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IP Addressing in LTE: Part 1 IPv6 Address Allocation

John M. 22 Sep 2011 6:03 PM

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In Part 1 of this topic I will focus on IPv6 addresses that may be assigned to a mobile device. I will cover the structure of an IPv6 unicast address and the two types of unicast IPv6 addresses, link-local and global, that are assigned to LTE UEs. I will describe the stateless auto configuration process and point out differences in IPv6 address allocation between standard internet and LTE An IPv6 unicast address can be divided into two main parts, a "subnet prefix" and an "interface identifier". An interface, in this instance, refers to a node's attachment to a layer 2 communications link. The link layer, in the classical protocol stack, is the layer below IP. In the wired world the most common example of a communications link is Ethernet. In the case of LTE the link is a default EPS bearer between the PGW and the UE, a virtual L2 link composed of IP tunnels and a radio bearer.

One significant difference between an Ethernet network and an LTE network is evident from the picture above. In LTE the link layer is point-to-point, the two nodes on the link being the PGW and the UE. The "interface identifier" part of an IPv6 address must be unique per link. The "subnet prefix" part of an IPv6 unicast address can be used to either identify the address as having link-only scope i.e. a link-local address, or, global scope i.e. a global unicast address.

IPv6 allows a node to automatically configure itself with an IP address. Every node will have a link-local address having link-only scope. The subnet prefix is the same for all link-local addresses, FE80::/10, and is specified in the IETF standard RFC4291. In an Ethernet network a node can configure its own link-local address by combining the link-local prefix with an interface identifier derived from its Ethernet address. It can use the linklocal address to communicate with all the other nodes on the same link. However, since there is a possibility that another node on the same link may have the same interface identifier and hence the same link-local IPv6

address, a procedure known as duplicate address detection (DAD) must be performed. In the LTE network, DAD is an undesirable complication and so to avoid having to perform it a link-local address is formed using an interface identifier sent to the UE by the PGW. The PGW will ensure it's unique and in any case the only other node on the link is the PGW itself. So, the link-local address in LTE is not very interesting or useful, but it's necessary in order to comply with the internet standards. The more important IPv6 address for LTE is the global unicast address. This has unlimited scope and is similar to an IPv4 public address. Again there are two parts to the address, a subnet prefix which is now a globally unique prefix and an interface ID. In the example Ethernet network shown above, the subnet prefix can be shared by the four PCs each of which will need to generate a unique interface ID on the link /subnet in order to form a 128 bit globally unique unicast address. In LTE, however, the PDN GW allocates to each individual UE a globally unique subnet prefix. The interface identifier, which is always 64 bits in LTE is created by the UE. It may use the same interface ID that the PGW sent during the Attach procedure but there is no obligation to use this one. In fact as a privacy feature the UE may change the interface ID at any time during the life of the connection without involving the network. The UE forms a 128 bit globally unique unicast address by combining the global subnet prefix and an interface ID. Since the subnet prefix is allocated to only one UE any interface ID it uses will suffice to ensure the global uniqueness of the full 128 bit address. In addition, there is no need for the UE to perform DAD. Below is a simplified message sequence showing how and when the two types of IPv6 addresses are configured in the UE. The link-local address is configured during the Attach procedure (or PDN Connectivity Request procedure). The global unicast address is auto configured with the help of ICMP messaging between the PGW and the UE.

To summarize, IPv6 address configuration in LTE includes generating a link-local address and then generating a global address via stateless address autoconfiguration. The duplicate address detection procedure to verify the uniqueness of these addresses is not necessary in LTE.