As the technology curve shifted from legacy circuit switched network to IP 3G Era, the very first challenge was quality experience by properly utilizing network resources. Quality of Service (QoS) concept offered solution for reliable delivery of different traffic flows. Packet Loss, delays, throughput, priority, bitrate, bandwidth etc. were key drivers in QoS mechanism. But within no time, 4G introduced ubiquity and diversity. Adaptive multimedia traffic had different QoS requirements and posed new challenges related to signaling overhead, bandwidth allocation, data integrity, security etc. Network congestion was soon the resultant of juggling between fairness of bandwidth, cost effective utilization of resources, user mobility in heterogeneous networks and quality experience. No doubt, QoS laid the ground for shaping traffic and managing network resources, but with aggressively soaring use cases, something more is required. What is that more?
Maybe 5G is the answer. 5G is not just about new radio, but a mindset change in core network layout as well. 5G Network Slicing is heart of the matter. It is about “harnessing QoS power” with better network resource utilization architecture. Slicing in one line, is a pool of end to end network resources that can serve a traffic flow in a confined fashion as opposed to big pool of resources shared in contending manner.
Slicing is retro in the sense of providing dedicated resources at service level but at the same time forward looking, as it can handle multitude of traffic with predictable differentiated QoS dynamically. Pod/container/slice is powerful not only because it can create separation for services but also because it can expand and shrink at run time as per the need. It is totally logical and virtual in essence.
The potential is endless; addressing network bandwidth congestion issues, packet loss, delay, sequencing, jitter, throughput, and quality is one aspect advantage. Sliced QoS concept seems capable of providing non-discriminatory and enriched user experience in coherent fashion. As an example, there can be distinct QoS for slices serving football streaming vs Facebook browsing in a family shared plan. In case of mobile device, a delay sensitive QoS profile can be applied for gaming console app and can switch to best effort QoS profile for browsing and so on.
A dream use case for some operators is where can do market segmentation based QoS. Network slicing makes this possible. Slicing is flexible, modular, and resilient at the same time. Slicing offers multi-dimensional opportunity for operators to create better QoS and revenue models. To exemplify, where one vertical can include traffic type including voice, video, messaging, MIoT, VR, AR, connected devices, location, time based, OTT, reseller, shared plans, sponsored data, roaming, SOS, URL specific cases like Netflix etc. On the other side can be industries like medical, automotive, pharmaceuticals, retail, energy, equipment, and home devices, aerospace and so on.
Slicing can also emerge as impactful tool for realizing great real time guaranteed QoS driven use cases like remote surgeries; remote safety monitoring, weather etc. that can be a technology boon to humankind.
Forecast shows in near future, more than 75% of traffic will be multimedia based and massive IoT. It’s pretty clear –“5G is about society on internet”. Download speed with magnitude of gigabits per second and milliseconds latency will become the new normal soon. Such traffic will be bandwidth demanding all the time. Analytics can be useful mainstream tool to help create smart QoS profiles for using resources effectively. Low overhead protocols and agile infrastructure will be a MUST. While slice itself looks promising for delivering quality, it will be interesting to see how will slicing blur or separate the packet/transaction/user/end-to-end like QoS levels as created in 4G networks; will signaling and handshake overhead reduce and create room for better quality of service?; and how about handovers to legacy networks?
As the concept matures, clarity will find its way. But for sure, QoS is indispensable. Evolving, Expanding and Experimenting is the way ahead to enable 5G to deliver on its potential. Industry leaders are predicting that 5G will enable a real-time society where driverless cars, telemedicine and connected cities are not just possible but are the new normal. One thing is for sure, with 5G enabling such mission critical use cases being able to dynamically manage QoS will be fundamental.