How to build an end-to-end-sliced network? Embark in this exciting journey
It all starts with a vision and a winning strategy
Network slicing (NS) is a multi-billion-dollar market with immense possibilities to monetize 5G network investments within enterprise and consumer segments. It will enable product owners to deliver new services that match the growing demands of companies, app developers, and consumers. We expect that most of its related revenue will come from industry segments such as healthcare, government, transportation, energy and utilities, manufacturing, media, and entertainment.
So, to capture the opportunities here, you will need to set a solid business strategy as the foundation for your network slicing journey. This strategy must be anchored in the role you want to take in the value chain and consider the ecosystem partners that you will need to capture the different opportunities.
Determining the business strategy, we recommend you start asking yourself three main questions:
- Which industry verticals and use cases have the most potential in your market?
- What are the technical requirements you will need to realize these use cases?
- What is the best way to quantify the total cost of ownership and decide on the viability of the business case?
To make this process simpler, we suggest you:
- Define the target industry verticals and use cases: Define the segments most relevant to your market and build sufficient knowledge of the needs and challenges of these segments to develop a consistent go-to-market model. We recommend leveraging current customers and relations during this process, as it will be easier to start mapping potential use cases with existing partners. This will also help prioritize the opportunities that can provide a faster path to monetization.
- Define the technical requirements to realize the selected use cases: In this step, you will determine the feasibility of implementing the selected use cases and determining network evolution requirements. We recommend starting by evaluating the technologies that enable the target use cases, such as public networks, mobile public Network slicing, dedicated private networks, or hybrid networks (that is, a combination of mobile public Network slicing and a dedicated private network). Use cases will also have requirements depending on geography or network topology. Technically, this will be different if the services are used locally on an enterprise campus, such as a production plant or hospital, a city, or over a wider area, such as connecting automobiles or power grids.
- Validate the viability of the business case: explore the GTM requirements for commercial viability. It includes choosing between direct B2B/B2C versus a B2B2X approach. A slicing product roadmap should be established to help determine the type of enablers needed going forward. The pricing strategy must be revised to preferably be value-based rather than cost-based. A network TCO versus value proposition analysis needs to be conducted with the enterprises to validate the value drivers and share inputs for estimating the mutual financial benefits.
- Get ready to operate network slicing: Finally, commercial and technical strategies risk failure if you are not ready to operate and commercialize at scale. Therefore, this area should not be overlooked as it demands close interworking of BSS and OSS to manage the requirements of Network slicing on demand. They need to build capabilities in areas such as Agile and DevOps to add flexibility in ways of working, enhance vertical capabilities within the organization, and automate processes to manage Network slicing at scale. All these require proper planning and some degree of organizational transformation — something that takes time. Hence, it should be started in parallel with technical and business planning. When in run-time, monitoring of SLAs and continuous lifecycle management is imperative to ensure the right network specifications are delivered as required.
Does it sound complicated? Do not worry; Ericsson’s highly experienced and capable consulting team can support you along this process if needed. And don’t forget this journey will not happen at just one pace. You can take a stepwise approach to Network slicing evolving both your strategy and your network as you advance, collecting more experiences, and maturing along the Network slicing transformation journey, as we will see next.
Network slicing is a multi-step journey
The Network slicing journey starts with network connectivity as the major value proposition, but then with expanding the play in the ecosystem to get a bigger cut from the value chain.
The reasons behind this business journey being stepped are both commercial and technical. Commercial because it depends on aspects like local market demand, ecosystem readiness, use case scalability, and regulatory requirements. Technical because it depends on device maturity, e2e solution readiness, and local system integration maturity. We see three main steps in the Network slicing journey as follows.
- Pre-configured network slicing: In most cases, your journey will start here. Pre-configured solutions enable a simple and quick way to showcase the technology and test the ecosystem and market demand without large investments and risks. From a commercial point of view, preconfigured network slicing does not require a significant market demand or ecosystem readiness. In this phase, these aspects are mainly driven by you, who proactively engages with selected ecosystem partners to showcase the value of 5G for specific verticals and to test initial business models
From a technical point of view, preconfigured Network slicing does not require advanced capabilities in the devices or the 5G SA network. The bare minimum is to have Network Slice Subnet Management Function (NSSMF) support in the 5G Core (5GC) and New Radio (NR), potentially with some basic RAN capabilities like Radio Resource Partitioning (RRP). On the mobile device side, some features are becoming widespread, for example, URSP (UE Route Selection Policy) (and/or L4S), which can be applied to provide more granular traffic handling capabilities.
This is enough to already explore some 5G SA monetization possibilities and Ericsson has been working with partner many service providers to realize use cases as, for example, Vodafone UK and its broadcast partner ITN broadcasting of the British King's Coronation (read more here). Also Far EasTone smart police patrol cars in Taiwan (read more here).
A drawback with pre-configured Network slicing is that it requires a high degree of manual work to integrate, deploy, operate, and scale the technical solution. And this leads to the second step of the Network slicing journey.
- Dynamic network slicing: Once you have showcased the value of 5G SA to potential customers, tested the ecosystem, and tried business models, you have the prerequisites to advance to the next step in the journey—dynamic Network slicing
From a technical readiness point of view, dynamic network slicing implies a technical solution that has a high degree of automation in deployment, operations, and scalability. The focus here is shifted from device capabilities and basic 5G SA features to dynamic cross-domain orchestration of network slices and related services, including infrastructure, application, transport, and service orchestration and assurance.
In this step, you have a clearer view of the customer journey, ecosystem partners, and relevant monetization models for the slicing business. When these components are in place, the market demand for the slicing business becomes driven by the ecosystem’s demands. It means that ecosystem players start to realize the value of 5G SA for their business and seek partnerships with you to address concrete use cases.
And this increased demand will lead the way to the third step of the journey.
- Exposed network slicing: The third and last step of the Network slicing journey is exposed Network slicing, which focuses on more innovative business models by exposing network attributes via APIs to the ecosystem players (aggregators and/or enterprises).
From a commercial point of view, it builds on the capabilities implemented by you in the previous step, including clear market demand, robust ecosystem cooperation, and scalable business operations. Additional commercial capabilities for exposed Network slicing are defined by a concrete business scenario for network service exposure (e.g., a new business model to manage Network slicing and related services externally).
From a technical point of view, exposed Network slicing heavily relies on the technical enablers from the dynamic slicing solution with the extension of the exposure layer to expose network attributes and services to partners. Typical examples of these attributes include network slice lifecycle management, quality of service (QoS) management, device onboarding, and offboarding.
It is worth mentioning that these steps do not strictly drive or delimit use cases or segments for Network slicing applicability. As your Network slicing capabilities evolve, so can the business mode and services offered for each segment/use case also evolve. This means a use case and its associated business mode can start with a pre-defined Network slicing solution and then evolve as dynamic or exposed capabilities are added to your network.
For more detailed information on these three steps and an example of use case evolution along them, read our recently published report ‘The network slicing transformation journey - Starting and navigating the steps to success’
The essential building blocks of an E2E network slicing architecture
Now that you have a better view of how you could define your Network slicing business strategy and which considerations to take when planning your Network slicing journey, let’s have a closer look at what you will need to build your Network slicing solution.
To set up a well-designed Network slicing solution, an integrated approach is needed to combine the different building blocks required to create a flexible, efficient, and secure network infrastructure that can meet the diverse needs of various applications and services. The technical capabilities you will need to build on your network are closely related to the use cases you want to deploy and the role you chose to take in the value chain. You need also to consider how you can completely life cycle manage the network slices.
The life cycle management (LCM) process for Network slicing is based on the principle that business and operational processes need to work together. This involves service providers defining the business strategy and commercial products, exposing the products to the market, customers placing orders, decomposing, and activating the order, service providers delivering the services, managing the services, and then finally de-commissioning the services. The overall process can be split into eight steps, from the identification of service requirements to service assurance (figure 2).
In network slicing solution architecture, you need to consider not only the components needed for the network slice as such but also all the OSS and BSS related components for the complete LCM.
Below you can see our view for a complete end-to-end network slicing architecture where we call each component a building block. Again, depending on the use cases and your chosen role in the Network slicing value chain, different building blocks will be needed.
Download the end-to-end network slicing architecture infographic
- The Monetization layer will care for contacts and service-level agreements with customers, partners, and suppliers. Charging, billing, taxation, dunning, revenue assurance, and financial reporting are all handled in this layer as well.
- The Automation layer is of key importance for dynamic network slicing. It will enable you to provision new slices, adjust resources as needed, and optimize network performance to meet your customer needs quickly and efficiently. We at Ericsson strongly believe that it is key that your automation layer solutions provide multi-domain and assurance, covering multi-vendor support and efficient workload placements with pre-integrated service design, ordering, fulfillment, and assurance workflows to provide E2E network slice-based service automation. That is why we have Assurance embedded in our multi-domain service orchestration solution to enable monitor the service performance and system health to secure the SLAs, which is the key selling point for Network slicing.
- The Core network layer a Core network solution built on cloud- native microservices architecture, like Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core, is key to enabling the scalability and distributed architecture needed for Network slicing use cases. Depending on the needs, different network functions (NFs) can be dedicated to the slices or serve multiple slices (for example, user plane and control plane functions like UPF and AMF can be dedicated per slice and placed closer to the end user for low latency use cases, while other control plane functions such as UDM and PCF can be centrally located and serve one or more slices). The 5G Core network also includes the Network Slice Selection Function (NSSF), which is a central piece for Network slicing architecture as it implements the algorithms to select which network slice to be used by different users and or applications. Together with capabilities like URSP, it can dynamically place a UE on a slice and steer traffic from one slice to another according to defined policies to maximize quality-of-experience (QoE) on a single device.
- The Transport layer is where traffic from one network slice, or a group of slices, is mapped into transport resources using proper identifiers and matching the required SLA for the slice or group. There are multiple enablers in the transport domain to support Network slicing use cases, and it is important to consider both what your network slice deployment requires as well as your transport infrastructure’s capabilities and capacity when selecting which enablers to use. For most use-cases using standard transport services and packet technologies for the network slices or group of network slices (e.g., VPNs over IP-MPLS, SR-MPLS or SRv6, and differentiated services), and QoS principles will give adequate support in the transport domain.
- The Radio network layer has evolved to support a flexible and scalable architecture required for Network slicing use cases. An important characteristic here is that the RAN dynamically optimizes radio resource allocation and prioritization across slices to secure SLA fulfillment of associated services for end users. 5G RAN slicing adds a range of new capabilities to the RAN, strengthening E2E slicing support for dynamic resource management and orchestration. It also offers the possibility of selecting RAN functions in situations with multiple users and groups of users, running multiple services in line with the objectives of the operator. Features like Ericsson’s Dynamic Radio Resource Partitioning (RRP) is a key feature here to enable the necessary traffic separation for that purpose.
Slice-aware RAN QoS implementation creates differentiation in the networks allowing the allocation of adequate resources (including spectrum and hardware) based on subscriber and service requirements. Our RAN slicing function has been enhanced by adding service-level observability, which acts as the fundamental building block to monitor the E2E SLA and
drive the RAN Radio Resource Management function to meet SLAs.
You can explore more of these key components of the Network slicing architecture in our report ‘The essential building blocks of E2E network slicing’.
By leveraging advanced capabilities from 5G RAN, Core and Transport solutions, and E2E orchestration, network slicing creates tailored and isolated logical networks for individual use cases, apps, or business needs, built on top of the public mobile network. But beyond the underlying technologies, it is business model innovation—brought by network slicing— that will enable various use cases.
We are ready to support you in your Network slicing transformation journey. With a full solution and our expertise and experience, we are ready to help you defining define your business strategy, monetization models, pricing strategy, identify use cases, incremental revenue and economic analysis, operating models, and design to build your network slicing journey ultimately.
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