GBR is a confusing concept at the start when looking at LTE but it’s actually kind of simple when we break it down.
GBR stands for Guaranteed Bit Rate, meaning the UE is guaranteed a set bit rate for the bearer.
The default bearer is always a non-GBR bearer, with best effort data rates.
Let’s look at non-GBR bearers to understand the need for GBR bearers:
As the Uu (Air) interface is shared between many UEs, each is able to transfer data. Let’s take an example of a cell with two UEs in it and not much bandwidth available.
If UE1 and UE2 are both sending the same amount of data it’ll be evenly split between the two.
But if UE1 starts sending a huge amount of data (high bit rate) this will impact on the other UEs in the cells ability to send data over the air as it’s a shared resource.
So if UE2 needs to send a stream of small but important data over the air interface, while UE2 is sending huge amounts of data, we’d have a problem.
To address this we introduce the concept of a Guaranteed Bit Rate. We tell the eNB that the bearer carrying UE2’s small but important data needs a Guaranteed Bit Rate and it reserves blocks on the air interface for UE2’s data.
So now we’ve seen the need for GBR there’s the counter point – the cost.
While UE1 can still continue sending but the eNB will schedule fewer resource blocks to it as it’s reserved some for UE2’s data flow.
If we introduced more and more UEs each requiring GBR bearers, eventually our non-GBR traffic would simply not get through, so GBR bearers have to be used sparingly.
Note: IP data isn’t like frame relay or circuit switched data that’s consistent, bit rate can spike and drop away all the time. GBR guarantees a minimum bit rate, which is generally tuned to the requirements of the data flow. For example a GBR for a Voice over IP call would reserve enough for the media (RTP stream) but no more, so as not to use up resources it doesn’t need.