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5G network slicing promises the delivery of a new generation of high-speed services, allowing operators to meet requirements towards network adaptation, modification, scaling to accommodate new subscribers or more capacity. Aji Ed, CTO Mobile Networks MEA, Nokia, talks more about this technology in an exclusive interview with Telecom Review.

5G network slicing technique promises dynamic efficiency to various industry verticals with its potential of secure and high-performance connectivity. How must organizations prepare themselves to make the most of this new technology?  

Different types of services have varied requirements in terms of bandwidth, speed and latency. For example, applications like gaming require high bandwidth and low latency, whereas many IoT services (factory automation, assisted driving etc.) do not necessarily need high bandwidth, but low latency is important. Network operators must be able to offer dynamic resource allocation and guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS) specific to the services and applications. Network slicing is a technology element that facilitates network operators to provide services tailored to the specific needs of their customers. Network slicing allows operators to meet requirements towards network adaptation, modification, scaling to accommodate new subscribers or more capacity. This enables splitting services on resource level to create separate use-case-specific logical networks upon a shared physical infrastructure. Network slicing allows to create and switch on a dedicated new service quickly.

This enables innovative business models for current and new businesses for operators. For example, operators can offer new business models such as Network-as-a-Service (Fixed Wireless Access, smart city, eHealth, public safety, Connected vehicle and Industry 4.0, among several others). This is applicable for both, 5G and 4G (LTE).

How can Nokia help the operators with network slicing implementation and what are the solutions available?

Nokia has deployed 4G and 5G network slicing with several operators around the world. In the Middle East and Africa, Nokia successfully completed a pilot with Mobily Saudi Arabia early this year. This was the first network slicing trial on a live commercial network that showcased Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) slicing use case. Nokia was the first vendor to deploy 4G and 5G network slicing in live multi-vendor network across all domains, including access, transport and core.

Nokia’s 4G/5G network slicing solution works in LTE, 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) and 5G Standalone (SA) networks. It provides mobile broadband connectivity from 4G/5G devices and customer premises equipment (CPE) to cloud applications through sliced access, transport and core. With the Nokia slicing solution, an operator can divide its network into multiple virtual networks and offer different service tiers and premium services to its customers utilizing advanced network resource allocation mechanisms.

The operator can utilize Nokia’s AirScale 4G/5G base stations with its NetAct solution with management, control and assurance, as well as Nokia’s routers, network services platform (NSP) and digital operations software. This can work in multi-vendor environments as well.  

Nokia's slicing solution supports existing LTE, 5G NSA and 5G SA devices. The slice continuity between LTE and 5G allows operators to maximally utilize their network coverage and assets such as the available spectrum for new mobile services. Nokia's customers are already working on a variety of slicing use cases, including enterprise applications, transportation, manufacturing, utilities, public safety and smart city applications.   

Most of the services today have been built using non-standalone networks. How will the deployment of stand-alone 5G networks change the market dynamics?

In today's world, almost all the 5G networks are deployed with NSA architecture and it is focused on providing FWA or high capacity mobile broadband solutions. However, transition to 5G SA is required to achieve the full potential of 5G to enable ultra-low latency and extreme high capacity.

Standalone eliminates the need for an LTE anchor layer and connects directly to the cloud-native core network. This supports advanced network slicing functions. Since latency will be extremely low, this will facilitate new use cases such as mission-critical use cases, like autonomous driving. With carrier aggregation (CA) of mid-band and low-band spectrums, the coverage challenges in the networks with stand-alone architecture can be mitigated.

Nokia‘s comprehensive end-to-end portfolio for CSP‘s allows the deployment of 5G SA networks for greenfield operators but also ensures smooth migration from NSA to SA networks as an overlay, i.e. providing seamless interworking to the legacy LTE/EPC network. ​Nokia has deployed one of the largest SA networks in the world with T-Mobile USA. Based on the recent studies, we expect to see more and more networks migrating from NSA to SA from 2022 and beyond in the Middle East and Africa. This will start with a hybrid model (NSA + SA) and will gradually move towards complete SA architecture.

To accelerate the development of 5G infrastructure, the growth of a small cell 5G network is crucial especially given the rise in network densification and increase in mobile data traffic. Please tell us about Nokia's offerings for indoor and outdoor environments in this category?

Small Cells Forum forecasts strong growth in 5G and multimode small cells deployments in hot-spots and indoor areas. Nokia has the most comprehensive small cell portfolio, including innovative and future-proof solutions.

A significant part of 5G mobile traffic is expected to be generated in indoor areas, such as shopping malls and high-rise buildings, so it is essential to ensure excellent indoor coverage and capacity. Nokia AirScale indoor Radio System (ASiR) can leverage the installed base and deliver an enhanced end-user experience in indoor premises. It supports all radio access technologies (2G to 5G) with rapid and graceful 5G insertion via chaining. ASiR can support a Single Frequency Network for fast and easy planning and leverage existing in-building systems with AirScale RFC (RF converter). This supports all features of the macro base station by default.

For extreme capacity solutions for high-performance street level and hot-zone deployments, Nokia has AirScale mmWave Radio which covers all mmWave bands: 24/26, 28 and 39 GHz (n258, n257, n261, n260) and this provides extreme bandwidth: 1400 MHz IBW (Instantaneous Bandwidth) and 800 MHz OBW (Occupied Bandwidth). This has a very compact form factor for easy deployment.

What is Nokia’s latest view on Open RAN?

Undoubtedly, one of our key focus areas continues to be Open RAN. Nokia is the leading contributor in the O-RAN Alliance and our new AirScale portfolio is O-RAN ready, supporting our efforts to develop cloud-based, open approaches to building networks. There are many steps to build the O-RAN ecosystem and we expect this to develop over time. For example, massiveMIMO radios are an integral part of 5G traditional deployments, and these are not yet proven in the Open RAN architecture. Open RAN introduces more entities and stakeholders, and this brings additional integration complexities in the network deployment. Overall, we expect that Open RAN will continue to evolve over the next few years.

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