Network slicing is a type of virtual network architecture that allows various networks to be created on top of a mutually shared physical infrastructure. These virtual networks are then personalized to meet the particular needs and demands of devices, applications, services, operators or customers. It uses the same principles as those behind network functions virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN). The greater flexibility brought out by network slicing will help address the efficiency, cost, and versatility requirements levied by the future.
Technologies like SDN and NFV are making room for a drastic change in network framework, which in turn will allow conventional structures to be divided into customizable components that can be programmed to offer just the right connectivity level, with each component running on the framework of its choice. This is a Network Slicing concept that will facilitate the development of networks in a way that is the most flexible and versatile.
When it comes to 5G, one physical network will be divided into various virtual networks, which in turn can support multiple radio access networks, or multiple types of services running through an individual RAN. It is expected that network slicing will basically be used to divide the central network, but it might also be utilized in the RAN.
Higher system scalability and efficient flexibility require improved network performance, better consumption of energy, lower infrastructure cost, and efficient resource utilization. To achieve all this, an architectural reconstruction and optimization of the present cellular network is necessary.
Network slicing is seen as one of the main enablers and an architectural solution to communication structure of 2020 and beyond. Conventional mobile operators offer all kinds of services to different types of customers via a single network. With the implementation of heterogeneous networks, operators will have a chance to divide the whole network into various slices, each with its individual configuration and QoS (Quality of Service) requirements.
In a network that is slice-based, every slice will be seen as a different logical network. This will not only minimize the risk of introducing and running new services but will also support relocation since new architectures or technologies can be inaugurated on isolated slices. It will also have a positive impact on the network security. If a cyber-attack ruptures one slice, the damage is restricted to just one slice and is not able to spread further. This way, the resource allocation and infrastructure utilization will be much more cost and energy efficient as compared to a traditional network.
Ericsson, along with Japan’s NTT DOCOMO, has been working on networking slicing since September 2014. In June 2016, the two companies introduced successful evidence of the concept of dynamic network slicing technology in 5G networks. They could create a slice management operation and network slices on the basis of capacity, latency and security requirements through wireless engineering.
Network Slicing in 5G is still in its research stage and both NGMN and 3GPP have been working to develop the description and make use of cases. In November of 2016, the 5G Americas Industry Association introduced a white paper that discusses the role of network slicing and the basic requirements of the 5G Networks; it offers a description of an end-to-end system framework to build personalized network slices and also presents an outline of the functional aspects of network slicing. In addition, it looks at the opportunities for operators.
Advanced network slicing is also being tested in China. China Telecom Shanghai and Huawei declared the successful implementation of their access network slicing solution at a trial and testing site. For the solution, the OTL (optimal line terminal) hardware is shared by services via network slicing and every segment is isolated from one another. This way, network security and service reliability are guaranteed, power consumption is minimized, equipment room space economizes, and physical resources can be independently managed and flexibly configured based on user’s demands. Moreover, various services can be run, operated, managed and maintained independently while improving device utilization and accomplishing business success.
However, there is no definitive indication of when network slicing will be available commercially.