5G Network Slicing: QoS for Business Operations

prodcastfour_blog6 Ask any marketing guru and they’ll tell you: people love personalized services. That’s why there are more iPhone covers than grains of sand on the planet. Why people spend thousands to put custom wheels on their brand new Benzes.

And why network slicing will help mobile operators find their ways into new business opportunities worth billions over the next few years.

Global mobile consortium GSMA sees a $300 billion enterprise opportunity by 2025, and much of this will come from the use of network slicing to give businesses their own, personalized networks.

The potential is vast because it comes at a time when technology advancements are creating a perfect storm of opportunities for business. Thanks to advancements in, among other things, cloud computing and real-time analytics, many enterprises are embarking on major transformations to all-digital operations.

At the same time, their customers and prospects are clamoring for transformative products and services of their own, whether in the form of new VR/AR devices, sensor-rich industrial robots, self-driving autos, or hundreds of other possibilities.

For mobile operators, the opportunity is clear: bring these two groups together and reap the profits.

Slicing Makes It Personal…

This is where 5G networking and network slicing come in. Potential use cases for business are many and varied, and that’s the key – and the challenge – for mobile operators.

High-performance 5G networking will make it possible for large groups of people to experience concerts, sporting events or other live performances via VR/AR broadcasts. Manufacturers will be able to monitor and control sophisticated robot communities in near-lights-out production lines. Logistics companies will be able to find optimum routes for supply chains.

The key benefit of network slicing – and the difference between that and conventional QoS (Quality of Service) solutions, is that the net slices will be customizable – personalizable, if you will – for any given application. That’s because a network slice will give the customer a dedicated, virtual connection that extends all the way down to the physical memory and computation elements of the operator’s core transport network, where individual slices are considered “tenants” of the physical services.

What this creates, according to the GSMA report, is an ability to run “multiple logical networks as virtually independent business operations on a common physical infrastructure in an efficient and economical way.”

By contrast, conventional QoS techniques don’t extend all the way into the storage and computation resources, and so can’t perform the same degree of fine-grained per-user isolation and control. For instance, the most popular QoS mechanism, DiffServ, can set different controls for different types of traffic, such as web searches or digitized voice. But DiffServ can’t give separate controls to each of several users who might be sharing a digitized voice channel. For more detail on this, see “What is the difference between network slicing and Quality of Service?”.

… And Personalization Makes All The Difference

With network slicing, the mobile operator can now offer the equivalent of a complete private network to each of its business customers. Combining this with the significant speed, latency and capacity advances of 5G, operators will be able to offer wide ranging – and customizable – performance attributes economically, since the slices will be sharing the operator’s physical infrastructure.

And what are the performance attributes? They include, but are not limited to:

  • High throughout
  • Low latency
  • Massive connectivity
  • Reliability
  • Data security

That’s a lot of reasons for a business to order a network slice or two. And note that these attributes can be combined for any given application. For instance, a factory automation application may call for a slice that offers both high reliability and low latency for controlling production robots. An Internet of Things business might want massive connectivity and high security, while a live VR broadcast could specify a short-term slice with both high bandwidth and low latency.

Adding Value With Analytics

With their end-to-end dedicated network slices, mobile operators will also be able to offer their own value-added services as a further enticement to customers. The GSMA report gives one example:

“Operators can have the capability of hosting applications (e.g. enterprise applications) as well as to collect relevant data within a network slice. Data collected in the slice together with external sources can be used by machine learning algorithms to predict future trends or to improve analytics, and more generally to improve the performance and efficiency of the enterprise application.”

Real-time analytics will be important as operators grow out their slice services, too, since there will be many moving parts, virtually speaking, necessary to create seamless network experiences.

“Slice-based services will not only require the communication between different administrative domains but, what is more challenging, the integration of different technology domains,” says IEEE Software Defined Networks. “The complete end-to-end nature of slices involves distinct computing environments and transport technologies, and linking them requires an open and consistent orchestration approach.”

This is where real-time analytics are already helping operators – by breaking down domain and operations silos that stand in the way of the full-scale virtualization that will be necessary to the future of network slicing.

To do this, a real-time analytics infrastructure creates a visibility layer that connects the operator’s internal resources with customer behaviors. This visibility, and the additional analytics tools that go with it, will help keep customer service intact and responsive during the transition to 5G, and it will help the operator monitor the effectiveness – and customer acceptance – of network slicing deployments in the future.

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