5G network slicing is a novelty for all stakeholders which makes research and testing invaluable. Image: Telenor

Telenor Research is leading the way to successful 5G network slicing

Telenor Research is working together with telecom equipment vendors, other operators, academics, and Norwegian defense and hospitals to ensure that 5G will really deliver on its promises. Why is it important to research a much-hyped 5G feature called network slicing?

Since 2019, DNA has been a part of Telenor Group, one of the largest operators in the Nordic countries and world's leading suppliers of IoT solutions. Telenor invests in strong Nordic co-operation and leveraging economies of scale for the benefit of its Nordic country organizations such as DNA. In practice this means sharing research findings and developing joint offering for the Nordic B2B customers. Through this collaboration, Telenor research services, research outcomes, and business insights are also available to DNA and its customers. Telenor Research is deeply involved in the development of 5G, and its future successor 6G. It has worked with 5G since 2012, and it started very early to explore network virtualization, which is needed for network slicing.

“In 2021, we are working with nine European 5G research projects. Many of them are looking at how to implement and validate 5G communication solutions for various industrial settings. Four projects are of particular importance since through them we learn a lot about how to implement network slicing, and how to work with and understand the needs of various industry verticals,” says Patrick Waldemar, Vice President and Head of the NextGen department in Telenor Research.

The slicing-related projects are called 5G-VINNI, 5G-SOLUTIONS, 5G-HEART and Fudge-5G. Telenor Research has been awarded the coordination role in 5G-VINNI. It is an EU project consisting of a consortium with 23 partners, and it has a budget of around 20 million euros.

“Over 100 man-years have been completed with 5G-VINNI already, so it is huge. The main point is to build a non-commercial test platform that can be used by vertical industries to validate that 5G KPIs are met,” Waldemar tells.

5G network slicing is a novelty for all stakeholders which makes research and testing invaluable. It may not be a trivial task to implement slicing, not even for telecom operators.

What is slicing and who can use it?

Slicing is one of the most hyped over features in 5G. What is it all about, and what makes it so interesting?

“It means the ability to deliver customers tailored and dedicated communications solutions. Slicing will benefit all use cases that require reliability, isolation, and guaranteed resources. For instance, it can be used for various emergency networks, IoT sensor networks, and private networks in defense and hospitals. In a smart city context, you can have a network slice for collecting sensor data to run public transport more efficiently,” Waldemar explains.

In technical terms, slicing means that from its physical network a mobile operator can separate lots of logical networks. Each logical network, or “slice”, is virtual, and can be operated separately from each other. A slice can guarantee that the customer’s application can benefit from 5G’s extreme speeds or ultra-low latencies, or function with a massive number of devices.

While slicing is an essential feature in 5G, it is yet to become commercially available. Waldemar estimates that this will start in 2022 after the newest upgrades on the 5G standardization roadmap are ready (3GPP releases 16 and 17). Also, fully functional slicing demands that the network is built on a so-called standalone version of 5G (5G SA), whereas current networks are built on a 4G-basis making them non-standalone (5G NSA).

“True network slicing is only possible in 5G SA, where we have the end-to-end liberty to change the composition, provisioning and the overall architecture of the network,” Waldemar says.

How to isolate slices in very sensitive use cases

Waldemar emphasizes that proper planning of the slice isolation requires extra care to ensure reliability, resources, and absolute security. To explore this aspect, Telenor Research has performed several practical use cases.

“In 5G-VINNI, we have implemented a security as a service solution and strong security model for the Norwegian defense running applications such as drone control and mission critical services. Our 5G system hosting the Norwegian defense services has very strict security zoning, which ensures slices are indeed isolated and well protected. In addition, the subscriber data management and traffic handing functions are completely isolated,” Waldemar says. The defense solution is very demanding, and it paves the way for solutions in other areas. A good example is a use case with a hospital in Oslo. It combines a private network for employees and a shared radio network between employees and patients with priority for employee traffic. The network is autonomous which ensures it will work if internet connectivity is lost.

“All of our international 5G projects have given us a lot of valuable insight, and they showcase how beneficial it is to perform research in a sandbox environment with various technology and business partners. When you work closely together and get direct feedback, it makes you realize how different views need to be considered to deliver what is expected. I’m really burning with excitement over the opportunities for cocreation that the projects give us,” Waldemar concludes.

 

Read more: 5G will multiply mobile network traffic – with high expectations for quality

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