Tag Archives: femtocell

How small cells are becoming an integral part of futuristic mobile networks?

8 May

LTE as a technology and air interface has been hogging the bulk of limelight in the world of wireless communications. But another strategically crucial technology that many major mobile operators globally are going after is the small cell. In simple terms, small cell is a miniature version of the traditional macrocell. It compresses the attributes of a cell tower like radios and antennas into a low power, portable and easy to deploy radio device. Small cells typically have a range varying from 10 meters to a few hundred meters and are used by operators to either offload traffic from the macro network in a high density short range environment or to strengthen the range and efficiency of a mobile network. Before going into further details about small cells, have a look at the following diagram that illustrates how they fit into an operator’s network and strategy.

Small Cell Network

As seen in the image above, small cells provide enhanced coverage and capacity both indoors and outdoors. Umbrella coverage is provided by the macrocell. Microcells and picocells are designed to support hundreds of users and can be used in smaller networks that are not necessarily inside the range of a macrocell. Residential areas that are located outside the range of a cell network can deploy femtocells for better signal and bandwidth indoors. WiFi can be utilized for traffic offload or can serve as a standalone high speed short range network. Following are some of the advantages that small cells bring to the table –

  • Augmented coverage and capacity – The quality of signal on a device and whether that signal is good enough for multimedia data browsing are two factors that decide a customer’s experience in the mobile world nowadays. Small cells bring ubiquity to this idea, along with the added advantage of low latency. So whether you are in a packed stadium or office basement, you will be covered.
  • Superior in-building and cell edge performance – Contemporary wireless networks regularly face issues of poor coverage inside buildings and in areas far away from the cell tower. Small cells significantly improve the overall experience in such circumstances.
  • Support for various environments – The main conclusion to be drawn from the diagram above is that these tiny base stations find utility in multiple scenarios. Femtocells inside a house not only provide 3G or higher level speeds, they also reduce strain on the user devices’ battery. And all this is achieved by using the Internet service provider’s backhaul. At an enterprise level, microcells enhance service quality in the highly dense office environment. Similarly, they can be equally effective in remote rural or dense urban spaces.
  • Easier technology integration – Small cells can be integrated with all flavors of 3G, LTE, LTE-Advanced and WiFi technologies. An operator’s small cell strategy could be influenced by the type of wireless technologies it has deployed, the area of service and regional demand. Microcells, picocells and femtocells are fortunately compatible with all major types of wireless networks.
  • Higher spectrum bands are welcome – Recently, the mobile network providers have been fighting a battle for the lower band spectrum below 1 GHz. But since limited propagation characteristics are not an issue for these miniscule networks, and more bits/Hz are required, spectrum over 2 GHz is considered good. The FCC in US has been pushing for 3.5 GHz spectrum for small cell networks. Some stakeholders have asked for unlicensed spectrum for such networks. Europe is said to be discussing the 2.3 GHz TD-LTE spectrum this purpose.
  • Long term solution for the operator – Even though more base stations and state-of-the-art technologies can be deployed to temporarily resolve network congestion issues, the demand will generally exceed the supply. However, small cells are designed to offer adequate network resources to handle growing data demand for a few years within a specific environment.
  • Attractive business case – The reduced capital and operational expenditure (CAPEX/OPEX) involved in the small cell ecosystem has made them a tempting business proposition for the mobile service provider. Studies have shown that the cost of radio equipment for small cells could be just one-tenth of the corresponding costs for a macrocell. The ease, flexibility and swiftness of deployment make such networks even more appealing.

Many operators and vendors around the globe showcased their small cell strategy and progress at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona earlier this year. Vodafone emphasized that this technology is vital to their network portfolio. The telco plans to deploy about 70,000 small cells within the next 2 years. Korea Telecom announced that they have 18,000 such cells already active in urban areas of the country. Samsung Mobile was tapped by Verizon as a vendor for indoor LTE small cell solutions. Verizon already had similar partnerships with both Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson for indoor enterprise and outdoor environments. TIM Brazil, the country’s second largest operator, shared details about a deal with Alcatel-Lucent at MWC that will integrate femtocells into the carrier’s 3G network. SingTel from Singapore has been investing in these tiny networks too and has contracted Ericsson for the deployment. Many other small cell related developments have been picking up in the last year or so. AT&T’s 3G small cells are available in 18 states across the US. The operator has committed to deploying 40,000 multimode little base stations by the end of 2015. Sprint has been testing indoor and outdoor small cells for many months and intends a commercial launch later this year. The telco has also been running trials with Qualcomm’s network equipment. World’s biggest wireless service provider by subscribers, China Mobile, recently showed off a self-organizing outdoor small cell backhaul system as part of its TD-LTE network. Japan’s NTT Docomo has been using multiband small cell base stations for more than a year in some of its major markets. Note that as of now, most small cell networks operate on service provider’s existing spectrum holdings. But in the near future, dedicated airwaves could be allocated for these networks.

Multiple recent studies and analyses have predicted a ramp up in the small cell market. Infonetics Research has reported that small cell revenue was a modest $771 million last year but will grow by 65% to $1.3 billion this year. According to their report, 642,000 small cell units were shipped last year and about half of them were 3G, although LTE is projected to take the lead this year. ABI Research forecasted $1.8 billion market for outdoor small cells in 2014. The Asia-Pacific region will represent half of the small cell market by 2019. Allied Market Research put the global femtocell market size at $305 million in 2013 and predicted that this could grow more than ten-fold to $3.7 billion by 2020.

Although the predictions are upbeat, challenges remain for the small cell ecosystem. The cost and availability of backhaul for such stations is an issue. Because of municipal regulations, outdoor site acquisition can be a problematic process. The coordination and synchronization of these cells with local WiFi and the macro network is not as easy as it sounds. In urban scenarios, achieving line-of-sight may be technically difficult for low height in-building base stations. Despite these challenges, the overall small cell industry outlook is favorable. All major telcos and equipment providers have been evolving a small cell strategy. With consumers becoming increasingly intolerable towards bad wireless service, these tiny towers and stations are set to establish a niche but substantial market for themselves.

Source: http://wirelesstelecom.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/how-small-cells-are-becoming-an-integral-part-of-futuristic-mobile-networks/

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IMSI Catchers

21 Nov

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An IMSI catcher is essentially a false mobile tower acting between the target mobile phone(s) and the service providers real towers. As such it is considered a Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) attack. It is used as an eavesdropping device used for interception and tracking of cellular phones and usually is undetectable for the users of mobile phones.

With the recent wave of femto cell technology  available to the general public; Hackers are turning these useful devices into devious wire-tapping machines.

What is an IMSI?

A unique  International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) is issued to every user of the GSM/UMTS/LTE System.

Composition of IMSI

Global-IMSI-Numbers-and-Networks
IMSI is composed of three parts:

  1. Mobile Country Code (MCC)consisting of 3 digits. The MCC identifies uniquely the country of domicile of the mobile subscriber;
  2. National Mobile Station Identity (NMSI):
    • MobileNetworkCode (MNC)consisting of 2 or 3 digits for GSM/UMTS applications. The MNC identifies the home PLMN of the mobile subscriber. The length of the MNC (two or three digits) depends on the value of the MCC. A mixture of two and three digit MNC codes within a single MCC area is not recommended and is outside the scope of this specification.
    • Mobile Subscriber Identification Number (MSIN) identifying the mobile subscriber within a PLMN.

Example IMSI:

234150999999999

  • MCC = 234 (UK)
  • MNC = 15 (02 UK)
  • MSIN = 0999999999

For a full list of MCCs and MNCs visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_country_code

The National Mobile Subscriber Identity (NMSI) consists of the Mobile Network Code and the Mobile Subscriber Identification Number.

In order to support the subscriber identity confidentiality service the VLRs, SGSNs and MME may allocate Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identities (TMSI) to visiting mobile subscribers. The VLR, SGSN and MME must be capable of correlating an allocated TMSI with the IMSI of the MS (Mobile Subscriber or your physical phone ;))to which it is allocated.

VLRs, SGSNs, MME and more will be covered later….

IMSI Catcher

An IMSI catcher is essentially a false mobile tower acting between the target mobile phone(s) and the service providers real towers. As such it is considered a Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) attack. It is used as an eavesdropping device used for interception and tracking of cellular phones and usually is undetectable for the users of mobile phones.

With the recent wave of femto cell technology  available to the general public; Hackers are turning these useful devices into devious wire-tapping machines.

How?

The GSM specification requires the handset to authenticate to the network, butdoes not require the network to authenticate to the handset. This well-known security hole can be exploited by an IMSI catcher.

The IMSI catcher masquerades as a base station and logs the IMSI numbers of all the mobile stations in the area, as they attempt to attach to the IMSI-catcher. It allows forcing the mobile phone connected to it to use no call encryption (i.e., it is forced into A5/0 mode), making the call data easy to intercept and convert to audio.

IMSI catchers are used in some countries by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but based upon civil liberty and privacy concerns, their use is illegal in others. Some countries do not even have encrypted phone data traffic (or very weak encryption) rendering an IMSI catcher unnecessary.

Source: http://penturalabs.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/imsi-catchers/

What is a Small Cell?

22 Oct
What is a Small Cell or Femtocell?

Small cells are fully featured, short range mobile phone basestations used to complement mobile phone service from larger macrocell towers. These range from very compact residential femtocells, the size of a paperback book and connected using standard domestic internet broadband through to larger equipment used inside commercial offices or outdoor public spaces. They offer excellent mobile phone coverage and data speeds at home, in the office and public areas for both voice and data. Small cells have been developed for both 3G and the newer 4G/LTE radio technologies.

The term femtocell was originally used to describe residential products, with picocell being used for enterprise/business premises and metrocell for public/outdoor spaces. As the underlying femtocell technology expanded to address this wider scope, the term small cell was adopted to cover all aspects.

Standalone or integrated femtocells

Early residential femtocell products look very much like WiFi broadband modems, needing only two cables – one for power and one internet connection.

Several vendors such as Thomson, Netgear, Pirelli, Cisco and others integrated the femtocell with other features such as DSL modem, WiFi and even IPTV into a single box. The vast majority of residential femtocells sold to date are standalone.

Larger enterprise and metrocells are also standalone, having sturdy casing and better protection against weather and operating in unsupervised areas.

Locked to a single mobile phone network

Unlike WiFi, these devices use licenced radio spectrum, so must be operated and controlled by a mobile phone company. Thus it will work with only one mobile phone operator, and thus encourages all users in a household or business enterprise to switch to the same network operator.

When in range of the small cell, the mobile phone will automatically detect it and use it in preference to the outdoor cellsites. Calls are made and received in exactly the same way as before, except that the signals are sent encrypted from the small cell via the public or private broadband IP network to one of the mobile operators main switching centres. Making and receiving calls uses the same procedures and telephone numbers, and all the standard features (call divert, text messaging, web browsing) are available in the same way – indeed data services should operate more quickly and efficiently due to the short range involved.

Low power but high quality

Small cells operate at very low radio power levels – less than cordless phones, WiFi or some other household equipment. This substantially increases the battery life, both on standby and talktime. Since they are so much closer to the handset or mobile device, call quality is excellent and data devices can operate at full speed. The smallest femtocells can handle up to 4 simultaneous active calls from different users, with many having a standard capacity of 8. Larger small cell designs for business (enterprise) or public area use can handle 16, 32 or more concurrent calls. These numbers are in addition to passive users not actively making or receiving voice or data calls.

Open or restricted access

Restrictions can be applied on who can access a small cell. Residential femtocell owners may be concerned about paying additional charges for DSL broadband supplier where a quota applies – even though this would equate to many long voice calls or heavy data service use. For this reason, many residential femtocells include a facility to restrict service to a whitelist of up to 30 specified telephone numbers. Enterprise use is more commonly open to all, including visitors, but may prioritise phones belonging to the business itself. Metrocells are always fully open access.

Secure and self-managing

Small cells encrypt all voice and data sent and received, ensuring a high level of protection from sniffing or snooping.

In order to reduce operational and installation costs, these units are self installing and use a variety of clever tricks to sense which frequency to transmit on and power level to use.

Unlike large outdoor mobile phone basestations (masts), femtocells don’t require specialist RF planning engineers to design, calibrate or configure themselves – minimising the ongoing cost of maintaining them. They do have remote management from the network operator, who can upgrade the configuration and software as required.

Doesn’t require special phones

They are compatible with existing standard 3G mobile phones and are not restricted to any specific models. No additional software is required to enable the phone to work with a small cell.

Technology

Most of the excitement is based around the 3G UMTS/HSPA mobile phone technology, deployed in almost every country worldwide today and which includes the ability for high speed data services. There are products available for other technologies, including 2G GSM, CDMA and more recently LTE.

So if anyone asks you what a small cell or femtocell is, you can now confidently reply. Read more about the various small cell system architectures, vendors and operators on the rest of this site: http://www.thinksmallcell.com/

 

Source: http://smallcellsboothbay.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/what-is-a-small-cell/

Femtocell hack reveals mobile phones’ calls, texts and photos

22 Jul

An increasingly popular technology for extending cell-phone coverage ranges had a major security hole that went undetected for years, through which an attacker could eavesdrop on everything a target did on their phone, according to new research released on Monday.

The research brings to light previously unknown vulnerabilities in some models of femtocells, devices that mobile network operators use to bring wireless service to low-coverage zones. The compact boxes, which are typically as small as a standard cable modem, can be deployed in hard-to-reach spots like the top of an apartment building or a home in the mountains. Femtocells are also referred to as “network extenders,” and analysts project that as many as 50 million of them will be in use by 2014.

In a demonstration for CNNMoney, researchers at iSEC Partners, who discovered the security hole, covertly recorded one of our phone conversations and played it back for us. They were also able to record our browsing history, text messages, and even view pictures we sent from one smartphone to another by hacking the network extender.

“We see everything that your phone would send to a cell phone tower: phone calls, text messages, picture messages, mobile Web surfing,” said iSEC Partners senior security consultant Tom Ritter.

ISEC discovered the security flaw a year ago and contacted the affected vendors, who quickly began working on a fix. Though iSEC focused its research on femtocells operating on Verizon’s 3G CDMA network, the company believes similar holes could exist on other network extenders.

A Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500) spokesman said the problem has been repaired in all of the femtocells it is currently using. ISEC used a modified femtocell that did not receive a patch to the security flaw.

“The demonstration CNN saw was for an identified issue that was fixed earlier this year on all network extender devices,” the company said in a written statement. “The fix prevents the network extender from being compromised in the same manner.”

Verizon said it has not received any customer complaints about the security glitch.

Samsung, the company that manufactures Verizon’s network extenders, also issued a statement saying the problem has been fixed. ISEC plans to show off more details of its hack later this month at the Black Hat and Def Con security conferences in Las Vegas.

Security researchers say these kinds of flaws are inevitable. As new technologies get more powerful, though, the risks get bigger.

“Once you first saw this product was available, you said, ‘If there are any vulnerabilities, it’ll be really bad,” hacker Chris Wysopal, the chief technology officer for security software maker Veracode.

When he learned about femotcells, he says he immediately thought: “Somebody’s bound to break this.”

ISEC, which specializes in security research, says the attack it pioneered doesn’t require very sophisticated hacking.

“You do need some level of technical skills, but people are learning those skills in college,” Ritter said. “Breaking into one of these devices, or a device like this, is within the realm of people working at home.”

Since it would be impractical for a passer by to randomly hack your femtocell, this exploit is more in the realm of hypothetical than likely — even before the security patch went out. But femtocells and other “small cell” technologies are increasingly being deployed in businesses, homes, malls, stadiums and other public areas. If security flaws exist, it’s important that the manufacturers are made aware of them.

Security pros say that using encryption apps like Wickr, Cellcrypt, Redphone and TextSecure can help users looking for a more secure connection. But researchers at iSEC have resigned themselves to the idea that nothing is confidential.

“You should assume that everything you’re saying is being intercepted,” said Doug DePerry, one of the company’s senior consultants. “That is a bit of a defeatist opinion, but sometimes that has to be the way it is.” To top of page

Hack this: Researchers turn Verizon device into ‘mobile spy station’

16 Jul

Security experts said they have managed to spy on Verizon Wireless mobile phone customers by hacking into devices sold by the US carrier, further fueling the controversy over privacy issues in the wake of the NSA leaks.

Tom Ritter and Doug DePerry demonstrated for Reuters how it is technically possible to eavesdrop on text messages, photos and phone calls made with an Android phone and an iPhone by using compromised Verizon products.

The hacking requires nothing more than a femtocell, which serves as a small cellphone tower to boost signal reception, which Verizon sells for $250; dozens of other carriers also offer the same technology.

The finding comes at a time of intense international debate about privacy after former NSA analyst Edward Snowden last month blew the whistle on a top-secret US surveillance program, known as PRISM, which has the capability to collect and store records on telephone and internet communications around the world.

The Verizon discovery, however, would put the power of spying into the hands of ordinary citizens, according to the researchers.

“This is not about how the NSA would attack ordinary people. This is about how ordinary people would attack ordinary people,” said Tom Ritter, a senior consultant with the security firm iSEC Partners.

 

Source: http://theconfirmationfiles.com/2013/07/15/hack-this-researchers-turn-verizon-device-into-mobile-spy-station/

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