End-to-end 5G Network Slicing: Key to Digital Transformation

Release Date:2018-02-05  Author:By Huang Yan  Click:

5G brings challenges to existing networks in terms of technologies and business models. Due to the limitations of the legacy network capabilities, network requirements for various industries can only be solved by creating dedicated networks. With the legacy silo architecture, networks become more and more complicated and O&M increasingly difficult. High investments and low efficiency restrict the industry development and business opportunities.
The development and applications of virtualization, SDN and cloud computing make it possible for vertical applications to run in the isolated 5G network slices that are created on top of a common infrastructure. 5G network slicing will produce new business models, and promote the digital transformation of industry and society.

E2E Network Slicing to Support Diverse 5G Scenarios  

5G scenarios such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low-latency communications (uRLLC) and massive machine type communication (mMTC) have different requirements in terms of bandwidth, mobility, security, latency, reliability and charging. Creating a dedicated network for each service will lead to high costs for network construction and increasingly complicated O&M. Network slicing will effectively solve these problems. 

ZTE’s E2E 5G network slicing technology (Fig. 1) enables operators to create multiple virtual networks over the same physical infrastructure. The virtual networks provide various telecom services and network capabilities to support diverse 5G scenarios. ZTE’s network slicing technology has the following characteristics:
● Resource sharing to reduce costs and enhance efficiency: Multiple network slices running on a common network infrastructure greatly reduce construction cost, improve utilization of network resources, and shorten time-to-market.
● Logically isolated to ensure security and reliability: The network slices are isolated from each other and each slice is self-contained. The failure on one slice does not adversely affect the operation of other slices. 
● Customizable and elastic: Network slicing is based on a cloud native, service-oriented architecture and enables customized network slices for different scenarios. With real-time monitoring of slice performance, network resources can be dynamically allocated to different slices, which helps fulfill SLAs.
● Implemented in an end-to-end manner to fully meet the diverse service requirements: A network slice instance covers multiple domains of the network (terminal, access network, transport network and core network). 

E2E Network Slicing to Meet Differentiated Network Demands

While constructing end-to-end network slice, the network capabilities of each domain can be configured separately and adjusted on demand. As a result, the end-to-end bandwidth, QoS and security can be fully guaranteed.  

Access Network

Network slicing is achieved by implementing decoupling and network function reconstruction. MEC is utilized to improve user experience. 
Decoupling not only refers to the separation of radio resource allocation from service requests (network parameters such as QoS, GBR, and ARP are used to achieve loose coupling between services and resources), but also refers to the separation of the hardware and software functions within an access network. After the decoupling, the BBU is reconstructed into two functional entities: the centralized unit (CU) and distributed unit (DU). The CU provides non real-time processing functions, while the DU provides real-time processing functions, which allows for real-time performance optimization, on-demand scheduling of the network resources and the slicing of access network.
MEC introduces the virtualized service platform to the wireless network, which effectively moves the service anchor towards the edge, shortens the service response time, and pushes computing capabilities to the edge nodes. By tapping into local content and real-time radio network information, it accelerates the delivery of contents, services and applications, thereby reducing core network traffic and improving service environment and user experience.

Transport Network 

Network slicing in transport network is enabled by the SDN-based IP/optical integration.  
Resource allocation and security isolation in transport networks are critical to the end-to-end network slicing. With ZTE’s end-to-end network slicing, SDN is used to provide connectivity among clouds, which helps achieve multi-tenant WAN and cross-site VM migration, automatic service adaption, and end-to-end orchestration using open APIs. In addition, SDN backbone networks can achieve synergy between the IP and optical layers, automatically adjust bandwidth and SLAs on-demand, optimize traffic scheduling by using the global view of the network, and reduce transmission cost.

Core Network

It is based on a service-oriented cloud native architecture to enable flexible and on-demand construction of slices. 
ZTE’s 5G core network is based on a cloud native microservice architecture that allows for network function re-configuration. It has three features. The first feature is application componentization. An application is divided into a set of microservice components with each microservice supporting a specific function. These components can be used as building blocks to create network slices on demand. The second one is a stateless and hierarchical design, which separates applications from data, and provides more elasticity and better fault tolerance. The third is lightweight virtualization. Containers are a form of lightweight virtualization that provides rapid scale in/out and high performance. Cloud native applications are deployed in containers to achieve better resource utilization and rapid delivery and agile maintenance of services.
Carrier-Grade DevOps for Network Slicing 

As there will be a large number of different network slices in the 5G era, automation of network slice design, deployment and maintenance will directly affect the speed of service innovation and exploitation of business opportunities.
ZTE’s Carrier DevOps Builder is the world’s first commercial carrier-grade DevOps environment, which provides end-to-end automatic slice O&M. It has the following characteristics: 
● Wizard-based development: It supports a wizard-based graphical interface, components drag-and-drop, and rich slice templates to enable quick design of network slices and easily complete the self-definition from network function (NF) to network service (NS) to 5G network slices.
● E2E orchestration, minute-level launch: One-key deployment enables new services to be quickly applied to the network. The online intelligent inspection module guarantees the correctness before service on-boarding. E2E resource orchestration and coordination is supported vertically over the layers of application, network and physical resource, and horizontally over different domains (access, transport and core). Real-time monitoring for slice status, and automatic coordination can guarantee the service quality of network. 
● AI-driven O&M: The network slicing orchestration system can perceive the resource status and makes decisions according to predefined policies, thus achieving true, zero-touch automation. 
The complete DevOps O&M model makes it possible to achieve rapid service innovation and network intelligence.


Facing the complicated 5G scenarios, it is difficult for any information service provider to provide all the information services; therefore, an open and convergent industrial ecosystem is particularly important. Operators, vendors and vertical industries need to cooperate with each other to supply efficient and diversified network services to users. As one of the leaders in network cloudification, after launching the industry’s first commercial cloud native Carrier DevOps Builder, ZTE keeps optimizing its application scenarios and verifying its commercialization capability. ZTE has cooperated with global leading operators, such as Wind Tre, Open Fiber, Orange and Telefonica, to build 5G pre-commercial networks and to test key 5G enabling technologies, pushing forward the digital transformation of society.

[Keywords] 5G, Network Slicing, digital transformation, DevOps


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