Understanding network slicing: virtual or logical networks to optimize specific use-cases


Be it smart cities, healthcare, entertainment, transportation, and many more, it is undeniable that 5G will be a major disruptor in various sectors. What remains unknown is how each sector will exploit and maximize the benefits offered by 5G and its capabilities. One thing is clear, the 5G network cannot be defined or restricted to specific functions because it was not designed with a particular purpose in mind. “We don’t know which use cases will ultimately be the most important for 5G,” said Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm. To enable different operations, sectors, and departments in each industry to exploit the benefits of 5G fully requires slicing of the networks.



What is Network Slicing?

Network slicing can be defined as splitting or sectioning a single 5G network into multiple virtual or logical networks that allow specification and optimization to support distinct use cases and service level agreement (SLA) requirements. Even though network slicing is not a new concept, it will unlock the full potential of 5G and enhance the benefits, according to Dr. Konstantinos Stavropoulos, Solution Marketing Head at EXFO.

The networks are not sliced in an all-fits-one approach but based on demand to address different emerging functions and use cases across verticals, businesses, and applications. For example, a slice can be formed on an existing 5G network in the future to accommodate the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) in environmental protection.



Why is Network Slicing Important?

Even though existing 5G networks serve all customers and functions, slicing allows businesses, industries, and other operators to select a specific slice that offers the data speeds, throughput, latency, and capacity they need. Customizing the capabilities of 5G offered in each slice ensures the fulfillment of the specific needs of different customers. For example, the needs of a company offering critical Internet of Things use cases like autonomous rescue drones would differ with the needs of a telephone company in terms of reliability, throughput, latency, and capacity requirements from a 5G slice. Therefore, each of these companies will seek a slice that meets their needs fully.



Also, optimal resource efficiency, flexibility, and maximum return on investment (ROI) promised by 5G, and its capabilities cannot materialize without network slicing. 5G network slicing will also enable the implementation of new business models such as MVNOs, which are built upon mobile network-as-a-service (NaaS).

Network slicing increases the efficiency of the network as a whole because 5G capabilities are distributed moderately based on the demand and needs of customers in each slice. Also, it will enhance security by addressing the weaknesses and loopholes prevalent in the 3G and 4G networks. Under 3G and 4G, ineffective authentication exposed businesses and customers in entire networks to security threats and vulnerabilities. To enhance security, each slice in a 5G network will require distinct security capability based on their use case. This can be attained by implementing distinct device authentication protocols for each slice to approve only the devices intended for particular use cases contained in the slice. Device authentication will enhance the security of networks by ensuring that devices can only run in the intended slice but not across entire networks or any other slice.

With the wide variety of use cases, opportunities, and applications supported or enabled by 5G network slicing, you can say that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

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