As our subscribers are mobile, moving between base stations / cells, the destination of the incoming GTP-U packets needs to be updated every time the subscriber moves from one cell to another.
As we covered in the last post, the Packet Gateway (P-GW) handles decapsulating and encapsulating this traffic into GTP from external networks, and vise-versa. The Packet Gateway sends the traffic onto a Serving Gateway, that forwards the GTP-U traffic onto the eNodeB serving the user.
So why not just route the traffic from the Packet Gateway directly to the eNodeB?
As our users are inherently mobile, the signalling load to keep updating the destination of the incoming GTP-U traffic to the correct eNB, would put an immense load on the P-GW. So an intermediary gateway – the Serving Gateway (S-GW), is introduced.
The S-GW handles the mobility between cells, and takes the load of the P-GW. The P-GW just hands the traffic to a S-GW and let’s the S-GW handle the mobility.
It’s worth keeping in mind that most LTE connections are not “always on”. Subscribers (UEs) go into “Idle Mode”, in which the data connection and the radio connection is essentially paused, and able to be bought back at a moments notice (this allows us to get better battery life on the UE and better frequency utilisation).
When a user enters Idle Mode, an incoming packet needs to be buffered until the Subscriber/UE can get paged and come back online. Again this function is handled by the S-GW; buffering packets until the UE comes available then forwarding them on.