5G is being heralded as a major breakthrough in terms of speed and connectivity for users, but the possibilities could be a lot more innovative.
When it comes to the shift from 4G to 5G, the average user will most likely only be concerned with one thing: speed. Granted, you will be able to stream or download media on your smart device far faster than before. But behind the scenes, the technology being developed to bring us 5G has the potential to offer far more than that. There will be many new innovative features coming with the dawn of 5G cellular. A feature that I personally find fascinating is called, Network Slicing.
So, what is Network Slicing and why would we want this new capability?
Network Slicing is a new feature that has resulted from the end to end digitization of the cellular network designs and while earlier versions of cellular technology leverage digital capabilities, 5G will be total digital. As well as being digital, with 5G we can take advantage of software defined networks (SDN). In SDN solutions, we can manage the control plane separate from the data plane. By uncoupling these planes, new flexibility is added to the cellular connections. We can provision a centralized controlled network yet have the traffic flow point to point instead of to / from the core. We can inject internet connections at the edge too. We can federate the security, and push the intelligence in the form or AI and analytics to the edge too. Best of all, we can provide edge computing services where the apps and the data live and remain on the network fabric instead of in the cloud. Yes, we will continue to use cloud, hybrid cloud, and even multi-cloud, but cloudlets, baby clouds at the edge will dominate in 5G.
A key aspect of unlocking 5G’s potential is Network Slicing, which enables distinct virtual networks to run over a common physical infrastructure. This means that instead of having physical cellular towers supporting one network, the technology can support multiple digital networks running simultaneously.
This has already been implemented over 4G networks using Access Point Names (APNs), which are essentially a gateway between a mobile network and the internet, but the process is fairly cumbersome in comparison to 5G.
Network Slicing on 5G is designed on an end-to-end basis, and as such does not require going through APNs. It is also dynamic, meaning it is far more customizable than the current versions of Network Slicing on 4G, allowing each virtual network to adapt depending on what is required from it.
This will lead to a proliferation in specialized networks for a range of services that are tailored to their specific needs.
In Network Slicing, we can strap-up a customized version of the cellular network for each enterprise customer. If one company must have the fastest data rates and another needs ultra low latency, then these capabilities can be invoked for these customers on a case by case scenario. From 4G and backwards, the cellular networks were static and every customer had to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of these networks. However, with the advent of 5G, the network will come to meet the needs of the customers. Each configuration, aka a Network Slice, will be unique and isolated for each customer.
We can shape the 5G connection in two unique ways. First, we can make customer specific configurations to the network itself. Second, we adjust the resources available from the network for each user.By making changes to these parameters, each user can benefit from a network connection that is optimized for their specific needs. Effectively, each user can have their own network configuration that is isolated and separated from all the other network slices.
The key benefits include:
- Greater elasticity, robustness, secure and stable operations through the compartmentalization of the network, applied end-to-end.
- Uncompromising and customizable slices, each optimized for the needs of the services or segment cluster they are defined to serve.
- Built-in flexibility and efficiency with AI-powered automated service orchestration, from test to launch to the maintenance of new services.
Paving the way to leverage the 5G potential, Network Slicing provides the answer on how to achieve both increased efficiencies and revenues, through differentiation and faster time-to-market.
Ericsson. (2019). Network Slicing. Ericsson.com. Retrieved on October 1, 2019 from, https://www.ericsson.com/en/digital-services/trending/network-slicing?gclid=Cj0KCQjw8svsBRDqARIsAHKVyqEGPNLc5PJAzmmPfLogi6SFvktnc5amAPEaAS4cKobIfcidrMmZRVYaAgeSEALw_wcB
GSMA. (2017). An Introduction to Network Slicing. GSMA. Retrieved on October 1, 2019 from, https://www.gsma.com/futurenetworks/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/GSMA-An-Introduction-to-Network-Slicing.pdf
Nilson, P. (2019). There’s more to 5G than speed: Why network slicing could be a game changer. Verdict Media Limited. Retrieved on October 1, 2019 from, https://www.verdict.co.uk/network-slicing-5g/
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.