Understanding cellular networks

A cellular network, also known as a mobile network, consists of various components that work together to provide wireless communication services to mobile devices. IoT devices rely on the mobile network infrastructure to transmit data, authenticate with the network and facilitate communication between the devices and the customer system or cloud.

On the whole, a cellular network infrastructure includes:

  1. IoT Devices: These are the various sensors, actuators, and devices used to collect data or control physical objects in the IoT ecosystem. Examples include smart sensors, wearables, industrial machinery, or connected appliances.
  2. IoT Gateway: An IoT gateway acts as an intermediary between IoT devices and the broader network infrastructure. It provides protocol translation, data filtering, security, and local processing capabilities. Gateways often have connectivity options such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, or cellular to facilitate communication with devices.
  3. Base Station (Cell Tower): A base station, also known as a cell tower, is a physical structure equipped with antennas and transceivers that enable communication between mobile devices and the network. Base stations are strategically placed to provide coverage in specific areas known as cells.
  4. Base Station Controller (BSC): The BSC is responsible for managing multiple base stations. It handles functions like call setup, handover (transferring a call from one cell to another), and allocating radio resources.
  5. Mobile Switching Center (MSC): The MSC is a central switching entity that connects the cellular network to other networks, such as the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or the internet. It manages call routing, mobility management, and other core network functions. In many IoT scenarios, voice communication is not a primary focus, and the requirements revolve more around data transmission, device management, and connectivity. However, the network will also contain this entity.
  6. Home Location Register (HLR): The HLR is a database that stores subscriber information, including the current location, services subscribed, and authentication information. For more information, see About the Home Location Register (HLR).
  7. Visitor Location Register (VLR): The VLR is a database that temporarily stores subscriber information when they are roaming outside their home network's coverage area. For more information, see About the Visitor Location Register (VLR).
  8. Authentication Center (AuC): The AuC is responsible for authenticating and verifying the identity of subscribers. It stores authentication parameters and encryption keys required for secure communication.
  9. Gateway Mobile Switching Center (GMSC): The GMSC acts as an interface between the cellular network and external networks when routing calls to subscribers located outside the cellular network.
  10. Short Message Service Center (SMSC): The SMSC is responsible for handling the storage, forwarding, and delivery of SMS (Short Message Service) messages between mobile devices.
  11. Operation and Maintenance Center (OMC): The OMC monitors and manages the overall operation and performance of the cellular network. It helps in troubleshooting, configuration management, and network optimization.