Friday, 14 September 2018

End-to-end Network Slicing in 5G

I recently realised that I have never written a post just on Network slicing. So here is one on the topic. So the first question asked is, why do we even need Network Slicing? Alan Carlton from Interdigital wrote a good article on this topic. Below is what I think is interesting:

Network slicing is a specific form of virtualization that allows multiple logical networks to run on top of a shared physical network infrastructure. The key benefit of the network slicing concept is that it provides an end-to-end virtual network encompassing not just networking but compute and storage functions too. The objective is to allow a physical mobile network operator to partition its network resources to allow for very different users, so-called tenants, to multiplex over a single physical infrastructure. The most commonly cited example in 5G discussions is sharing of a given physical network to simultaneously run Internet of Things (IoT), Mobile Broadband (MBB), and very low-latency (e.g. vehicular communications) applications. These applications obviously have very different transmission characteristics. For example, IoT will typically have a very large number of devices, but each device may have very low throughput. MBB has nearly the opposite properties since it will have a much smaller number of devices, but each one will be transmitting or receiving very high bandwidth content. The intent of network slicing is to be able to partition the physical network at an end-to-end level to allow optimum grouping of traffic, isolation from other tenants, and configuring of resources at a macro level.

Source: ITU presentation, see below

The key differentiator of the network slicing approach is that it provides a holistic end-to-end virtual network for a given tenant. No existing QoS-based solution can offer anything like this. For example, DiffServ, which is the most widely deployed QoS solution, can discriminate VoIP traffic from other types of traffic such as HD video and web browsing. However, DiffServ cannot discriminate and differentially treat the same type of traffic (e.g. VoIP traffic) coming from different tenants.

Also, DiffServ does not have the ability to perform traffic isolation at all. For example, IoT traffic from a health monitoring network (e.g. connecting hospitals and outpatients) typically have strict privacy and security requirements including where the data can be stored and who can access it. This cannot be accomplished by DiffServ as it does not have any features dealing with the compute and storage aspects of the network. All these identified shortfalls of DiffServ will be handled by the features being developed for network slicing.

I came across this presentation by Peter Ashwood-Smith from Huawei Technologies who presented '5G End to-end network slicing Demo' at ITU-T Focus Group IMT-2020 Workshop and Demo Day on 7 December 2016. Its a great presentation, I wish a video of this was available as well. Anyway, the presentation is embedded below and the PPT can be downloaded from here.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has established a new Industry Specification Group (ISG) on Zero touch network and Service Management (ZSM) that is working to produce a set of technical specifications on fully automated network and service management with, ideally, zero human intervention. ZSM is targeted for 5G, particularly in network slice deployment. NTT Technical review article on this is available here.

Finally, here is a presentation by Sridhar Bhaskaran of Cellular Insights blog on this topic. Unfortunately, not available for download.

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