Building end-to-end network slicing insights is a fundament for success

End-to-end network slicing is now available within 4G and will become critical in differentiating the service landscape for 5G. Take the chance to read more about this expected paradigm shift. Plus, tap into our webinar on what capabilities make this possible!

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A key capability for digital differentiation

The digitalization of industries and services has the advantage of opening up increased levels of measured and experienced value, and presents enterprises with new opportunities as well as new threats. For those who can define a clear digital strategy and prioritize the required investments to execute on, there’s a good chance they can a build competitive advantage, gain market shares and improve margins.

This requires a digital strategy that covers internal systems and processes, as well as the external ecosystem and business model used by the enterprise. The key is to pay close attention to internal efficiencies on one hand, and leading customers, selected partners and critical suppliers on the other. For both these perspectives, connectivity and communication is critical for enabling and supporting this digital transformation.

A need for tailored connectivity

To date, telecommunications service providers have remained within a paradigm of building and managing networks that support a limited set of services. The emphasis has largely been on standardized commercial packages and value bundles. As a result, service providers´ enterprise customers have viewed connectivity and communication more as an essential requirement to run their business, rather than an opportunity to refine production, logistics or sales. However, this outlook is changing.

With the massively increased amount of communication happening between all connected devices, there’s an ongoing shift towards more tailored connectivity and communication services. These new types of services need to be flexible and reliable, and offered at price points that are subject to both fierce competition and comparisons with existing offers. For service providers, this means that they need to pay close attention to their own ecosystem, assess what enterprises and segments to approach with what value proposition, and explore which solutions and technology partners to work with in doing so. Throughout the process of establishing new services, early-mover advantages will provide valuable learnings. The benefits of being active rather than reactive to competitor moves are expected to be more important now than ever.

The network slicing fundamentals

Network slicing has been introduced as an umbrella term for a set of enabling technologies and solutions that set out to do one thing – to efficiently and flexibly facilitate tailored connectivity and communication services. Representing the fundamentals, and offered already today in a 4G context, are Network Function Virtualization (NFV)/ Distributed Cloud and Software Defined Networks (SDN).
NFV allows new workloads to be quickly and robustly deployed, allowing slices to be created on demand using a shared infrastructure pool. SDN enables networking such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), needed for network slicing isolation, for example.

In addition to these fundamentals, a supporting infrastructure in the Radio Access Network (RAN) - and transport networks is required, playing an instrumental role in end-to-end (e2e) service quality. Higher in the stack, a high degree of automation and orchestration is key, as well as a flexible BSS - and service exposure/enablement layer. The orchestration allows network slices to be efficiently life-cycle managed, and other automation capabilities allow network slices to operate autonomously with customized behavior. The BSS and service exposure layer allow for flexibility in capitalizing on services and assets, enabling new business models to open up.

Building an end-to-end network slicing approach from 4G

The mechanisms on which to build, explore and deploy e2e network slicing are already contained in the networks of today.  For instance, in Evolved Packed Core (EPC)-based networks, examples include Access Point Names (APN) and compliance with the Dedicated Core (DÉCOR) standard, for control and scalability. Moreover, the Ericsson Core network evolution towards 5G further reinforces the ability to take network slicing to the next level already today. The fully automated network slice service orchestration capability and closed-loop assurance, both of which are now available within Ericsson Service automation with Dynamic Orchestration, now meet all required needs.

The RAN support for network slicing is being continuously expanded from current key capabilities around radio resource portioning, secure service separation, advanced subscriber group handling and slice-aware observability. In addition, the Ericsson mobile transport evolution supports different RAN architectures maintained in parallel, delivering quality of service support, segment routing, Layer 3 VPN services and security.

Consumer and enterprise services today are largely available in 4G networks, but as the commercial roll-out of 5G services accelerates, network slicing will leverage additional values. Examples here include the ability and control of devices to be connected to multiple slices and common identifiers – allowing end-to-end monitoring across RAN and Core – and the ability to partition communication services and user data, per slice. However, the technical capabilities for building end-to-end network slicing are today already in place . As we move into 5G, these capabilities will be expanded and improved, but the technology that’s needed to take the path to network slicing is available now.

So what now? – Looking beyond technology

With network slicing technology establishing itself, there is a need to revisit the business fundamentals. The main opportunity with network slicing is that it answers the question of how to rapidly enable new types of service offerings and support different enterprise business models, along with fast service deployment. It’s a way to generate more revenue for service providers, at a lower cost and at a maintained or improved level of network robustness. Combined, these solutions work in unison to deliver the true goal – an end-to-end network, capable of offering enterprises a variety of services, delivering reliable, resilient and secure business flexibility at targeted cost levels.

Technical challenges still remain, mainly in achieving a coordinated activation of the different solutions needed. But these solutions have now matured and offer a viable path to build the end-to-end capabilities required for a differentiating service portfolio. And with the technology in place, it comes down to the truly fundamental questions – what role should you play in the selected digitalized ecosystems? What selected use case clusters should you serve? What business strategy and business model do you pursue in serving these use cases? And what organizational structure should be designed and implemented to best support these aspirations?

The recipe for success begins with end-to-end insights

The successful service providers will be those who can start leveraging network slicing opportunities to expand their existing business, and learn from the current context of 4G. It will take the entire organization to develop, operate and market services in parallel, using a manageable portfolio of slices to start with. The service provider will also need to articulate the potential time-to-market and business innovation as an integral part of its service value.

A developed view of the fundamental capabilities required for network slicing goes hand in hand with identifying what business strategy to pursue. Tailored connectivity and communication services rely on these capabilities in the network. To be part of generating the end-to-end insights needed in your organization, you’re welcome to join our webinar on e2e network slicing, titled "Network slicing: Building essential end-to-end capabilities in 4G/5G".

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For more information on the central topic of service orchestration and network slicing, read more about Network slicing orchestration – automation from design to assurance as well as 5G orchestration: The automation journey

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