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5G Network Slicing and Virtual Networking

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


Network Slicing, a Key Technology for 5G



- 5G Network Slicing: Building Next-Generation Wireless Networks

Network slicing is the operators’ best answer on how to build and manage a network, that meets and exceeds the emerging requirements from a wide range of enterprises. The way to achieve a sliced network is to transform it into a set of logical networks on top of a shared infrastructure. Each logical network is designed to serve a defined business purpose and comprises of all the required network resources, configured and connected end-to-end.

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 fulfil 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 - Paving The Way towards 5G

Network slicing enables the most economical model to provide service differentiation and meeting end user SLAs. 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.

The new era of 5G connectivity will be characterized by its wide diversity of use cases and their varied requirements in terms of power, bandwidth, and speed. The greater elasticity brought about by network slicing will help to address the cost, efficiency, and flexibility requirements imposed by future. In addition, the benefits of slicing for specific verticals are quickly emerging. For example, ultra- reliable low latency communications (URLLC) is focused on providing support for critical infrastructure and applications such as connected transportation and real-time processes such as in manufacturing. IoT has numerous verticals and each of those verticals have varied network requirements. Slicing provides the ability to support these vertical use cases by creating a tailored virtual slice of the network from end to end. 


The University of Hong Kong_5
(The University of Hong Kong)

- Network Slicing Technology: A Key to 5G

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.


- 5G Virtualization Is Crucial

Widespread commitment to the establishment of 5G networks has been varied, and in some areas even slow to pick up. This is largely the result of financial tension: the upside of gaining a competitive advantage in this space may be significant, but the capital risks are just as great. Because 5G is not the same as the Gs that came before. Implementing this technology does not simply require an upgrade of the current network, it demands a new type of network altogether. Initially, 5G will need to integrate the established operations of 4G, especially LTE, but in order to scale their networks quickly and access 5G’s full potential, operators will need to redefine their network architecture, operations, and services.

5G virtualization is crucial and inevitable. Without virtualization, 5G will be unable to meet its connectivity requirements. The network will not be able to adapt quickly enough to keep up with the rampant technological changes in ancillary domains. Telcos will not profit from their investments.


5G Network Slicing Using SDN and NFV

As 5G emerges, it will converge with other evolving technology and network architecture concepts, such as software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), cloud and edge computing and changes in base station design. Network slicing is a type of virtual networking architecture in the same family as SDN and NFV - two closely related network virtualization technologies that are moving modern networks toward software-based automation. SDN and NFV allow far better network flexibility through the partitioning of network architectures into virtual elements. In essence, network slicing allows the creation of multiple virtual networks atop a shared physical infrastructure. 

SDN and NFV are hot topics. NFV allows for virtualization of network resources, and SDN separates control plane functions from data plane functions to enable more centralized, flexible and programmable management of networks. SDN and NFV are used to customize the network offering, supported by automation, service provisioning and orchestration. But the uncoupling of hardware and software does not only facilitate greater network efficacy and efficiency. It inherently lends itself to a more democratic approach to wireless innovation, promising improved services, better network economics, and shorter times to market for new network vendors.

Softwarization using Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) in 5G networks are expected to fill the void of programmable control and management of network resources.


- 5G Virtualization, SDN, NFV, and Network Slicing

Network Virtualization (NV) releases the network from its anchor in hardware and runs a virtual network on top of the physical network. The result is a more dynamic system that can be controlled from a central plane, removing the need for humans to manually configure pieces of hardware.

5G network virtualization will permit the division of hardware resources into functions that can be controlled by software: network functions virtualization (NFV). In network management, NFV seeks to directly optimize network services. The associated network management approach, software-defined networking (SDN), establishes a centralized view of the network by detaching the control and forwarding planes. As a result of NFV, network resources can be configured and allocated to service the needs of specific customers or service categories, without needing physical adjustments or dedicated infrastructures. Such a restructuring will pave the way for much-vaunted 5G capacities like network slicing. This architecture introduces the possibility of multiple virtual networks on top of shared physical infrastructure.

Each network slice can be dedicated to specific functions, clients or use cases, delivering elevated service within each segment, and a higher-performing network overall. Network slicing will be the key ingredient in 5G’s ability to support and deliver value from the three ITU-specified generic services with vastly heterogeneous requirements: enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra-reliable and Low-latency communications (URLLC), massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC). Within these three areas, we will see the emergence of high-speed mobile applications, driverless cars, and mIoT. But, importantly, these use cases will all have different network requirements such as speed, latency, stability, and security. Network slicing makes it possible to satisfy these needs in a dispersed, yet coordinated and tailored way


[More to come ...]

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