes copying material in whatever form into website pages. While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information on, no liability is accepted for any consequences of using it. This site uses cookies. By using this site, these terms including the use of cookies are accepted. More explanation can be found in our Privacy Policy