Mobile operators and telecommunications vendors are scrambling to prepare themselves for the arrival of the first commercial 5G networks, expected to happen in the 2020 timeframe. One of the most innovative aspects of the 5G architecture will be its reliance on 5G network slicing, which will let operators provide portions of their networks for specific customer uses cases — whether that use case is the smart home, the Internet of Things (IoT) factory, the connected car, or the smart energy grid.
Each use case receives a unique set of optimized resources and network topology — covering certain SLA-specified factors such as connectivity, speed, and capacity — that suit the needs of that application.
The Basics of 5G Network Slicing
Network slicing is a type of virtual networking architecture in the same family as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) — two closely related network virtualization technologies that are moving modern networks toward software-based automation. SDN and NFV allow far better network flexibility through the partitioning of network architectures into virtual elements. In essence, network slicing allows the creation of multiple virtual networks atop a shared physical infrastructure.
In this virtualized network scenario, physical components are secondary and logical (software-based) partitions are paramount, devoting capacity to certain purposes dynamically, according to need. As needs change, so can the devoted resources. Using common resources such as storage and processors, network slicing permits the creation of slices devoted to logical, self-contained, and partitioned network functions.
5G Network Slicing
According to 5G Americas, a clear benefit of 5G network slicing for network operators will be the ability to deploy only the functions necessary to support particular customers and particular market segments. “This results directly in savings compared to being required to deploy full functionality to support devices that will use only a part of that functionality. And a derivative benefit is the ability to deploy 5G systems more quickly because fewer functions need to be deployed, enabling faster time-to-market.”
Some vendors — such as Ericsson — believe that 5G network slicing will be the key ingredient necessary for 5G to meet its technical requirements. The new era of 5G connectivity will be characterized by its wide diversity of use cases and their varied requirements in terms of power, bandwidth, and speed. According to Ericsson, “The greater elasticity brought about by network slicing will help to address the cost, efficiency, and flexibility requirements imposed by future.”
Network Slicing Is Essential to 5G
GSMA Intelligence estimates that there will be 1.2 billion 5G connections by 2025, accounting for 40 percent of the global population, or approximately 2.7 billion people. It hypothesizes that the coming 5G network architecture is “a real opportunity to create an agile network that adapts to the different needs of specific industries and the economy.” And a key enabler of that 5G reality will be network slicing.