Network slicing before 5G: The benefits of slicing today
While 5G deployments have begun across the world, the full capabilities and promises of 5G won't be realized for some time. In that sense, the race to 5G is more a marathon than a sprint, with the key benefits of 5G being rolled out in a phased approach over the next few years. When 5G is here and ultimately ubiquitous, network slicing will be configured to maximize the benefits of multiple 5G use cases and applications and will play a vital role in the digital transformation movement. In the meantime, however, a key fact remains: network slicing can be utilized in today's pre-5G era.
5G network slicing enables operators to build a single agile and flexible network that can cater to multiple use cases across different industries and different sets of customers. It has become clear, however, that if an operator wants to be a part of the digital transformation movement, it will need to embrace the shift toward network slicing as soon as possible. Indeed, investing in network slicing today will put operators in a position to benefit from improved service agility and increased revenue potential even before 5G arrives.
Network slicing challenges
Network slicing deployment can start now with 4G and further evolve with the introduction of 5G systems. Frequently, network slicing has been outlined as fundamental to 5G architecture and use cases, delivering on a crucial implementation ambition: a single network serving different business segments and application needs. While the ultimate goal is end-to-end network slices applied to a mix of use cases, getting the technology base in place for end-to-end slicing requires the use of existing 4G capabilities to build deployment and business experiences, as well as knowledge and expertise while evolving into 5G.
The most important challenges to building end-to-end network slicing capabilities today include:
- Guaranteed allocation of slices across a single network
- Automating the instantiation, operation, and disbanding of a slice
- Securing RAN, other access, aggregation, core, and transport resources with required observability
- Simultaneously assuring the SLAs on each slice across a single network infrastructure
Network slicing benefits
While network slicing does have its challenges, slicing on 4G also offers multiple benefits for operators:
- Provides configurable services for specific customers and use cases
- Adds efficiency, flexibility, and agility to address specific customer needs
- Improves revenue and minimizes operational expenses
- Increases time-to-market (TTM) and time-to-customer (TTC) for network services
- Reduces risk and adds tighter security protocols
- Allows for network simplification and automation
The bottom line
The applications and benefits of network slicing are large in scope and are proving vital in today's fixed and 4G networks—and will prove more vital and even required in the 5G era. Key points to note regarding network slicing include:
- Automation is required for operators to achieve digital transformation.
- Slicing the network can help operators achieve greater economies of scale and efficiency for multiple applications, including transportation, factories, connected cars, and many other IoT applications.
- Operators should not wait for 5G network slicing; the time to act is now.
The most important consideration is that with 5G rollouts happening across the globe, operators should take advantage of the benefits of network slicing now. While network slicing takes time to achieve and can be utilized in the 4G landscape, slicing will become even more important as a wide variety of 5G applications are deployed. For more information on network slicing in the pre- and post-5G eras, view the webinar titled, " Approaches to solving network slicing before 5G," jointly hosted by IHS Markit, Fujitsu, and ECI.
Michael Howard is a Technology Fellow and advisor on carrier networks at IHS Markit
Posted 14 June 2019
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