Thursday, December 06, 2007

Broadcast messages and paging

Practically every cellular system has some kind of broadcast mechanism. This can be used directly for distributing information to multiple mobiles, commonly, for example in mobile telephony systems, the most important use of broadcast information is to set up channels for one to one communication between the mobile transreceiver and the base station. This is called paging.

The details of the process of paging vary somewhat from network to network, but normally we know a limited number of cells where the phone is located (this group of cells is called a Location Area in the GSM or UMTS system, or Routing Area if a data packet session is involved). Paging takes place by sending the broadcast message to all of those cells. Paging messages can be used for information transfer. This happens in pagers, in CDMA systems for sending SMS messages, and in the UMTS system where it allows for low downlink latency in packet-based connections.

Our taxi network is a very good example here. The broadcast capability is often used to tell about road conditions and also to tell about work which is available to anybody. On the other hand, typically there is a list of taxis waiting for work. When a particular taxi comes up for work, the operator will call their number over the air. The taxi driver acknowledges that they are listening, then the operator reads out the address where the taxi driver has to go.

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