Continuous Packet Connectivity (CPC) Is Not Sexy – Part 1

Currently, the 3GPP Standards body is giving the final touches to a set of features which are together referred to as Continuous Packet Connectivity (CPC). Several papers mention CPC but I haven’t found a single one so far who could really tell in simple words why these features are necessary and what they actually do. The reason for this is simple: While features like MIMO, spatial multiplexing, beamforming, etc. etc. are broad new concepts (and sound sexy…) CPC consists of a couple of deeply embedded features enhancing existing functionality. Twisting a couple of bits here and a couple of bits there is not very sexy and also not very understandable out of the box.

The Situation Today

With HSPA (HSDPA and HSUPA), mobile devices now have a multi megabit data bearer to both send and receive their data. As devices do not send data all the time there are the following activity states which require more or less interaction with the network:

  • Active: In this mode, the mobile uses HSDPA High Speed Downlink Shared Channels (HS-DSCHs) and an HSUPA Dedicated Uplink Channel (E-DCH).
  • During Short Periods of Inactivity (< around 10s): The network keeps the high speed channels in both uplink and downlink direction in place so the mobile can resume transferring data without delay. Keeping the high speed channels in place means that the mobile has to keep transmitting radio layer control information to the network which has a negative impact on battery life and also decreases the bandwidth for other devices in the cell. 10 seconds is certainly a compromise which is not always ideal since during a web browsing session, for example, it takes the user longer in many cases than this time to click on a new link.
  • During longer periods of inactivity (< around 30s): When no data is transfered for longer than a couple of seconds, the network puts the device on slow channels (RACH in uplink , FACH in downlink). This has the advantage that the mobile does not have to send radio layer control information back to the network anymore. This saves battery capacity to some extent. However, the mobile still has to observe the downlink channel to catch incoming data transmissions which also requires some energy. If the mobile wants to resume communication or in case data arrives for the device from the Internet, the network starts sending/receiving the data on the slow channels and starts a procedure to put the device back on the fast channels. However, this procedure takes in the order of 1 to 2 seconds so the user notices a delay when requesting a new web page for example. This delay is quite undesired.
  • Even longer periods of inactivity (> around 30 seconds): After about 30 seconds, or 60 seconds in some networks, the Radio Network Controller decides that it’s unlikely that the mobile will send or receive any more data for some time and thus puts the connection in Idle state. In this state the mobile does not have to send control information to the network and also does not have to listen to downlink transmissions except during periodic slots in which paging messages are broadcast. These paging messages are important to inform devices of incoming calls or of new data packets. For most of the time the mobile can now completely switch of the receiver and only activate it to receive paging messages and to scan for other cells of the network. If the mobile wants to transmit data again the radio layer has to request a channel again from the network. This takes even longer than the upgrade from a slow channel to a fast channel and results in an even longer delay before a web page starts loading. (Note: I won’t consider Cell-PCH and URA-PCH states for now)

The mobile keeps it’s IP address in all states, i.e. also in Idle state. Therefore, these state changes are  transparent to applications and the user except for the delay when upgrading to a faster channel once data is transfered again.

Desired Improvements

Continuous Packet Connectivity aims at reducing the shortcomings described above by introducing enhancements to keep a device on the high speed channels (i.e. in active state) as long as possible while no data transfer is ongoing by reducing the negative effects of this, i.e. reducing power consumption and reducing the bandwidth requirements for radio layer signaling during that time.

CPC Enhancements

CPC introduces the following new features to reach these improvements:

In Uplink:

  • A new UL DPCCH slot format
  • UL DPCCH gating/discontinuous transmission
  • Implicit CQI reporting reduction

In the Downlink:

  • F-DPCH gating in DL
  • Discontinuous reception (DRX) at the UE
  • A so called HS-SCCH-less operation
  • Modified HS-SCCH for retransmission(s)

Unless you regularly attend 3GPP RAN meetings, this list probably won’t tell you much. But don’t despair, I’ll publish part two of "CPC is Not Sexy" soon in which I will describe these features in understandable terms.

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