How to keep the UE on 4G in Idle Mode even in presence of WCDMA or other Technology ?


Even though LTE is considered to be the next global standard. It still does not cover the entire globe yet. Forget entire globe, it’s not even covered everywhere in US.

In fact, US deployment of 4G LTE started initially with deployment in big cities such as Dallas, New York, Orlando etc.


Islands of 4G in an ocean of 2G and 3G



Well it definitely  makes sense to have such a deployment strategy.  It does meet the financial needs of the operators, takes away the risk, keeping supply demand where customers are. Most of the revenue comes from the same big cities.

To keep business growing and revenue coming in, it’s a reasonable business model to start LTE deployment in islands.


A pain point for the Operators and Performance Engineers:

We as customers want to consume, Netflix, Facebook , email and Apps all the time through our smart phones. In order to fuel this consumption — access to Packet data services is needed.  Customers  get wild access to high speed data on 4G.

Operators’ preference is to give customers access to 4G most of the time. Data access is the biggest treat for customers and the money maker for the operator, while voice revenues are declining.

The only problem is, not all areas are covered by 4G. This creates a challenge for performance engineers to keep the UE on 4G LTE as much as possible to have a better user experience.

Therefore, in this context, it is important to understand  what methodologies are used to keep the UE on LTE 4G, even in the presence of 3G networks.

Idle and Connected Mode

It is important to understand, and configure parameters in such a way that UE should prefer 4G over 3G, both in case of Idle and Connected Mode.

In this discussion, we will focus only on IDLE MODE, with the mission that UE should prefer LTE in presence of 3G.





In idle mode, preference on LTE over other technologies should starts from the point UE is powered on. That is to say in idle mode, LTE ought to be preferred during

  • PLMN Selection
  • Cell Selection
  • Different Priority Cell Re-Selection
    • Inter-System and Different Priority Inter-Frequency Cell Reselection
  • LTE Cell Re-Selection even in presence of 3G


PLMN Selection

When UE is powered on. It can see different operators’ carriers, technologies broadcasting PLMN. Ideally UE wants to select Home Public Land Mobile Network (HPLMN).

How does UE know HPLMN ?

IMSI (SIM card of the UE)  has this information and defines the Home PLMN (HPLMN)




Public Land Mobile Network (PLMN) respresents mobile network operators For Example T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint etc, will have different PLMNs



How to prioritize a certain PLMN over the other ?

The following ways an operator or a subscriber can prioritize one PLMN over other PLMNs.

  1. HPLMN Selector with Access Technology: defines the priority of each technology (LTE, WCDMA in this case).
  2. With operator controlled PLMN selector, a telecom operator can prioritize the PLMN and access technology.
  3. Whereas with user control PLMN selector with access technology: allows the end user-to prioritize the PLMN and technology.


PLMN can be selected either automatically or manually.  Most of the cases it is automatic selection.


Default Automatic PLMN Selection Algorithm:

In case of Automatic PLMN  selection. Any specific  Radio Access Technology is selected by the UE in the following order.

  1. HPLMN or highest priority equivalent to HPLMN (EHPLMN) (if EHPLMN list is available)
  2. PLMN and access technology combinations defined within user Controlled PLMN Selector
  3. PLMN and access technology combinations defined within Operator controlled PLMN Selector
  4. Other PLMN reported as high quality PLMN, selected in random order
  5. Other PLMN selected in order of decreasing signal quality


*PLMN are reported to NAS as high quality if their RSRP >= -110 dBm




Cell Selection in Idle Mode takes place using S-Criteria. I am not going to explain S-criteria over here. Topic for another discussion.

In idle mode, our objective is to make UE prefer LTE over any other technology. In Idle mode UE performs measurements whenever it is awake in Idle mode.

There are some thresholds defined in the standards using which we can force the UE to only do measurements on LTE, not on other technologies such as WCDMA in idle mode.

This way we can make UE delusional that it does do any measurements on other RAT but on  LTE  only.

These thresholds/parameters are available  to disable UE to perform any measurements on WCDMA compared to LTE.


Let’s talk about those parameters.

UE can measure Reference Signal Received Quality (RSRQ) or Reference Signal Received Power (RSRP) in idle mode.

For this purpose, we use two four variants of the  parameters. Two for LTE related measurements and other two for IRAT related measurements.


  • SIntraSearchP: It enables/disable UE RSRP measurements in Idle mode on LTE intra frequency cells


  • SIntraSearchQ: It enables/disables UE RSRQ measurements in Idle mode on LTE intra frequency cells


For measurements on inter-frequency and Inter-RAT such as WCDMA , the following parameters are introduced.


  • SnonintrasearchP: It enables/disable UE RSRP measurements in Idle mode on LTE inter-frequency and IRAT.


  • SnonintrasearchQ : It enables/disable UE RSRQ measurements in Idle mode on LTE inter-frequency and IRAT.



Both SintraSearchP, SnonIntraSearchP , SintraSearchQ, and SnonIntraSearchQ are signaled using values within the range 0 to 31.


Only For SintraSearchP and SnonIntraSearchP :

The values (0 – 31) equals = signaled value x 2

Which means their actual range is 0 to 62.



Enable /Disable Measurement Settings:


For UE to perform idle mode measurement on LTE alone even in presence of WCDA for example.

The recommended value to setup for is :


SintraSearchP = higher value  (e.g., 62)

SintraSearchQ = higher value  (e.g., 31)


Why I recommend the above values ?

Because Condition to Enable LTE Intra-Freq Measurements on LTE is:

(Srxlev and Squal are the outcome of S-critera in case of RSRP and RSRQ measurments respectivley. They need to be greater > 0 for S-criteria to be fulfilled )


  1. Srxlev <= SintraSearchP   : Perform Measurements
  2. Squal <= SintraSearchQ  : Perform Measurements
  3. Srxlev > SIntraSearchP    : No Measurements
  4. Squal > SIntraSearchQ    : No Measurements


So for example, if you set SintrasearchP and SintraSearchQ equal to 62 and 31 respectively, then the condition 1 and 2 will remain true and UE will not need to perform measurements on any LTE intra frequency cell and remain camping on the cell selected.


If the condition is not true, then UE will have to perform measurements again for LTE cell ReSelection.

The exhaustive list of options. For UE to perform measurements on Intra LTE in idle mode or not is shown in the picture below.


Intra-frequency measurements triggering for cell reselection






Measurements on Non-LTE i.e, WCDMA:

The objective is to make UE  not to perform any measurements in Idle mode on Inter LTE or Inter Radio Access Technology (IRAT) such


The condition for this to happen are similar to earlier conditions as follows.

  1. Srxlev <= SnonintraSearchP   : Perform Measurements
  2. Squal <= SnonintraSearchQ  : Perform Measurements
  3. Srxlev > SnonIntraSearchP   : No Measurements
  4. Squal > SnonIntraSearchQ  : No Measurements


As an example, in this case   we do not want UE to do measurements on WCDMA,therefore we can set the values in such a way

that condition 3 and 4 remain true.


SnonintraSearchP = lower value    (e.g., 0, 5 etc)

SnonintraSearchQ = lower value    (e.g., 0 etc.)


Actual values, depend on operator’s policies and what boundaries do they have for different Frequency bands and different IRAT in the neighborhood areas.


The table listing exhaustive list of relationships for setting different values for SnonIntraSEarch is shown in the table below.




Inter-Frequency and Inter-RAT measurements Triggering for Cell Reselection





Remember Cell-Reselection is different than Cell Selection. Once you get this point clear, we can proceed further to discuss. How priorities can be used

for cell-reselection in Idle mode.



Absolute priorities can be allocated to RF carriers belonging to LTE and other Radio Access Technologies (RAT). What does this mean is that even if two different LTE frequency cells are available in Idle mode. An operator can still give priority to one frequency over the other so on and so forth.

Same thing goes for Inter Radio Access Technologies selection.

These priorities can be broadcast in system information.


Priority Values

Absolute priorities can be allocated values between 0 and 7.

  • 0 represents lowest priority
  • 7 represents highest priority

Allocation of equal priorities to different RAT is not supported.

Different vendors  name this priority parameter differently. Few vendors call this priority as Cell Reselection Priority  while others can use a different name for the same.



If UE is measuring same signal strength from two different cells. It will reselect the one which has higher priority




In order to make LTE is preferred over WCDMA.  The solution is to have LTE be given a higher priority versus other technologies such as WCDMA in this case as depicted in the figure above .


Quick Points to Remember:

Absolute priorities can be broadcast within the System information

SIB3- absolute priority for the current LTE RF carrier

SIB5- absolute priorities for other LTE RF carriers

SIB6- absolute priorities for UMTS RF carriers


UE only perform cell reselection evaluation for LTE RF carriers and inter-RAT RF carriers which are defined within the system information and for which the UE has a priority.



Inter-System and Different Priority inter-Frequency Cell Re-selection 

There are 2 rules for cell re-selection towards an inter-system cell , or towards an inter-frequency cell with a different priority to the current serving cell.

Before the two set of rules are presented. New parameters are introduced for it

  • Thresh,high : Threshold used for cell reselection to high priority
  • Thresh,low: Threshold used for cell reselection to low priority
  • Threshserving,low : Threshold used for cell reselection to low priority
  • Treselection  = timer , based on which cell re-selection is decided.


*The values for Thresh,high, Thresh,low and Threshserving,low are signaled using values between  0 and 31 , while the actual value of these parmaeters is  Signaled value *2 , which means the actual range for these threshold is 0 to 62 i.e., ( 0 to 62)

In new releases, the names for these parameters are varied a little bit.

Cell Reselection to a higher priority inter-frequency  or inter-RAT : 

The conditions are as follows



if ThreshServingLowQ is broadcast by SIB3

 neighbor cell Squal  > Threshx,highQ during time Treselection 


neighbor cell Srxlev  >  Threshx, highP  during Treselection 


Cell Reselection to a lower priority inter-frequency  or inter-RAT : 


if ThreshServingLowQ is broadcast by SIB3

 serving cell Squal  <  ThreshServingLowQ and neighbor cell Squal  > Threshx low, Q during time  Treselection 


serving cell Squal  <  ThreshServingLowQ and neighbor cell Srxlev > Threshx, low,P  during Treselection 



In all cases, cell reselection is only permitted if more than 1 second has passed since the UE camped on the current serving cell.

If more than one candidate cell meets the criteria for cell reselection, the target cell is selected according to:

  • if the highest priority RF carrier is an LTE RF carrier, then cells are ranked using intra-frequency ranking criteria.
  • if the highest priority RF carrier belongs to a different RAT, then cells are ranked using the ranking criteria for that RAT.


How to bring UE back to LTE from WCDMA in Idle Mode ?

In case of scenarios where UE goes onto WCDMA in idle mode. For example during CS Fallback etc. What can be done to bring UE back onto LTE for WCDMA in such a case.

This is where SIB 19 comes for the rescue.

SIB19 :

It is system information block in WCDMA not in LTE. It contains Inter-RAT frequency and priority information to be used in the cell for the absolute RAT priority cell reselection algorithm.

SIB 19 is used to bring UE to go from WCDMA back to LTE in Idle Mode. Setting proper value of SIB 19, can also help UE to come back on to LTE with higher priority over other technologies.

SIB 19 E-UTRA Info List:

Provides eight different E-UTRA Frequency priority information entries , indexing from 1 to 8

Each entry allows you to configure the following fields:

  •  Measurement Bandwidth
  • Priority
  • QrxlevminEUTRA
  • Threshx High
  • Threshx Low



In all the above discussion, we have focussed only on standard parameters used in Idle mode.

For connected mode, operators can have their own specific features defined to keep the UE remain on LTE most of the time , in addition to performing proper

connected mode mobility planning.


Leave your questions and/or comments below.


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  • Jose Gabriel says:

    Excellent explation!!

  • Surya Pandey says:

    As per many research reports and more than 80% of respondents recognized that service layer convergence was an important part of delivering services across different types of access network. More than one third (38%) cited the rollout of VoLTE as a key technical driver behind deploying a converged service layer. Looking further ahead, roughly the same number (33%) felt that preparation for 5G shall be a driving force, Having a service layer architecture that is understood for the future is clearly important, however it isn’t technology for the sake of network architects — improving the customer experience is a key goal.

  • Saad says:

    Thanks for the easy explanation.

  • Benson says:

    This has remained difficult for me, but now I do understand it after that explanation

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