The User-Defined Network - Network Slicing in Practice

SUMMARY

“You can’t please all of the people all of the time” so the saying goes. But in the age of big data, “there’s an app for that”, massive IoT, artificial intelligence and full-scale human/machine automation, perhaps it’s time to re-assess? Certainly that’s the expectation of end users. And if the machines could talk (which they do), they might echo the sentiment. It’s a tall order, but it’s precisely the mission of 5G and its most important underlying model, network slicing.

No doubt network slicing’s impact will soon be felt on the scale the smart phone has. Our devices will not only seem at once much smarter, but in the context of Application-Aware Networks, will provide us complete command of a fluid interplay of experiences that will come to define the digital lifestyle. This is a good starting point for a discussion of network slicing and its most important mission with the inauguration of hybrid 4G and 5G networks; User Experience.

While much of the discussion on network slicing has revolved around the frameworks for its delivery, and the use cases that they will enable, there has been relatively little examination of the user journey. In this whitepaper we not only look at the model’s many technologies and emerging standards, but will attempt to draw out in clear relief, its mission from the end user’s point of view, and from the perspective of all players in the ecosystem. This is important for several reasons; while a continued refocus on the user is the very heart of any business proposition, it is especially critical in the mobile industry, which touches nearly every aspect of our lives and must re-invent itself around that reality. 5G certainly has been positioned in this way, and as network slicing will be central to it, but the manner in which it manifests from use case to use case will be fundamental to its full understanding.  

We thus begin with a discussion of what the evolved mobile network will look like; certainly not anything like its predecessors - mere conduits for connectivity - but, and as Nokia describes in their recent publication “End-to-End Dynamic Network Slicing for 5G”(1) a true “network for services” environment. Certainly, this idea lies in stark contrast to the connectivity-focused mantras of previous telecom generations. Instead, we look to deliver a truly open, democratized network that takes into consideration each of its constituents, whether man or machine. And in so doing, we not only open the industry to today’s most promising business models, but with the keys to world history’s greatest communications platform, we unleash a unified organism that protects and preserves its own fundamental neutrality.

But we begin our examination by looking at the many problems network slicing solves, and the unique opportunities it will create. We will follow with a brief look at the history of the model, in its many flavors, approaches and applications along the path to 5G. Moving to our primary focus, we’ll look at the “network for services” environment enabled by slicing from the customer’s point of view, and look at some key parts of the anatomy of this new user experience and some of the critical requirements for communicating its value and “making the market”. Finally, we’ll end with a snapshot of where the standard is today and how the model will pave the way from 4G to 5G.


REAL CHALLENGES

Perhaps needless to say, today’s restrictively monolithic public networks simply can’t deliver on the sea of spawning use cases to come. From OTT and IPTV to AR/VR to Massive IoT, M2M, Smart Cities and an estimated 25 Billion networked devices by 2020, to say that ‘best effort’ won’t cut it is indeed an understatement. On the positive side, and in the context of network slicing, there will enough capacity and latency-defined use cases to create an entirely new mobile network with quality of experience and reliability at its core. In this context we see the need to not just to move beyond best effort, but to expose it within a mobile services constitution that defines capabilities and realistically sets user expectations. But there are some challenges.

25 Billion Networked Devices by 2020

The first problem stems from the fact that by its very nature, cellular capacity is a limited resource and as such behaviorally inconstant. Beholden to the amount of available radio frequency, possible interference and the measure of used modulation within any given cell, the network’s delivery of bandwidth to user equipment (UE) is at best uncertain. Whilewith the anticipated arrival of radio network enhancements like millimeter wave and small cell technology, cell capacity is expected to go up dramatically, it will not change this essential fact.

The second issue represents both a technical barrier and its corollary as an end user experience. Not only is the actual total capacity of a cell’s service area always limited, but that even dramatic advances in capacity and speed we will have done nothing to guarantee reliability.  Underscoring this point at the most recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Telefónica CTO Enrique Blanco called out the industry for focusing too heavily on new Air and Radio Access Network devices and not enough on network slicing. “As far as Telefónica is concerned, if someone is thinking 5G will be deployed and implemented like 4G, they are making a big mistake,” he says. “This is not going to be about new devices and antennas. The radio is not the key topic. There is a lot of noise about the radio but we need to make noise about the whole architecture - for me, much more relevant is the issue of network slicing.”(2) As it stands, and without ‘getting sliced’, every cellular network on the planet will continue to operates on this passive, first-come, first-served basis. The third big challenge relates to the problem of creating and deploying new services. While this is being addressed with the adoption of Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV), in a standard 4G services environment, all main infrastructure components including access, transport, management and storage are centralized and tethered to a single physical network. In this scenario, new mobile service definition, creation, management and delivery is all but a non-starter.


VIRTUALIZED OPPORTUNITIES

In the new, virtualized network however, we see a clear and cost-effective path to a world of new services that directly address users anytime, anywhere with predictably reliable services. SDN and NFV not only move the operating environment from a physical, monolithic network, to one that effectively segregates operational planes, spawning limitless interoperable, re-usable or retireable virtual network clusters. These are the building blocks of network slicing, and this critical sea change in the macro stack is an absolute requirement for the new business models and user experiences promised in 5G. Still, only 2% of today’s mobile networks have a significant SDN/NFV footprint.

And yet, even before network slicing comes to your town, these elements will have a direct impact on the bottom line. In this re-formulation, setting up your own network and launching new mobile services can be done in minutes instead of months. By separating the service layer from connectivity and infrastructure a completely new operating environment is born in which the seeds of highly structured virtual architectures will grow. Not only will these networks and network clusters remove the need for a variety of dedicated electronics in homes and businesses and the network itself, they may well eliminate the need for costly deployments, upgrades and overlays while eliminating costly truck rolls into the future.
 

USER-DEFINED NETWORKS

The User-Defined Network

Writ large, the evolution from the current paradigm to the concept of an Application-Aware Network envisioned for 5G, demands not just a virtualization of core technologies, but a complete re-thinking - a complete inversion - of how a telecom network is conceived. While in the current equation, a device’s capabilities are defined by and restricted to the network (i.e. the network determines what the device or user can or can’t do), in this new paradigm, the network’s behavior is defined by the demands of devices, apps, users, time, location and the context in which they all come into play. In this way, the network becomes an environment for the dynamic support of quality-of-experience designed around user demand.

But to get there, and see the kind of mass market adoption that’s anticipated, we need to see more than just SLAs that govern dedicated static or dynamic slices, but indeed a kind of mobile services “constitution” that makes plain and transparent the economics of network performance (capacity, latency, throughput, accessibility) such that consumers fully understand what their carrier is selling to them or giving to them for free. So while their experience of slices will be a fluid part of their day-to-day mobile lifestyle, in order for the value of next-generation service orchestration to be properly conveyed, consumers must play a direct and commanding role in its use. This is fundamental to the transition to a user-centric, user-defined, user-driven relationship with the network provider, and our primary theme of the User-Defined Network.

In the next section, as we look at how network slicing may be deployed from a technological perspective, we’ll draw contrasts between its three core categories or classes of traffic – Best Effort, Capacity Sensitive and Delay Sensitive, and the manner in which these may be delivered.  While one might see traffic classes as akin to the grades of gas available at the pump, this is precisely the wrong way to sell services. Rather, the evolved approach seeks to position mobile performance as a key indicator of the digital lifestyle. That is to say, our role in creating a truly user-defined network is dependent not on merely delivering the connectivity to make that possible, but to involve the buyer in the decision.  We will look at these facets of the opportunity in closer detail later in the paper as we discuss use(r) case experiences in greater detail. First however, we will take a look at the roots of network slicing to provide some historical and technological context.

 

THE SLICED NETWORK

From Concept to Core Technology

Network Slicing - the Defining Feature of 5G

While the concept of network slicing is itself still in its infancy (e.g. it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page), there has been a slow but steady groundswell of interest around the model. The ground-breaking innovations of companies like Intel, Ericsson, Nokia, Cloudstreet and Huawei, and essential standards bodies like 3GPP, ITU, IETF, 5GIC, NGNM, MEF have put these organizations at the very center of its discovery and definition. Presented in purely theoretical terms just three years ago by Ericsson, its first actual commercial deployment was delivered by a startup incubated by their archrival, Nokia. The world’s first demonstration of Horizontal Dynamic Network Slicing occurred in 2014 in Finland with Nordic operator Telia’s deployment of an early Cloudstreet production prototype.(3)

In its first worldwide commercial application, Telia’s Cloudstreet-sliced network put the solution to one of the most demanding environments imaginable - that of live broadcast video production. Since becoming available to Finnish broadcasters, including the country’s national service YLE, and hundreds of smaller and independent producers, the solution has not only proved a boon for live broadcasting, now allowing 4K video signals a clear and assured path over 4G mobile networks, but has saved Telia customers hundreds of thousands of dollars in costly satellite truck rolls.  Further, by introducing true mobility to the work of Electronic News Gathering (ENG) and live sport,  Cloudstreet lets crews “move with the story” without the limitations of fixed satellite dishes. Imagine the freedom of a mobile crew covering, say, a sailing race or a breaking news story, and being limited only to those areas where LTE service is available.

While this use case represents the very tip of the iceberg when it comes the near limitless service experiences and revenue opportunities of network slicing, it provides a good entry point for understanding this essential new telecom model.

 

NETWORK SLICING

Business & Technology Overview

At a basic level, network slicing can be understood along three axes: The first relates to the commercial purpose of a given slice as to the ‘Vertical’ industries or ‘Horizontal’ user experiences that they are designed to serve;  the second, ‘Static’ or ‘Dynamic’ describes the manner in which they serve their function. This simply relates to whether or not the slices are pre-deployed, or created and delivered in a dynamic, real-time context based on human or machine interaction; the third becomes very technical very quickly but describes the specific locations within the network where the slices may be deployed that include the Core Network (CN), the Radio Access Network (RAN) or at the Resource Level.

While all of these flavors of slicing are available today, their happy coexistence within the context of a true End-to-End Vertical & Horizontal Dynamically Sliced Network (or an E2EVHDSN; What a mouthful!), is the stuff of 5G. But it’s important to note, and as we will illustrate in the coming section on standardization, that the pathway to that certainty is paved in 4G.  “Network Slicing does work in 4G by the way!” So said Intel VP & GM for the 5G Infrastructure Division Caroline Chan of the Network Platform Group at Intel at the recent 5G North America conference in Austin. This is an important point, not merely because it points to the right technology path to 5G (as confirmed by 3GPP), but indeed, and as evidenced by the Cloudstreet/Telia use case, it provides the opportunity for new, 5G-type revenues today. Thus we look to 4G/5G network slicing PoCs as the currency of this evolution, and a clear and present pathway to revenue and ROI. To continue unpacking the concept, we will in the next section provide a basic description of the difference between vertical and horizontal slicing and what happens when the latter is deployed as a dynamic, real-time automated system.

 

Horizontal Vs. Vertical Network Slicing

Vertical vs. Horizontal Network Slicing

Vertical network slicing differs from horizontal in that it seeks to serve vertical (generally industry) segments, while horizontal serves individual users or machines. The first examples of network slicing were vertical, and designed to serve specific industries with a set of specific requirements from the network. We can imagine these, similarly to any collective of Network Slices, as multiple networks operating upon a single network but they aren’t necessarily logical or virtual. In this case we are distinguishing not just horizontal and vertical network slicing, but indeed physical and virtual.  It is perhaps no surprise that this approach became the first example of the technology, and again no surprise, it happened on the wireline side of things. Today, this framework is already well in play and there are quite literally too many examples to name. When it comes to intelligently distributing - and indeed differentiating - bandwidth and processing power between distributed network clients and the cloud, these operative concepts are indeed well-established.

 

NETWORK SLICING

Vertical Traffic Classes with Horizontal Dynamic Slicing by Use Case

                                                                      © 2017 Cloudstreet

                                                                      © 2017 Cloudstreet

In the graphic above we can see the interplay between a simple vertically sliced network and the manner in which horizontal slicing, both static and dynamic provides the “brains” within the model. Here we see a number of use cases within multiple categories (“Life-Critical”, “Mission-Critical”, “Media & Entertainment” Etc.) all of them being delivered appropriate combinations of static or dynamic slices based on capacity or delay sensitivity or a combination of both. At the bottom of the pyramid, which also generally represents the scale of the market, we see a set of miscellaneous differentiated service categories including an ad-sponsored, “Zero Rating” which here we have as the only use case being delivered “Best Effort” mobile connectivity.  Today, nearly every large technology company maintains one or more private networks that deliver SLA-assured throughout and a certain, pre-defined measure of capacity and ultra-low latency from a commercial ISP. One need only think of today’s Content Delivery Networks like Akamai, and their provisioning technologies like FastTCP to help their business customers sell video subscription services to end users to see the point. Slicing in this context is already very much core of today’s cloud Internet DNA.

On the mobile side however, there are many fewer examples of network slicing, whether vertical or horizontal, but all of them rely to one extent or another on the idea of parsing network capacity. In the mobile context, the vertical form executes itself by either segregating groups of SIM-enabled devices or by reserving radio network bands of a given leased frequency with the intention of re-selling them to different customer segments. This manner of slicing is the basis of the telecom business model that allows Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) to share resources with traditional operators and serve specific vertical customer segments.

Nonetheless, and because big or small radio antennae deployments do nothing to guarantee reliability, the mobile bottleneck remains and user experience suffers. Though this approach, which may be described as “dumb network slicing”, will not be the basis for the new business models that mobile operators desperately need, it is will play an essential part in the End-to-End framework that is envisioned for 5G.


Macro Vertical Network Slicing in Practice

Mexico-based mobile operator Altan, who in a 7 billion-dollar bid for the 700MHz band backed by Morgan Stanley, the China-Mexico Fund and Canada’s Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec(4), plans to rollout a new 4G network to provide 92% coverage nation-wide. Most interesting about their plan from a Network Slicing perspective is their business model of renting “slices” of the network to hundreds of MVNOs, each focused on delivering capacity to different vertical industry segments.  This is a model which, while delivering slices based on dedicated bands and MVNO-specific SIM cards, could be described as ‘dumb slicing’. While it does support the idea of targeting vertical industry segments with tailored connectivity packages, it doesn’t provide real capacity, latency or reliability guarantees.


EDUCATING USERS

As mentioned, a critical piece of the network slicing puzzle is the ability to effectively communicate its value to the customer and wherever possible, and however simply (read: intuitively) implicate them in the experience. While this won’t be expected for static network slicing, which will largely be an automated function, it certainly applies to dynamic network slicing as we will see in the use cases to follow.   

Popular OTT digital services like Netflix or Spotify don’t need to concern themselves with this because the value of their product is ingrained. Users love them because they love what they deliver. By contrast, users don’t love their mobile operator because there’s zero emotional connection with connectivity. This needs to change. And though it’s not obvious how, it is central to the mission of 5G and the new business models it will depend on. In this section we’ll look at some novel approaches to delivering network slicing at the customer level, and how these will become the basis for a truly re-invented mobile services industry.

Thus it is critical that the mobile operator re-position itself vis-à-vis OTT service providers as both a business and a technological partner, but not a target for vertical integration. This is a Net Neutrality minefield. Instead they may partner with all key third party players – the primary OTT digital content, applications and social network brands like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple, Spotify etc. – and associate the experience of those services with your role in making them better, more accessible and free of failure. To date, however, mobile operators have tended to perceive the raft of OTT service providers as either competitors, or worse, squatters that clog up their networks without returning any benefit. This is a dangerous mode of thinking and has at least partly to do with the perception of carriers as boring, old-school businesses akin to utilities. Yes, native, vertically-integrated services like IPTV will grow and improve with 5G, but the foundation of the model will be in the carrier’s area of expertise, and extending that wheelhouse through horizontal integration and working coöperatively with a sea of different brands looking to connect with mobile eyes and ears. And then, for the first time since before the great convergence movement began, carriers will be able to make their core competency - namely reliability-as-a-service - a high value, highly differentiated and targeted set of on-demand and/or automated services.  

To get there, it is helpful to look at the brilliantly simple business models that OTT providers employ and have found so much success with. In so doing, we get some hints about what an evolved, customer-centric 5G business model needs to look like and how its value will be made clear to end users. Certainly there’s an element of risk in any wholesale change to the business, but the risk of clinging to an outmoded model is even greater.  While it would have been difficult to impossible to make this shift in 4G, a wholly myopic, one-size-fits all service environment, the next generation will have in its very DNA the tools to redefine mobile service as an essential component of all digital experience. Looked at in this way we see the idea of Slice-as-a-Service (Yes, another SaaS) which will touch on nearly every aspect of the customer journey from discovery to subscription, from usage to roaming and billing to ad-sponsored services and premium capacity-on-demand. This concept was not born here, but the first direct reference to it that we’ve heard came from Dr. Ron Maquardt VP of Technology, Innovation and Architecture at Sprint Corporation, who recently said, in a word “the slice is the service”(5).

Next, we’ll draw out these concepts and look at how networks slicing will directly enable a wholesale change to the carrier / customer relationship.


THE BILLING THING

Not long ago, and perhaps in a moment of weakness or insecurity, mobile operators collectively decided that even more than even connectivity, billing (and the billing relationship) was the core competency. This has escalated to what amounts to an all out obsession with the BSS layer of the network – today an enormously complex and convoluted system. And while these cumbersome, outmoded architectures are for many carriers their “safe place”, they have done more to hamper innovation and evolution than propel the business. As such, and in reality they are far from safe.

We begin here, not because billing is a particularly sexy part of the business, but because it will likely be one of the first things to go in the new network slicing-enabled network. As shocking as this might seem, this is very good news for mobile operators. Not only will it clear the way for an army of new high value services, but it will eliminate a very costly component of the carrier environment that adds next to no value. What’s more, sending this tired element out to pasture immediately suggests a new, evolved and more customer-centric approach. Digital citizens don’t like or want bills – paper or otherwise. They don’t understand or care about megabyte-based billing, and they hate getting charged small fortunes for roaming and data cap overages. On the flip side, they do like paying the fixed and relatively small monthly fees they do for the OTT services they love like Netflix and Spotify. And these simple, secure, automated monthly service transactions are precisely the way to sell network slicing in almost any use case one can imagine.
 

NETSLICING USE(R) CASES

We will now begin looking at some specific use cases from the perspective of the end user (thus, user cases) along with some thinking on their application from a business perspective.
 

Time-Based Billing

There is much data and qualitative customer feedback to suggest that users aren’t particularly inclined toward the current manner of buying mobile data packages. Not only do they not have a clear idea of how many gigs or megs they may have or need, but this uncertainty directly leads to bill shock when the reality of their usage comes knocking. This is a known customer retention issue, and one that can be easily sliced.

One novel (non-network slicing) approach first offered by New Zealand carrier 2Degrees, gives users the ability to book and pre-pay for data on the basis of time. The mobile app called data clock allows for on demand data usage without the nerve-racking uncertainty of data package overages. In their words:

“Now you can buy as little as 5 minutes to sort a ride home, or as much as 24 hours if you know you’re going to visit the grandparents for the weekend. So now you can stream, snap and scroll away without having to worry about chewing through your data allowance.”(6) 

This solution does not employ network slicing, but given its massive uptake in the New Zealand market it does prove the model- one that would be easily deployed via slicing.
 

Ad-Sponsored Slices

Looking at the digital services ecosystem and its largest players like Google and Facebook we see a gaping chasm between their enormously successful ad-revenue based business models and the carrier’s utility-esque approach. And while 4G’s single, undifferentiated service tier didn’t help any in allowing carriers to adopt these types of models, we can now see an era where mobile operators will be free to roll out an array of differently priced, slice-as-a-service packages. But this does come with its share of Net Neutrality compliance challenges.

Much discussion has begun around the idea of including, at an entry level, a free, ad-sponsored service tier. In fact, this is already happening, as carriers understand that with Google and Facebook both investing huge sums in wireless infrastructure, free mobile access is not a matter of if, but when. As such, many mobile operators, including Cloudstreet partners, are beginning by launching free data for say, Facebook users, while they’re on the social network. This is precisely the way to convey the value of an Application-Aware Network, ensure quality of experience and create a positive association with a much-loved service.

As mentioned, and taking this to the next level, many carriers are looking at how network slicing can be employed to enable an entirely free entry level tier with a default, best effort performance cap.  Delivered as a slice, this would not only provide a powerful customer acquisition channel and a spring-board for as-needed, on-demand network slice upsells, but a highly lucrative new revenue stream. Moving carriers into the business of selling access to their customer eyes, ears
data instantly aligns the industry with the very strongest and most successful business models. This is certainly the pitch around AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner. And although this would be a blow to the head of Net Neutrality, network slicing once again comes to the rescue by being entirely service agnostic and user-driven. From the customer perspective, this free, ad or service-sponsored tier model is certainly a win. Far from hating advertising, today’s digital citizen assumes it is an inextricable part of the digital lifestyle, and with increasingly targeted, relevant content-based advertising it has come be a valued category of experience in its own right. In an Application-Aware Network context, we can easily see a game-changing relationship between the services people use every day and different ways of monetizing that activity - even to the point of Zero-Rating - all the while being driven by the user. But again, Net Neutrality must be considered.


Business Users & The BYOD Set

At the intersection of consumer and business segments we see more interesting opportunities for network slicing, particularly in the era of the BYOD workforce. The ability for example of the user to manually switch or schedule slices to kick in as they transition from work to play and back again, and to have those slices pull payments from different customers (individual or business) for every byte of latency-free data they send or receive. While the simple experience of switching profiles isn’t in itself a high value experience, the capability and the efficiency it affords is. In this scenario, the user may choose to manually ‘punch in’ or ‘punch out’, but would receive automated messages when they log in to Facebook (that could well be sponsored) to the effect that “We noticed that you’re now Facebooking, so all your data is now free”. The personal, service sponsored free slice would then kick in.
 

Telemedicine: A Slice of (Assisted) Life

Though we haven’t touched on the all-consuming area of IoT and M2M connectivity, and of course our focus is on user experience, we share our carrier partners’ excitement about network slicing for telemedicine and assisted living.  This is a market that is predicted to grow to between 40(7) and 113(8) Billion dollars by the early ‘20s depending on estimates.

As the rate of the world’s aging population increases, particularly in developed countries where the number of people over 60 doubles and even triples that of those 15 or under, not only are there more people in need of care, but according to the OECD, the number of people giving care is lost to attrition as care-giver quickly become care receivers. This, coupled with the rising cost of healthcare is making homecare and assisted living an extremely attractive emerging market. Timed with the arrival of an army of health related innovations, new medicines and the coming of 5G, the opportunity to deploy these life- and quality of life-critical technologies in the home amounts to an unprecedented business opportunity.
 

TELEMEDICINE

Homecare As Delivered Via QoE / QoS Assured Network Slices

Network Slicing for Telemedicine

At the most basic level we see an assisted-living customer experience that includes a package of dedicated slices for everything from ultra-high capacity, ultra low latency video conference doctor consults and remote video monitoring, to low capacity, low latency in-home health devices for self-assessment as well as highly secure EHR data record calls. All of the slices could be delivered and orchestrated to a given customer at the same time. As illustrated in the graphic below, this provides a great example of both static and dynamic network slicing. In the later case the dedicated slices would be delivered on-demand using a mobile app or be rendered automatically the moment a call is commenced. 
 

Slicing the Smart City

One of the most common use cases for network slicing quickly becomes an ant hill of micro use cases as we see the emerging smart city employing this technology across the board. From smart city kiosks to sliced, small cell automated lighting grids to public transit mapping and public address systems, the sky scrapers aren’t even the limit. When we combine this with Critical Communications / Public Safety applications that centralize Local Control (a Cloudstreet capability which allows FirstNet field operatives the ability to request changes to the network to accommodate situational needs), the sliced smart city concept becomes extremely interesting.  Looking at the RIO on the city lighting alone, a recent analysis shows a full 30% of the city of Barcelona’s budget put to keeping the street lights lit day and night. While the cost of integrating small cell transmitters into an entire city’s lighting infrastructure may seem costly, when network slicing is introduced to the equation, and the ability to deliver static dedicated slices for guaranteed bandwidth to local businesses, the opportunities for cost-sharing public private partnerships become very compelling.

We can see in the graphic below an imagined hybrid use case in the connected smart city context. Here a number of slice enabled users and devices demonstrate an orchestrated distribution of mobile bandwidth from a busy cell tower delivering a maximum of 100 Mbps. Since this particular locale serves business, consumer, tourist and city services alike, it provides for a number of pre-set profiles which must be reserved at all times to ensure 100% uptime and minimum adequate bandwidth.
In this scenario, a number of users are concurrently enjoying streamed audio and video services with differentiated profiles.

Network Slicing the Connected Smart City

 

NETWORK SLICING STANDARDIZATION

As announced by the 3GPP, network slicing is a feature that has been planned for standardization in the 5G Core by 2020 with release 16(9). In spring of 2017, 3GPP has agreed to prioritize it within Core and RAN combinations under the auspices of the so called Options 3. As illustrated in the graphic below (a Cloudstreet re-rendering of the 3GPP roadmap), the three mobile Operator Migration Options (added incrementally) paint a telling picture. From a network slicing deployment perspective, and particularly as we look at proposed dates of various rollouts, we see that network slicing is not merely a core feature of 5G, nor simply possibly in 4G, but absolutely essential to the service architecture of 4G/5G’s necessary coexistence.

Looking at the RAN component, from outset the existing 4G core will also handle 5G New Radio (NR). This is mandatory because the NR interface will already be introduced to the market by next year (2018). In the first phases of this, the 5G core will not be able to handle 4G Radio.

 

LTE to 5G Dynamic Network Slicing Roadmap

Network Slicing Path from 4G to 5G

 

5G will use radio frequencies that are high or very high. Below the 6GHz band it looks like 3.3-4.2GHz will be the standard range, while above 6GHz the range will be around 28 and 38GHz. In open environment situations the 3.3-4.2GHz will provide a maximum of 1km cell range. When using the 28 or 38GHz bands there is a need for highly directional antennas so this will be, at least in the beginning the standard for fixed wireless use cases, however both frequencies will be used indoors at some point of time.

What this means is that 5G will include from the outset a capacity solution for indoor access, where in dense downtown areas and in fixed wireless scenarios it will be employed in much the same way as WiFi is used today. Bearing in mind that current 4G networks can provide over 10 km cell radius with fairly good capacity and that network slicing use cases are typically use cases for all areas and provide significant benefits when scaled across large geographical areas, the critical importance of its deployment in 4G cannot be overstated.

In other words, we will need to use long range 4G frequencies to support wide area network slicing along side higher, short range 5G frequencies. 3GPP’s Release 16 specification work is now well underway and it looks like network slicing functionality will be part of its Policy Control functionality. Under this framework, network slicing functionality will have to be centralized though it will be deployed in several flavors starting from owned radio frequencies and core and spanning out to shared radio and core and ending with all infrastructure while using standards-based logical networks for slicing.

Certainly slicing technology will depend on network reliability. In this case reliability refers to the physical availability of radio and core resources and not the network or a given cell’s capacity. Looking at it from the big picture is quite likely that network slicing based on logical networks will be commercially the most important.

 


CLOUDSTREET’S NETWORK SLICING FRAMEWORK

Cloudstreet is the world’s first commercially available dynamic network slicing solution and a perfectly aligned response to some of the mobile industry’s greatest challenges. The platform allows 4G LTE and 5G mobile network operators to define, manage and deliver customer-oriented, application-aware Quality-of-Experience / Quality-of-Service (QoE/QoS) to customers for a sea of 5G-type use cases including IPTV and OTT video content,  Massive IoT, Telemedicine, VR/AR, Autonomous Vehicles, Smart Cities as well as mission-critical Public Safety and Critical Communications applications all the while orchestrating network traffic and data demand.

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Rooted in the innovative approaches espoused by telecom’s leading minds and standards organizations including the concepts of NFV and SDN network virtualization, the Dynamic Profile Controller™ (DPC™), offers a low-cost, high-return solution for delivering bandwidth-assured mobile content and data to any user, application or device in real time. The Cloudstreet solution includes an iOS and Android mobile application and hardware application libraries that allow users or machines to request dedicated bearer profiles based on carrier-defined DPC™-managed capacity and latency service levels. These dynamic profile change requests may be triggered based on users or groups of users, applications, devices, location and/or time depending on the context, to provide for near unlimited use of profile-based service provisioning determined by the operator. Once deployed, the DPC™ provides the carrier a powerful virtual network programming console for the creation of sliced services to address an evolving spectrum of devices, applications and user and machine contexts in IoT, M2M and D2D.

As not all users within a cell will necessarily be Cloudstreet users, it is essential that their mobile experience does not suffer. Thus, the Cloudstreet DPC™ takes detailed measurements of all of a cell’s usage and users, to render dedicated bearer connections. Once a Cloudstreet connection is established, the DPC™ balances service levels across all default bearers to a pre-determined minimum required signal. What’s more, as an assured mobile QoE solution that is driven by user demand, Cloudstreet directly aligns with and indeed reinforces the principles, practices and regulatory requirements for Net Neutrality.

In sum, the Cloudstreet DPC™ provides an elegant solution for mobile telecom’s greatest problem and a clear path to the promise of 5G networks. Driving new revenues from premium quality-assured connectivity, carriers can rapidly deploy and scale new services for differentiated consumer and business segments within an end-to-end virtualized service creation environment. Today Cloudstreet’s DPC™-powered network slicing model is commercially available on the Telia network in Finland and central to the US government’s FirstNet rollout, a $40B, 25 year public safety initiative formally launched with AT&T and Nokia USA.


CONCLUSION

Selling network slices moves the operator’s business in a dramatically different direction; From being a low-value commodity, sla-assured connectivity-as-a-service gives carriers a model for delivering high value experiences in an enormous new market that touches on all facets of the mobile-enabled digital lifestyle. As each network slice will address a unique customer need, carriers will be able to deliver multiple slices to each customer based on different needs and contexts. But to get there and in order to transition successfully to selling slices, mobile operators will need to take a deep dive into their consumer and business segmentsand quickly turn those into slice-based capacity / latency assured products and services. And although this will come to its full end-to-end fruition in 5G, the path to that business-critical eventuality is paved in 4G with the introduction of network slicing ;in today’s slicing-ready LTE networks.

While core technologies like network slicing present a massive leap forward and an exciting opportunity for carriers and their customers, consumer and business, the manner in which mobile operators bring these services to market and interface with their customers will be key to bringing the ecosystem to life and redefining the industry.  But there is a danger that after all is said and done, and 5G is delivered, customers will simply absorb an improved mobile experience but won’t necessarily attribute it to the carrier. That is why, and as we’ve presented in this paper it is imperative that carriers look not just to a new set of technologies but for a new model of service delivery that puts the customer in the driver’s seat.

We know that when customers experience choppy, slow or low quality video over mobile they tend to blame their mobile provider and not Netflix. Unfortunately, the reverse is not true. A clean, uninterrupted high definition video viewing experience is the customer expectation, and the carrier doesn’t win any love for making that happen. So at the very baseline, the ability for the first time to introduce a truly reliable mobile experience may only serve to reduce customer complaints and churn. This is not a bad thing, but it certainly isn’t the stuff of dreams, or the footing for a new way of doing business. Rather, the carrier needs to make the experience of reliability a high value experience associated with the services and applications users love most and not a mere extension of the dumb pipe, commodified service paradigm that’s in play today.

We see these as absolute imperatives coming into the next era of telecom, and one that carries real promise to spark a new, golden age of telecom. Essential to this is the kind of forward thinking that will allow the mobile industry on a massive scale to pivot in the direction of the digital industry’s most compelling and lucrative business models. Whether this happens through horizontal integration or simply network, billing and customer experience modernization and expansion, there is no doubt that network slicing and all that it promises will be front and center to that transition.


ENDNOTES


1) NOKIA “End-to-End Dynamic Network Slicing for 5G” 2017, https://pages.nokia.com/GC200339.html

2) Telecoms.com, Scott Bicheno “Mobile World Congress is disconnected from reality” February 28th, 2017 http://telecoms.com/480116/mobile-world-congress-is-disconnected-from-reality/

3) Cloudstreet “Cloudstreet Takes Finland Broadcasters into the Future With Mobile OTT Video” https://www.youtube.com watch?v=M1nbO7FsMfk&t=1s

4) Global Telecom Business, Alan Burkitt-Gray “Consortium backed by Morgan Stanley and the World Bank wins contract from Mexico to set up nationwide wholesale LTE network” November 18th, 2016 https://www.globaltelecomsbusiness.com/article/b11vy8wrfg1bpb/alt225n-wins-mexicos-20year-wholesale-wireless-deal?copyrightInfo=true

5) 5G North America, Conference, Austin, TX, Twitter, Brendan Tully Walsh quoting Dr. Ron Marquardt “The slice is the service” https://twitter.com/tullycaster/status/864528040973541377

6) 2degrees, Website marketing pages,  https://www.2degreesmobile.co.nz/mobile/prepay/data-clock/

7)  Zion Research, Global Telemedicine Market Set for Rapid Growth to Reach USD 38.00 Billion by 2022, August 10th 2017, https://zionmarketresearch.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/global-telemedicine-market-set-for-rapid-growth-to-reach-usd-38-00-billion-by-2022/


8) ResearchAndMarkets, Telemedicine Market Size & Trend Analysis By Product, April 2017 https://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/zchfg7/telemedicine


9)  3GPP, Giovanni Romano, 3GPP RAN progress on “5G” ftp://www.3gpp.org/Information/presentations/presentations_2016/3GPP%20RAN%20Progress%20on%205G%20-%20NetFutures.pdf