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laforge, 09/29/2018 12:58 PM

Cell Broadcast

Normally, all user plane data in GSM/GPRS networks are sent in point-to-point channels from the network to the user. Those are called "dedicated" radio channels whcih exist between the network and one given phone/subscriber at a time.

Cell Broadcast is an exception to that rule. It permits user data (so-called SMS-CB data) to be broadcast by the network in a way that can be received by all phones in the coverage area of the given BTS simultaneously.

More high-level information can be found at and the related specification is found at 3GPP TS 23.041 Technical realization of Cell Broadcast Service

NOTE: In 3G/UMTS networks, Cell Broadcast is called Service_Area_Broadcast and we have a dedicated wiki page for it.

Use Cases

Cell Broadcast was used for various different use cases primarily in the 1990ies and early 2000s, including
  • advertisement of the GPS position of the cell tower you're currently camping on
  • advertisement of the calling codes of your current "home zone", i.e. a "lower cost short distance" call zone travelling with you as you roam around.
More recently, SMS-CB is seeing some uptake by various desaster warning systems, such as
  • CMAS (Commercial Mobile Alert System), later renamed to WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts) in the US.
  • EU-Alert in the European union
  • Messer Ishi (Rocket Alert) in Israel
  • ETWS (Earthquake and Tsunami Warning System) in Japan
  • KPAS (Korean Public Alert System)

Osmocom Cell Broadcast support

  • OsmoBTS implements the "SMS BROADCAST COMMAND" Message in RSL according to Section 8.5.8 of 3GPP TS 08.58 but not all hardware targets support this yet, see #1617. osmo-bts-sysmo and osmo-bts-octphy are fine.
  • OsmoNITB and OsmoBSC implement a VTY command bts <0-255> smscb-command <1-4> HEXSTRING to send a given hex-formatted cell broadcast message to a specified BTS
    • you (obviously) first need to enable a timeslot/channel combination on the BTS that actually includes a CBCH, i.e. ccch+sdcch4+cbch or sdcch8+cbch

This is sufficient for manual transmission of cell-broadcast messages in a lab environment or in small networks. The functionality has been developed and used at the 31st annual CCC congress (31C3) to deliver spoofed Presidential Level Alert messages

How to test/use it

You need to perform two steps:

make sure your related BTS is configured to use a channel combination with CBCH

For using a combined CCCH with SDCCH/4 and CBCH you can use the following example snippet as part of osmo-bsc.cfg:

 bts 0
  trx 0
   timeslot 0
    phys_chan_config CCCH+SDCCH4+CBCH

telnet to osmo-bsc at port 4242, and enter something like

bts 0 smscb-command 1 001000320f1141660c344dd3cba09a0c

where "1" is the number of blocks required (each 22 bytes need one block)
and the hex-dump at the end is the encoded GSM 04.12 message to be broadcast.

What's missing (for production operation in larger networks)

  • mechanism to broadcast one (set of) cell broadcast messages from the BSC to multiple/all BTSs, rather than one BTS individually
  • BTS reporting of current CBCH load
  • BSC scheduler scheduling multiple alternating sets of CBCH messages based on the current CBCH load reported by BTS
  • external interface from BSC to a Cell Broadcast Center (CBC), e.g. according to 3GPP TS 48.049 (CBSP)
  • an Osmocom implementation of the Cell Broadcast Center (OsmoCBC) which can manage and dsitribute messages to multiple BSCs and which has an external interface by which cell-broadcast can be entered into the network

Message Structure

  • Message has maximum 15 pages
  • Each page is 82 bytes of data, resulting in 93 characters in GSM 7-bit default alphabet
  • Messges are broadcast on logical channels (more like an address)
  • Subscribers can activate/deactivate selective addresses

Further Reading




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