What is Network Slicing, and How Does it Work With 5G?


Within the world of 5G, the virtualization and centralization of resources are key components of cost-efficient, low-latency networking across all environments. 

In this blog, you’ll learn more about what network slicing is, how it works, and how it fits within 5G technology.

What is network slicing?

Network slicing is a virtual network architecture that creates multiple virtual networks on top of a single, shared physical network, allowing for greater network flexibility. 

The multiple virtual networks that are created will support multiple radio access networks (RANs), or different service types running across a single RAN. This is also a part of network function virtualization (NFV). 

Each slice of a network has its own logical network functions, security rules, and performance characteristics–within the limits imposed by the underlying physical networks, that is. 

Different slices can be dedicated to different use cases. Each slice will also have its own network architecture, engineering mechanics, and network provisioning. Management capabilities will be controlled independently by either the network operator or the customer depending upon the situation. 

How does network slicing work?

Network slicing is as old as virtual local area networks (vLANs)–virtual LANs connecting together devices that share one physical LAN. 

Network slicing has become more popular with the rise of networking that uses software controllers to communicate with hardware and direct traffic, also known as software defined networking (SDN). 

SDN separates a network’s control plane, which controls how the data is forwarded, from the data plane, which actually forwards the data.

The control plane can define virtual networks by defining the rules for handling data packets and pushing those rules out to the data plane to be executed. 

Data plane control is applicable to both physical and virtual network devices managed under an SDN controller, a physical switch in a rack or virtual switch on a virtual machine. 

After the network slices are created, each one is optimized to provide the resources and network topology for the specific service and traffic that will be using the slice. 

Additionally, each network is completely isolated so that no slice can interfere with traffic in another slice.

This has three major benefits:

  1. It helps to lower the risk of introducing and running more than one service on the same slice. 
  2. It allows new technologies and architectures to spread to and run on separate slices. 
  3. It enhances security, preventing a cyberattack on one slice from spreading to other slices. 

Functions like speed, capacity, connectivity, and coverage will be distributed to meet the particular demands of each use case. 

The user experience of the network slice will be the same as that of a physically separate network.

How does network slicing work?After the network slices are created, each one is optimized to provide the resources and network topology for the specific service and traffic that will be using the slice. 

How does network slicing fit within 5G technology?

Network slicing is critical to 5G because earlier generations such as 4G did not support it. 

The primary role of network slicing within 5G technology is to partition and virtualize the core network. 

Network slicing applies the same principles of virtualization across the entire provider network architecture to deliver meaningful results for customers, like a minimal amount of throughput or priority delivery of data packets from specific types of devices or applications. 

A 5G network operator can physically segregate traffic on different radio networks, slice a single network, or combine the capacity of multiple networks and slice the pooled resources. 

These capabilities allow network operators to support their target levels of spectrum efficiency, traffic capacity, and connection density–how many devices can connect from a given space.

There are three main types of 5G service that use network slicing: Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC), and Ultrareliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC). 

Let’s take a look at each: 

  1. eMBB: This provides mobile data access to dense collections of users, highly mobile users, and users spread over wide areas. It relies on features such as large arrays of multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) antennas and the combination of spectra starting with conventional 4G wavelengths and stretching into the millimeter band. 
  2. mMTC: These services are built to serve massive numbers of devices in a small area with the expectation that they generate little data and can tolerate high latency. Additionally, the specifications require that sending and receiving data requires little power, so that devices can have long battery lives.
  3. URLLC: This uses 5G to deliver secure communications with latencies of 1 millisecond (ms) and high reliability with minimal data packet loss. This is achieved through a combination of physical device optimizations on MIMO antenna assemblies, simultaneous manipulation of multiple frequency bands, packet coding and processing techniques, and optimized signal handling. 

What are the benefits of network slicing?

At a high level, network slicing maximizes the flexibility of 5G networks, optimizing the utilization of the infrastructure and allocation of resources. 

Let’s take a look at some more benefits in detail: 

  1. Increased scalability, flexibility, and cost savings by enabling more services to be offered at the same time with as few or as many resources needed, as virtualization eliminates dedicated and specialized hardware 
  2. Increased demand for products and services that can be brought to market quickly and be easily adopted as workloads change and evolve, which, in turn, leads to more revenue for operators
  3. Peak performance and maximum return on investment, as the most complex requirements can be met within a short time with full use of all available resources

Network slicing use cases

Network slicing has three major use cases: real-time performance, capacity, and security. 

Let’s take a look at each: 

Real-time performance 

For example, let’s say army personnel needed a 5G network for autonomous vehicle management. They might require a mobile network slice with extremely low latency, strict guarantees of data packet delivery, and minimum throughput required for responsive control.

Whoever provides the 5G network would use URLLC functionality to guarantee the slice on the lowest-latency equipment and paths between vehicles and cloud or edge resources and reserve enough capacity to meet the throughput target. 

Capacity

For example, let’s say there’s a security monitoring system in a military base. Though latency may not matter, military personnel using the system may want guaranteed delivery of large amounts of data coming into the camera with no packets dropped. 

Whoever provides the system might aggregate multiple connectivity and device processing operations to meet the needs of this slice. 

Security

For example, let’s say that a server used for applications for command and control is sitting in a data center.

Military personnel using the server will want to ensure that all data coming into, stored inside, and going out of the server is secured and isolated from being accessed and/or compromised by unauthorized personnel. 

Whoever provides the server would want to ensure that each slice has virtualized and secured single-user resources. 

Network slicing use casesNetwork slicing has three major use cases: real-time performance, capacity, and security. 

Network slicing and Trenton Systems

Trenton’s line of 5G-powered high-performance computing solutions enable virtualized, low-latency, bidirectional networking in the harshest of communications-denied and -contested environments. 

Our IES.5G, for example, is equipped with network slicing features to create independent networks from the same physical network, each with distinct service level configurations.

This will help to deliver critical, actionable insights in real-time, increasing situational awareness and shortening response times. 

Backed by hardware-based security and networking technologies from Intel® and Radysis®, we help enhance 5G connectivity across all domains with maximum compute, security, storage, and intelligence. 

Final thoughts

Network slicing is a vital component of enabling rapid, flexible, and cost-effective 5G connectivity at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels. 

Through extensive virtualization and individualized resource allocation, network slicing helps to optimize performance in real-time, greatly increases throughout, and enhances security at the edge. 

In partnership with Intel® and Radysis®, Trenton Systems stands at the forefront of 5G technology, providing government, military, and critical infrastructure personnel with a life-saving advantage. 

With solutions like the IES.5G, we offer ruggedization, future-proof performance, advanced cybersecurity, and unmatched reliability at the edge. 

Want to learn more about our network slicing capabilities? Feel free to reach out to us anytime here 

Team Trenton is at your service. 🙂





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