Why do we need network slicing today?
As witnessed in the prevailing and former mobile generations, a one-size-fits-all approach in communications will not be economically viable for much longer. In today’s digital landscape, businesses’ diverse and often conflicting communications requirements need to be optimized. For instance, one customer might require ultra-reliable services, whereas another might need ultra-high-bandwidth communication or incredibly low latency. As a potent upgrade over 4G, the 5G network needs to be structured with various capabilities to meet multiple requirements simultaneously.
From a functional perspective, a rational approach would be establishing a set of dedicated networks, each suited for different business requirements. These networks would make possible personalized functionality and network operation based on the needs of individual customers. Network slicing is the intelligent answer to constructing and maintaining a network capable of meeting and exceeding evolving customer needs. Transforming the web into a set of logical networks over a shared infrastructure creates a sliced network.
Individual logical networks serve specific business objectives and comprise the essential network resources set up end-to-end. A network slice can be assigned to a single customer or enterprise or shared by several tenants. For instance, a network slice may consist of dedicated television, transport, and core resources. Another slice may share radio and transport resources between tenants but will be offering dedicated core network functions for each tenant.
Network slices are segregated, self-contained, independent, and secured parts of the network. They target various services with varying requirements on speed, latency, and stability. For instance, a network slice for a critical IoT use case would require low latency, high bandwidth, and ultra-reliability. In contrast, a heavy IoT use case would require higher latency and lower bandwidth.
Managing the network slices competently and maximizing revenues will require advanced operations support systems [OSS] and business support systems [BSS]. These must be capable of supporting automated business and operational processes. Agile 5G networks, Artificial Intelligence [AI], and Service Level Agreement [SLA] driven orchestration allow flexible creation, rapid deployment, and automatic management of the requisite network functions throughout the life cycle.
The evolution of Network Slicing
Communications service providers [CSPs] in the telecom market a few years ago were facing unprecedented technological advancement. The convergence of emerging software and automated technologies made it clear that CSPs can no longer continue selling only connectivity.
While it is profitable, it became essential to reimagine the way the industry is structured and redefine the planning, implementation, maintenance, and monetization of networks.
With the vast amount of data available to CSPs, learning to leverage the insights gained was a major turning point. leveraging the insights gained will help in predicting major occurrences, enhance user experience, meeting user expectations, and more. These advanced services will eventually lay the foundation for the evolution of network slicing.
Network slicing is going to be the cornerstone of these high-level operations. Here, CSPs will have the option to sell personalized slices of network functionality to different types of end-users. For instance, bandwidth-heavy video streaming or signalling-heavy sensor IoT use-cases.
Moving from vertical slicing to horizontal slicing
Buoyed by these advancements, the market began trialling early network slicing use cases. These were facilitated by unified network devices, instead of competing-vendor network components. While the development of network slicing was being discussed, its commercial application was simultaneously being standardized.
This aligned with the ability of CSPs to monetize cutting-edge functionality. Additionally, the industrial and market evolution of network slicing as a concept was required for its eventually successful mass-market implementation. Too early of a breakthrough would have CSPs unable to commercially deploy these concepts as they have been used to selling connectivity. An abrupt shift in business preferences would only cause agitation.
Fast forward a few years, CSPs will be capable of implementing the basic infrastructure, OSS/BSS, 5G next-generation core, and assisting technologies to facilitate network slicing.
At such a point in time, the network would have evolved to a shared, carrier-grade telco cloud. In this context, the core and the edge of the network will be operating on shared computing platforms. With time, network slicing will evolve and expand its current application.
Earlier, CSPs were slicing their mobile broadband networks vertically. Here, individual slices will be attending end-to-end for a particular industry. With the evolution of network slicing and other technologies, CSPs were offered an opportunity to advance network slicing higher and move towards horizontal slicing. Mobile edge computing servers contained in vertical slices can advance the computing resource horizontally for individual slices.
This will further allot slices for use by mobile devices connected through high-data-rate and low-latency radio links, for instance, 5G New Radio. Horizontal slicing will enhance the processing capacity of a mobile device independent of its physical limitations. This will eventually build a fresh generation of moving underlay networks.
Vertical network slicing will result in each network domain being separated into various slices based on the use case. These domain slices are subsequently matched with slices from the remainder of the network to form a whole network slice. It is important that corresponding slice elements are not always comparable, as multiple applications will employ distinct parts of the network based on their user or control plane payload.
Horizontal slicing decouples functionality from the tangible limits of the device itself. This includes locations for computation, storage, and network functionality.
For instance, a smartphone used by an expert in the medical industry could be leveraging:
- A vertical slice for healthcare with a low-latency, video teleconsultation application
- A vertical slice for enhanced mobile broadband for general internet use
- A horizontal slice for a wearable sensor
Horizontal slicing accomplishes in the wearable device what vertical slicing accomplishes in the network. Horizontal slicing democratizes resources while simultaneously wrapping these resources in specific use case slices.
Horizontal slicing has numerous use cases and offers incredible benefits to both consumers and enterprises.
- It reduces the energy footprint of wearables and consumer devices
- Allows the creation of miniature form factors
- Eliminates the requirement for in-device processing capabilities
- Facilitates new form factors for various applications
For example, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs) have enormous applications with network slicing for their processing powers and require a tethered connection to a robust device.
The current scenario today is one that has room for both horizontal and vertical slicing. A 5G network that allows both vertical and horizontal slicing will facilitate:
- Network slices that deliver low-latency and high-bandwidth connections for AR and VR
- Horizontal slicing will make possible use cases with untethered connections
- Allow end-user terminals such as smartphones to experience processing and storage capacities with the HMD
5G network slicing is capable of building innovative opportunities in contiguous markets that are impossible to penetrate without CSP involvement. These include automotive, healthcare, transport, logistics, and more. The pervasiveness of processing abilities is anticipated to generate new openings in both telecommunication and enterprise verticals.
STL 5G Solutions
STL has developed proficiency in creating international, agile ecosystems for delivering end-to-end 5G solutions. These require a deep-rooted specialization in radio hardware and software elements and effective integration of each component.
With expertise in open RAN standards-based software integration, we have developed a novel collaboration with Saankhya Labs, VVDN, and the associated open RAN ecosystem for their particular subject-matter expertise and experience.
These solutions will enable communication service providers worldwide to approach varying deployment use cases with ease of use, high rapidity, and improved ROI.
Our fully 5G-ready digital network solutions are here to empower communication service providers, companies, and subscribers with seamless customer experiences. Reach out to us to leverage network slicing, be future-ready, and stay relevant in this digital landscape. We are happy to help!