What is network slicing and how it will be a key technology for 5G?

  • Mobile operators and telecommunications vendors are preparing themselves for the arrival and the extensive adoption of commercial 5G networks all around the world. 5G networks are designed with the intention to be extremely flexible and highly programmable for end-to-end connect-and-compute infrastructures that are service-aware and application-aware, as well as being time-, location-, and context-aware. 5G networks present a revolution over last generation 4G networks in terms of capacity, performance, and spectrum-access in radio networks.

  • One of the most important innovative design aspects in the 5G architecture is its reliance on 5G network slicing, which allows operators provide portions of their networks for specific customer uses cases — whether that use case is the smart home, the internet of things (IOT) factory, the connected car, or the smart energy grid. Each of these use cases receives a unique set of optimized resources and network topologies — ensuring coverage of the SLA-specified factors such as connectivity, speed, and capacity — that suit the needs of that application.

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    WHAT IS NETWORK SLICING?

  • Network slicing is a type of virtual networking architecture that exists in the same family as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) — two closely related network virtualization technologies.(src) These technologies aim to achieve the movement of modern networks toward software-based automation.

  • Network slicing is an end-to-end concept that covers all of the existing network segments. Network slicing enables deployment of multiple logical, self-contained and independent shared or partitioned networks concurrently on a common infrastructure platform.

  • Network slicing considerably transforms the entire perspective of networking by abstracting, isolating, orchestrating, and separating the logical network components from the underlying physical network resources. This, in turn, leads to the enhancement of the network architecture principles and capabilities.

  • In these virtualized network scenarios while the underlying physical components are secondary, logical, software-based partitions are paramount, allowing to dynamically allocate network capacity according to the need. As the requirements change, so can the allocated resources. Using common resources such as storage and processors, network slicing permits the creation of slices devoted to logical, self-contained, and partitioned network functions.

    5G NETWORK SLICING

  • 5G networks, in tandem with network slicing, enables users to enjoy requirement specific tailored connectivity and data processing that adhere to a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that the mobile operators have agreed with. Customisable network capabilities include data speed, quality, latency, reliability, security, and services.

  • According to the report revealed by Ericsson, some of the 5G network slicing use cases will include higher bandwidth for video, higher speeds, and wide-scale availability; extensive machine-type communication monitoring of transportation and control; and critical machine-type communication with remote operations.


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  • According to the report, each of these use cases will require a different configuration of requirements and parameters and thus is why each use case will require its own network slice. According to Ericsson, future 5G networks will have a flexible structure so that speed, capacity, and coverage can be allocated in logical slices taking into account the specific demands of each use case.

    • Some of the benefits of 5G network slicing are:

    • A single network can be used to offer various services based on the requirements of the user and various use cases

    • Network operators can allocate the right amount of required resources as per network slice. Hence, it helps in the effective and efficient utilization of resources. For example, one network slice can be designed to deliver low latency & low data rate while the other network slice can be configured to deliver high throughput.

    • It helps network operators in reducing expenses (OPEX) and capital expenditure (CAPEX).

    • It vastly improves operational efficiency and time to market for the delivery of 5G network services.

    • It overcomes all the drawbacks of "DiffServ" which is the most popular QoS solution.

    NETWORK SLICING IN 4G

  • To date, most of the announced network slicing implementations and field trials have involved either fixed line or 4G networks. A partial reason for this is because 5G is still in its infancy stage. This also is a piece of clear evidence that network operators are eager to deploy network slicing for the potential it holds.

  • Huawei’s early 2018 announcement with Vodafone to slice the operators’ fibre-to-the-home network in Ireland can be a prime example of how network slicing can be paired with virtual customer premise equipment technology to help meet the needs of multi-play residential customers as well as enterprise customers. Similarly, early in 2018, Ericsson and Swisscom announced that they were demonstrating network slicing in the Swiss operator’s 4G network to make its critical communications more effective for public safety agencies.

  • According to GSMA’s report on 5G slicing, there are estimated to be 1.2 billion connections by 2025, accounting for 40 percent of the global population, or approximately 2.7 billion people. A key enabler for this 5G reality will be network slicing.

  • The major vendors in the network slicing market include Ericsson (Sweden), Huawei (China), Nokia (Finland), Intel (US), Cisco (US), ZTE (China), SK Telecom (South Korea), Deutsche Telekom (Germany), Telefónica (Spain), Samsung Electronics (South Korea), NTT DOCOMO (Japan).

  • Whether a user’s refrigerator is communicating with a supermarket, a bottling machine with the packaging machine or a car with a passing bus – network slicing provides the optimized part of the 5G network for a variety of use cases and with a promise of a smooth process flow. As a result, everyone will get the right slice in the network of networks.