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5G network slicing: unlocking its value

Previously published on  RCR Wireless

5G networks open up a host of new possibilities for mobile network operators.

Three very distinct initial capabilities are envisioned for 5G networks: enhanced mobile broadband, with high capacity and gigabits-per-second speeds; ultra-reliable and low-latency communications; and massive machine-type communications to support the internet of things.

Network slicing — introduced in LTE but never fully realized in 4G — and new network architectures are necessary in order to efficiently enable such disparate use cases within a single network. Each network slice will use some of the network’s shared resources, from the Radio Access Network to SDN-directed transport to the network core, while delivering a specific service with a specific service-level agreement to a specific class of devices or users.

One of the key enablers for 5G network slicing is the ability to deploy and provision infrastructure that can fit the needed capacity and meet the SLAs for each network slice. The new flexibility of software-centric 5G networks means a marked increase in the complexity for operators to provision, operate and supervise the performance of each slice. For example, when a low-latency slice, maximum throughput/high bandwidth slice or a slice enabling massive IoT deployment are all deployed in the same general area, operators will require much finer SLA monitoring for each business case.

Traditionally, operators have maintained visibility into their networks by relying on passive network probes to provide basic KPIs to a central Network Operations Center. But for 5G network slicing, a shift is required in operations strategy. As MNOs increase focus on monetizing their networks through new services, so must their operations evolve from the traditional NOC to multiple Service Operations Centers with a focus on individual services/slices, their requirements and real-time performance. In a 5G network of slices, a proactive and holistic approach to visibility is needed, with artificial intelligence that correlates data from virtualized and physical active probes and detects anomalies and service issues from Layer 1 all the way up through the application layer and provides closed-loop analytics and troubleshooting.

This approach in 5G networks brings the continuous integration/continuous deployment concepts from the IT space and builds them into service assurance for the next generation of telecom networks. It boosts operators’ ability to compete on vertical-specific services by making operations service-centric as well. But the transition to 5G networks and a DevOps approach for service assurance requires a trusted partner with a deep understanding of the network and how to achieve visibility, from its fiber foundation to end-to-end services. EXFO’s unparalleled expertise in test, monitoring and analytics for diverse network deployments enables operators to accelerate their digital transformations through the network lifecycle. And managing change without impacting existing services will be key to a successful transformation.