No, we’re not talking about bread; today we’re talking about sliced networks. Network slicing is the ability to deliver multiple network occurrences over one shared infrastructure, while also improving flexibility and agility. When 5G goes live — estimates say as early as 2019 — network operators will be able to orchestrate specific capabilities across their networks for the varying use cases 5G will bring.
This means network operators will be able to quickly create and deploy different “slices” of the network and customize them depending on a system’s needs, providing flexibility and elasticity. Within the shared network infrastructure, a slice can be used for one industry, for a specific need, and/or even at a specific time.
But where have we heard this tune before? Probably the best analogy is in computer networking. Remember when we had dedicated file servers? Mail servers? Print servers? We don’t do that anymore, because all these servers (and many more) are virtualized. It’s really the same concept. In fact, Network Function Virtualization (NFV) has been around for several years now, and 5G network slicing simply takes that idea and extends it throughout the network architecture all the way to radios in cell sites.
All Slices are Not Cut from the Same Cloth
5G systems will be designed so that networks can be sliced on an as-a-service basis, with services scaled up and down quickly and easily. As already mentioned, each slice can be customized to provide the elements necessary for the architecture it requires. For example, 10 percent of a network’s resources can be reserved exclusively for IoT devices.
With 5G, operators need to consider both devices: the sender, and the end device. A good example is for M2M and IoT applications where the battery life of the device needs to be considered. An operator can customize the network for a low-power application so battery life can be measured in months or even years in some cases.
No Matter How You Slice it
The 5G era will bring to life amazing use cases, mostly encompassing mobile broadband, massive IoT, and mission-critical IoT. Network slicing offers better business agility, flexibility, and cost-efficiency.
Flexibility, Agility & Elasticity
The network slicing as-a-service model lets network operators choose the characteristics they need per slice to reach 5G capabilities, such as less latency with more throughput, connection density, spectrum efficiency, traffic capacity, and network efficiency. This helps increase business model efficiencies in how they create products and services as well as improve the customer experience.
Additionally, each slice is isolated and comprises the device, access, transport, and core network, thereby increasing reliability and security. Also, changes and additions to a slice can be made without having to consider the effects across the rest of the network. This saves time, effort, and cost because it takes away the need to re-engineer the whole network with individual slice changes.
Networks are moving away from a one-size-fits-all model and toward a model where unnecessary functionality is removed and new technologies can be added where needed. Network slicing combines a common underlying infrastructure where resources can be divided, shared, and optimized. This is a more cost-effective use of the resources and helps reduce the total cost of ownership.
Ultimately, network slicing will allow IT to achieve more at a lower cost. Individual timelines, services, and pricing can be created and still retain the benefit from the common infrastructure. At the end of the day, network slicing will likely be invisible to the typical end user, but will allow network operators to be more nimble, more flexible, and ultimately cost-effective, which should enable a better user experience for everyone.