Network slicing for 5G success
Network slicing enables flexibility, simplicity and performance customized to specific and demanding use case requirements, to a degree that was not achievable in earlier generations of wireless. It also enhances security of networks by isolating traffic between slices to enable tailored integrity enhancements.
- Massive Machine Type Communication
- Critical Machine Type Communication
- Enhanced Mobile Broadband
- Fixed Wireless Access
With network slicing, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are able to provide optimized, end user specific connectivity services to industries and consumers to meet demand for differentiated services while simultaneously maintaining a high-quality broadband internet experience for all users.
What is network slicing and why is it so important?
As shown in Figure 1, Network slicing allows the possibility to split a single physical 5G network into several virtual networks like Mobile Broadband, Fixed Wireless Access, Time Critical Network etc. to be consumed by both consumer and enterprise segments. e.g., Business to Business (B2B), Business to Business to Consumer (B2B2C), and Business to Consumer (B2C). Each of these virtual networks can be associated with specific characteristics such as throughput, latency, security, and priority. These differentiated characteristics are driven by the use cases each of these slices (virtual networks) are offering. It is important to note that these characteristics can be independently optimized and delivered per slice. There will be some use cases that demand movement of large amounts of data quickly, requiring extreme bandwidth without other optimizations. (An example could be transmitting MRI imaging to an awaiting emergency room.) In the alternative, a remote-control use case may not require high bandwidth, but would require extreme low latency to minimize time for carrying out the remote commands. Autonomous driving and power grid connectivity are additional key use cases for slicing that have vastly different customized technical needs.
Slicing enables efficient introduction of several use cases that have critical significance towards the society.
State of 5G network slicing
Figure 2 below gives a global snapshot view of Ookla Crowdsource 5G samples from May 1, 2023.
A 5G network based on Standalone (SA) architecture, together with network slicing, promises to unleash the true potential of 5G in terms of flexibility, efficiency, security and differentiated use cases support.
The large number of green Ookla crowd source samples depicted in Figure 2 indicates that some of the Asian markets have a significant lead in terms of deployment of nationwide SA networks. This enables them to offer innovative services, attract high-tech industry and facilitate overall digitalization of the society. We have seen significant penetration of network slicing-based use cases being offered by Asian CSPs that not only provide rich user experience, but also are essential for the society in general. Some of the prevalent use cases in Asia running over a public 5G network using network slicing encompass critical areas such as healthcare, mining, power grid, manufacturing, and education. Refer to the figures below for examples of key use cases deployed by Asian CSPs using network slicing.
2,300+ in operation
SME > 80%
Close cooperation with 2 major power grids
400+ signed projects
Covering 26 provinces
370+ in operation
2,000+ partnered medical institutions
400+ pilots with two ministries
Covering 31 provinces
4,900+ signed projects
Built 10+ showcase areas
5G+ V2X pilot unit
U.S. 5G leadership depends on widespread deployment and traction of SA and network slicing driven B2B, B2C, B2B2C use cases. Any roadblocks to these initiatives would be detrimental to the success of 5G in North America.
Slicing benefits all users
As discussed above, slicing is a way to get more out of a single physical network to benefit all users and society and to promote a better business case for network expansion to reach more users with leading edge broadband services. Optimizing the characteristics of one slice (or multiple slices) offers a way to optimize overall network performance and efficiency and, at the same time, maintain fair treatment across all customers. It can bring value to consumers and enterprises as well as CSPs.
There is sometimes a misconception that slicing would disadvantage mass market consumers in order to provide a higher user experience to other high paying customers. In actuality, slicing provides efficient mechanisms in the network that would enable equitable treatment of customers and effective network resource utilization through advanced traffic and network management practices. Slicing can ensure that high-priority, mission-critical, society-impacted traffic is not treated the same way as traffic generated by over-the-top best-efforts internet, while maintaining the agreed-to service levels (SLAs) of consumer broadband services.
Rate-controlled scheduling and Dynamic Radio Resource Partitioning (DRP) are some of the capabilities in the 5G network that would ensure that a customer SLA is maintained, and that critical traffic is not impacted during the contention period.
Dynamic RRP allows users of one specific partition to use unused resources from another partition to enable efficient resource utilization while providing excellent user performance. The DRP algorithm monitors the resource utilization for each partition and adjusts the scheduling probability of the service-related Data Radio Bearers (DRBs) for each slot—that is, each Transmission Time Interval (TTI). This ensures that during contention, the resource allocation is enforced, thereby protecting SLAs while allowing different SLA tradeoffs. Figure 4 below shows an example of Dynamic RRP with Mobile Broadband (MBB) and Mission Critical (MC) as two separate services.
Fair treatment of broadband service (SLA) to consumers can be achieved by leveraging slicing together with right dimensioning.
5G network slicing use cases for societal benefits
In addition to blistering speed and ultra-low latency, 5G delivers a higher degree of user experience in digital engagements such as Internet of Things (IoT), High Frequency Trading1 (HFT), e-commerce, healthcare, and manufacturing. Network slicing is one of the key enablers to deliver meaningful societal benefits. The following are few examples of how network slicing can realize the full potential of 5G.
- Security-sensitive enterprises, such as hospitals, can deploy a private network with their specific requirements built into a network slice. Customization such as keeping patient data on site, bandwidth for transmission of large image files and throughput and latency for remote surgery can all be part of a network slice catered for the hospitals. Today, this may only be done through a manual, cumbersome and lengthy configuration management process.
- Remote patient care is another service that CSPs can deliver efficiently by leveraging network slicing. The caregivers can use a network slice with optimized capabilities like high bandwidth and low latency to serve the remote patients. Society at large would benefit immensely through critical home healthcare solutions, where slicing can enable enhanced quality of service for critical healthcare applications that is not otherwise desired by the consumer for routine broadband use. In the absence of network slicing, the remote healthcare services would entail setting up costly dedicated connections.
- More flexible and cost-effective MC services, such as for first responders and the Department of Defense (DoD), can be delivered with network slicing. Currently the MC services are realized by deploying dedicated networks, which may be inefficient and expensive. Network slicing, however, can enable CSP’s single network to deliver customized service for each customer. This allows the MC services to take advantage of the full coverage area of the CSP with no incremental investment in towers and network equipment. By creating two network slices—one for MC services and another for regular users (that is, consumers and enterprises)—a single network can effectively deliver two “tailored” The Figure 4 below illustrates how a single network can commission multiple services through network slicing.
- Network slicing lends to the efficient operation of such services as MBB and FWA (fixed wireless access) that CSPs deliver to their users. Each of these services can be tied to a separate network slice to automate tasks such as network configuration, billing and service assurance that are mostly manual today.
- Unprecedented automation in the manufacturing sector is envisioned with network slicing. A lot of work has been done to “cut the cable” from the robots in the assembly line so that they can be managed more effectively with a 5G network (for example, faster software upload, freedom to move around, change roles as needed). A network slice with specific network capabilities to automate the factory floor is the best way to deliver such level of automation.
- On-demand “Orchestration” of a specific service (such as emergency MC service during a natural disaster) can only be performed by network slicing by connecting the required network resources within minutes. Current “orchestration” of such services requires a lengthy manual process.
- Nascent 5G services in development such as autonomous driving, remote control of critical infrastructure, and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) are natural candidates for network slicing-based deployment. The bandwidth and latency requirements needed for these services are better delivered by a network slice configured with customized network capabilities.
In addition to facilitating the above use cases, slicing can contribute certain overarching benefits that serve the public interest, such as:
- Spectrum is a precious resource, and it is critical for CSPs to efficiently use the spectrum for the best user experience. By enabling slice-aware layer management strategy, traffic can be optimally served by specific spectrum depending on service requirements, thereby providing higher spectral efficiency. Being able to get the most out of this scarce national resource—the spectrum—is critical for the advancement of communications and international leadership.
- Sustainability is another advantage that network slicing brings to table, especially for private networks which can either be dedicated physical networks or virtual networks enabled by slicing. Dedicated physical networks would have duplicated infrastructure requiring more space, power, and other resources. A network slice, on the other hand, would enable sharing the same network between private and public users, reducing the overall power, space, land use, waste, and other operational expenses. In addition, slice-aware traffic steering could be used to reduce power consumption in a radio network. Figure 5 below is an example of slice-aware traffic steering and sustainability.
Slicing for overall societal benefits involves sustainability, spectral efficiency, operational efficiency, differential security, and Industry 4.0.
Network slicing is a cornerstone towards providing the true value which 5G promises to deliver for the overall benefit of society in terms of efficiency, security, flexibility, and fairness. CSPs in the U.S. are at the cusp of rolling out this functionality nationwide to usher in the next wave of 5G beyond simple 5G coverage.
In order for the U.S. to lead in the space of 5G, it is of paramount importance that CSPs are able to innovate and launch network slicing-based use cases for the overall betterment of society in general.
1 High-frequency trading (HFT) uses powerful computer programs to transact many orders in fractions of a second. HFT uses complex algorithms to analyze multiple markets and execute orders based on market conditions. Traders with the fastest execution speeds are generally more profitable than those with slower execution speeds.
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