As 5G moves from theory to reality, the pressure on network and operations teams to deliver on the promised flexibility, particularly around network slicing, is gathering momentum. However, implementing slicing requires communications service providers (CSPs) to radically re-invent network architectures, functions and processes.
In 2017, TM Forum’s 5G service operations Catalyst addressed the challenges operators face as they prepare for 5G network slicing, specifically how to manage slices end to end across digital ecosystems. However, that work was based on assumptions about 5G standards that had not yet been agreed. Now, with real interfaces available in the first version of Release 15 of the 5G New Radio (NR) specifications, the Catalyst has expanded into two teams:
The service operations Catalyst concentrates on the practicalities of working with slices and answering the challenge of dynamically changing operational needs. These were demonstrated recently at Digital Transformation World, where the team’s groundbreaking work was recognized with an award for Outstanding Catalyst – Communications.
Take a 5G services tour de France
The team was able to demonstrate highly complex operations functionality and bring it to life using the real-life example of the Tour de France cycle race. This kind of major sporting event provides an excellent opportunity to study network slicing because the enterprise customers, in this case broadcasters and event organizers, have an ever-growing need to:
- Increase the volume of choice of content available to viewers
- Minimize the cost of deployment and operation
- Create new revenue streams
- Improve the customer/viewer experience
- Create an immersive experience for fans
- Ensure safety and security for competitors and spectators
These are relatively common objectives, but the management and orchestration required to deliver them is incredibly complex.
Targeting new revenue
The Catalyst team demonstrated how CSPs can enable new revenue streams by creating and managing multiple 5G slice-based services on the same physical infrastructure. Services include 4K video streaming, drone-based broadcasting and IoT-provided statistics.
The Catalyst is championed by a long list of CSPs including AT&T, BT, KDDI, NTT docomo, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telenor and Vodafone. Participants include MYCOM OSI, Netcracker, Tech Mahindra and TEOCO. The graphic below shows the roles of the participants.
The goal for this Catalyst was to support dynamic network slicing with various service level agreements (SLAs) for multiple customers. It also needed to integrate internet of things (IoT) applications to support not just video coverage of the race but also collection and analysis of data from a large range of different probes and sensors.
Indeed, the range of services for an event such as the Tour de France is vast and includes services based on on-demand 4K video streaming, real-time 360 virtual and augmented reality, drone-based broadcasting, and IoT–driven statistics. By creating dynamic and static network slices that support enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communications (mMTC) and ultra-low latency communications (uRLLC) use cases, the team ensured that the network could deliver streaming 4K video feeds, IoT-driven stats, rider telemetry and emergency service connectivity at quality levels specified by the customer.
The team used the following use cases to demonstrate this at Digital Transformation World:
- Drone-based broadcasting – the team addressed 2 challenges with this use case, first demonstrating how additional drones could be deployed to cover a specific incident, such as an accident. This lays out the process of loading a slice, applying policy once an SLA threshold has been passed, changing the slice parameters in response and finally scaling back the slice. Secondly, it showed how connectivity to drones could be downgraded to 4G as they fly around a restricted fly zone but return to 5G once free of the restriction. This minimizes costs and optimizes the use of 5G spectrum.
- Policy implementation — again, two different scenarios were illustrated. The first demonstrated how policy is applied when an over-the-top (OTT) application using a cycling team’s telemetry slice gets flooded, impacting on the reliability of telemetry measurements and generating radio access bearer errors on the 5G NR cells. The second showed how an enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) slice becomes overloaded when usage intensifies around the finish, when a popular local rider is in pole position to win the stage. Here policy is applied to increase the capacity of the slice and scale the application to ensure users receive good service.
The team used the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) Policy Manager to manage its closed-loop use cases, meaning that the service assurance and service orchestrator worked with the ONAP Policy Manager to support the specified service level policies (this could also work for business level policies). The team contributed their learnings around this to ONAP, which is incorporating TM Forum Open APIs into its releases.
The Tour de France demonstration also leveraged the work of the 5G service planning and optimization Catalyst, which demonstrated five use cases at Digital Transformation World.
5G and specifically network slicing is in its infancy and will continue to evolve. Both Catalyst teams intend to develop their work further in the coming year. The early plans for the 5G intelligent service operations team include extensions of the use cases to cover more slice management aspects such as 5G Radio dynamic needs, or multi-party, complex SLAs. Additionally, the team aims to use more standard interfaces and TOSCA implementation of data models.
Watch Telecom Italia’s Massimo Banzi discuss the Catalyst: