How Network Slicing works and why it is key to 5G

Network Slicing is key to making 5G networks more flexible and providing specific capabilities to different services and customers.

3 min

The integration of 5G networks into our lives is progressing rapidly. According to findings of a report published by the GSA (Global Mobile Suppliers Association), as of June 2021, these networks were commercially available in 58 countries.

This is a major technological deployment with unimaginable possibilities where Network Slicing architecture will be essential in optimising infrastructure utilisation and resource allocation. 

What is Network Slicing technology? 

According to the Association of Mobile Carriers and Operators, this technology:

“…allows multiple logical networks to be run as virtually independent business operations on a single common physical infrastructure, efficiently and cost-effectively”

In other words, it is a form of architecture that offers the possibility of creating several customised virtual networks on a common shared physical infrastructure, depending on the specific needs of applications, services, devices, customers or carriers. 

Hence the allusion to “slicing”, as mobile carriers will be able to implement network segmentation to create multiple virtual networks with different connectivity sizes, adapting to the connection needs of different users. 

How does it work and why is it key to the development of 5G technology?

Broadly speaking, within the Network Slicing concept, each virtual network (or portion of the network) encompasses an independent set of logical network functions (software) that support the requirements of the particular use case.

Each will be optimised to provide the network resources and mathematical rationale for the service and traffic to be used in this “slice”. 

In the case of 5G technology, capacity, connectivity, variety, speed and coverage will be allocated to meet the specific demands of each use case. That said, functional components can also be shared through different “network slices”. 

In any case, they will be completely isolated with their own architecture, engineering mechanism and network provisioning. This means no “slice” interferes with the traffic of the other slices. The upshot is found in the following advantages

  • Reduced risk when introducing and implementing new services. 
  • Easier migrations, because new technologies or architectures can be implemented in isolated slices. 
  • Increased security; if a cyber-attack breaks a slice, the threat is contained and cannot spread beyond that slice. 

Naturally, this network segmentation will provide the flexibility to give each user the bandwidth, speed and latency they need to carry out their activities. In this respect, it should be borne in mind that the connection needs of a high school student are not the same as a factory 4.0 with hundreds of connected devices, improving both the scaling and the elasticity of the network.

What’s more, Network Slicing will help support the multitude of use cases and new services that will come with 5G networks, optimising functionality, performance and overall costs. 

It should be noted that progress on this issue is well underway. Here Telefónica is leading the research in collaboration with Cisco and the University of Vigo, carrying out a 5G Network Slicing pilot test in order to demonstrate how flexible 5G networks can provide specific capabilities to different services and customers.


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