Virtual network slicing: have your cake and eat it too
After wandering around the rest of the network for years, virtualization has finally arrived at the edge.
With a software-defined access network the benefits of network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) are now available to fixed broadband operators. And operators are queuing up to have a slice.
By virtualizing the fixed access network, several things can now happen: automation and programming from the cloud; always-on networking and operational efficiency; software agility and data center economics. This is why virtualization is such an important part of what Nokia is calling Intelligent Access, a new generation of broadband where networks are not only faster but also better and smarter.
However, it’s arguably network slicing that will be first on the virtualization agenda for operators. Just like servers in a data center run virtual machines for flexibility, scale, and automation, so access networks will run virtual access networks. By slicing the infrastructure into independent virtual networks, operators can maximize usage for different services, while protecting performance and simplifying operations. And that means a faster return on network investment.
So what is slicing about? It’s a specific SDN use case where a single physical network is partitioned into multiple virtual network slices. Each slice contains selected access nodes, line cards, ports, CPEs, or even individual ports on CPEs. Each slice can be controlled, managed, and programmed completely independently of the others.
This type of fixed access network sharing has many applications. As we know, the fixed access network is becoming home to multiple types of traffic. For example, slicing lets business, residential and mobile backhaul services run completely independently on the same network.
Importantly, virtualization allows each slice to have different performance characteristics. Business services need to prioritize high bandwidth during peak office hours. 5G traffic needs very low latency and high throughput. A slice dedicated to machine-to-machine communications needs very little bandwidth but guaranteed low latency. Each of these virtual slices can have a different set of characteristics, all on the same physical infrastructure.
Slicing could also allow multiple operators to share infrastructure and co-invest. Sharing the network decreases the investment risk and accelerates ultra-broadband deployments to fixed and mobile users.
Network slicing can be seen as one step in a broad network paradigm shift in which virtualization will be introduced in access networks.
In an Intelligent Access network, step one is to put the bandwidth in place. Step two is to virtualize it and slice it. Step three is to automate and optimize the operations on each individual slice.
Visit our Automation & Virtualization webpage for more on how we’re helping operators transition to the new virtualized world and how Nokia software-defined access networks can help you get more value from your fixed access network.
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