Tag Archives: SS7

Cisco ITP STP – Network Appearance

Short one,
The other day I needed to add a Network Appearance on an SS7/SS7 M3UA linkset.

Network Appearances on M3UA links are kinda like a port number, in that they allow you to distinguish traffic to the same point code, but handled by different logical entities.

When I added the NA parameter on the Linkset nothing happened.

If you’re facing the same you’ll need to set:

cs7 multi-instance

In the global config (this is the part I missed).

Then select the M3UA linkset you want to change and add the network-appearance parameter:

network-appearance 10

And bingo, you’ll start seeing it in your M3UA traffic:

SSH into Cisco STPs

If it ain’t broke don’t fix is an addage that the telecom industry has well and truly applied to the SS7 space.

If you’ve got an SS7 network (especially one built on TDM links) the general philosophy is don’t touch it and hope to retire before it dies.

The Cisco STP (Internet Transfer Point) is a good example of this, and for that reason I still work on them.

But OpenSSH and standards have moved on, and SSHing into them these days requires some extra (insecure) parameters to access, so here they are:

ssh -oKexAlgorithms=+diffie-hellman-group1-sha1 -oHostKeyAlgorithms=+ssh-rsa -caes128-cbc [email protected]

Will get you into an Version 12.3(4r)T4 Cisco ITP. Be sure to run sho ver and marvel at that uptime!

Demystifying SS7 & Sigtran – Part 6 – Calling with ISUP

So far in our lab we’ve got connectivity between to points, but we’re not carrying any useful data on top of it.

In the same way that TCP is great, but what makes it really useful is carrying application layers like HTTP on top, MTP3 exists to facilitate carrying higher-layer protocols, like ISUP, MAP, SCCP, etc, so let’s get some traffic onto our network.

ISUP is the ISDN User Part, ISUP is used to setup and teardown calls between two exchanges / SSPs – it’s the oldest and the most simple SS7 application to show off, so that’s what we’ll be working with today.

If you’ve not dealt much with ISDN in the past, then that’s OK – we’re not going to deep dive into all the nitty gritty of how ISDN Signaling works, but we’ll just skim the surface to showing how SS7/Sigtran transports the ISUP packets. So you can see how SS7 is used to transport this protocol.

Very Basic ISDN Signalling

ISUP is used to setup and teardown calls between telephone exchanges, which in SS7 networks, are the Service Switching Points (SSPs) we talked about in this post.

You can think of it a lot like SIP, which is if not the child of ISUP, then it at least bares a striking resemblance.

So let’s look at an ISUP call flow:

The call is initiated with an Initial Address Message (IAM), akin to a SIP INVITE, sent by the SSP/Exchange of the calling party to the SSP/Exchange of the called party.
When the remote party starts to ring, the remote exchange sends an Address Complete (ACM), which is similar to a 100 TRYING in SIP.
Once the remote party answers, the remote exchange sends back an Answer Message (ANM), and our call starts, just like a 200 OK.

Rather than SDP for transferring media, timeslots or predefined channels / circuits are defined, each identified by a number, which both sides will use for the media path.

Finally whichever side terminates the call will send a Release (REL) message, which is confirmed with the Release Complete (RLC).

I told you we’d be quick!

So that’s the basics of ISUP, in our next post we’ll do some PCAP analysis on real world ISUP flows!

Cisco ITP / SS7 STP – Viewing MTP3 traffic from TDM Links

Okay, so a little late to the party on this one…

The other day I had to setup a TDM (E1) based SS7 link (oh yes my friend – they still exist) to interconnect with another operator.

I’m using Cisco’s ITP product as the STP / Signaling Gateway, and my trusty port mirror for what’s going on doesn’t extend down to TDM links.

But I found out you can mirror MTP3 traffic from TDM links in the STP!

Firstly we’ve got to define the remote destination to send the TDM mirrored traffic to, and an access list to match all SS7 traffic:

cs7 paklog your.ip.for.sniffing dest-port 514
access-list 2700 instance 0 permit all

Next up we start a debug session for traffic matching that access list:

debug cs7 mtp3 paklog 2700

And then over on your monitoring box (the IP you specified in your.ip.for.sniffing ) fire up Wireshark and voila!

All our MTP3 traffic!

This was super useful for ensuring the ITP was working correctly as a signaling gateway and passing the M3UA packets over onto MTP3 MSUs.

Demystifying SS7 & Sigtran – Part 5 – What layer to Split

This is part of a series of posts looking into SS7 and Sigtran networks. We cover some basic theory and then get into the weeds with GNS3 based labs where we will build real SS7/Sigtran based networks and use them to carry traffic.

So, all going well at this point in the tutorial you’ve got your lab setup with SS7 links between our simulated countries, but we haven’t dug too deep into what’s going on.

Most of the juicy stuff happens in the higher layers, but in this post we’ll look at the Data-Link layer for SS7.

In TDM based SS7 networks, Data Link layer is handled by a layer called “MTP2” – Message Transfer Part 2, which is responsible for flow control and ensuring guaranteed delivery between two points on the network.

MTP2 provides the services you’d typically expect at the Data Link Layer; link alignment, CRC generation/verification, end to end transmission between two points, flow control and sequence verification, etc.

MTP2 is responsible for making the connection between two points capable of carrying those far more interesting upper layers, but it’s really important, particularly when we talk about SIGTRAN/SS7 over IP, to understand how this can be done, so you can understand how the networks fit together.

When we move from TDM based SS7 networks to IP based (Sigtran), MTP2 is removed, and can be replaced with one of two options for transporting Layer 2 messaging over IP, M2UA or M2PA.

All the layers above MTP2 on SS7 or M2UA/M2PA on Sigtran, are unchanged, and the upper layers have no visability that underneath, MTP2 has been replaced with M2UA or M2PA.

Taking MTP2 and putting it onto an IP based Layer 2 protocol is only one option for implementing Sigtran, there are others that we’ll look into as we go along, but with this variant the upper layers above Layer 2 (MTP3) remain changed.

Putting SS7 Data Link Layer (MTP2) onto IP

So the two options – M2UA and M2PA. Why do we have two options?

SS7 networks can be really complicated, and different operators may have different needs when converting these networks to IP.

To satisfy those requirements, there’s a bunch of different flavors of SS7 over IP (Sigtran) available to implement, so operators can select the one that meets their needs and use cases.

This means when we’re learning it, there’s a stack of different options to cover.

On the Layer 2 Level, let’s look at the two options we have in some more detail.

The M2UA Flavour

Image from RFC 4165 / 1.9. Differences Between M2PA and M2UA – Showing M2UA

With a “Nodal Interworking Function” using M2UA, the point codes between our two SS7 nodes remain unchanged.

The SS7 node on the left still talks MTP3 directly with the SS7 node on the right, and the NIF just transparently translates MTP2 into M2UA.

The best analogy I can come up with is that you can think of this as kind of like a Media Converter you’d use for converting between Cat5 to fibre – The devices at each end don’t know they’re not talking over a straight ethernet cable between them, but the media converter changes the transmission medium in between the two in a transparent manner.

M2UA acts in much the same way, except we’re transparently converting the layer 1 & layer 2 signaling, in a way that end devices in the network don’t need to be aware of.

The advantage of this option is that no config changes are needed, we’ve taken our Linksets that were running on TDM and converted them to IP so both ends of the linkset can be moved anywhere with IP connectivity, but transparently to the end devices.

For some carriers this is a real advantage – If you’ve got a dusty SSP running parts of your Customer Access Network, but the engineers who set it up retired long ago and you just want to drop those leased lines, M2UA could be a good option for you.

The disadvantage, as you might have guessed, is that we don’t get much value from just replacing the link from one point to another. It solves one problem, but doesn’t take that much of a step towards converging our network to run over IP.

The M2PA Way

The M2PA way looks a bit different. You’ll notice we’ve got MTP3 on the Signaling Gateway we’re introducing into the network.

This means we need to add a point code between the SS7 node on the left and the SS7 node on the right, where there wasn’t one before, and we will need to update the routing tables on both to know to now route to each other via the point code of our Signaling Gateway rather than directly as the would have before we introduced the Signaling Gateway.

Image from RFC 4165 / 1.9. Differences Between M2PA and M2UA – Showing M2PA

We add another point code and an “active” SS7 device, but now we’ve got a lot more flexibility with what we can do, this no longer needs to be a point-to-point link, but with the introduction of the Signaling Gateway can be point-to-multipoint.

In our lab we setup in GNS3 a few lessons ago, if you take a look at the traffic flowing on these links, you’ll see that it is using M2PA, as we’ve got point codes in between.

Pros and Cons of M2PA and M2UA

So which to chose? Well the answer is (as always) it depends.

If you cannot change any config on the end device (as the person who understood how all this stuff works retired long ago), then M2UA is the answer.
M2UA is just an extension/branch of the MTP2 layer onto IP, it has no understanding / support for the higher-layers of SS7.
M2UA is simpler, it doesn’t require as much understanding, it’s a quick-and-easy “drop-in” replacement for back-hauling SS7 onto IP.
As it’s fairly dumb, M2UA can also allow us to split the load on a high traffic device across two or more SS7 nodes behind it, somewhat like a layer 2 load balancer, but this use case is pretty irrelevant these days.

M2PA on the other hand introduces a new Point Code (Operating on Layer 3 / MTP3) in between the two devices.
This means we introduce a new point code in the path, so have to reconfigure the end devices, but affords us access to a lot of newer features.
We can do all sorts of fancy things like routing of MTP3 messages, on the Signaling Gateway.
This allows us to structure our network in new ways, rather than just doing what we were doing before but over IP.


When it comes to taking SS7 traffic and putting it onto IP at the Layer 2 level, we looked at the two most common options – M2PA and M2UA, and the pros and cons of each.

In our next post we’ll look at doing away with MTP2 layer entirely when we look at M3UA…

ITU International Point Code Structure

I’ve recently been writing a lot about SS7 / Sigtran, and couldn’t fit this in anywhere, but figured it may be of use to someone…

In our 3-8-3 formated ITU International Point code, each of the parts have a unique meaning.

The 3 bits in the first section are called the Zone section. Being only 3 bits long it means we can only encode the numbers 0-7 on them, but ITU have broken the planet up into different “zones”, so the first part of our ITU International Point Code denotes which Zone the Point Code is in (as allocated by ITU).

The next 8 bits in the second section (Area section) are used to define the “Signaling Area Network Code” (SANC), which denotes which country a point code is located in. Values can range from 0-255 and many countries span multiple SANC zones, for example the USA has 58 SANC Zones.

Lastly we have the last 3 bits that make up the ID section, denoting a single unique point code, typically a carrier’s international gateway. It’s unique within a Zone & SANC, so combined with the Zone-SANC-ID makes it a unique address on the SS7 network. Being only 3 bits long means that we’ve only got 8 possible values, hence so many SANCs being used.

3Greenland, North America, the Caribbean, and Mexico
4Middle East and Asia
5South Asia, Australia, and New Zealand
7South America
ITU Point Code Zone World Map

Demystifying SS7 & Sigtran – Part 4 – Routing with Point Codes

This is part of a series of posts looking into SS7 and Sigtran networks. We cover some basic theory and then get into the weeds with GNS3 based labs where we will build real SS7/Sigtran based networks and use them to carry traffic.

Having a direct Linkset from every Point Code to every other Point Code in an SS7 network isn’t practical, we need to rely on routing, so in this post we’ll cover routing between Point Codes on our STPs.

Let’s start in the IP world, imagine a router with a routing table that looks something like this:

Simple IP Routing Table out (Directly Attached) via - Static Route - (Priority 100) via - Static Route - (Priority 50) via - Static Route - (Priority 50)

We have an implicit route for the network we’re directly attached to (, and then a series of static routes we configure.
We’ve also got two routes to the subnet, one is more specific with a higher priority ( – Priority 100), while the other is less specific with a lower priority ( – Priority 50). The higher priority route will take precedence.

This should look pretty familiar to you, but now we’re going to take a look at routing in SS7, and for that we’re going to be talking Variable Length Subnet Masking in detail you haven’t needed to think about since doing your CCNA years ago…

Why Masking is Important

A route to a single Point Code is called a “/14”, this is akin to a single IPv4 address being called a “/32”.

We could setup all our routing tables with static routes to each point code (/14), but with about 4,000 international point codes, this might be a challenge.

Instead, by using Masks, we can group together ranges of Point Codes and route those ranges through a particular STP.

This opens up the ability to achieve things like “Route all traffic to Point Codes to this Default Gateway STP”, or to say “Route all traffic to this region through this STP”.

Individually routing to a point code works well for small scale networking, but there’s power, flexibility and simplification that comes from grouping together ranges of point codes.

Information Overload about Point Codes

So far we’ve talked about point codes in the X.YYY.Z format, in our lab we setup point codes like 1.2.3.

This is not the only option however…

Variants of SS7 Point Codes

IPv4 addresses look the same regardless of where you are. From Algeria to Zimbabwe, IPv4 addresses look the same and route the same.

XKCD 927: Standards

In SS7 networks that’s not the case – There are a lot of variants that define how a point code is structured, how long it is, etc. Common variants are ANSI, ITU-T (International & National variants), ETSI, Japan NTT, TTC & China.

The SS7 variant used must match on both ends of a link; this means an SS7 node speaking ETSI flavoured Point Codes can’t exchange messages with an ANSI flavoured Point Code.

Well, you can kinda translate from one variant to another, but requires some rewriting not unlike how NAT does it.

ITU International Variant

For the start of this series, we’ll be working with the ITU International variant / flavour of Point Code.

ITU International point codes are 14 bits long, and format is described as 3-8-3.
The 3-8-3 form of Point code just means the 14 bit long point code is broken up into three sections, the first section is made up of the first 3 bits, the second section is made up of the next 8 bits then the remaining 3 bits in the last section, for a total of 14 bits.

So our 14 bit 3-8-3 Point Code looks like this in binary form:

000-00000000-000 (Binary) == 0-0-0 (Point Code)

So a point code of 1-2-3 would look like:

001-00000010-011 (Binary) == 1-2-3 (Point Code) [001 = 1, 00000010 = 2, 011 = 3]

This gives us the following maximum values for each part:

111-11111111-111 (Binary) == 7-255-7 (Point Code)

This is not the only way to represent point codes, if we were to take our binary string for 1-2-3 and remove the hyphens, we get 00100000010011. If you convert this binary string into an Integer/Decimal value, you’ll get 2067.

If you’re dealing with multiple vendors or products,you’ll see some SS7 Point Codes represented as decimal (2067), some showing as 1-2-3 codes and sometimes just raw binary.
Fun hey?

Handy point code formatting tool

Why we need to know about Binary and Point Codes

So why does the binary part matter? Well the answer is for masks.

To loop back to the start of this post, we talked about IP routing using a network address and netmask, to represent a range of IP addresses. We can do the same for SS7 Point Codes, but that requires a teeny bit of working out.

As an example let’s imagine we need to setup a route to all point codes from 3-4-0 through to 3-6-7, without specifying all the individual point codes between them.

Firstly let’s look at our start and end point codes in binary:

100-00000100-000 = 3-004-0 (Start Point Code)
100-00000110-111 = 3-006-7 (End Point Code)

Looking at the above example let’s look at how many bits are common between the two,

100-00000100-000 = 3-004-0 (Start Point Code)
100-00000110-111 = 3-006-7 (End Point Code)

The first 9 bits are common, it’s only the last 5 bits that change, so we can group all these together by saying we have a /9 mask.

When it comes time to add a route, we can add a route to 3-4-0/9 and that tells our STP to match everything from point code 3-4-0 through to point code 3-6-7.

The STP doing the routing it only needs to match on the first 9 bits in the point code, to match this route.

SS7 Routing Tables

Now we have covered Masking for roues, we can start putting some routes into our network.

In order to get a message from one point code to another point code, where there isn’t a direct linkset between the two, we need to rely on routing, which is performed by our STPs.

This is where all that point code mask stuff we just covered comes in.

Let’s look at a diagram below,

Let’s look at the routing to get a message from Exchange A (SSP) on the bottom left of the picture to Exchange E (SSP) with Point Code 4.5.3 in the bottom right of the picture.

Exchange A (SSP) on the bottom left of the picture has point code 1.2.3 assigned to it and a Linkset to STP-A.
It has the implicit route to STP-A as it’s got that linkset, but it’s also got a route configured on it to reach any other point code via the Linkset to STP-A via the 0.0.0/0 route which is the SS7 equivalent of a default route. This means any traffic to any point code will go to STP-A.

From STP-A we have a linkset to STP-B. In order to route to the point codes behind STP-B, STP-A has a route to match any Point Code starting with 4.5.X, which is 4.5.0/11.
This means that STP-A will route any Point Code between 4.5.1 and 4.5.7 down the Linkset to STP-B.

STP-B has got a direct connection to Exchange B and Exchange E, so has implicit routes to reach each of them.

So with that routing table, Exchange A should be able to route a message to Exchange E.


Return Routing

Just like in IP routing, we need return routing. while Exchange A (SSP) at 1.2.3 has a route to everywhere in the network, the other parts of the network don’t have a route to get to it. This means a request from 1.2.3 can get anywhere in the network, but it can’t get a response back to 1.2.3.

So to get traffic back to Exchange A (SSP) at 1.2.3, our two Exchanges on the right (Exchange B & C with point codes 4.5.6 and 4.5.3) will need routes added to them. We’ll also need to add routes to STP-B, and once we’ve done that, we should be able to get from Exchange A to any point code in this network.

There is a route missing here, see if you can pick up what it is!

So we’ve added a default route via STP-B on Exchange B & Exchange E, and added a route on STP-B to send anything to 1.2.3/14 via STP-A, and with that we should be able to route from any exchange to any other exchange.

One last point on terminology – when we specify a route we don’t talk in terms of the next hop Point Code, but the Linkset to route it down. For example the default route on Exchange A is 0.0.0/0 via STP-A linkset (The linkset from Exchange A to STP-A), we don’t specify the point code of STP-A, but just the name of the Linkset between them.

Back into the Lab

So back to the lab, where we left it was with linksets between each point code, so each Country could talk to it’s neighbor.

Let’s confirm this is the case before we go setting up routes, then together, we’ll get a route from Country A to Country C (and back).

So let’s check the status of the link from Country B to its two neighbors – Country A and Country C. All going well it should look like this, and if it doesn’t, then stop by my last post and check you’ve got everything setup.

CountryB#show cs7 linkset 
lsn=ToCountryA          apc=1.2.3         state=avail     avail/links=1/1
  SLC  Interface                    Service   PeerState         Inhib
  00 1024 1024           avail     InService         -----

lsn=ToCountryC          apc=7.7.1         state=avail     avail/links=1/1
  SLC  Interface                    Service   PeerState         Inhib
  00 1025 1025           avail     InService         -----

So let’s add some routing so Country A can reach Country C via Country B. On Country A STP we’ll need to add a static route. For this example we’ll add a route to 7.7.1/14 (Just Country C).

That means Country A knows how to get to Country C. But with no return routing, Country C doesn’t know how to get to Country A. So let’s fix that.

We’ll add a static route to Country C to send everything via Country B.

CountryC#conf t
Enter configuration commands, one per line.  End with CNTL/Z.
CountryC(config)#cs7 route-table system
CountryC(config)#update route 0.0.0/0 linkset ToCountryB
*Jan 01 05:37:28.879: %CS7MTP3-5-DESTSTATUS: Destination 0.0.0 is accessible

So now from Country C, let’s see if we can ping Country A (Ok, it’s not a “real” ICMP ping, it’s a link state check message, but the result is essentially the same).

By running:

CountryC# ping cs7 1.2.3
*Jan 01 06:28:53.699: %CS7PING-6-RTT: Test Q.755 1.2.3: MTP Traffic test rtt 48/48/48
*Jan 01 06:28:53.699: %CS7PING-6-STAT: Test Q.755 1.2.3: MTP Traffic test 100% successful packets(1/1)
*Jan 01 06:28:53.699: %CS7PING-6-RATES: Test Q.755 1.2.3: Receive rate(pps:kbps) 1:0 Sent rate(pps:kbps) 1:0
*Jan 01 06:28:53.699: %CS7PING-6-TERM: Test Q.755 1.2.3: MTP Traffic test terminated.

We can confirm now that Country C can reach Country A, we can do the same from Country A to confirm we can reach Country B.

But what about Country D? The route we added on Country A won’t cover Country D, and to get to Country D, again we go through Country B.

This means we could group Country C and Country D into one route entry on Country A that matches anything starting with 7-X-X,

For this we’d add a route on Country A, and then remove the original route;

CountryA(config)# cs7 route-table system
CountryA(config-cs7-rt)#update route 7.0.0/3 linkset ToCountryB
CountryA(config-cs7-rt)#no update route 7.7.1/14 linkset ToCountryB

Of course, you may have already picked up, we’ll need to add a return route to Country D, so that it has a default route pointing all traffic to STP-B. Once we’ve done that from Country A we should be able to reach all the other countries:

CountryA#show cs7 route 
Dynamic Routes 0 of 1000

Routing table = system Destinations = 3 Routes = 3

Destination            Prio Linkset Name        Route
---------------------- ---- ------------------- -------        
4.5.6/14         acces   1  ToCountryB          avail          
7.0.0/3          acces   5  ToCountryB          avail          

CountryA#ping cs7 7.8.1
*Jan 01 07:28:19.503: %CS7PING-6-RTT: Test Q.755 7.8.1: MTP Traffic test rtt 84/84/84
*Jan 01 07:28:19.503: %CS7PING-6-STAT: Test Q.755 7.8.1: MTP Traffic test 100% successful packets(1/1)
*Jan 01 07:28:19.503: %CS7PING-6-RATES: Test Q.755 7.8.1: Receive rate(pps:kbps) 1:0  Sent rate(pps:kbps) 1:0 
*Jan 01 07:28:19.507: %CS7PING-6-TERM: Test Q.755 7.8.1: MTP Traffic test terminated.
CountryA#ping cs7 7.7.1
*Jan 01 07:28:26.839: %CS7PING-6-RTT: Test Q.755 7.7.1: MTP Traffic test rtt 60/60/60
*Jan 01 07:28:26.839: %CS7PING-6-STAT: Test Q.755 7.7.1: MTP Traffic test 100% successful packets(1/1)
*Jan 01 07:28:26.839: %CS7PING-6-RATES: Test Q.755 7.7.1: Receive rate(pps:kbps) 1:0  Sent rate(pps:kbps) 1:0 
*Jan 01 07:28:26.843: %CS7PING-6-TERM: Test Q.755 7.7.1: MTP Traffic test terminated.

So where to from here?

Well, we now have a a functional SS7 network made up of STPs, with routing between them, but if we go back to our SS7 network overview diagram from before, you’ll notice there’s something missing from our lab network…

So far our network is made up only of STPs, that’s like building a network only out of routers!

In our next lab, we’ll start adding some SSPs to actually generate some SS7 traffic on the network, rather than just OAM traffic.

Demystifying SS7 & Sigtran – Part 3 – SS7 Lab in GNS3

This is part of a series of posts looking into SS7 and Sigtran networks. We cover some basic theory and then get into the weeds with GNS3 based labs where we will build real SS7/Sigtran based networks and use them to carry traffic.

So we’ve made it through the first two parts of this series talking about how it all works, but now dear reader, we build an SS7 Lab!

At one point, and SS7 Signaling Transfer Point would be made up of at least 3 full size racks, and cost $5M USD.
We can run a dozen of them inside GNS3!

This post won’t cover usage of GNS3 itself, there’s plenty of good documentation on using GNS3 if you need to get acquainted with it before we start.

Cisco’s “IP Transfer Point” (ITP) software adds SS7 STP functionality to some models of Cisco Router, like the 2651XM and C7200 series hardware.

Luckily for us, these hardware platforms can be emulated in GNS3, so that’s how we’ll be setting up our instances of Cisco’s ITP product to use as STPs in our network.

For the rest of this post series, I’ll refer to Cisco’s IP Transfer Point as the “Cisco STP”.

Not open source you say! Osmocom have OsmoSTP, which we’ll introduce in a future post, and elaborate on why later…

From inside GNS3, we’ll create a new template as per the Gif below.

You will need a copy of the software image to load in. If you’ve got software entitlements you should be able to download it, the filename of the image I’m using for the 7200 series is c7200-itpk9-mz.124-15.SW.bin and if you go searching, you should find it.

Now we can start building networks with our Cisco STPs!

What we’re going to achieve

In this lab we’re going to introduce the basics of setting up STPs using Sigtran (SS7 over IP).

If you follow along, by the end of this post you should have two STPs talking Sigtran based SS7 to each other, and be able to see the SS7 packets in Wireshark.

As we touched on in the last post, there’s a lot of different flavours and ways to implement SS7 over IP. For this post, we’re going to use M2PA (MTP2 Peer Adaptation Layer) to carry the MTP2 signaling, while MTP3 and higher will look the same as if it were on a TDM link. In a future post we’ll better detail the options here, the strengths and weaknesses of each method of transporting SS7 over IP, but that’s future us’ problem.

IP Connectivity

As we don’t have any TDM links, we’re going to do everything on IP, this means we have to setup the IP layer, before we can add any SS7/Sigtran stuff on top, so we’re going to need to get basic IP connectivity going between our Cisco STPs.

So for this we’ll need to set an IP Address on an interface, unshut it, link the two STPs. Once we’ve confirmed that we’ve got IP connectivity running between the two, we can get started on the Sigtran / SS7 side of things.

Let’s face it, if you’re reading this, I’m going to bet that you are probably aware of how to configure a router interface.

I’ve put a simple template down in the background to make a little more sense, which I’ve attached here if you want to follow along with the same addressing, etc.

So we’ll configure all the routers in each country with an IP – we don’t need to configure IP routing. This means adjacent countries with a direct connection between them should be able to ping each other, but separated countries shouldn’t be able to.

So now we’ve got IP connectivity between two countries, let’s get Sigtran / SS7 setup!

First we’ll need to define the basics, from configure-terminal in each of the Cisco STPs. We’ll need to set the SS7 variant (We’ll use ITU variant as we’re simulating international links), the network-indicator (This is an International network, so we’ll use that) and the point code for this STP (From the background image).

CountryA(config)#cs7 variant itu 
CountryA(config)#cs7 network-indicator international 
CountryA(config)#cs7 point-code 1.2.3

Repeat this step on Country A and Country B.

Next we’ll define a local peer on the STP. This is an instance of the Sigtran stack along with the port we’ll be listening on. Our remote peer will need to know this value to bring up the connection, the number specified is the port, and the IP is the IP it will bind on.

CountryA(config)#cs7 local-peer 1024

If we had multiple layer 3 IP Interfaces connecting Country A & Country B, we could list all the IP Addresses here for SCTP Multihoming.

Lastly on Country A we’ll need to define our Linkset to connect to our peer.

CountryA(config)#cs7 linkset ToCountryB 4.5.6
CountryA(config-cs7-ls)#link 0 sctp 1024 1024

Where the first 1024 is the local-peer port we configured earlier, and the second 1024 is the remote peer port we’re about to configure on Country B.

If we stop at this point and sniff the traffic from Country A to Country B, we’ll see SCTP INITs from Country A to Country B, as it tries to bring up the SCTP connection for our SS7 traffic, and the SCTP connection gets rejected by Country B.

This is of course, because we’ve only configured Country A at this stage, so let’s fix this by configuring Country B.

On CountryB, again we’ll set the basic parameters, our local-peer settings and the Linkset to bring up,

CountryB(config)#cs7 variant itu 
CountryB(config)#cs7 network-indicator international 
CountryB(config)#cs7 point-code 4.5.6
CountryB(config)#cs7 local-peer 1024
CountryB(config)#cs7 linkset ToCountryA 1.2.3
CountryB(config-cs7-ls)#link 0 sctp 1024 1024

If you’re still sniffing the traffic between Country A and Country B, you should see our SS7 connection come up.

Wireshark trace of the connection coming up

The conneciton will come up layer-by-layer, firstly you’ll see the transport layer (SCTP) bring up an SCTP association, then MTP2 Peer Adaptation Layer (M2PA) will negotiate up to confirm both ends are working, then finally you’ll see MTP3 messaging.

If we open up an MTP3 packet you can see our Originating and Destination Point Codes.

Notice in Wireshark the Point Codes don’t show up as 1-2-3, but rather 2067? That’s because they’re formatted as Decimal rather than 14 bit, this handy converter will translate them for you, or you can just change your preference in Wireshark’s decoders to use the matching ITU POint Code Structure.

From the CLI on one of the two country STPs we can run some basic commands to view the status of all SS7 components and Linksets.

And there you have it! Basic SS7 connectivity!

There is so much more to learn, and so much more to do!
By bringing up the link we’ve barely scratched the surface here.

Some homework before the next post, link all the other countries shown together, with Country D having a link to Country C and Country B. That’s where we’ll start in the lab – Tip: You’ll find you’ll need to configure a new cs7 local-peer for each interface, as each has its own IP.

Demystifying SS7 & Sigtran (With Labs!) – Part 2 – Ingredients Needed

This is part of a series of posts looking into SS7 and Sigtran networks. We cover some basic theory and then get into the weeds with GNS3 based labs where we will build real SS7/Sigtran based networks and use them to carry traffic.

So one more step before we actually start bringing up SS7 / Sigtran networks, and that’s to get a bit of a closer look at what components make up SS7 networks.

Recap: What is SS7?

SS7 is the name given to the protocol stack used almost exclusively in the telecommunications space. SS7 isn’t just one protocol, instead it is a suite of protocols.
In the same way when someone talks about IP networking, they’re typically not just talking about the IP layer, but the whole stack from transport to application, when we talk about an SS7 network, we’re talking about the whole stack used to carry messages over SS7.

And what is SIGTRAN?

Sigtran is “Signaling Transport”. Historically SS7 was carried over TDM links (Like E1 lines).

As the internet took hold, the “Signaling Transport” working group was formed to put together the standards for carrying SS7 over IP, and the name stuck.

I’ve always thought if I were to become a Mexican Wrestler (which is quite unlikely), my stage name would be DSLAM, but SIGTRAN comes a close second.

Today when people talk about SIGTRAN, they mean “SS7 over IP”.

What is in an SS7 Network?

SS7 Networks only have 3 types of network elements:

  • Service Switching Points (SSP)
  • Service Transfer Points (STP)
  • Service Control Points (SCP)

Service Switching Points (SSP)

Service Switching Points (SSPs) are endpoints in the network.
They’re the users of the connectivity, they use it to create and send meaningful messages over the SS7 network, and receive and process messages over the SS7 network.

Like a PC or server are IP endpoints on an IP Network, which send and receive messages over the network, an SSP uses the SS7 network to send and receive messages.

In a PSTN context, your local telephone exchange is most likely an SS7 Service Switching Point (SSP) as it creates traffic on the SS7 network and receives traffic from it.

A call from a user on one exchange to a user on another exchange could go from the SSP in Exchange A, to the SSP in Exchange B, in the same way you could send data between two computers by connecting directly between them with an Ethernet crossover cable.

Messages between our two exchanges are addressed using Point Codes, which can be thought of a lot like IP Addresses, except shorter.

In the MTP3 header of each SS7 message is the Destination Point Code, and the Origin Point Code.

When Telephone Exchange A wants to send a message over SS7 to Telephone Exchange B, the MTP header would look like:

MTP3 Header:
Origin Point Code:      1.2.3
Destination Point Code: 4.5.6

Service Transfer Points (STP)

Linking each SSP to each other SSP has a pretty obvious problem as our network grows.

What happens if we’ve got hundreds of SSPs? If we want a full-mesh topology connecting every SSP to every other SSP directly, we’d have a rats nest of links!

A “full-mesh” approach for connecting SSPs does not work at scale, so STPs are introduced

So to keep things clean and scalable, we’ve got Signalling Transfer Points (STPs).

STPs can be thought of like Routers but in an SS7 network.

When our SSP generates an SS7 message, it’s typically handed to an STP which looks at the Destination Point Code, it’s own routing table and routes it off to where it needs to go.

STP acting as a central router to connect lots of SSPs

This means every SSP doesn’t require a connection to every other SSP. Instead by using STPs we can cut down on the complexity of our network.

When Telephone Exchange A wants to send a message over SS7 to Telephone Exchange B, the MTP header would look the same, but the routing table on Telephone Exchange A would be setup to send the requests out the link towards the STP.

MTP3 Header:
Origin Point Code:      1.2.3
Destination Point Code: 4.5.6


Between SS7 Nodes we have Linksets. Think of Linksets as like LACP or Etherchannel, but for SS7.

You want to have multiple links on every connection, for sharing out the load or for redundancy, and a Linkset is a group of connections from one SS7 node to another, that are logically treated as one link.

Link between an SSP and STP with 3 linksets

Each of the links in a Linkset is identified by a number, and specified in in the MTP3 header’s “Signaling Link Selector” field, so we know what link each message used.

MTP3 Header:
Origin Point Code:       1.2.3
Destination Point Code:  4.5.6
Signaling Link Selector: 2

Service Control Point (SCP)

Somewhere between a Rolodex an relational database, is the Service Control Point (SCP).

For an exchange (SSP) to route a call to another exchange, it has to know the point code of the destination Exchange to send the call to.
When fixed line networks were first deployed this was fairly straight forward, each exchange had a list of telephone number prefixes and the point code that served each prefix, simple.

But then services like number porting came along when a number could be moved anywhere.
Then 1800/0800 numbers where a number had to be translated back to a standard phone number entered the picture.

To deal with this we need a database, somewhere an SSP can go to query some information in a database and get a response back.

This is where we use the Service Control Point (SCP).

Keep in mind that SS7 long predates APIs to easily lookup data from a service, so there was no RESTful option available in the 1980s.

When a caller on a local exchange calls a toll free (1800 or 0800 number depending on where you are) number, the exchange is setup with the Point Code of an SCP to query with the toll free number, and the SCP responds back with the local number to route the call to.

While SCPs are fading away in favor of technology like DNS/ENUM for Local Number Portability or Routing Databases, but they are still widely used in some networks.

Getting to know the Signalling Transfer Point (STP)

As we saw earlier, instead of a one-to-one connection between each SS7 device to every other SS7 device, Signaling Transfer Points (STP) are used, which act like routers for our SS7 traffic.

The STP has an internal routing table made up of the Point Codes it has connections to and some logic to know how to get to each of them.

Like a router, STPs don’t really create SS7 traffic, or consume traffic, they just receive SS7 messages and route them on towards their destination.

Ok, they do create some traffic for checking links are up, etc, but like a router, their main job is getting traffic where it needs to go.

When an STP receives an SS7 message, the STP looks at the MTP3 header. Specifically the Destination Point Code, and finds if it has a path to that Point Code. If it has a route, it forwards the SS7 message on to the next hop.

Like a router, an STP doesn’t really concern itself with anything higher than the MTP3 layer – As point codes are set in the MTP3 layer that’s the only layer the STP looks at and the upper layers aren’t really “any of its business”.

STPs don’t require a direct connection (Linkset) from the Originating Point Code straight to the Destination Point Code. Just like every IP router doesn’t need a direct connection to ever other network.
By setting up a routing table of Point Codes and Linksets as the “next-hop”, we can reach Destination Point Codes we don’t have a direct Linkset to by routing between STPs to reach the final Destination Point Code.

Let’s work through an example:

And let’s look at the routing table setup on STP-A:

STP A Routing Table:
1.2.3 - Directly attached (Telephone Exchange A)
1.2.4 - Directly attached (Telephone Exchange C)
1.2.5 - Directly attached (Telephone Exchange D)
4.5.1 - Directly attached (STP-B)
4.5.3 - Via STP-B
4.5.6 - Via STP-B

So what happens when Telephone Exchange A (Point Code 1.2.3) wants to send a message to Telephone Exchange E (Point Code 4.5.3)?
Firstly Telephone Exchange A puts it’s message on an MTP3 payload, and the MTP3 header will look something like this:

MTP3 Header:
Origin Point Code:       1.2.3
Destination Point Code:  4.5.3
Signaling Link Selector: 1

Telephone Exchange A sends the SS7 message to STP A, which looks at the MTP3 header’s Destination Point Code (4.5.3), and then in it’s routing table for a route to the destination point. We can see from our example routing table that STP A has a route to Destination Point Code 4.5.3 via STP-B, so sends it onto STP-B.

For STP-B it has a direct connection (linkset) to Telephone Exchange E (Point Code 4.5.3), so sends it straight on

Like IP, Point Codes have their own form of Variable-Length-Subnet-Routing which means each STP doesn’t need full routing info for every Destination Point Code, but instead can have routes based on part of the point code and a subnet mask.

But unlike IP, there is no BGP or OSPF on SS7 networks. Instead, all routes have to be manually specified.

For STP A to know it can get messages to destinations starting with 4.5.x via STP B, it needs to have this information manually added to it’s route table, and the same for the return routing.

Sigtran & SS7 Over IP

As the world moved towards IP enabled everything, TDM based Sigtran Networks became increasingly expensive to maintain and operate, so a IETF taskforce called SIGTRAN (Signaling Transport) was created to look at ways to move SS7 traffic to IP.

When moving SS7 onto IP, the first layer of SS7 (MTP1) was dropped, as it primarily concerned the physical side of the network. MTP2 didn’t really fit onto an IP model, so a two options were introduced for transport of the MTP2 data, M2PA (Message Transfer Part 2 User Peer-to-Peer Adaptation Layer) and M2UA (MTP2 User Adaptation Layer) were introduced, which rides on top of SCTP.
This means if you wanted an MTP2 layer over IP, you could use M2UA or M2TP.

SCTP is neither TCP or UDP. I’ve touched upon SCTP on this blog before, it’s as if you took the best bits of TCP without the issues like head of line blocking and added multi-homing of connections.

So if you thought all the layers above MTP2 are just transferred, unchanged on top of our M2PA layer, that’s one way of doing it, however it’s not the only way of doing it.

There are quite a few ways to map SS7 onto IP Networks, which we’ll start to look into it more detail, but to keep it simple, for the next few posts we’ll be assuming that everything above MTP2/M2PA remain unchanged.

In the next post, we’ll get some actual SS7 traffic flowing!

Demystifying SS7 & Sigtran Networks (With Labs!) – Part 1 – Intro

This is part of a series of posts looking into SS7 and Sigtran networks. We cover some basic theory and then get into the weeds with GNS3 based labs where we will build real SS7/Sigtran based networks and use them to carry traffic.

If you use a mobile phone, a VoIP system or a copper POTS line, there’s a high chance that somewhere in the background, SS7 based signaling is being used.

The signaling for GSM, UMTS and WCDMA mobile networks all rely on SS7 based signaling, and even today the backbone of most PSTN traffic relies SS7 networks. To many this is mysterious carrier tech, and as such doesn’t get much attention, but throughout this series of posts we’ll take a hands-on approach to putting together an SS7 network using GNS3 based labs and connect devices through SS7 and make some stuff happen.

Overview of SS7

Signaling System No. 7 (SS7/C7) is the name for a family of protocols originally designed for signaling between telephone switches. In plain English, this means it was used to setup and teardown large volumes of calls, between exchanges or carriers.

When carrier A and Carrier B want to send calls between each other, there’s a good chance they’re doing it over an SS7 Network.

But wait! SIP exists and is very popular, why doesn’t everyone just use SIP?
Good question, imaginary asker. The answer is that when SS7 came along, SIP was still almost 25 years away from being defined.
Yes. It’s pretty old.

SS7 isn’t one protocol, but a family of protocols that all work together – A “protocol stack”.
The SS7 specs define the lower layers and a choice of upper layer / application protocols that can be carried by them.

The layered architecture means that the application layer at the top can be changed, while the underlying layers are essentially the same.

This means while SS7’s original use was for setting up and tearing down phone calls, this is only one application for SS7 based networks. Today SS7 is used heavily in 2G/3G mobile networks for connectivity between core network elements in the circuit-switched domain, for international roaming between carriers and services like Local Number Portability and Toll Free numbers.

Here’s the layers of SS7 loosely mapped onto the OSI model (SS7 predates the OSI model as well):

OSI Model (Left) and SS7 Protocol Stack (Right)

We do have a few layers to play with here, and we’ll get into them all in depth as we go along, but a brief introduction to the underlying layers:

MTP 1 – Message Transfer Part 1

This is our physical layer. In this past this was commonly E1/T1 lines.

It’s responsible for getting our 1s and 0s from one place to another.

MTP 2 – Message Transfer Part 2

MTP2 is responsible for the data link layer, handling reliable transfer of data, in sequence.

MTP 3 – Message Transfer Part 3

The MTP3 header contains an Originating and a Destination Point Code.

These point codes can be thought of as like an IP Address; they’re used to address the source and destination of a message. A “Point Code” is the unique address of a SS7 Network element.

MTP3 header showing the Destination Point Code (DPC) and Origin Point Code (OPC) on a National Network, carrying ISUP traffic

Every message sent over an SS7 network will contain an Origin Point Code that identifies the sender, and a Destination Point Code that identifies the intended recipient.

This is where we’ll bash around at the start of this course, setting up Linksets to allow different devices talking to each other and addressing each other via Point Codes.

The MTP3 header also has a Service Indicator flag that indicates what the upper layer protocol it is carrying is, like the Protocol indicator in IPv4/IPv6 headers.

A Signaling Link Selector indicates which link it was transported over (did I mention we can join multiple links together?), and a Network Indicator for determining if this is signaling is at the National or International level.


These are the “higher-layer” protocols. Like FTP sits on top of TCP/IP, a SS7 network can transport these protocols from their source to their destination, as identified by the Origin Point Code (OPC), to the Destination Point Code (DPC), as specified in the MTP3 header.

We’ll touch on these protocols more as we go on. SCCP has it’s own addressing on top of the OPC/DPC (Like IP has IP Addressing, but TCP has port numbers on top to further differentiate).

Why learn SS7 today?

SS7 and SIGTRAN are still widely in use in the telco world, some of it directly, other parts derived / evolved from it.

So stick around, things are about to get interesting!