SK Telecom and Ericsson to work on ‘network slicing’ for 5G

via Flickr © pj_vanf (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © pj_vanf (CC BY 2.0)

Another week and, no doubt, another smattering of 5G collaboration announcements, some more earth-shattering than others. This one might be significant. South Korea’s SK Telecom has announced today that it has signed up with Ericsson to collaborate on the development of a 5G core network that deploys network slicing technology.

Network Slicing is a mechanism that could be used by operators to support multiple ‘virtual’ networks behind the air interface (or, more likely, air interfaces) across the fixed part of the mobile operator’s network, both backhaul and core. This involves ‘slicing’ the network into multiple virtual networks to support different RANs or different service types running across a single RAN.

This approach is necessary if 5G is to meet its technical requirements because, unlike its predecessors, 5G is about diversity of use case and underlying cost requirements. The network has to provide oodles of low-cost bandwidth at one end of the spectrum, as it were, while also providing low-power, low speed IoT connections, video streaming optimised services and the oft-mentioned low latency, high speed, ultra-reliable premium services -  the ones that are not only going to keep us alive at home as we get older but help us actually reach a venerable age by stopping our driverless cars powering into each other at speed.

Those highly differentiated characteristics not only have to be supported across the radio portion of the network (possibly through  a heterogeneous array of different radio networks), but just as importantly, nurtured on their different data journeys.  The complexity inherent in providing this sort of differential treatment means that what at first sight might seem to be a slightly different technological project - SDN (Software Defined Networks) and NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation) - is actually key to the entire 5G effort. In fact 5G may turn out to be THE key driver for serious adoption of SDN/NFV in telecoms.

SK Telecom and Ericsson have agreed to develop and deploy network slicing technology optimised for 5G services. This involves continuing their existing partnership to build  a joint 5G test bed. They point out in the press release, that “designing and implementing a single 5G network architecture that can satisfy [its] diverse service requirements [is] one of the most challenging tasks.”

To get them there, the  two companies say they plan to build the world’s first 5G ready ‘Hyperscale Data Center System’ which guarantees high performance and reliability for IT and virtualized telco services.

“Virtual network architecture, including network slicing, is critical to supporting new services in the era of 5G,” says Alex Jinsung Choi, CTO at SK Telecom in a canned statement. “We will build an optimal network for a wide array of services from the overall end-to-end standpoint, and pioneer the evolution of innovative networks.”

Ulf Ewaldsson, CTO at Ericsson, concurs:  “Network slicing, based on virtual Evolved Packet Core, is an important part of the technology evolution of 5G, supporting operators with a new, broader set of services. We look forward to bringing 5G to life together with SK Telecom.”

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