5G is one of the hottest technology trends in 2019 that is very close to coming in scale. Big companies like Samsung and Huawei have already showcased 5G handsets at the recent Mobile World Congress (MWC). According to a report by Deloitte, 72 telcos tested 5G last year, and 25 of them will roll out 5G in at least one part of their territory by 2019.
Although it will take a number of years for 5G to overtake the dominance of 4G, it will be not be limited to just mobile phones and Wi-Fi. With its network slicing capability, 5G will open new doors to connectivity and allow service providers to build virtual networks customized to application requirements.
What is 5G Network Slicing?
When talking about the fifth-generation (5G) of wireless communication, the first thing that comes to mind is the internet speed it will offer. Well, 5G is expected to offer up to 20 gigabytes per second downloading speed, which is 20 times more than the speed delivered by 4G.
But, the most interesting thing about 5G is not the peak downloading speed, but network slicing. It is a unique capability that will allow operators to share a single network infrastructure by dividing it into multiple networks (slices), rather than creating a large number of separate networks.
These network slices can have different functionalities, used for specific industry requirements and use cases. For instance, operators can assign one slice for video, one for the internet of things (IoT), another for driverless cars, and so on.
All the use cases will get an individual suite of resources so that operators get flexibility and elasticity. But, operators can also choose to combine multiple, similar services on a single slice. The resources will cover a few of the most important needs of an application, like connectivity, speed, and capacity.
Cutting network slices from the infrastructure
As mentioned above, the 5G networks will allow slicing on as-a-service basis which can be tailored as per the requirements of architecture.
For example, an infrastructure needs to be divided for two use cases—driverless cars and mobile browsing. The driverless cars need connectivity with low-latency but don’t demand high throughput. On the other hand, mobile browsing can occur at higher latencies, but demand high bandwidth.
In this case, the operators can optimize connectivity for both the use cases with network slicing. On a single infrastructure, they can build two network slices, both of which will be optimized for specific uses.
However, the operators will need to take care of the sender as well as the end device. For example, the driverless cars might consume high-battery power and the operator might need to consider the network that doesn’t consume much of the battery life.
From SDN/NFV to 5G network slicing
The 5G network slicing is based on the network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) technologies. These two technologies are closely related and are taking modern networks toward automation based on software.
SDN and NFV separate the network architectures and virtualize them. This helps in optimizing network flexibility. Hence, network slicing SDN will enable operators to develop several virtual networks on a shared infrastructure.
Architecture of network slicing
The common section in the architecture is the network which is a combination of SDN and NFV. There are five main parts in the architecture– Network management module, SDN controller module, Operation/Business Support System (OSS/BSS), NFV module, and hardware virtualization layer module.
Network Management System (NMS) comprises virtualized infrastructure manager (VIM), virtual network function management (VNFM), and an orchestrator. Its role is to dynamically configure the infrastructure and functions of the network.
SDN controller module is used to monitor the status of equipment in the management panel and then find the path through which the equipment is forwarded. It can also monitor the processing flow of all the services so that operators can gain confidence in the quality of services.
Operation/Business Support System (OSS/BSS) handles the functional modules of the network.
NFV module has a structure like the conventional network. Its role is to provide accessibility between the core network and virtual network control.
Hardware virtualization layer module has three divisions—computing hardware, storage hardware, and network hardware. These divisions are responsible for resource allocation of most of the network slices.
Benefits of 5G network slicing
- Since a single physical infrastructure can create multiple isolated network slices, it will significantly reduce the capital expenditure (CapEx) for operators. More the number of slices, the more economical the infrastructure will become. It will provide a wide range of opportunities for operators to boost revenue and save on costs.
- Network slices can be tailored and optimized to meet specific industry requirements.
- The resources of a network slice can be used efficiently without impacting the performance of other network slices.
- As per a study by Ericsson and BT, the network slicing is a key for IoT business case. The companies compared networking slicing with alternative scenarios and found that it has the potential to increase economic benefit for IoT service delivery.
- Network slicing will streamline the processes and improve the operations because there will be only a few cross-dependencies between the functionalities that support different slices.
- Increased internet speed and reliability.
- Meet connectivity demands for edge computing.
Challenges with network slicing
The implementation of 5G network solutions will demand management of entire lifecycle on the basis of a number of architectural tenets. Management of these tenets with the right characteristics will require operators to address a number of challenges and control the outcomes. Following will be the main challenges:
1. Performance issues because of a shared infrastructure
Since the network slices will have shared infrastructure, it will be difficult to provide the same performance to every slice. The use cases of every slice might not be the same. If a slice consumes more resources than others, then it will impact the performance of other slices.
2. Management and orchestration wouldn’t be that simple
To deliver scalability and dynamism with every slice, the management and orchestration of several scenarios wouldn’t be simple.
3. Security and Privacy
For the security of open interfaces in the network telecommunication services, there will be a requirement of a consistent security framework. This framework should consist of privacy policies for software integrity, remote verification and authentication, and threat detection.
Network slicing is the key part of 5G networks, which will be enabled by SDN and NFV technologies. It will open the door to new opportunities and complement modern technologies and their applications. IT will also gain cost and performance benefits.
Undoubtedly, sliced networks will transform the world of telecom.
Virendra is a passionate reader and writer. He is currently working for two leading IT media portals. This blog is where he shares everything, whether it is a book review, technical article, author interviews, things he has learnt (and still learning). He also writes about his take on this world through unique, helpful and odd stories.