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Apr 24 2019

5G network slicing: From promising technology to powerful business enabler

This is part of our ‘5G Anyhaul’ blog series providing expert insights and best practices to help you prepare your transport network for 5G and support innovative services that create new revenue opportunities.

User and industry demands for 5G necessitate end-to-end transformation of service provider networks and are also driving the need for a new network architecture. (See my earlier blog post about that, here.) A key component of this 5G architecture is network slicing, which lets service providers partition their networks into discrete horizontal slices to support specific use cases, services, individual customers or even vertical segments, such as energy, healthcare and manufacturing.

Here’s how network slicing works. Dedicated sets of physical and virtualized network resources are allocated in an end-to-end manner – from end devices, over the radio access network (RAN), transport network and packet core to application, content delivery and edge cloud domains. This is sometimes even done on demand.

Network slicing – A promising new technology and a business enabler

Network slicing

A paramount requirement for a network slice is to ensure that service level agreements (SLAs) for quality of service (QoS) are met for all services running in a slice, taking into consideration all available network resources and capabilities. Network slicing needs to ensure appropriate allocation, isolation and optimization of resources for every slice instance. It also needs to ensure orchestration across physical and virtualized domains, and across different parts of the mobile network: the RAN, the packet core, edge computing and the transport network.

Technologies such as network functions virtualization (NFV), management and orchestration (MANO), and software-defined networking (SDN) greatly enhance network slicing through their ability to employ virtualized domains (clouds), facilitate network-wide orchestration, and enable required agility through programmability and automation.

IP technology and network slicing

With its immense set of extensions, enhancements and evolution in the form of IPv6, MPLS and segment routing, IP has positioned itself as a universal Layer 3 networking technology. IP also facilitates interconnectivity of systems using Layer 2-based technology (Ethernet) and even legacy technologies such as pseudowires. In addition, IP has evolved into a tool for ensuring QoS and network-wide communications security, and into a mechanism for secure and precise distribution of essential network information such as telemetry and synchronization.

Given the robustness of IP technology, it’s no surprise that network engineers and planners have created super-large networks based on all-IP architectures. In mobile networks, 4G/LTE was the first standard to incorporate this approach, which now continues in 5G.

It is envisaged that the user plane (packet forwarding) for network slicing in 5G will likely be one or more of the standard IETF data planes: IPv4/IPv6, MPLS and pseudowires. This likelihood, along with IP’s super-rich connectivity capabilities, make IP one of the key technologies for network slicing of the transport domain in 5G.

While the IETF is still working on exactly which IP protocols (existing or new) will be used for network slicing, there is an early consensus that a lot of the required network slicing functionality can be accomplished by a judicious mix of today’s IP capabilities, operations, administration and management (OAM) and traffic engineering.

The latest OAM features of IP can greatly facilitate all of:

  • Preparation/definition
  • Creation: Instantiation, configuration and preparation phase
  • Run-time: Maintenance
  • Decommissioning: Deletion of slices. 

Because the slices can extend across administrative boundaries – spanning networks, service providers and countries – new traffic engineering features and standardization efforts are being considered to allow existing underlying network paradigms such as IP, MPLS and segment routing to be used for control plane signaling for network slicing across wider domains.

Network slicing with Nokia IP Anyhaul

The Nokia 5G portfolio supports fully automated, end-to-end network slicing to meet the needs of diverse services, use cases and business models.

Nokia 5G Anyhaul implements programmable network architecture across all technologies in the transport domain to enable the network automation needed for the 5G and cloud era. A very important part of the transport domain is the IP Anyhaul – Nokia’s IP-based mobile transport solution that ensures end-to-end connectivity in the all-IP environment.

Nokia 5G Anyhaul – Software-driven transport architecture

5G Anyhaul

Nokia Anyhaul uses the Nokia Network Services Platform (NSP) as a 5G transport slicing controller (TSC). The Nokia NSP is a carrier SDN platform that enables dynamic network slices with specific capabilities to address end-to-end SLA requirements through the entirety of a transport domain – from the RAN to the core network or edge application servers, and across all transport technologies (optical, IP, microwave and next-generation passive optical networks).

Nokia NSP as a 5G transport slice controller

NSP

The Nokia IP routing portfolio, powered by Nokia FP4 silicon, brings additional benefits for network slicing of 5G transport:

  • Fully programmable network fabric
  • Uniform set of features and capabilities across both physical and virtualized products, enabled by the common Nokia Service Router Operating System (SR OS)
  • Flexibility through a wide set of products addressing every network location and use.

IP Anyhaul can help fully realize the possibilities of network slicing, transforming networking and business operations from a static, one-size-fits-all or one-network-for-all paradigm to new network and business paradigms needed for 5G.

To learn more about how IP Anyhaul can transform your network slicing from a cool new technology to a powerful business and services enabler needed for the 5G and cloud era, see the IP Anyhaul web page.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #5G #Anyhaul #IP #transport #networkslicing #IPanyhaul

About Alex Pavlovic

Alex is a telecommunications engineer voluntarily “planted” in IP product marketing team in Nokia (and loving it), and a firm 5G believer. To disconnect and recharge, Alex follows the lead of his whippets, practices the art of Tsundoku, and keeps the valves of his tube audio amps warm with jazz.

You can connect with Alex on LinkedIn or on Twitter.