What is 5G
network slicing?

Author: Gary Hilson

Moving to 5G isn't just about faster speed for apps and data. While that’s important, the technology offers another advantage: it can support network slicing. So what is 5G network slicing?

What is network slicing?

Let’s first start by explaining what network slicing is, more generally. Network slicing is a type of virtual networking technology in the same family of network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), which assist in evolving networks toward software-based automation.

Slicing creates logical, software-based partitions in a self-contained, virtualized environment that takes priority over physical components. Any available capacity of common resources, such as storage and processors, can then be redirected based on business needs.

Network slicing can enable your team to innovate, while they separate and prioritize mission-critical services over those that are less performance sensitive.

What is 5G network slicing?

Network slicing allows multiple logical networks to be created on top of a common shared physical network. Essentially this means segmenting parts of the network for different users and/or use cases. 4G and 5G lend themselves much more easily to being sliced, making the capability more accessible.

With 5G architectures in place, providers should someday be able to dedicate portions of their network to meet their customers' specific needs, scaling services up or down. Broadly, examples could include enabling the Internet of Things (IoT) in a manufacturing environment or connecting and operating autonomous vehicles in a transport fleet, or separating AI-driven video analytics from point-of-sale information in a retail environment. More specifically, a 5G network slice could support autonomous forklifts in a factory to help ensure communication, so that nearby factory workers remain safe even when there is a surge of communications traffic from other areas in the factory.

Diverse use cases are a key promise of the 5G era, not just the introduction of faster connectivity. The truly transformative elements of 5G will be in the details that emerge from building on this faster connectivity, and from connecting AI and IoT to (eventually) the artful slicing of a network to better serve the needs of users.

Considerations for effective 5G network slicing deployment

So now that you have an understanding of what 5G network slicing is, and the potential benefits that 5G network slicing can deliver, it is important to understand there can be some potential challenges.

For example, your team will need to ensure that applications are aligned to the right service level—and therefore network slice—and measure the actual performance to see that it delivers.

Another potential challenge lies in deciding how many slices are adequate for customers' service needs. Overprovisioning or underprovisioning slices could create unnecessary complexities in managing a customer’s overall network and operations.

Building a cross-discipline team

Because you're creating separate virtual networks, early adopters of 5G network slicing (when available) will need to leverage network specialists who are comfortable with SDN and NFV to help implement the mobile network slicing. These two processes are foundational elements that efficiently merge physical infrastructure with virtual resources.

Because each partition has unique requirements, security is more critical than ever. It's wise to follow traditional cybersecurity best practices, especially when combining new paradigms specific to mobile network slicing.

Even though network slicing and 5G are still in the early stages, seed your team with a mix of expertise and knowledge. Varied skills will be essential when establishing early applications and metrics to understand how well it's working for your organization and your customers. And because the bulk of architecture and maintenance will fall on the network provider, choosing the right partner will prove an essential step in building a solid team.

Now that you have an answer to the question, what is 5G network slicing, to help build an effective 5G implementation and keep your team more agile, network slicing can become a critical tool that should magnify the difference between 4G and 5G.

Learn more about Verizon 5G and how network solutions can help you build a more efficient business.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.

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