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Adaptive Load Balancing between Multiple Cell

Antti Tölli and Petteri Hakalin
Nokia Networks, C/ Severo Ochoa, s/n Edif. de Inst. Universitarios, Pl. 3.,
Parque Tecnológico de Andalucía - 29590 Campanillas (Málaga) Spain

Abstract- The target of this paper is to quantify some of the of each cell, CRRM concept as a centralised network entity or
benefits of load information sharing for traffic management in an distributed in each controller is needed.
environment where several different radio access technologies co- Without information sharing only very little or no
exist with cells on several hierarchical layers. information about the target cell status can be obtained. So, a
The benefits of changing the load based handover thresholds
handover or call setup attempt can fail due to high load in the
depending on the load of the neighbouring inter-system/layer
cells are investigated by dynamic simulations for real-time target cell just not being known. In this case, the user
traffic. equipment (UE) either remains in its original cell or is
The results show that the number of unnecessary handover dropped/blocked.
attempts and failures can be significantly reduced by tuning the In order to achieve the trunking gain some of the UEs must
load based handover thresholds, and the load threshold tuning be triggered to make handovers or directed in call setup to
period should be between 10-30s in order to minimise other layers/frequencies/systems due to higher load in the
unnecessary handover measurements and signalling. current cell. However, continuous load balancing actions
I. INTRODUCTION among systems/carriers might lead to unnecessarily big
number of handovers between systems or carriers, and the
Future mobile networks will not consist of just one radio
capacity would potentially be reduced due to higher number of
access technology, such as WCDMA or GSM/EDGE but will required compressed mode (CM) measurements in WCDMA
contain several different radio access technologies, with cells cells.
on several hierarchical layers and frequencies (Fig. 1). In order
to utilise the existing resources most efficiently, the load based GSM/EDGE
traffic management between different systems and cell layers WCDMA
becomes necessary and beneficial. GSM/EDGE
In the existing radio access networks the management of the
radio resources between the systems is performed in a

distributed way where radio network controllers of different multi-mode
terminal WLAN
systems are managing the resources independently. Moreover, TDD
in this scheme the efficiency of the resource management
functions is limited by the area under control of the radio Fig. 1. Which resources should the multi-mode terminal
resource controllers (BSC, RNC etc.). This shortcoming is use?
especially important in the handover (HO) decision, where the Some trunking gain can be achieved already within one
information that can be taken into account to perform the system layer, relieving high load in congested cells by
handover is limited to the resources under the control of each directing users to neighbouring less loaded cells. However, the
radio resource controller. To get the best out of this mixture of load balancing actions considered in this paper are always
resources clearly some form of overall resource management inter-layer such as WCDMA inter-frequency or WCDMA–
is needed. Common Radio Resource Management (CRRM) GSM inter-RAT handovers.
has been introduced to perform these tasks. This solution will In this paper the benefits of changing the load based
act as an adviser for the access to the radio resources, one of handover thresholds depending on the load of the
its tasks being the prioritisation of the candidate target cells in neighbouring inter-system/frequency/layer cells are
handovers and call setups. The basic capacity (trunking) gains investigated by dynamic simulations for real-time (RT) traffic.
from CRRM concept were studied in [1]. The simulation assumptions for RT traffic apply to both
The uniform distribution of traffic is desirable to maximise conversational and streaming traffic classes.
the trunking gain in the network and to minimise the In the next section the idea behind the load based handover
probability of making needless traffic reason handovers. This threshold tuning is introduced. Section III describes the
also results in more uniform distribution of interference simulation model, algorithms and assumptions. In Section IV
between systems. Uniform traffic distribution is achieved from the simulation results for real-time data services are shown.
knowing the load status of each cell, i.e., information sharing Finally, the conclusions are drawn in Section V.
between network elements. In order to share the information

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II. LOAD THRESHOLD TUNING A simple hysteresis method to tune the load thresholds
In order to avoid unnecessary HOs and HO signalling and based on other system load is shown in Fig. 3. The traffic
to trigger handovers only when it is reasonable, both active reason threshold in a cell is increased/decreased by the tuning
and idle mode network parameters could be tuned according to step if the average load of inter-RAT/frequency neighbour
fast changing cell indicators such as load (e.g. real-time load cells is higher/lower by the same tuning step. The parameters
or non-real-time buffer occupation, delay or throughput), needed for the algorithm are: tuning step (e.g. 4%), minimum
measured quality and interference. threshold (e.g. 80%), and maximum threshold if not 100%.
The traffic balancing actions should not necessarily intend
to equalise load amongst systems/carriers, but rather to avoid
very high load in one system whilst other systems are less 100

loaded. This is achieved by introducing a certain minimum

load threshold in cells. In order to minimise the number of
load reason handovers the level of the threshold should be set
to a fairly high value. However, the load threshold value close

reason HO threshold
Inter-system traffic
to 100% is neither feasible due to the fact that the handover or
directed retry is not always ideal and there is always risk of 90

loosing a call in the actual handover procedure. Also the actual

cell load can be estimated only with limited accuracy.
If the load is below the minimum load threshold in all cells,
the network operates without any load balancing activities
such as load based handover, etc. Above the threshold, the
load can be reduced to below the threshold by choosing a 80

sufficient number of UEs to be handed over to less loaded

cells. The more the threshold is exceeded the more handovers 80 90 100
Average load of inter-system
should be initiated. However, this can lead to high number of neighbouring cells
HO attempts and failures especially if the networks are highly
Fig. 3. Tuning of traffic reason load threshold, 4% step
loaded, and if the load based HO triggers are fixed thresholds
(see the left part in Fig. 2). The load threshold tuning can be especially important for
Assuming the load information is available from other cells WCDMA system due to its compressed mode limitations.
via load information sharing, these thresholds can be Unless WCDMA UE has two receivers, it needs the
tuned/adjusted depending on the load of the neighbouring compressed mode (CM) to perform measurements of other
inter-RAT/frequency/layer cells, i.e., comparing the existing WCDMA carriers or e.g. neighbouring GSM cells. The
threshold in each cell to the average load of inter- compressed mode must be compensated by using higher
RAT/frequency neighbour cells and adjusting the threshold transmission powers in both uplink and downlink, thus the
accordingly. Consequently, unnecessary handovers can be capacity of the cell is decreased.
avoided when all the layers are equally or more loaded than As the possible target cell(s) cannot be known surely before
the current cell (see the right part in Fig. 2). performing the actual CM measurements in WCDMA, the
decision whether to start CM measurement for load based HO
must be based on some average load of the other frequency or
Load reason handovers &
CM measurements (WCDMA)
No load reason handovers
nor CM measurements
other system cells (Fig. 3). If the load threshold was kept too
low with respect to inter-frequency/system neighbour cell load
levels too many users would enter the compressed mode
Max. capacity generating more interference (capacity decreased). Therefore,
(call blocking threshold)
it would be beneficial to avoid unnecessary CM measurements
Fixed load
e.g. with above described algorithm.
thresholds If the target cell loads are known in the controller the
Tuned load
load capacity savings in GSM are not that large, since there are no
similar compressed mode limitations as in WCDMA.
GSM WCDMA GSM WCDMA It must be noted that the number of unnecessary HO
Fig. 2. An example of load threshold tuning between attempts can be also reduced and the performance somewhat
WCDMA and GSM layers improved even if the load information is not exchanged
For example, if the load in all systems was high (e.g. 90%), between controllers. This can be achieved by introducing
then load thresholds of 80% would cause unnecessary activity. some cell based penalty timers to handover algorithms, which
A load threshold higher than 90% would then be better, are triggered when the load in the target system is likely to be
preventing CM measurements, handover signalling, etc. In high, e.g., due to high HO fail rate. Ping-pong effects are also
general, the higher the neighbouring inter-system/layer cell avoided in some degree by e.g. connection based timers.
load is in a cell, the higher the load threshold should be set.

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III. SIMULATION MODEL In these simulations the minimum load reason HO
The simulation area consists of 5x4 hexagonal grid of cells. triggering thresholds are set at 80% load for each cell. Above
The border effects are alleviated by using wrap-around the threshold the UEs are handed over to another system
method. The left and right borders of the hexagon grid are because of load reason. With CRRM these thresholds can be
connected to each other as well as the top to the bottom, thus auto-tuned up to 100% depending on the load of the
each cell has 6 intra-layer neighbours. neighbouring inter-system/layer cells, in order to avoid
There can be up to n layers on top of the first layer. Each needless handovers when all the layers are highly loaded.
layer has the same properties, such as maximum bandwidth, As the load reason handover is triggered between layers a
i.e., no radio system specific features/limitations (e.g. number of users causing excess load are commanded to make
timeslots) are considered, and a layer can be WCDMA, GSM, inter-layer/frequency/system HO to one of the target cells. If
etc. The effect of compressed mode is not considered in these the target cell load is less than the load threshold, the intra-
simulations. system/layer HO is proceeded. In contrary case HO is failed
In the simulations the position of a UE is not defined and call is kept in original cell. The procedure is illustrated in
strictly, but as a membership to a certain cell and therefore no Fig. 5. If both current cell and target cell are fully loaded the
propagation model is needed. In Fig. 4 the UE speed call is dropped.
distribution used in the simulations is depicted. The cell load status are known by the CRRM. Thus, the
20 optimum cell can be chosen among n parallel cells in both call
setup and inter-system/layer HO. Note that the target cell
Relative percentage

12 selection is based only on the cell load and no QoS issues are
considered. The source cell is also included in the target cell
selection, i.e., a load based handover attempt is failed if the
0 20 40 60 80 100 120
triggering source cell is less loaded than any of the target cells.
Call Setup or
Fig. 4. UE speed distribution Handover

The direction of the movement is randomly determined. The

border crossings between cells within the same system are No CRRM:
Choose the
LOAD of current
treated as probabilities arising from the speed distribution of cell:
100% randomly least loaded
one target cell as
UE according to function cell target cell

 timestep ⋅ UE _ Speed  , LoadThreshold% - <100%

PMS _ BC = tanh   (1) No CRRM: CRRM:
 2 ⋅ 3 .6 ⋅ L  Choose Choose the
randomly least loaded LOAD of target
one target cell as
where timestep is one simulation step in [s], UE_Speed is cell target cell
cell 100%

speed of UE from the distribution in [km/h], and L equals to <LoadThreshold% Yes

cell radius in [m]. The factor 3.6 in the denominator is a unit LOAD of target
conversion from [km/h] to [m/s]. The factor 2 is needed as an cell over the
adjustment, so that the border crossing probability is about
0.5, if UE moves one cell radius in one timestep. Yes

The air interface of the RT simulations consists of capacity Setup call/stay

in current
Setup call/ISHO
in target
Block/drop the
definitions for each layer. In the model only hard capacity cell cell

limits are used, such as maximum capacity for all cells in Fig. 5. Call setup and traffic reason HO procedure with and
kbits/s. Thus, if the limits are exceeded, the UE is either without CRRM [1]
handed over to another layer or the call is dropped.
In initial access (call setup) same load thresholds are used
For each single real-time call a certain duration time is
as in case of handovers. If the load of the source cell is over
chosen. The call duration distribution follows the exponential
the threshold, initial access HO is proceeded. In contrary case
initial access HO is failed and call is kept in original cell. If
1 −dx , the current cell is full, directed retry (DR) is performed to one
e f ( x) = (2)
d of the target cells/systems. See Fig. 5. If both current cell and
where the mean duration of a call is 120s (d=1/120). All target cell are fully loaded the call is blocked. Note that only
terminals are assumed to be multi-mode capable, so they can one DR is allowed in RT call setup.
operate in all systems/layers. The traffic model is a constant Performance comparison between simulations with and
bit rate model, with 100 % of activity, hence no silent periods without CRRM can be found in [1]. In this paper CRRM is
are modeled [2]. used in all simulation cases.
The call arrival process has been modelled with Poisson
distribution [2]. On average the number of active calls remain
constant during the simulation. Also with this approach it is
assumed that no queuing occurs.

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IV. RESULTS Although the smaller tuning period results in less number of
In this section the main simulation results are briefly HO failures, the case is reversed as the number of load reason
explained. The main parameters for the load threshold tuning HOs is considered (Fig. 8). Fast tuning with 1s tuning period
simulations are shown in Table 1. generates some more load based handovers than slower tuning
(10-60s) because the load thresholds are changing constantly
Table 1. RT simulation parameters
up and down.
Channel bandwidth 800 kbps
Service kbps 32 kbps
With lower system load the number of load reason
Max connections per cell/layer 25 handovers is kept at the same or lower level than without
Min Load threshold 640 kbps (80%) tuning. When the system load is increased the load thresholds
Simulation time 20 minutes are increased on average as well, and hence, allowing more
Load threshold tuning step 32kbps (4%) load reason HOs. The increase of the number of load based
Tuning period (TP) 1-60 seconds
HOs is saturated at 88-90% of total load since in some cells
All simulations are run with four independent layers (e.g. the load thresholds have reached 100% level, and no load
one GSM system and 3 WCDMA frequencies). The load based handovers can be triggered nor received. In the 'no
information is shared between overlapping cells. tuning' case the load thresholds are fixed to 80%, preventing
Fig. 6 shows an example of blocking as a function of load reason HOs if the target cells are over 80% loaded.
32kbps user traffic both with and without tuning algorithm. It
can be seen that the tuning does not have any effect on the RT Tuning period of 1s
trunking capacity. The variation in the curves is due to finite 3500
simulation time. Tuning period of
Load reason HOs
Tuning period of
Tuning period of 1s
10 2500 30s

Tuning period of
Blocking %

Tuning period of 2000 60s

6 10s
No tuning
4 Tuning period of
78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 96
Total load [%]
No tuning
0 Fig. 8. Number of load reason handovers in tuning
78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 96
Total load [%] simulations as a function of user traffic and tuning period.
Fig. 6. Blocking as a function of 32kbps user traffic with From Fig. 9 an obvious result can be seen, the higher the
and without load threshold tuning (4 layers) tuning period the less the number of HO threshold changes.
The HO threshold change rate is saturated with high loads
In Fig. 7 the reduction of HO failures (HO attempts – load (around 88-90%) as some load thresholds are already tuned to
reason HOs = failed HOs) is illustrated. It is seen from the maximum value.
figure that the number of failed HOs is reduced practically to
zero if 1s tuning is used, i.e., the tuning algorithm is able to Tuning period of
adjust the load threshold so that almost all load reason 10s
HO Threshold Changes

handovers are succeeded when triggered. With more feasible Tuning period of
30s tuning period the reduction can be still over 10-fold with 30s
higher system loads (blocking > 2%) as compared to the case 1500
Tuning period of
without tuning. HO failures consist of both triggered HO 60s
attempts rejected by target cell and triggered HO attempts 500
No tuning
where the resulting target cell after cell prioritisation is the 0
same as the source cell. 78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 96
Total load [%]
Tuning period of 1s
300000 Fig. 9. Number of HO threshold changes in tuning
250000 Tuning period of
simulations as a function of user traffic and tuning period.
HO failures

Following load based handover and handover failure rates
150000 Tuning period of
are calculated by extracting the number of load reason inter-
100000 system/layer handovers and handover failures from Fig. 8 and
Tuning period of
50000 60s Fig. 7 at 2% blocking (87% total load, see Fig. 6), and divided
0 No tuning
by the number of users and the simulation time. Resulting
78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 96 rates are presented graphically in Fig. 10.
Total load [%]

Fig. 7. Number of handover failures in tuning simulations as

a function of user traffic and tuning period.

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Load Reason handovers per user per min Handover failures per user per min The higher number of initial access handovers with tuning
(Fig. 12) are somewhat compensated by the gains with DR.
0.11 6.00
However, it is better to perform load balancing actions before
5.00 the cell has reached the maximum load. In initial access

Handover failure rate

handovers it is always possible to stay in the current cell
Handover rate

0.09 3.00
unlike in case of DR.
The number of load reason initial access handovers is
0.08 higher with tuning due to the fact that the load thresholds are
1.00 maintained at higher level with higher network load. Again the
0.07 0.00 same saturation effect at 88-90% load can be clearly seen in
TP 1s TP 10s TP 30s TP 60s No tuning Fig. 12.

Fig. 10. Load reason handover and handover attempt rates V. CONCLUSIONS
per user per minute (2%blocking=87% total load) The number of unnecessary HO attempts can be
As all three factors (HO failures, load reason HOs, and HO significantly reduced by tuning the load based HO thresholds.
threshold changes) are considered, it seems that the tuning For example, the reduction can be 10-fold with high system
period thereabouts 10-30s results in the best system loads (blocking > 2%) with 30s tuning period.
performance. The auto-tuning period for load thresholds should be
In the following the number of Directed Retries (Fig. 11), between 10-30s in order to minimise unnecessary handover
the number of load reason initial access handovers (Fig. 12), measurements and signalling.
and the failure rates of load reason initial access handovers are The number of required directed retries can be reduced by
studied as a function of user traffic and tuning period (TP). load threshold tuning due to the fact that load based handovers
The load reason initial access handover failures behave very are allowed at higher network load levels.
similarly to load based HO failures depicted in Fig. 7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Tuning The authors would like to acknowledge the suggestions and
period of 1s
the contributions from several colleagues within Nokia
Directed Retries

4000 period of 10s

Tuning This work has been performed as part of the co-operation
3000 period of 30s agreement between Nokia and the University of Malaga. This
2000 Tuning
period of 60s
agreement is partially supported by the Program to promote
1000 No tuning
technical research (Programa de Fomento de la Investigación
Técnica, PROFIT) of the Spanish Ministry of Science and
75 80 85 90 95
Total Load [%]
Fig. 11. Number of Directed Retries in tuning simulations [1] A. Tölli, P. Hakalin & H.Holma, Performance Evaluation of
as a function of user traffic and tuning period Common Radio Resource Management (CRRM), ICC2002, NY,
It can be seen from Fig. 11 that the number of DRs can be [2] ETSI SMG2. Universal Mobile Telecommunication System
reduced with tuning due to more balanced network. The load (UMTS); Selection Procedures for the choice of Radio Transmission
thresholds are maintained at higher level with higher network Technologies of the UMTS. ETSI SMG2 Technical Report, TR 101
112 v3.2.0 (UMTS 30.03), 83 pp.
load which makes it possible to balance the network load more
effectively at higher network load levels, and hence, less
directed retries are needed.
Load Reason initial access HOs

period of 1s
period of 10s
2500 Tuning
period of 30s
1500 Tuning
period of 60s
500 No tuning
75 80 85 90 95
Total load [%]

Fig. 12. Number of load reason initial access handovers in

tuning simulations as a function of user traffic and tuning

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