Network slicing and 5G and wireless, oh my!

Nick Chase - June 28, 2017 -

If you’re not in the telecom business, you probably haven’t given much thought to the upcoming 5G standard, except perhaps to wonder when your phone will have faster data. But the time is coming when you may find yourself immersed in it — not just because it’s on your phone, but because it’s everywhere, and it affects every industry you deal with on a daily basis.

Let’s set expectations up front, however: as of this writing, there is no “5G Standard”. There’s lots of work going on, and there have been a few trials, but there isn’t anything definitively settled yet.

That said, there are a few things that you should know.

5G is going to be much faster than anything we have now, with much less latency.

Current cellular speeds hover around 4-12 Mbps, with peak download speeds of 50 Mbps if you’re lucky.  According to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance, 5G should be able to achieve 100 Mbps in metropolitan areas. As far as latency, the European Commission‘s Horizon 2020 suggests that in order to be successful, 5G should target latency of 5 ms — significantly faster than the average 120 ms seen in a study of 4G carriers.

Considering that you’ll be able to download a movie in about 4 seconds, you might even find yourself wanting to use your 5G connection rather than your home wifi.

5G is going to be more complicated than what we have now, with many more pieces.

Whereas current cellular technologies rely on the periodic cell tower to provide signal, that’s not going to be practical for 5G, for a number of reasons.  First off, the spectrum that’s been allocated for 5G is such that it has a much shorter range than current technologies, so instead of one big tower every few miles, 5G will involve many, many, smaller routers in various places. For example, a business might have several 5G routers on its premises, enabling nearby employees to transmit data to each other at as much as 1GB/sec.

5G will also have to accommodate as many as 100 devices per square meter — without increasing latency — in order to be practical for serving the exploding Internet of Things. As latency is a function of processing power, it will be necessary to inject additional power into the network.

5G is going to be more like the physical networks we have now, in that it will be more programmable.

The last few years have seen an explosion in networking power due to Software Defined Networking (SDN), and more recently, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). For the most part, however, these capabilities have been limited to physical networks — as in, non-wireless based.

In 5G, we’ll have the opportunity to change that. Here at Mirantis, we’ve joined the 5G Transformer project, which is working on bringing SDN and NFV to the 5G space, making it possible to create programmable virtual wireless networks on top of physical wireless networks, just as we’ve been creating programmable virtual networks on top of physical networks in the wired space.

That’s where network slicing comes in.

What is network slicing?

In the OpenStack world, we’re used to partitioning a single network into multiple virtual networks, using them to isolate traffic from each other in order to provide multiple users and clients with their own network. We’re also used to creating different levels of service for different users, such as using different flavors for instances or volumes.

Network slicing enables us to do both. With network slicing, we can create different virtual networks that provide different levels of performance and different SLAs. For example, a hospital’s personnel communications might have different technical requirements than a car company trying to run autonomous vehicles.

What is 5G Transformer?

The 5G Transformer project aims to create the technology necessary for making network slicing in 5G not just feasible, but standard. Its mission is to make it possible for various verticals to define standard “flavors” of network slices, called “customized Mobile Transport and Computing Platform (MTP) slices”. Companies should then be able to request these slices in a matter of minutes.

The project is also working on a Service Orchestrator that will handle federating and coordinating all of the resources needed to make these end-to-end connections work.

5G Transformer is focusing on 3 specific vertical industry use cases:

  • Automotive, including Autonomous Cruise Control (ACC) enforcement, Collaborative Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and Remote Vehicle Interaction (RVI)
  • Health care, including municipal emergency communication
  • Media, with a specific focus on applications for stadiums. (Several telecoms are poised to roll out 5G demos for the 2018 and 2020 Olympic games.)

When will we see 5G?

Mirantis works with a number of different telcos, and we have our hands deep into NFV, so we’ve had our eye on 5G for some time. That’s one reason we joined the 5G Transformer project. That said, it does tend to take about 10 years between “generations” of mobile data, which puts us on track for a 5G debut in 2022, but with demos expected to be rolling out for the next two Olympic Games, we may not have to wait that long.

Regardless, work has already begun, and it’s likely that we’ll be seeing the fruits of those labors sooner rather than later.

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