A group of about a dozen vendors announced this week that a test program for 5G network slicing had achieved 70% gains in the time required to programmatically create a network slice, marking a major step forward in the development of private 5G for enterprise users.
A network “slice,” as it’s called, is essentially a logically distinct subnetwork in a 5G deployment that can be used for a variety of purposes to maximise bandwidth use and provide on-demand 5G services to users. The basic idea is that automation in the 5G core can apply a layer of virtualisation to wireless networks, letting a service provider “slice” off parts of its available spectrum and provide them to a customer as a discrete network.
The test deployment used cloud-native network functionality provided by Enea, Oracle and Casa Systems, and orchestration systems from Nokia and Red Hat. Security was provided by Palo Alto, and active monitoring by Emblasoft. Services ran on Red Hat OpenShift, on hardware supplied by Intel, Nokia and HPE. The radio access network (RAN) was provided by Ericsson and Huawei, and the project as a whole was overseen by Norwegian state telecom company Telenor.
Enea senior director of technology Oliver Korfmacher said that most network slicing is done manually — either by a single vendor controlling all the moving parts or by multiple vendors having to coordinate everything ahead of time.
Interface standardisation key for 5G network slicing
“The success in this Telenor-led project was to expose and standardise all of the necessary interfaces and agree with 11 vendors … both the standard interfaces and automation steps (from repositories to deployment and verification,” he said.
While the network was actually deployed and tested via live radios — using the 3.5GHz or C-band spectrum — the focus here was on network core functionality, according to a spokesperson for Telenor.
“[This project] demonstrates automating the management of network slicing in a mobile 5G core with several suppliers involved,” the spokesperson said. “This is a key condition for network slicing to work in practice, as the configuration has to be automated to support self-service.”
Enea’s Korfmacher said that, in contrast to time-consuming manual testing and verification, a key achievement here was deploying a separate network core in a programmatic way.
“An example of the success of this project is to fully automate and configure the 5G [user plane function] destination to the radio and deploy the small new mini-core … in minutes, including network configuration.”