Nokia plugs openness ahead of Broadband World Forum

Open is one of 2018’s buzzwords and Nokia is cashing in on the bonanza ahead of Broadband World Forum in a couple of weeks.

This is only the first of several announcements from the Finns, but it builds on the fibre connectivity and virtualisation foundations set last year. The first installment is focused on fixed access network slicing and multi-vendor optical network units (ONU).

Starting with the network slicing piece, the team plan to launch a fully open and programmable network slicing solution for fixed access networks. While the buzz for network slicing has been primarily focused on the mobile side of telecommunications, Nokia’s Head of Fixed Networks Marketing Stefaan Vanhastel told Telecoms.com the solution can be just as effective in fixed access.

“Yes network slicing is a hot topic for 5G, but we are now starting to see the benefit for slicing in a fixed network,” said Vanhastel. “Operators can use residential network for 5G transport – why not, you already have a network and can save up to 50% of deployment costs. Why not use the same infrastructure for residential broadband, enterprise customers and 5G transport.”

In the same way network slicing can be used to create several virtual networks in the wireless business, why not do it in fixed access? Not only does it allow telcos to more efficiently plan for the world of 5G transport, while simultaneously serving a variety of customers, it opens up a host of new deployment models.

Vanhastel highlighted there are several non-traditional players building their own networks, individual cities or national governments for example, though these are not the people you would want running telco services. Local authorities have plenty of experience from a civil engineering perspective, digging the trenches and deploying the networks, but with network slicing capabilities several virtual networks can be created to bring-in the right expertise to deliver the services.

This is one idea which will aid the deployment of future proof networks, though network slicing could also help co-operative efforts and co-investment from competitors. The physical deployment of the network can be shared between any number of telcos, with each then claiming their own ‘slice’ which can be managed and configured independently. Openness and collaboration seems like a nice idea, though few competitors can play nice unfailingly, but with network slicing they only have to for a set period of time (in theory) before turning their attention to their own business.

Secondly, Nokia has launched Multivendor ONU connect, which it claims is the first fully open, virtualised solution that allows telcos to connect any optical network unit (ONU). The solution takes a ‘driver’ approach to how telcos deploy and manage ONUs, allowing for ‘plug and play’ functionality. As part of Nokia’s Altiplano open programmable framework, software is decoupled to allow the ONU management to be virtualised. An open-API framework allows third-party stacks to be on-boarded in a more time-efficient manner.

The approach will offer telcos the opportunity to realise the benefits of interoperability, connecting any modem to an access platform and potentially removing the painstaking task of integration. Vanhastel said that once the whole management infrastructure is virtualized, it would be possible to connect any fibre modem to access networks without the hassle, while updates or new ONUs can be quickly introduced through software upgrades.

Broadband World Forum might still be a couple of weeks away, but the Nokia marketing message is clear; simplicity and openness.

End-to-end network slicing will be important for 5G

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Mr. Sun Dong, Marketing Director, ZTE Asia & CIS Region, looks at the significance of network slicing in the 5G era.

As the key infrastructure of the digital society, 5G will not only serve individuals but also accelerate digital transformation in many aspects of business and life. 5G can become a ubiquitous platform to satisfy diverse requirements for man-to-man, man-to-machine, and machine-to-machine communications.

While 4G provides broadband service to individual users, 5G needs to serve more diverse application scenarios and raise challenges on network capability and reliability. In a smart factory, serious damage could happen if service interruption occurs. With automated driving, human life is at stake and the network needs to provide an ultralow latency with 99.999% reliability. For VR/AR applications, the network needs to provide more than 1 Gbps bandwidth. The IoT has low requirements on network bandwidth and latency, but the network needs to provide up to 1 million connections per square kilometre. These scenarios place crucial and diverse requirements on 5G networks.

It is not feasible economically to build a new network for each type of service. But a single network could not simultaneously fulfil all the requirements of ultra-high bandwidth, ultra-low latency, and ultra-high reliability at the same time. It also introduces potential risks without service isolation.

Network slicing becomes an inevitable choice to solve the dilemma. Network slicing enables flexible slicing of 5G network resources into multiple virtual networks to meet specific customers’ requirements. In addition, network resources can be fully shared and dynamically balanced among services and therefore the network becomes scalable. Network slicing offers operators the capability and flexibility to develop new business models, and thus becomes a basic 5G network requirement.

An end-to-end 5G network slice consists of RAN, core network, bearer sub-slices and the management system to support its lifecycle management. Slicing and flexible deployment of AAUs, CUs, and DUs help to adapt to different scenarios.

The cloud-based deployment of CUs facilitates centralized management of radio resources. The co-location of DUs and CUs and the deployment of service anchors close to users improve the transmission latency.

The NFV-based 5G core network further introduces service-based architecture, which decouples network functions from hardware. The architecture implements components-based functions and adopts a stateless design with lightweight and open interfaces. It becomes more agile, scalable, flexible, and open.

The network slices are created by physical network virtualization. SDN architecture with unified management and control can achieve IP and optical layer synergy. This allows an open and programmable physical network to support innovation in network architecture and future services. The degree of intra-slice isolation depends on the slicing technology used. For example, FlexE and FlexO technologies could build rigid pipes that ensure strict isolation between slices with rapid forwarding implemented at the underlying layer. The technologies give flexibility to address different service requirements on bearer networks.

 

At 5G Asia 2018 in Singapore, 18 – 20 September, ZTE will demonstrate their cutting-edge 5G solutions. Meet them at 5G Asia.

Network slicing can unlock $66 billion of industry opportunities – ABI

Analyst firm ABI research has had a bit of a spreadsheet frenzy and come to the conclusion that network slicing can create $66 billion of fresh commercial opportunities for telcos.

Just to remind you, network slicing involves prioritising portions of the network to more specific applications, such as high bandwidth, low latency or massive, low-power IoT. Ideally this can be done dynamically via all the virtualised cleverness we’ve been banging on about for so long and will enable MNOs to offer more bespoke services to various industries.

Unlocking all these new ‘verticals’ has the potential to massively increase the total available market to telcos, so long as they can both utilise network slicing to create useful communications services and work out out to both tailor them for and sell into these lovely new markets.

“Telcos (aka Mobile Service Providers or MSPs) are increasingly seeking to create services that are more differentiated and tap into the growth engine of the future, intrinsically linked to a superior experience for end consumers, and operational simplicity for enterprises and end verticals,” said Don Alusha of ABI Research.

“Network slicing revenues will eventually be on an upward trajectory, driven by digital, cloud, and security requirements of multiple industry verticals, particularly for the trio of manufacturing, logistics, and automotive. Realizing the full revenue potential is dependent on essential slicing infrastructure from vendors, and pertinent applications delivered by MSPs.”

Alush thinks BT and Swisscom are ahead of the game when it comes to this sort of thing and are showing the way for others. “This is encouraging and lays the foundation for widespread commercial deployments even before 5G diffusion. There are specific vendors in the market who are addressing end-to-end slicing scenarios that pull together a number of technologies, Nokia and Ericsson chief among them.”

“MSPs and vendors are pursuing different models of collaboration with vertical markets and growth for each market will be driven by premium services, revenue potential and ability to address existing challenges in the short and medium term. Vendors should aim to eliminate complexity through automation and ‘deep’ orchestration, a feat that calls for close collaboration with standard bodies to standardize and achieve alignment apt for commercial deployments and ecosystem integration.”

All good advice, but easier said than done.

GSMA advises operators to keep it simple on network slicing

On the final day of 5G World 2018, GSMA Technical Director Michele Zarri gave operators some advice on deploying network slicing on 5G: “keep it simple”.

Zarri advised operators to work together with their competitors to create a set of standard slices. “Only a handful of slices maybe 10 or 15 can serve the vast majority of the use cases,” he said. “You can have a safety net of 10 slices that every operator creates as this makes it easier for manufacturers. It does not block innovation, it is complementary and allows for roaming.”

This all sounds good in theory and would greatly benefit those producing IoT devices in the future. However, we’ve been talking about network slicing for a while now, and it’s hard to imagine any such plan being all that simple to execute.

As with many of the network developments discussed at this year’s event, it all comes down to money. With European operators struggling to justify their investments in 5G, business cases seem to be at the top of everyone’s agenda.

But to Zarri, the business cases for network slicing are obvious. By allocating a network across virtualised network slices, each for different use cases and services, reliability is massively improved. For many of the use cases proposed for 5G such as autonomous vehicles, this reliability will be essential. Such a wide range of use cases have been put forward for 5G in everything from entertainment to agriculture that this could open up major new revenue streams. “When you look at vertical industries that did not benefit from 4G, they are all targets now,” he said.

There are fears that network slicing and the creation of private networks might start to push operators out from major revenue streams that will be created. Zarri tried to set everyone’s mind at ease, by addressing this concern. On the issue of private networks, he insisted that operators would still be the key players and weren’t at risk of being pushed out. “Private networks will exist, they exist today, but operators have the know how – you need someone who knows how it works,” he said.

It remains to be seen how fast European operators will move in network slicing and whether it really is possible to find a simple solution. But with demand for reliable, low latency networks increasing and operators so focussed on finding that all-important business case, I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about network slicing over the coming year.

The BariMatera5G project seeks to exemplify the potential of 5G

A collaboration between TIM, Huawei and Fastweb to create one of the first 5G antennas is designed to show why it’s worth the effort.

The BariMatera5G project is a high-profile piece of 5G virtue-signaling by these three tech players. It has left the lab and officially hit the airwaves today with some kind of symbolic switch having been flicked, no doubt. As a result the Italian cities of Bari and Matera will be among the first in Europe to live the 5G dream, or at least be ready for it once devices turn up.

The precise aim of the project is to use the 3.7-3.8 GHz band to achieve 75% coverage of the two cities’ testing area by 2018. The testing has already hit 3 Gbps in the field, we’re told, but it’s about a lot more than just enhanced mobile broadband, which is just as well as merely a step up in speeds-and-feeds is unlikely to be enough to make 5G a success.

The slide below from the latest presentation about the project is a good summary of the various moving parts that full-fat 5G will consist of. The afore-mentioned tests also achieved 2 ms latency, which corresponds with the low-latency network slice (uRLLC) and the third cardinal slice is massive machine-type communication (mMTC), which is geek-talk for IoT and  will be represented at a technological level primarily by NB-IoT.

This project seems to have established itself sufficiently that is reasonable to expect it to be an exemplar for early 5G and what it promises for a while yet. It’s also good to see at least some parts of Europe having a good go at keeping up with China and the US in the 5G race.

BariMatera5G network slide

ZTE claims its slicing 5G up faster than everyone else

ZTE has stepped up to claim it has released the world’s first 5G E2E network slicing solution across 5G RAN, core network and bearer network.

Should the claim prove to be accurate it would certainly put ZTE into a strong position as the major vendors jostle for position ahead of the upcoming 5G windfall. Enabling a physical network to be allocated across several virtualised network slices for different usecases and services would certainly be an attractive proposition for customers.

“The release of the 5G E2E network slicing solution is a key milestone towards the 5G commercialization,” said You Yan, Vice President at ZTE. “It not only provides an industrial leading implementation method of network slice, but also turns the network slice into an operational and valuable product for the vertical industry, inaugurating a new mode of the 5G network slice operation.

“ZTE vigorously attempts to promote the cross-border integration of the 5G and the vertical industry, stimulates massive application innovations, realizes a perfect combination of 5G’s social and commercial values and builds up a digital economy ecosystem.”

The team has stated the new solution will also support life-cycle management of end-to-end network slices through its intelligent operation and orchestration system, as well as on-demand customization of network slices and the real-time provisioning. With a gluttony of usecases being discussed by the 5G blue-sky thinkers, such as industrial control, automatic driving, intelligent power grid and remote medical treatment, network slicing has become an important talking point in the industry.

The product release is just one of numerous positive announcements which have come out of the ZTE press office in recent months. Whether it is sourcing cash to invest further in R&D or growing revenues against the backdrop of a sluggish landscape, ZTE is certainly making positive moves as the 5G promise starts to mature.

What should be worth noting is that while ZTE is shouting the loudest for the moment, it isn’t the only one playing in this field. Back in September, Huawei successfully demonstrated a 5G network slicing application for smart grids, while Ericsson has also been exploring the possibilities with BT.

Telefónica and Netsia slice and dice RAN

Telefónica and Netsia have announced the successful integration of Netsia’s Virtual LTE RAN Platform into Telefónica’s Global Network Labs.

As part of Telefónica’s virtualization project UNICA, the pair have been working towards reproducing a Private LTE network with the ability to be sub-divided into multiple slices in Telefónica’s Madrid Labs. At RAN level, such a proposition can offer different performances, latencies, and radio resources to different sets of customers. As a result of this integration, it is believed SDN/NFV techniques can be applied to the RAN.

The product in question from Netsia is ProgRAN, which is described as a a programmable Software Defined Network (SDN)-based Radio Access Network framework. ProgRAN virtualizes the wireless channel resources allowing a remote controller to ‘slice the network’ into multiple virtual sub-networks.

“The integration of Netsia’s Virtual LTE RAN Platform into a commercial LTE core in our Labs is an important step forward to demonstrate that an end-to-end network slicing for 5G networks is possible, from the core to the RAN, and how it can be applied to specific service environments, like that of a virtual Private LTE network,” said Juan Carlos García, Telefónica’s Technology and Architecture Global Director.

“ProgRAN’s dynamic RAN slicing capability carries the potential to link network services to new commercial opportunities for operators”. Oguz Oktay, Netsia’s VP of Wireless Solutions. “ProgRAN allows RAN to programmatically adapt itself to different service requirements and customer experience needs.

“This means that an operator will be able to offer network functions to many different industries, such as IoT, healthcare or automotive, using a RAN-As-A-Service business model. Netsia’s virtual Private LTE platform integrated into Telefónica’s Global Network Labs using a commercial LTE core successfully demonstrates an example for how RAN slicing may be leveraged for new, revenue generating service opportunities.”

While it might sound very technical, and thusly relegated to the basement dwellers in the IT department, this is a useful step forward for network slicing advocates. A good usecase example is a hospital, where wireless resources are shared among doctors, patients, visitors, objects and other people. Should robotic surgery or AI applications for diagnosis be a realistic ambition, such separation of the airwaves would be seen as a critical step. After all, you wouldn’t want a cat video causing buffering in triple-bypass surgery.

Slice of the 5G action – the importance of network slicing

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Li-Ke Huang, Research and Technology Director at Cobham Wireless stresses the importance of network slicing for all this 5G hype to have any chance of delivering.

5G, 5G, 5G… it feels as though we’ve been talking about the next generation of mobile networks forever. 2020 is supposedly going to be the year when we finally see the technology being rolled out. However, research from Gartner suggests that only 3% of the world’s CSPs will have launched 5G by that time.

Ovum’s research suggests that there will be as many as 24 million 5G subscribers by 2021, yet less than 10% of these subscribers will be in Europe. From a regulatory perspective we have a long road ahead of us, as operators and the Government try and coordinate Britain’s 5G future.

The Government has already displayed its commitment to the development of a 5G ecosystem in the UK. Through the Government sponsored, Innovate UK agency, funding is offered to businesses that can develop and explore applications, as well as new business models around key 5G technologies. The aim is to encourage technology and deployment, testbeds and trials to stimulate the development of 5G use cases and business models. The type of projects that can receive funding range from the Internet of Things, mission-critical applications and immersive entertainment applications, to name just a few.

Over the next few years we need to continue working on the supporting technologies that will ensure 5G networks are deployed as quickly and easily as possible. Network slicing is one such building block. The technology will enable operators to easily trial new services and deliver them to market quickly. At present, service providers face the challenge of supporting numerous and diverse applications on crowded networks – network slicing will alleviate this pressure.

Applications such as driverless cars and automated agricultural technology require robust, low latency networks which are very different to the requirements of low-cost, low-power consumption smart meters. Network slicing facilitates this by enabling networks that are customised to meet the needs of each application. Each and every virtual network created through network slicing can be assigned a separate 5G function. This means there can be an independent virtual network for every type of application whether it be agricultural tech, self-driving cars or even a pacemaker.

For instance, a single hospital will place a very varied set of demands on a single network. It is estimated that the global healthcare sector will invest $410 billion in IoT devices, services, and software in 2022, according to a report from the research firm Grand View Research. Virtual patient observation is an example of one of the more basic applications which we expect to see used in the coming years. At the more complex and critical end of the spectrum are applications such as remote robotic surgery. Network slicing would allow for one ‘slice’ of the network to be assigned to virtual patient observation, whilst another could be dedicated to remote robotic surgery, allowing both applications to efficiently use network resources. These two different applications require very different levels of bandwidth, latency and capacity but network slicing will allow both to work simultaneously.

In the future, more devices in more vertical industries will require 5G connectivity. Delivering all of the necessary network demands is costly and complex in a traditional network environment, which also lacks the flexibility to support the introduction and trial of new services.

Network slicing allows a network to be run in a far more cost effective manner. With network slicing, operators are able to analyse each respective ‘slice’ and work out the exact operational costs far more accurately than is possible in the current network model. Operators can then allocate efficiently to each slice. Overall, this will have the effect of increasing profitability by generating more revenue without any increase in costs. Other benefits include cooperative slicing. This involves underutilised segments of the network being used by a second operator; this would be beneficial for both operators as it would not increase CAPEX and would generate revenue from unutilised resources.

5G is going to bring new technologies, services and opportunities to a huge range of different industries. Network slicing will instill confidence in operators and regulators alike as the applications of the future can be trialed in advance of widespread usage. This is the essential building block on which our 5G future will be built on. There is the no doubt that 5G will continue to be one of the hottest topics of 2018 and will no doubt feature prominently at next year’s MWC.

 

Li-Ke Huang croppedLi-Ke Huang is the Research & Technology Director at Cobham Wireless, leading the Technology Group and the Algorithms Group, and is responsible for product concept and core technology innovations contributing to the company’s technological and business visions, directions and strategies. He specializes in leading multiple early technology research programs for the TM500 product family, which has been the de facto global standard for 2G, 3G, LTE, 4G, and 5G wireless network technology prototyping and testing, and acquired extensive knowledge on wireless technology R&D and business development cycles. Li-Ke has a BSc in Electronic Engineering from Shenzhen University, and a PhD in signal processing and digital communications from Imperial College London.

Huawei has another go at slicing the 5G euphoria

Huawei has unveiled its latest breakthrough in the world of smart grids, with a bit of 5G network slicing magic.

At the PT Expo China 2017 in Beijing, Huawei successfully demonstrated 5G network slicing application for smart grids, in what it has claimed is a world first. Such an implementation of 5G is designed to restore power to affected areas in 300ms.

The technology itself is based on Huawei’s 5G Core solution Service-Oriented Core (SOC), part of its E2E 5G solution, and demonstrates how 5G network slicing can be customised to individual verticals. According to Huawei’s Wireless X Labs research, constructing a smart distribution network on top of a communications network is key to an efficient, high-quality power grid.

“Using 5G network slicing for smart grid services is a brand-new approach,” the company said in a statement. “Network resources provided by carriers can be converted to mutually isolated network slices, to meet the differentiated network requirements of various services on the smart grid.

“Network slicing can also be used to collect data on electricity usage, for distributed power, for pile control at electric vehicle charging stations, for precise load control, and for other crucial services a smart power grid should offer.”

The challenge here is built on the idea that public networks cannot isolate services well enough to keep services secure and latency low. The introduction of 5G capabilities will allow the division of the telecommunications network into isolated network slices, allowing the power grid to be customized to specific industry needs. It’s actually an example of a practical and sensible use case for 5G, instead of use cases which are a bit cosmetic. Like streaming cat videos faster, for instance.