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Subframe Number, SFN and HFN

In any communication, one of the most important requirement would be that the transmitter and reiver operate at
the same tempo, more technically speaking that the transmitter and reciever should operates in synchronized mode.

Speaking in laymen's terminology, the transmitter and reciever has it's own clock and they have to synchronize the
clock before the communication starts.

What kind of clock they have in LTE ? Like our analog wrist clock, LTE clock has two arms. One arm ticks every 10 ms
and the other arm ticks every 1 ms. Again as in the wrist clock, each of ticks has specific numbers and the numbers
has a certain range.

In LTE, the arm ticking in 10 ms interval has numbers between 0 and 1023 and these numbers are called SFN
(System Frame Number) and the other arm ticking in 1 ms interval has numbers between 0 and 9, and this number
is called subframe number. When subframe number hits the max value (i.e, 9), it goes back to 0 and SFN number
get increased by 1. When SFN number hits the max value (i.e 1023), it goes back to 0.

UE and eNB need to maintain the synchnronization on subframe number and SFN during the whole communication
period.

Based on Subframe and SFN definition, you may notice that the longest time span for the timing synchronization
without resetting to 0 is 1023 SFN. It is 1024 x 10 ms, which is 10240 ms (=10240 subframe = 10.24 sec). Most of
timing related parameters (e.g, Idle mode DRX, Connected Mode DRX, BSR Report period etc) are configured within
this max timiing value.

However, as LTE evolves, especially as LTE tries to cover MTC or IoT related features it turned out that this max time
span is not big enough to schedule all the timing related parameters (e.g, eDRX, PSM configuration). To support this
kind of new requirement, LTE has introduced another timer(clock) called HFN (Hyper Frame Number or Hyper SFN).
HFN is a timer at the next level to SFN. HFN ranges between 0 and 1023 and the value increases by 1 when SFN
reaches 1023 and reset to 0.

Summary of Timers

Name Range Synchronization Method Max Time in ms Max Tim in sec


subframe 0~9 PSS/SSS 10
SFN 0~1023 MIB(PBCH)r 10,240 10.24
10485.76
HFN 0~1023 SIB1 10,485,760
(=2.91 hour)

How to Synchronize these timers between UE and eNB ?

Before the transmitter (eNode B) and the reciever (UE) in LTE start communicating each of other they have to set
these two clock arms to be the same number and this synchronization happens during cell search and timing synch
process. In short, they synchronize the tempo (exact time the arm ticks) by cell search and timing sync and UE get
SFN sync from MIB which carries SFN number in it. How UE can get synchronized for HFN ? It can synchronize the
HFN based on HFN value in SIB1.

Subframe Synchronization : This is done by detecting synchronization signal (PSS and SSS). As you would know of,
PSS and SSS is located in subframe 0 and 5 in legacy LTE and LTE BL/CE (LTE-NB Synchronization signal (NPSS and
NSSS) is different from legacy LTE and LTE BL/CE). In legacy LTE and LTE BL/CE, if UE detects PSS/SSS it is
considered that the subframe is subframe 0 or 5. Then how UE can figure out whether it is subframe 0 or 5. The
answer lines in the contents of SSS. You would notice from Symbol Generation of SSS section that the SSS sequence
data is different between subframe 0 and 5.

SFN Synchronization : SFN Synchronization is done by PBCH (MIB). eNB transmit SFN value at every PBCH and UE
can synchronize its SFN number from this value.

HFN Synchronization : SFN Synchronization is done by hyperSFN IE in SIB1. eNB can transmit hyperSFN in every
SIB1 and UE can synchronize its SFN from this number.