Maturing Network Slicing with Automation and APIs

5G Mature Network Slicing for Automation and API's

Network X Americas' "Investment, Innovation & Disruption: Telco Reinvented" event is coming to the Irving, Texas convention center May 21-23 this year, bringing the vendor and telco operator community together to share the latest on 5G technology, including the latest developments in network slicing.

Beyond the Hurdles: A Race to Commercial Network Slicing

5G deployments have slowed measurably or stalled because of both technical hurdles and underwhelming business drivers. Although the economy is not under the control of the carriers and vendors, growing the business case is something they can influence and are working hard at by looking to demonstrate the value of network slicing for the oft-mentioned autonomous vehicles, drones, and extended-reality applications as well as for some lower-hanging fruit in the applications space.

Verizon and T-Mobile are racing to provide commercial network slicing services, but Fierce Network recently noted that these operators are still behind China and India's Jio on slicing. Verizon announced in March that it now has an operational trial focused on new public safety use cases that show the initial capabilities of end-to-end, dynamic network resource provisioning on a 5G network to enhance situational awareness for public safety personnel. Meanwhile, T-Mobile's Chief Technology Officer John Saw says that T-Mobile pulled off the first real use of 5G network slicing in the U.S. this past summer at a high-diving event in Boston sponsored by Red Bull in which network slicing was used for remote video production. AT&T's 5G Innovation Lab is also looking to accelerate the path to network slicing by exploring the technical feasibility of use cases such as allowing safety-critical applications priority access, emphasizing latency over bandwidth for interactive gaming, minimizing jitter, and ensuring steady bandwidth for live video streaming.

Mature Automation Is Critical

The technical challenges of network slicing, with its dependency on automation, are well-known. Achieving "zero touch" networks is the stated goal for 5G standalone networks. But giving up manual control of the network to the orchestration layer is a sea change for network operations and engineering teams. Having end-through-end visibility to individual slices must be a prerequisite to turning over the keys to the network. That visibility is also required for ensuring and reporting on service-level agreements (SLAs) for network slicing.

Maturing automation is indeed critical to achieving the multiple dynamic slicing capability. The orchestration of cloud computing resources that will make up each "mini 5G network" must have a closed-loop feed of actionable intelligence from the radio access network (RAN) to the edge to the core to guide the policy engines. Obtaining such packet-based intelligence means virtually tapping or getting eBPF feeds from each of the primary 5G control and user-plane interfaces. Having such "standard" APIs for both packet access and developers is still a work in progress across the vendor community.

Many in the industry see a logical three-phase crawl, walk, and run approach to the introduction of network slicing. To grow experience, confidence, and success, communications service providers (CSPs) are seen starting with fixed (pre-allocated network resources) slicing to ensure the end-through-end operation, then moving onto a single dynamic (or elastic) slice, and then running with multiple elastic slices in the network.

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