The forthcoming 5G standard promises a boom in mobile network bandwidth and an explosion in the number of Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices. According to Nokia Bell Labs, the number of devices is expected to balloon from 1.6 billion in 2014 to more than 20 billion devices by 2020.
Mobile operators are already seeking to enhance their investments to handle ever-increasing consumer and business connectivity demands, so it’s only natural that they’re turning to infrastructure-enhancing technologies such as network virtualization (NV), software-defined networking (SDN), and network functions virtualization (NFV) to evolve their business. The 5G network will require virtualization both at the network’s core and at the network’s edge.
5G Virtualization at the Core
In the network core, 5G virtualization will use network slicing to support multiple virtual networks over one physical network infrastructure. Network slicing permits the logical separation of a network so that each slice provides unique connectivity—but all slices run on the same shared infrastructure. In this way, 5G virtualization provides a new level of flexibility, allowing operators to—for example—devote a network slice to certain kinds of devices.
To efficiently support certain sets of services, each network slice will be able to access different types of resources, such as infrastructure (e.g., VPNs, cloud services) and virtualized network functions (VNFs). With 5G virtualization, operators will be able to create custom networks with unique sets of capabilities.
5G Virtualization at the Edge
Virtualization will be an essential component at the network edge—namely, the virtual partitioning of the mobile radio access network (RAN). Also through network slicing, operators will be able to create unique services that are customized for various use cases such as IoT, automated cars, streaming video, remote health care, and so on. They can create virtual networks for those applications that boast separate blends of performance, capacity, latency, security, reliability, and coverage.
With the ability to deploy a wide array of sliced networked services from a single physical network, operators will be able to diversify, expand, and increase their revenue streams in a highly cost-effective way. In 5G, virtualization will do away with the notion of communications built upon a single mobile network infrastructure, opening up the potential for limitless numbers and types of supported use cases.
5G Virtualization at the SDN and NFV Level
The 5G future depends on virtualization technologies such as SDN and NFV. SDN provides the complete abstraction of the physical network infrastructure, and NFV allows the deployment of network functions through negating the rigid necessity of purchasing physical appliances.