Network slicing to play big role in 5G: report

The network slicing concept allows network elements and functions to easily be configured and reused in each network slice to meet a specific requirement. Each slice can have its own network architecture, according to 5G Americas' white paper.

Network slicing is expected to play a big role in 5G, and a new technical white paper published by 5G Americas digs into the concept, exploring an end-to-end 5G system framework and discussing the application of network slicing to air interface technologies.

“It is not expected that 5G will arrive as a single ‘Big Bang,’” stated Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, in a press release. “Significant progress is already being made on networking technology through the standards bodies and network slicing will play a big role in optimizing 5G networks.”

Industry thought leaders seem to agree: One of the many reasons that network slices are so important is the fact that the use cases for future 5G networks are so diverse. According to the white paper, examples of network slices include: a slice serving a utility company; a slice serving remote control for a factory; a slice serving a virtual operator; a slice optimized for streaming video-you get the picture.

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The system architecture used in network slicing. (Image: Network Slicing for 5G Networks & Services white paper)

The requirements for 5G network slicing are currently in a proposed state and are listed in clause 5.2.3 of 3GPP Technical Report 22.891, the paper states. The requirements are considered “very stable” at this point and will eventually be placed in a Technical Specification. “Although there are only eight requirements listed as of version 14.0.0, they provide a strong, high-level view and direction for the next generation (NexGen) work of 3GPP with respect to network slicing,” the report states.

“Network slicing makes possible the creation of virtual networks using one common network infrastructure,” Rao Yallapragada, director, Intel and co-leader of the white paper, explained in the release. “The implementation of network slicing will provide an end-to-end solution for flexible infrastructure optimized to address future use cases with diverse requirements such as speed, connection, battery life, latency and cost. Including both the core and radio access networks, each slice can be configured with its own network architecture, engineering mechanism and network provisioning.”

RELATED: Ericsson, SK Telecom commit to network slicing as part of 5G initiative

Concepts around network slicing closely align with software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), and the commercial deployment of both of these technologies is expected to grow tremendously over the next several years. AT&T, of course, is already well into its software-driven network transformation, and Verizon is no slouch either when it comes to implementing SDN and NFV. The whole NFV movement started as an operator-driven concept, so it’s not surprising that carriers would want to get behind it.  

The white paper says the move to NFV/SDN will allow network slicing to enable much more flexible instantiations of networks that can be designed to meet the specific needs of applications, services and operator business models. Both the NGMN Alliance and 3GPP have been developing the definition and use cases for network slicing so that the standards development organizations can provide detailed studies to understand the feature and functionalities that will be required for network slicing beyond what is already defined in 3GPP Release 13 and ETSI NFV.

The Network Slicing for 5G Networks and Services paper was written by members of 5G Americas. Co-leaders of the white paper working group are Yallapragada and Clara Li of Intel as well as Sabareesan Soundarapandian of Ericsson.