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In cellular telecommunications, the term handover or handoff refers to the process of transferring an ongoing call or data session from one channel connected to the core network to another. In satellite communications it is the process of transferring satellite control responsibility from one earth station to another without loss or interruption of service.


Handover or handoff

American English tends to use the term handoff, and this is most commonly used within some American organizations such as 3GPP2 and in American originated technologies such as CDMA2000. In British English the term handover is more common, and is used within international and European organisations such as ITU-T, IETF, ETSI and 3GPP, and standardised within European originated standards such as GSM and UMTS. The term handover is more common than handoff in academic research publications and literature, while handoff is slightly more common within the IEEE and ANSI organisations.


In telecommunications there may be different reasons why a handover might be conducted:

  • when the phone is moving away from the area covered by one cell and entering the area covered by another cell the call is transferred to the second cell in order to avoid call termination when the phone gets outside the range of the first cell;
  • when the capacity for connecting new calls of a given cell is used up and an existing or new call from a phone, which is located in an area overlapped by another cell, is transferred to that cell in order to free-up some capacity in the first cell for other users, who can only be connected to that cell;
  • in non-CDMA networks when the channel used by the phone becomes interfered by another phone using the same channel in a different cell, the call is transferred to a different channel in the same cell or to a different channel in another cell in order to avoid the interference;
  • again in non-CDMA networks when the user behaviour changes, e.g. when a fast-travelling user, connected to a large, umbrella-type of cell, stops then the call may be transferred to a smaller macro cell or even to a micro cell in order to free capacity on the umbrella cell for other fast-traveling users and to reduce the potential interference to other cells or users (this works in reverse too, when a user is detected to be moving faster than a certain threshold, the call can be transferred to a larger umbrella-type of cell in order to minimize the frequency of the handovers due to this movement);
  • in CDMA networks a soft handoff (see further down) may be induced in order to reduce the interference to a smaller neighboring cell due to the "near-far" effect even when the phone still has an excellent connection to its current cell;
  • etc.

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