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5G Network Slicing

5G Network Slicing_040319A
[5G Network Slicing, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)]


Network Slicing, a Key Technology for 5G


- A New Concept in Network Slicing Technology

Network slicing is not a new concept, dating back to the initial implementation of virtual local area networks (VLANs). However, after the widespread implementation of software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), we are starting to see its full potential. By definition, network slicing defines multiple virtual network slices initiated or built on a single physical network infrastructure. 

Each network slice represents an independent virtual instance, defined by allocating a subset of available network resources. Typically, each of these network slices is designed to provide tailored requirements for any network application or service.

5G deployments will extend this virtualization to an end-end/top-to-bottom functional scope and embed slicing as a core functioning part of the network. 

The benefits include internal service provider network management uses; the ability to differentiate broad classes of services that require certain characteristics or resource parameters; providing a virtual service provider network across another physical network operator; providing customers the ability to customize a virtual network to support their operations; traffic splitting across 5G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks; etc. Operators will utilize slicing to optimize network management from core to customer. 

Network slicing technology can provide connectivity for smart meters with a network slice that connects “Internet of Things (IoT)” devices with a high availability and high reliability data-only service, with a given latency, data rate and security level. 

At the same time, the technology can provide another network slice with very high throughput, high data speeds and low latency for an augmented reality (AR) service. Each use case receives a unique set of optimized resources and network topology - covering certain SLA-specified factors such as connectivity, speed, and capacity - that suit the needs of that application. 


- Network Slicing Technology: A Key to 5G

Network slicing overlays multiple virtual networks on top of a shared network domain, a shared set of network and computing resources. Network slicing is most often used to discuss 5G networks, in part because 5G specifications require network slicing as an essential feature, while 4G and previous generations of cellular data services do not and cannot support network slicing.

Network slicing allows operators to “slice” one physical network into multiple, virtual, end-to-end (E2E) networks across device, access, transport and core networks. Each slice logically isolated with fault and security issues contained withing a slice. Each slice with dedicated resources, such as network bandwidth or Quality of Service (QoS), configured for different types of services with different characteristics and requirements.

Designing a network that can simultaneously support both a wide variety of use cases and demanding performance requirements, with a single set of standard network functions, is simply impractical to implement. The key benefit of network slicing technology is it enables operators to provide networks on an as-a-service basis, which enhances operational efficiency while reducing time-to-market for new services. 

Network slicing may determine the success or failure of 5G Wireless. The issue of network slicing deals with two critical, unresolved questions: 

  • First, how will telecommunications service providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile/Sprint, etc.) adopting 5G Wireless choose to compete against cloud service providers (Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud) for applications and data. 
  • Second, how will they re-architect their networks to give enterprise customers control over their assets, while at the same time maintaining the security and integrity of their infrastructure. 


Even now, as 5G-branded services are being rolled out to major US metropolitan areas, these seemingly fundamental architectural issues remain up in the air.


- Setting Up 5G Network Slicing

Network slicing has been actively helping the telecom and wireless networking communities for years. As the name suggests, the technology helps network providers segment a single network into multiple virtual networks based on a single infrastructure setup. Network slicing overlays these multiple virtual networks on top of a shared network. 

Furthermore, with network slicing, each sliced virtual network can be individually configured with different network attributes such as logical topology, security rules, and performance characteristics to meet different use cases. However, each of these sliced virtual networks is limited by the underlying hardware setup. The next step in this technology: 5G network slicing.

According to the 3GPP Release 15, a network slice is a set of elements of the network specialized in the provisioning of a various type of services. For example, there can be one network slice for IoT, another one for supporting "classic" UEs and another one for V2X. 

More generally, there can be different requirements on functionality (e.g., priority, policy control), differences in performance requirements (e.g., latency, mobility and data rates), or they can serve only specific types of users (e.g., MPS (Multimedia Priority Service) users , Public Safety users, corporate customers, roamers, or hosting an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). The different slices can be used simultaneously. 

- 5G Network Slicing Architecture

5G network slicing is a network architecture that enables the multiplexing of virtualized and independent logical networks on the same physical network infrastructure. Each network slice is an isolated end-to-end network tailored to fulfill diverse requirements requested by a particular application. 

With latency as low as 1 ms and speeds of up to 4 Gbps, as well as a wider range of frequency bands and enhanced capacity, 5G will be able to accommodate innovative use cases and much greater numbers of connected devices, driving overall growth for Internet of Things (IoT). 

In addition to the speed and capacity improvements, a key enabling technology that will allow operators and the society to reap the full potential of powerful new 5G connectivity is network slicing - a novel architecture which enables the creation of multiple virtual networks on top of a common shared physical infrastructure. 

A huge variety of use cases is envisaged for 5G and it’s the network slicing that will allow granular levels of quality of service for specific use cases to make addressing such variety commercially feasible. 

Network slicing enables the most economical model to provide service differentiation and meeting end user SLAs (Service-Level Agreements). The overall opportunity with network slicing is that it open up for new types of service offerings and support different enterprise business models, in a flexible way with a high service deployment velocity. 

It is an enabler to generate more revenues for the service provider, but at lower costs than with alternative solutions, and at maintained or improved network robustness.


[More to come ...]

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