The erlang (symbol E) is a dimensionless unit that is used in telephony as a measure of offered load or carried load on service-providing elements such as telephone circuits or telephone switching equipment. For example, a single cord circuit has the capacity to be used for 60 minutes in one hour. If one hundred six-minute calls are received then the total traffic in that hour is six hundred minutes or 10 Erlangs.
Traffic measurements of a telephone circuit
When used to represent carried traffic, a value (which can be a non-integer such as 43.5) followed by “erlangs” represents the average number of concurrent calls carried by the circuits (or other service-providing elements), where that average is calculated over some reasonable period of time. The period over which the average is calculated is often one hour, but shorter periods (e.g., 15 minutes) may be used where it is known that there are short spurts of demand and a traffic measurement is desired that does not mask these spurts. One erlang of carried traffic refers to a single resource being in continuous use, or two channels being in use fifty percent of the time, and so on. For example, if an office has two telephone operators who are both busy all the time, that would represent two erlangs (2 E) of traffic; or a radio channel that is occupied for one hour continuously is said to have a load of 1 Erlang.
When used to describe offered traffic, a value followed by “erlangs” represents the average number of concurrent calls that would have been carried if there were an unlimited number of circuits (that is, if the call-attempts that were made when all circuits were in use had not been rejected). The relationship between offered traffic and carried traffic depends on the design of the system and user behavior. Three common models are (a) callers whose call-attempts are rejected go away and never come back, (b) callers whose call-attempts are rejected try again within a fairly short space of time, and (c) the system allows users to wait in queue until a circuit becomes available.
A third measurement of traffic is instantaneous traffic, expressed as a certain number of erlangs, meaning the exact number of calls taking place at a point in time. In this case the number is an integer. Traffic-level-recording devices, such as moving-pen recorders, plot instantaneous traffic.
The concepts and mathematics introduced by Agner Krarup Erlang have broad applicability beyond telephony. They apply wherever users arrive more or less at random to receive exclusive service from any one of a group of service-providing elements without prior reservation, for example, where the service-providing elements are ticket-sales windows, toilets on an airplane, or motel rooms. (Erlang’s models do not apply where the server-providing elements are shared between several concurrent users or different amounts of service are consumed by different users, for instance, on circuits carrying data traffic.)
Offered traffic (in erlangs) is related to the call arrival rate, λ, and the average call-holding time, h, by:
provided that h and λ are expressed using the same units of time (seconds and calls per second, or minutes and calls per minute).
The practical measurement of traffic is typically based on continuous observations over several days or weeks, during which the instantaneous traffic is recorded at regular, short intervals (such as every few seconds). These measurements are then used to calculate a single result, most commonly the busy hour traffic (in erlangs). This is the average number of concurrent calls during a given one-hour period of the day, where that period is selected to give the highest result. (This result is called the time-consistent busy hour traffic). An alternative is to calculate a busy hour traffic value separately for each day (which may correspond to slightly different times each day) and take the average of these values. This generally gives a slightly higher value than the time-consistent busy hour value.
The goal of Erlang’s traffic theory is to determine exactly how many service-providing elements should be provided in order to satisfy users, without wasteful over-provisioning. To do this, a target is set for the grade of service (GoS) or quality of service (QoS). For example, in a system where there is no queuing, the GoS may be that no more than 1 call in 100 is blocked (i.e., rejected) due to all circuits being in use (a GoS of 0.01), which becomes the target probability of call blocking, Pb, when using the Erlang B formula.
There are several Erlang formulae, including Erlang B, Erlang C and the related Engset formula, based on different models of user behavior and system operation. These are discussed below, and may each be derived by means of a special case of continuous-time Markov processes known as a birth-death process.
Where the existing busy-hour carried traffic, Ec, is measured on an already-overloaded system, with a significant level of blocking, it is necessary to take account of the blocked calls in estimating the busy-hour offered traffic Eo (which is the traffic value to be used in the Erlang formula). The offered traffic can be estimated by Eo = Ec/(1 - Pb). For this purpose, where the system includes a means of counting blocked calls and successful calls, Pb can be estimated directly from the proportion of calls that are blocked. Failing that, Pb can be estimated by using Ec in place of Eo in the Erlang formula and the resulting estimate of Pb can then be used in Eo = Ec/(1 - Pb) to estimate Eo. Another method of estimating Eo in an overloaded system is to measure the busy-hour call arrival rate, λ (counting successful calls and blocked calls), and the average call-holding time (for successful calls), h, and then estimate Eo using the formula E = λh.
For a situation where the traffic to be handled is completely new traffic, the only choice is to try to model expected user behavior, estimating active user population, N, expected level of use, U (number of calls/transactions per user per day), busy-hour concentration factor, C (proportion of daily activity that will fall in the busy hour), and average holding time/service time, h (expressed in minutes). A projection of busy-hour offered traffic would then be Eo = (NUC/60)h erlangs. (The division by 60 translates the busy-hour call/transaction arrival rate into a per-minute value, to match the units in which h is expressed.)
Erlang B formula
Erlang-B (sometimes also written without the hyphen Erlang B), also known as the Erlang loss formula, is a formula for the blocking probability derived from the Erlang distribution to describe the probability of call loss on a group of circuits (in a circuit switched network, or equivalent). It is, for example, used in planning telephone networks. The formula was derived by Agner Krarup Erlang and is not limited to telephone networks, since it describes a probability in a queuing system (albeit a special case with a number of servers but no buffer spaces for incoming calls to wait for a free server). Hence, the formula is also used in certain inventory systems with lost sales.
The formula applies under the condition that an unsuccessful call, because the line is busy, is not queued or retried, but instead really lost forever. It is assumed that call attempts arrive following a Poisson process, so call arrivals are independent. Further, it is assumed that message length (holding times) are exponentially distributed (Markovian system) although the formula turns out to apply under general holding time distributions.
Erlangs are a dimensionless quantity calculated as the average arrival rate, λ, multiplied by the average call length, h. (see Little's Law) The Erlang B formula assumes an infinite population of sources (such as telephone subscribers), which jointly offer traffic to N servers (such as links in a trunk group). The rate of arrival of new calls (birth rate) is equal to λ and is constant, not depending on the number of active sources, because the total number of sources is assumed to be infinite. The rate of call departure (death rate) is equal to the number of calls in progress divided by h, the mean call holding time. The formula calculates blocking probability in a loss system, where if a request is not served immediately when it tries to use a resource, it is aborted. Requests are therefore not queued. Blocking occurs when there is a new request from a source, but all the servers are already busy. The formula assumes that blocked traffic is immediately cleared.
The formula provides the GoS (grade of service) which is the probability Pb that a new call arriving at the circuit group is rejected because all servers (circuits) are busy: B(E, m) when E Erlang of traffic are offered to m trunks (communication channels).
- is the probability of blocking
- m is the number of resources such as servers or circuits in a group
- E = λh is the total amount of traffic offered in erlangs.
This may be expressed recursively as follows, in a form that is used to simplify the calculation of tables of the Erlang B formula:
Typically, instead of B(E, m) the inverse 1/B(E, m) is calculated in numerical computation in order to ensure numerical stability:
Function ErlangB (E As Double, m As Integer) As Double Dim InvB As Double Dim j As Integer InvB = 1.0 For j = 1 To m InvB = 1.0 + j / E * InvB Next j ErlangB = 1.0 / InvB End Function
The Erlang B formula applies to loss systems, such as telephone systems on both fixed and mobile networks, which do not provide traffic buffering, and are not intended to do so. It assumes that the call arrivals may be modeled by a Poisson process, but is valid for any statistical distribution of call holding times with finite mean. Erlang B is a trunk sizing tool for voice switch to voice switch traffic. The Erlang B formula is decreasing and convex in m.
Extended Erlang B
The steps in the process are as follows:
as above for Erlang B.
2. Calculate the probable number of blocked calls
3. Calculate the number of recalls, assuming a Recall Factor, :
4. Calculate the new offered traffic
where is the initial (baseline) level of traffic.
5. Return to step 1 and iterate until a stable value of is obtained.
Erlang C formula
The Erlang C formula expresses the probability that an arriving customer will need to queue (as opposed to immediately being served). Just as the Erlang B formula, Erlang C assumes an infinite population of sources, which jointly offer traffic of A erlangs to N servers. However, if all the servers are busy when a request arrives from a source, the request is queued. An unlimited number of requests may be held in the queue in this way simultaneously. This formula calculates the probability of queuing offered traffic, assuming that blocked calls stay in the system until they can be handled. This formula is used to determine the number of agents or customer service representatives needed to staff a call centre, for a specified desired probability of queuing.
- A is the total traffic offered in units of erlangs
- N is the number of servers
- PW is the probability that a customer has to wait for service.
It is assumed that the call arrivals can be modeled by a Poisson process and that call holding times are described by a negative exponential distribution. A common use for Erlang C is modeling and dimensioning call center agents in a call center environment.
The Engset calculation is a related formula, named after its developer, T. O. Engset, used to determine the probability of congestion occurring within a telephony circuit group. It deals with a finite population of S sources rather than the infinite population of sources that Erlang assumes. The formula requires that the user knows the expected peak traffic, the number of sources (callers) and the number of circuits in the network.
A business installing a PABX needs to know the minimum number of voice circuits it needs to have to and from the telephone network. An approximate approach is to use the Erlang-B formula. However, if the business has a small number of extensions, then it should instead use the more exact Engset calculation, which reflects the fact that extensions already in use will not make additional simultaneous calls. (For a large user population, the Engset and the Erlang-B calculations give the same result.)
Engset's equation is similar to the Erlang-B formula, but has one major difference: Erlang's equation assumes an infinite source of calls, yielding a Poisson arrival process, while Engset specifies a finite number of callers. Thus Engset's equation should be used when the source population is small (say less than 200 users, extensions or customers).
- A = offered traffic intensity in erlangs, from all sources
- S = number of sources of traffic
- N = number of circuits in group
- P(b) = probability of blocking or congestion.
In practice, like Erlang's equations, Engset's formula requires recursion to solve for the blocking or congestion probability. There are several recursions that could be used. One way to determine this probability, is to first determine an initial estimate. This initial estimate is substituted into the equation and the equation then is solved. The answer to this initial calculation is then substituted back into the equation, resulting in a new answer which is again substituted. This iterative process continues until the equation converges to a stable result.
- System spectral efficiency (discussing cellular network capacity in Erlang/MHz/cell)
- A. K. Erlang
- Call centre
- Erlang programming language
- Erlang distribution
- Poisson distribution
- Traffic mix
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- Online Erlang C Calculator from Vrije University, Netherlands
- A Robust Erlang B Calculator from McMaster University, Canada
- Erlang C using spreadsheets from Mitan Ltd.
- Call Center Designer Erlang C tool from Portage Communications, Inc.
- Extended Erlang B Calculator with equation, Had2Know Technology
- Public Web based Erlang Calculator from Plansis - Innovators in planning