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New 5G Functions Will Really Enhance 5G (SA) Network Slicing Capability

November 15, 2021 - David McGlew

Network slicing is probably the most referenced use case to highlight how 5G differs from 4G. With standalone 5G hype is closer to reality.

Network slicing is probably the most referenced use case to highlight how 5G differs from 4G. So we‘re clear, Network Slicing is where all the network resources, including RAN and core network functions, required to fulfil end-to-end service coupled with individual network resources, are shared or dedicated to a particular slice. The reality was that when 5G was first launched in a non-standalone (5G NSA) format, examples of network slicing were more likely to be seen inside a lab environment rather than in a widely available commercial context. With the launch of standalone 5G the hype becomes closer to reality.     

5G standalone (SA) cloud native service platforms make it more possible for service providers to ‘Platformise’ their Network Functions (NFs) and provide secure access to 3rd party enterprises. This will play a crucial role in enabling service providers to offer innovative services, entering new markets and better facilitate new partnerships. Opening the network and enabling external control of the network enables innovation. The software layer which sits on top of the network will allow operators to work with a whole host of partner types and their varying requirements: from enterprise customers to hyperscale’s. This will result in not only new services but brand-new business models for the market. Individual slices will have different characteristics including quality of services (QoS) and latency, with individual devices able to access multiple slices simultaneously.  Operators can, if they choose to do so, create thousands of virtual, independent networks within the same physical network. The bulk of these will probably come from industries such as logistics, manufacturing and automotive.

What other 5G Functions will be important to enabling the commercialisation of these 5G slices?

Acknowledging that there are multiple elements required to create a network slice, some components are 5G functions which just make 5G connectivity work. Others are more involved in unlocking the revenue potential of the network. Components, such as Policy, Charging, digital front ends and new 5G functions, such as NEF (Network Exposure Function) and NWDAF (Network Data Analytics Function), enable the innovation and monetisation which differentiates 5G SA from 4G.  NEF and NWDAF in particular, are new, 5G-driven network functions and will play an important role in enabling this 3rd party collaboration and innovation. 

NEF plays a key role in linking external B2B and B2B2X Application Functions (AFs) with the relevant network functions so they can configure and deliver products and services, in real time. It provides a bridge which allows CSPs to create the real-time technical bonding that permits trusted 3rd parties to define, create, deploy and monetise services for a wide variety of innovative applications. 

NWDAF is a 5G Core network function that collects and provides access to past and present data from other network functions that are part of the 5G Core. It has many applications. For instance, NWDAF data may be used to monitor compliance of individual Network Slice instances to guarantee Service-Level Agreement (SLA) quality and performance parameters. Operators will be able to use NWDAF information to both proactively predict changes in performance of a network slice and to pre-emptively reallocate resources to avoid missing SLA’s.

This is where the “rubber hits the road” with 5G. As service providers create their own instances of network slicing, they can not only leverage both NEF and NWDAF themselves to ensure superior performance, but also to help their enterprise and hyperscale Cloud provider (HCP) partners to leverage that network functionality to create their own value. It’s opening up this capability to 3rd parties which will drive real innovation and move 5G beyond the 3GPP standards to release the substantial value which 5G is being predicted to bring. 

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