In a recent Citi 2018 TMT West Conference with investors, Verizon CTO Hans Vestberg described the company’s fixed 5G wireless service, which it plans to launch in three to five markets later this year, as being just “one slice” of Verizon’s broader plan for deploying a 5G network. Vestberg repeated that description again during a panel discussion on 5G at CES 2018.
But is Vestberg’s description of Verizon’s forthcoming fixed 5G residential broadband offering as a network slice a true representation of the concept?
Trade group 5G Americas defines 5G network slicing as the ability to configure and reuse different network elements and functions to meet a specific requirement. 5G network slicing, according to 5G Americas, is an end-to-end feature that includes the core network and the RAN. Each slice can have its own network architecture, engineering mechanism, and network provisioning.
The beauty of network slicing is that it allows 5G networks to be sliced into multiple virtual networks and optimized for a specific vertical application that then enables different uses cases. Network slicing uses the capabilities of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV).
According to network vendor Ericsson the concept of network slicing came about when it became clear that 5G networks would need to be shared. “Network compute and storage are combined into something that can be sold under an SLA [service level agreement] and delivered by virtualization,” said Erik Ekudden, group CTO and head of technology and architecture at Ericsson. “Then you have a network slice.”
Ekudden added that operators will be able to prioritize traffic and provide additional security measures for certain slices.
Ekudden wouldn’t say whether Verizon’s fixed 5G service delivering residential broadband is a true definition of a network slice or not. And Verizon so far hasn’t provided a lot of details on its underlying 5G network architecture. Verizon did join the Linux Foundation’s Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) earlier this week, indicating it wants to incorporate the open source code in its network.
Vodafone and Huawei
Nevertheless, it appears that other operators are looking at ways to combine network slicing with fixed access. In fact, the Broadband Forum has developed a standard for the architecture and equipment requirements for fixed access network sharing (FANS).
Vodafone recently conducted a FANS field trial with Huawei. The two companies used network virtualization to partition a physical fiber connection into multiple slices creating access to the network in a home for multiple tenants.
Vodafone said that this test showed that network slicing will allow different operations teams, either from the same company or from different service providers, to manage their customers independently even though there is only one physical access network.
Vodafone Ireland conducted the test, which created different consumer and enterprise virtual network slices using a live fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network. The consumer slice carried broadband Internet and Vodafone TV services, and the enterprise slice carried business services including voice.