5G on the horizon
The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) recently released the first official 5G standard, dubbed 5G New Radio, marking a major step toward the commercialization of 5G. As standards are formalized, network slicing is expected to play a major role in moving 5G forward. With this consideration in mind, it is important to note the challenges and benefits of the technology underpinning the next generation of networks.
What is network slicing ?
Network slicing leverages the principles of network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) to divide a single physical infrastructure into multiple virtual networks. Using network slicing, service providers can customize services for customers drawing from a pool of virtual and physical resources. 5G systems are expected to be made for logical network slicing, enabling operators to offer networks on an as-a-service basis and meet the needs of various use cases.
With network slicing, operators can allocate the appropriate amount of network resources to a specific slice. For example, a network slice connected to IoT devices could provide high availability, a specified latency, data rate and security. At the same time, a different network slice could be offered to provide high throughput, quick data speeds and low latency.
The logical architecture of 5G systems are expected to be based on network slicing. The technology will allow network operators to provide differentiated services in user access layers near radio access networks (RANs). Although network slicing will primarily be used to divide the core network, it can also be enacted in the RAN using resource pooling. The process involves abstracting and partitioning logical network segments from physical resources.
Network slice management solutions can also help carriers implement network slice lifecycle management in preparation of 5G. Nevertheless, the primary motivation moving the technology is the ability to provide networks on an as-a-service basis, which minimizes expenses (OPEX) and capital expenditure (CAPEX), while boosting operational efficiency and improving time-to-market.
Network slicing holds much promise for 5G networks, but not without its share of hurdles. Because 5G networks provide wireless connectivity, RANs will need to be re-designed to enable network slicing. Both macrocells and small cells, for example, need to be able to work together and meet the demands of specified network slices.
Additionally, although nearly everyone recognizes network slicing will play an important role in 5G, a lack of industry consensus exists about how to best implement the technology. Details regarding how to combine the technology with NFV and SDN to enable point-to-point connectivity between radio equipment and a physical controller need to be flushed out as well. Moreover, the isolated nature of the technology may prevent network slices from interfering, but this is still difficult to achieve with an abundance of network slices. Interoperability work is also needed to ensure network slicing can collaborate with other budding 5G technologies as 5G networks come to fruition.