Mobility management is one of the major functions of a GSM or a UMTS network that allows mobile phones to work. The aim of mobility management is to track where the subscribers are, allowing calls, SMS and other mobile phone services to be delivered to them.
A GSM or UMTS network, like all cellular networks, is basically a radio network of individual cells, known as base stations. Each base station covers a small geographical area which is part of a uniquely identified location area. By integrating the coverage of each of these base stations, a cellular network provides a radio coverage over a much wider area. For GSM, a base station is called a base transceiver station (BTS), and for UMTS it is called a Node B. A group of base stations is named a location area, or a routing area.
The location update procedure allows a mobile device to inform the cellular network whenever it moves from one location area to the next. Mobiles are responsible for detecting location area codes (LAC). When a mobile finds that the location area code is different from its last update, it performs another update by sending to the network, a location update request, together with its previous location, and its Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity (TMSI).
The mobile also stores the current LAC in the SIM card, concatenating it to a list of recently used LACs. This is done to avoid unnecessary IMSI attachment procedures in case the mobile has been forced to switch off (by removing the battery, for example) without having a chance to notify the network with an IMSI detach and then switched on right after it has been turned off. Considering the fact that the mobile is still associated with the Mobile Switching Center/Visitor Location Register (MSC/VLR) of the current location area, there is no need for any kind of IMSI attachment procedures to be done.
There are several reasons why a mobile may provide updated location information to the network. Whenever a mobile is switched on or off, the network may require it to perform an IMSI attach or IMSI detach location update procedure. Also, each mobile is required to regularly report its location at a set time interval using a periodic location update procedure. Whenever a mobile moves from one location area to the next while not on a call, a random location update is required. This is also required of a stationary mobile that reselects coverage from a cell in a different location area, because of signal fade. Thus, a subscriber has reliable access to the network and may be reached with a call, while enjoying the freedom of mobility within the whole coverage area.
When a subscriber is paged in an attempt to deliver a call or SMS and the subscriber does not reply to that page then the subscriber is marked as absent in both the MSC/VLR and the Home Location Register (HLR) (Mobile not reachable flag MNRF is set). The next time the mobile performs a location update, the HLR is updated and the mobile not reachable flag is cleared.