Why network slicing is the 5G differentiator telcos have been craving

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this article, John Lenns, VP Product Management at Oracle Communications, explores why network slicing could be the differentiator UK telcos are searching for in the 5G arms race.

When it comes to 5G, most UK telcos are still aggressively jostling for pole position. But, with EE the first out of the starting blocks at the end of May – closely followed by Vodafone rolling out its network to seven UK cities a few days later – the marker has well and truly been laid down.

Around five million Brits switch mobile provider each year, so establishing themselves as an efficient and reliable provider of 5G will be critical for telcos looking to both retain existing and attract new customers over the coming years.

Cutting through the noise with network slicing

One way providers can steal a march on competitors is through the emergence of network slicing, a technology that allows telcos to offer differentiated services with tailored connectivity and potentially specific applications for a specific enterprise segment. Service providers need to play more of a central role in smart ecosystems and digital marketplaces to grow revenues and profitability and compete with digital innovators. To that end they should also consider non-traditional business models such as new SaaS and managed service models to reduce costs and share risks/rewards. Network slicing is a key enabler towards this goal.

With 5G unlocking the potential to launch services and products previously unimaginable on 4G, performance and functionality requirements are bound to differ enormously. Network slicing essentially subverts the one-size-fits all approach, providing the opportunity for carriers to tailor connectivity services to the precise requirements of particular applications, users, or devices.

The concept of a dedicated core network is not new, first introduced in 4G as a DECOR feature. 5G, however, bakes network slicing into its core service and extends it to be end to end.

For telcos, the opportunities are limitless. Want to stream virtual reality at a sports event, or 3D video at a music concert? Before 5G, these experiences were tantalisingly out of reach, limited to stadiums and arenas with only the strongest WiFi connection. But network slicing will make them a mainstay of how people experience brands and events.

This freedom to launch and evolve custom-fit network slices rapidly – with lower capital and operating costs – will provide huge opportunities for telcos as they create increasingly sophisticated and lucrative digital services.

Telcos in pole position to take advantage

While we’re still scratching the surface of what 5G can deliver, it’s safe to say that telcos occupy one of the strongest market positions when it comes to exploiting this new network’s vast potential. Nearly every vertical imaginable relies on communications services to not only operate on a daily basis, but also accelerate innovation.

One such example is in the highly-competitive live-game streaming world, where pioneering platform Twitch boasts 3.3 million unique broadcasters per month and a staggering 560 billion minutes watched in 2018. There’s real potential here for providers to adopt greater integration into an ecosystem, with specific slices and integration into customer experience (CX) and applications meaning a specialised version of a game streaming platform could be offered under a telco’s very own brand.

In this scenario, telcos would provide much of the experience, including the basic portals for users and game providers, as well as own-branded monetisation for the latter. The service would operate from multiple cloud environments, with third parties supplying various aspects of the streaming platform, back office, CX, slicing, and edge. The mobile network operator would provide the access and other technologies.

This is just one of the many exciting opportunities for telcos to personalise network ‘slices’ to match the specific requirements of industry-vertical applications with customer segments. All service environments worth their salt will, at the very least, provide the basic ‘5G building blocks’ to help service providers move forward with both traditional mobile and enterprise services.

But the ultimate goal for telcos should be to add value to core services with good margins and operational efficiencies—something that will come with more automation in Cloud native technology and business practices, and with a willingness to explore outside comfort zones to tap into and capitalise on the expertise of people outside the industry. In other words, telcos must focus on creating exceptional experiences for their customers. 5G – along with network slicing – has the potential to make this a reality.

John LennsJohn Lenns, VP Product Management, Oracle Communications As VP of Product Management at Oracle Communications, John is responsible for leading product management, product marketing, business development and strategy teams that help telecoms companies develop and manage all aspects of their 4G and 5G networks, business operations and customer relationships. John joined Oracle Communications as part of the acquisition of Tekelec in 2013, having spent 15 years leading product, technical and business development teams for the company. Today, John is focused on helping telecoms companies make the most of the cloud to deliver 5G networks successfully and securely.

Huawei powered Chinese operators trial 5G for industry verticals

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, has just trialled 5G for business vertical use on a standalone (SA) architecture. Huawei and Baidu provided the technologies.

The trial was carried out in Beijing, China, and the use case was a corporate video conference. It used 8K cameras to capture live video, which was then sent to the 5G SA core network through China Mobile’s 5G gNodeBs base stations. The data was then processed (encoded and decoded) by Baidu servers on the same network, then sent to the conference room for the 8K live video broadcast.

The trial was using the technology called “5G Vertical LAN” defined in 3GPP R16, which in essence is an insulated “slice” of the mobile network dedicated to a single business user, i.e. becoming a private cloud for an enterprise. The enterprise cloud can be provided by the mobile operator, or the enterprise can choose to provide its own customized 5G vertical LAN. This cloudified enterprise environment “enables terminals to directly communicate with each other, and allows them to access enterprise clouds” without going through the public cloud, therefore increasing the communication security.

However, to realise such a virtual enterprise setup it needs the 5G network to be in SA mode, because insulating and managing the virtual network is all done with software and hard to implement on non-standalone (NSA) mode. This China Mobile trial was conducted on such an SA architecture.

Huawei did not disclose details of the distance between the two ends, or the latency. The company put up a live video demonstration in the last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In that case the distance between the video capturing point and the broadcasting point was about 2km, and the latency was 11ms. But that trial was carried over Vodafone’s hybrid network.

This is not the only network slicing trial Huawei has carried out recently. The day before, the company worked with China Telecom, the world’s largest integrated operator, and China’s State Grid, to carry out a network slicing trial to manage a live power grid. China Telecom has been vocal in promoting 5G for other vertical industries.

The commercial 5G networks launched so far, in the US and in Korea, are all on NSA architecture, which limits the use cases to primarily enhanced mobile broadband access, therefore are mainly consumer focused. When Colin Wilcock, chairman of the European Union-backed 5G Industry Association (5G-IA), dismissed the 5G leadership of North America and Korea as not real 5G but beefed up LTE, though not entirely devoid of sourgraping, he got a point. Speaking at the Smart to Future Cities conference recently, he stressed that “the 5G we (Europe) need has to support the other vertical industries”, though also he conceded it is not going to happen now, but will be deployed in two to five years’ time, reported by Compelo.

Q&A with Sunil Lingayat, Chief of Cyber Strategy and Technology at T-Mobile

Sunil Lingayat leads the cybersecurity strategy architecture and cybersecurity technology functions for T-Mobile and is responsible for driving next generation cyber strategies and capabilities and positioning products and services into an effective cyber resilience posture. The Big 5G Event team interviewed Sunil ahead of the event to gain a sneak peek of what we can expect at our upcoming conference.

What are the unique security requirements for 5G networks?

At a high level there are two primary reasons that are driving unique security requirements for 5G networks.  First is the use of COTS technologies and open architectures, distributed architectures, disaggregation at various layers of the stack, open service-based architecture (HTTP2/JSON), etc.  Second the exponential growth in number of devices (e.g. IoT), higher business value use cases, need for privacy-by-design, need for Safety, Low latency, order of magnitude higher throughout, etc.  Both of these aspects lead to (a) increased attack surface, (2) susceptible to a broader and established attacks and exploits, and higher tier threat actors, and more importantly (3) traditional security architectures and controls will not work, etc ….all contributing to unique security requirements for 5G in comparison to earlier networks – such as requirement for use case driven security, layered security, security automation, and cyber resilience.

What will be the unique security considerations for specialized 5G use cases?

As per ITU, 5G is expected to support three different families of use cases with somewhat conflicting requirements on a couple of dimensions such as latency, integrity, etc.  These are driving the need for slicing or network of networks architecture.  Within each use case type, there is also the dimension of privacy.  Some use cases requiring very stringent privacy e.g., HIPPA.  Whereas some use cases integrity and latency are critical.  It is important that security controls are geared towards each use case.  One size fits all will not work as it will make services very expensive, fragile, and in effect non-operational.

How can a dynamic security architecture be ensured for each network slice?

Software-defined security (SDS) becomes very important for achieving dynamic security. Security orchestration integrated with service orchestration is essential. Security function virtualization is another approach aligned with the VNF and NFVi architectures. All of this need automation at scale from the very beginning in the architecture.  Machine Learning and AI have to be incorporated and fine-tuned for “whitelist” security model and behaviour monitoring.

How can service providers adequately support NFV/SDN security requirements

Virtualization is not new as a technology.  Much innovation and lessons learned in the cloud industry.  Cyber 2.0 cyber resilience design principles like Autonomic security, least privilege, privilege escalation, dynamic alignment, dynamic positioning, etc have to be designed in. Adoption of de-perimeterized security strategy and architecture is crucial so security is not tied to the perimeter or zone.  Security has to be dynamic.  In fact, SDN/NFV can be effectively used to enhance traditional static (host and network-based) security positively and make 5G services cyber-resilient.

 

You can come face to face with Sunil Lingayat, Chief of Cyber Strategy and Technology at T-Mobile this year at the Big 5G Event this May 6-8 2019 in Denver, CO.

KT and Nokia will join hands to launch first ‘true’ 5G this month

Korea’s mobile operator KT is going to launch nationwide 5G service this month and will collaborate with Nokia to provide services and tools for the business and the public sectors.

Hwang Chang-Gyu, KT’s Chairman and CEO, recently announced that KT’s nationwide 5G network will be switched in March to cover 24 major cities, key transport routes such as expressways, subways, high-speed railways, large universities, and neighbourhood shopping areas. This will be an upgrade from the synchronised launch of 5G services with limited scale on 1 December 2018 by all the three national mobile operators.

“In March, KT will be the first in the world to introduce ‘True’ 5G mobile services,” said Hwang. “In the 5G era, neckband cameras, AR glasses and all kinds of devices will be connected to 5G, contributing to a better life for mankind.” That this was a personal historic moment should not to be lost. Exactly four years ago at MWC 2015, Hwang predicted a commercial 5G network by 2019. “Today, I would like to announce that the promise I made four years ago has finally been fulfilled,” Hwang added in his MWC speech.

The current 5G service that KT, SKT, and LG Plus are offering is fixed-wireless access targeted at business users. During the recent MWC, KT demonstrated plenty of 5G gimmicks for the consumer market, from a 5G connected robot butler bringing a bottle of water to the doorstep to a 5G and AI powered robot barista fixing cocktails.

KT is clearly banking big hope on 5G. Its Economic and Management Research Institute predicted that the socioeconomic value created by 5G will contribute to 1.5% of the country’s GDP by 2025. To realise such potential and to achieve serious monetisation of 5G, KT is looking towards the enterprise market and the public sector. The company announced that it plans to focus on five key areas with its 5G offers: smart cities, smart factories, connected cars, 5G media, and the 5G cloud. It says it is collaborating with various businesses as well as the Korean government to develop 5G services for both Business to Business (B2B) industries and Business to Government (B2G) sectors.

This is an echo to what Marcus Weldon, Nokia’s CTO and the President of Bell Labs, called for during his own speech at MWC. Weldon suggested the telecom industry should focus more on serving other verticals instead of on consumer markets, to deliver the true value of 5G. He did concede that it would need three to five years before telcos can see meaningful revenues from enterprise 5G. But when they do, Weldon predicted the business will soon equal that being made in the consumer 5G segment.

It just happened that KT and Nokia are going to collaborate closely in 5G. During MWC the two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate on various 5G technologies. “We are excited to partner with Nokia to conduct these path-breaking trials,” said Jeon Hong-Beom, KT’s CTO. “This collaboration will ensure that we are able to leverage Nokia’s proven solutions and best-in-class professional services to provide a superior and differentiated experience to our subscribers.”

“With Korea, one of the lead countries in the early deployment of 5G, we are delighted to be working with KT to help them build a future-ready network,” added Bhaskar Gorti, President of Nokia Software. “Nokia’s end-to-end portfolio will empower KT to improve its customer experience and network efficiency.”

The key areas of the collaboration will include Service Orchestration and Assurance for the 5G era, with the aim of delivering end-to-end automation and new revenue opportunities for KT’s enterprise customers. This will be supported by the enabling technologies like NFC and network slicing. The joint work will start in Seoul later this year.

ETSI publishes new spec and reports on 5G tech

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute, ETSI, has released new specifications on packet formatting and forwarding, as well as two reports on transport and network slicing respectively.

The new specification, called Flexilink, focusing on packet formats and forwarding mechanisms to allow core and access networks to support the new services proposed for 5G. The objective of the new specification is to achieve efficient deterministic packet forwarding in user plane for next generation protocols (NGP). In the conventional IP networks, built on the Internet Protocols defined in the 1980s, every packet carries all the information needed to route it to its destination. This is undergoing fundamental changes with new technologies like Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS), where most packets are part of a “flow” such as a TCP session or a video stream. As a result, there is increasingly a separation between the processes of deciding the route packets will follow and of forwarding the packets.

“Current IP protocols for core and access networks need to evolve and offer a much better service to mobile traffic than the current TCP/IP-based technology,” said John Grant, chairman of the ETSI Next Generation Protocol Industry Specification Group (ISG). “Our specifications offer solutions that are compatible with both IPv4 and IPv6, providing an upgrade path to the more efficient and responsive system that is needed to support 5G.”

The new specification defines two separate services, a “basic” service suitable for traditional statistically multiplexed packet data, and a “guaranteed” service providing the lowest possible latency for continuous media, such as audio, video, tactile internet, or vehicle position. It is worth noting that Flexilink only specifies user plane packet formats and routing mechanisms. Specifications for the control plane to manage flows have already been defined in an earlier NGP document “Packet Routing Technologies” published in 2017.

The report “Recommendation for New Transport Technologies” analyses the current transport technologies such as TCP and their limitations, whilst also providing high-level guidance on architectural features required in a transport technology to support the new applications proposed for 5G. The report also includes a framework where there is a clear separation between control and data planes. A proof-of-concept implementation was conducted to experiment the recommended technologies, and to demonstrate that each TCP session can obtain bandwidth guaranteed service or minimum latency guaranteed service. The report states:

“With traditional transport technology, for all TCP traffic passes through DIP router, each TCP session can only obtain a fraction of bandwidth. It is related to the total number of TCP sessions and the egress bandwidth (100 M).

“With new transport technology, new TCP session (DIP flows) could obtain its expected bandwidth or the minimum latency. And most [sic.] important thing is that the new service is not impacted by the state that router is congested, and this can prove that new service by new transport technology is guaranteed.”

Importantly, the PoC experiment showed that the current hardware technology is able to support the proposed new transport technology and provide satisfactory scalability and performance.

The report “E2E Network Slicing Reference Framework and Information Model” looks into the design principles behind network slicing. The topic of network slices encompasses the combination of virtualisation, cloud centric, and SDN technologies. But there is gap in normalized resource information flow over a plurality of provider administration planes (or domains). The report aims to “provide a simple manageable and operable network through a common interface while hiding infrastructure complexities. The present document defines how several of those technologies may be used in coordination to offer description and monitoring of services in a network slice.” It describes the high level functions and mechanisms for implementing network slicing, as well as addresses security considerations.

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.