Nokia brings slicing of radio, transport, core networks ‘step-by-step’ into private LTE / 5G
Network slicing – across the radio, the transport, and the core network – is coming to both private LTE and private 5G setups, Nokia has said. The Finnsh vendor is trialling its new slicing functionality with a trio of mobile network operators, including A1 in Austria and Telia in Sweden, in their public macro networks. These firms are providing slices for enterprises in the rail, shipping, aviation, and oil and gas sectors. It claims a number of non-public references, alongside.
Nokia said the functionality will be offered with its private edge-based LTE and 5G solutions in due course, following an initial launch with operator customers in the summer. Mika Uusitalo, head of new technologies and innovations at Nokia, said: “We are living in very exciting times, as we speak. We are talking about it mostly in relation to the wide-area LTE and 5G network, but it is merging step by step into private environments, as well.”
Nokia’s solution, in testing since September, announced in February, supports connectivity from 4G and 5G devices over a sliced network to applications running in private and public clouds. It enables operators – followed by enterprises with their own private wireless installations – to slice single mobile networks into multiple virtual networks for dedicated applications. It is being readied ahead of 3GPP-specified slicing in the core network, which will be available some time after 2022.
The new functionality can be deployed via a software upgrade into existing LTE and 5G non-standalone (NSA) networks, and subsequently into 5G standalone (SA) networks. It works with Nokia’s radio access products, as well as its transport and core solutions. “The network is sliced in the radio, the transport, and the core, so traffic is isolated from internet traffic end-to-end,” explained Uusitalo.
He continued: “It means you can isolate data traffic from a group of enterprise devices in the radio, and map these onto their own transport path, also isolated, and into the edge cloud. And then associate certain capabilities with the slice, like network performance, service quality, any kind of security capabilities. Operators can also create, delete, and modify slices, fast – in a minute – and verify the slice, as well, to provide reporting and monitoring SLAs for the enterprise – so they know they’re getting what they paid for.”
The basic functionality exists, already, including allocation of radio resources and radio-scheduling for the quality-of-service prioritisation of sliced traffic, alongside other scheduling for internet traffic. “The foundation is there, already. Not all the bells and whistles, or full blown automation, but the basics are there to isolate and separate internet and business-critical traffic.” He explained the theory in the radio slicing.
Uusitalo said: “When we create a slice, it has its own radio functionality compared to the internet. That radio slice consists of two types of functionality: one is the radio-air interface functionality and the other is the radio transport functionality, inside the radio – the ethernet interface in the base station which goes into the transport network. That is the combination: radio air-interface and radio-transport in the RAN.”
The slice prioritisation in the radio is “mapped” into the transport network, and routed to the edge cloud. “We are tying together parts of the functionality in order to create the slice. The operator has a dashboard user-interface, called the radio slice control, to create LTE, 5G NSA, 5G SA slices, all from the same place – to create a slice with relevant air-interface parameters and transport parameters, and push it to the database to put it live for, say, 50 base stations.”
The deployment with A1 in Austria is being used by national rail company Österreichische BB (ÖBB) and as part of a “campus area slice-testing” with Siemens. ÖBB wants a slice of the public network to “track and control trains”, said Uusitalo. But customers and use cases are multiplying, he suggested, and being used for “pragmatic” ends. “We have airports and seaports, and an operator customer working with an oil company to offer a slice to gas stations. Customers are looking at smart traffic applications, to get video from cameras to backend systems.”
He said: “Operators and enterprises is very pragmatic – and not just for mission-critical operations. One customer wants a slice just for conferencing systems. In factory environments, they want slicing to monitor how the factory is working, or to run surveillance cameras, and things like that. It does not necessarily mean you put process automation onto these 5G slices, because that will require extremely critical communications.”
The availability of slicing changes the landscape, potentially, for both sides, Nokia reckons, with enterprises no longer required in theory to hive off spectrum from the public operators at great expense, as with various public safety offerings. At the same time, industrial-grade private cellular still requires densification of edge-based comms and compute networks, to guarantee service availability, reliability, and latency.
Stephane Dauble, head of marketing for enterprise solutions at Nokia, explained: “Folks in logistics, say, will probably achieve what they want just with slicing, in a relatively cost effective way – rather than having to do a secure MVNO like with these public safety networks. They can get the same thing with software, effectively. On the industrial side, I don’t think it changes much, to be honest. Because it’s all about the range and quality of coverage – and most industrial sites are not in great coverage from public networks.”
In January, Ericsson introduced 5G RAN slicing to help guarantee private 5G for industry. The capability works with radio slicing of public 5G networks, for carriers to offer and guarantee virtual private (or ‘dedicated’) mobile networks; it also works with radio slicing of dedicated and hybrid private networks, using privately-licensed spectrum managed by enterprises themselves, or by mobile operators or other system integrators.
Asked to rate Nokia’s offer with slicing, versus its old rivals in the market, Uusitalo commented: “I don’t want to comment on competitors. I am focused on what we are doing. But we launched this end-to-end slicing solution for 4G and 5G a year ago, covering the radio, transport, and core networks. And we now have multiple trials, and public references, testing together with operators and enterprises. I have not seen the same from our competitors.”