Standalone 5G and edge compute bring enterprise value
The ability to deliver a network slice is the long goal of the transition to standalone 5G. At a high-level, a network slice is an end-to-end logical partition of a network that provides specific levels of service in an autonomous fashion. This can take numerous forms but the high-end vision is an operator providing an enterprise its own slice capable of flexibly delivering everything from low-power sensor connectivity to real-time data streaming and analysis. The enterprise gets everything it needs in terms of connectivity and the operator provides a differentiated service in a manner that optimizes use of network and spectral resources. But, like most things in telecom, it won’t happen overnight.
“It’s something that’s going to mature in steps,” Peter Linder of Ericsson said, analogizing the process to painting traffic demarcations on a road. “Perhaps the first step is to get the white paint on the sides so you get the traffic on the road. The next step is a little like putting the stripes in the middle and putting in the lanes.
In an early form, Linder considered one slice comprising the public network and a second slice supporting private public safety communications. “Then, as you move further, we can discuss here should the slices be based…on use case or use case categories?” Slices for fixed wireless access, mobile broadband and the internet of things, for example. “When it’s very small, perhaps getting to two [slices]is a step but when you go beyond two to four or six, what is the logical step for logical compartmentalization? I see it as something that’s going to grow and develop and gradually get refined.”
Rohde & Schwarz’s Andreas Roessler sees network slicing as something an operator will offer when there’s a need to “serve significantly different QoS. Network slices should be selected based on the UE type and its requirements. For example, a local utility provider deploying smart meters has specific QoS requirements that network slicing can address also using a particular frequency band…for extended coverage, and uses advanced Rel-16 features like 2-step RACH to allow quick access to the network transmitting small data packets. Applying network slicing is just one step to get the full benefits…Also the correct features on the air interface and the infrastructure need to be implemented by chipset and terminal vendors as well as infrastructure providers.”
When considering network slicing, Roessler said considerations must extend beyond the core. It’s “drive by software-defined radio trend as in 5G core network elements are functions…that are independent of hardware. Activating network slicing in the core is just one step. The supporting features on the air interface, i.e., bandwidth parts, mixed numerologies, etc. have to be there as well; or a flexible infrastructure with following the trend of mobile edge computing, e.g. for lower latency only a network slice is not sufficient. We have to shorten the distance between client and server to become faster.”
He also pointed out that increasingly autonomous networks give way to increasingly autonomous test and measurement practices, including network optimization, quality benchmarking and service quality monitoring. “You can install probes in a fleet of Uber cars, waste trucks, or busses that collect network data, evaluate the QoE of applications, and report the results to a central entity. This is also called ‘autonomous benchmarking’ since it is unsupervised and not linked to a drive/walk test campaign. Operators can quickly get details in real-time (and offline for post-processing in addition) about the quality that subscribers perceive in their networks.”
VoltDB’s Dheeraj Remella said that for industrial and enterprise IoT-type implementation, “Standalone 5G is really key. I think that’s where standalone 5G is really going to start shining. When you look at today’s implementations, it’s a combination of 4G core…plus your [5G] hardware radio infrastructure investment. When you put these two things together, you still aren’t tapping into 5G specifically.”
The need for agile delivery of network slices is necessary for vertical digital transformation “because you have rapid data generation and consumption.
Also in this process, you have to bring more intelligence to the edge to make a real-time control loop for things like process automation and digital twins. This is where your 5G is going to really accelerate revenue.”
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