Opportunity Knocks for 5G Network Slicing

The ability to capitalize on 5G network slicing is within reach if service providers plan accordingly and develop a pragmatic approach.

The tables are turning. 5G is coming faster than expected and promises improved broadband performance with network slicing functionality to can enable agile, service-centric network architectures. Network slicing capitalizes on advancements in cloud, virtualization and edge computing to create a dynamic framework for networks to simultaneously support diverse service demands on the same network fabric. Slicing creates the potential for service providers to efficiently and cost-effectively differentiate their network services and reinvigorate their market potential. However, slicing is challenging to implement, primarily because of its need to dynamically manage and orchestrate network resources and traffic flows end to end and within multitenant environments. Solutions must span heterogeneous radio, transport and core network environments, which commonly incorporate the network assets of multiple companies.

Taking Slicing From Concept to Reality

Network slicing is still in its nascent stage and requires a pragmatic strategy that will take it from concept to reality. These strategies require advancements in service orchestration and business processes as well as network architectures that can adapt to the salient characteristics of the services being offered.

In 2017, Netcracker showcased its Service Orchestration solution in a TM Forum Live! Catalyst entitled 5G Service Operations: Closed-Loop Assurance of 5G Network Slices. The Catalyst demonstrated the importance of service orchestration in realizing 5G network slicing and the lack of readily available service orchestration frameworks. These frameworks are crucial as network slicing solutions expand in scope and scale and require end-to-end continuity across heterogeneous network environments. As service providers realize the benefits of network slicing, it is inevitable that service orchestration and management demands will grow astronomically. Conventional solutions that use static architectures will be overwhelmed by these demands. Instead, sophisticated solutions will be needed to respond to the dynamics created by network slicing and will increasingly require advanced techniques, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Service providers commonly have business processes and support systems that are designed for mass-market service offerings and relatively straightforward commercial relationships. Arguably, this has contributed to network service commoditization, which must change for network slicing to succeed. New business processes and solutions are needed to reliably commercialize the diverse and dynamic services that network slicing enables. For example, slicing requires real-time charging and settlement solutions to accurately identify, track, monetize and settle multitudes of slicing events when they occur.

Typically, 5G will be deployed as a complementary network to 4G without necessarily having the same ubiquitous coverage demands. This is particularly the case for 5G mmWave radio technology, which offers tremendous throughput capabilities, but with sparse and changeable coverage characteristics. In addition, enterprise applications, such as those associated with Industry 4.0, are likely to require hybrid architectures that incorporate campus-based 5G networking and hierarchal edge computing. Overlaid 5G environments complicate the resource optimization needed for effective network slicing and require solutions that support layered multi-radio resource allocation regimes.

The 5G Opportunity Knocks

Service providers cannot afford to overlook the tremendous opportunities enabled with 5G network slicing. To recognize these benefits, however, service providers must be prepared to advance their commercial relationships, business processes and network and service delivery architectures. They must accelerate their network virtualization efforts with suitable service orchestration, management and network resource optimization capabilities. Rather than treating network slicing as a 5G feature, network service providers must treat network slicing as an integral component of their 5G market strategies and innovate accordingly. If successful, this innovation will fuel 5G network differentiation for the foreseeable future, particularly as services become increasingly sophisticated and dependent on targeted network slices.