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Anyone For a Smart Network Slice?

As with any standardization effort, development of 5G specifications accounted for numerous technology trends and new use cases. Network functions were designed for virtualization and automation to enhance operational efficiency and agility. At the same time, smart devices were in the midst of a steep ascent, and there was clear business value in new applications that took advantage of the optimized service characteristics of 5G, with somewhat cryptic names like Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X), Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC), and Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC).   

At the intersection of these two trends, one of the concepts that was defined was network slices.  

5G network slices allow virtualized cellular networks to be configured on the same physical network infrastructure. Each slice is an isolated logical network designed to meet the service level requirements of highly specialized applications. Customers get a logical piece of the radio access network (RAN) and core network as part of a slice, wrapped in a bundle of service level specifications.  

Network slices captured everyone's imagination in the early days and quickly became visible in industry media. The idea of obtaining a cellular network, ready-built to a set of defined performance characteristics, was extremely compelling! But what was lost in all the hype were more conventional use cases:  

  • How can mainstream enterprise applications benefit from a slice? 

  • How can enterprise IT get more visibility and control over the cellular estate?  

  • How about 3G and 4G network slices?   

Despite the fact that people, phones, and tablets are fundamental to every kind of business all around the world, cellular connectivity is a bit of a black hole. Enterprises have limited visibility and control, and devices sit unprotected on the public internet. Although it's technically possible for an enterprise to get a 5G slice for any use, slices are not optimal for use cases that don't have specialized performance requirements. In addition, most devices will continue to be on 3G and 4G because 5G won't be ubiquitous for a couple of years; slices come at a premium price, requiring time and technical investment to get one; and telecom interfaces can be challenging to integrate with enterprise IT systems.  

With 3G and 4G, it's possible to get a private Access Point Name (APN), which adds a degree of privacy and visibility. Although there aren't any tight performance specifications (there's no RAN integration), for the overwhelming majority of human-driven applications, it doesn't really matter. But private APNs have similar limitations to 5G slices: They're costlier than typical business cellular services, take time to obtain and deploy, and can be challenging to integrate into an enterprise architecture.   

Akamai is offering a new way to create smart cellular network slices -- quickly, easily, and economically. Mobile network operators can deploy new Security and Personalization Services (SPS) that connect to a private APN configured on their 4G Packet Gateways (PGW) or the equivalent 5G User Plane Functions (UPF). 

Enterprises access a self-service portal and configure their slice, and the SIM-based devices that will use it, in a few minutes without any client software on any device. Major mobile device management (MDM) and universal endpoint management (UEM) platforms are already integrated. A foundational layer of security is built in, and optional content filters can be configured to ensure productivity while employees use corporate-controlled devices. IT teams get a console that provides full visibility and control over the entire mobile estate.  

Additional Akamai services integrate Internet of Things (IoT) systems, a powerful alternative for the majority of smart devices that don't benefit from the specialized performance parameters of a 5G slice (or upfront costs of a private APN). Still more enhancements incorporate a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), so mobile users get frictionless access to corporate resources, regardless of where they're working\ or where the applications they depend on reside. (More on this in a future blog post.)    

This new vision for smart slices puts mobile on the same footing as all of the other networking technologies. Enterprises get the visibility and control they need as they increase the emphasis on mobile to accommodate today's work models, which are heavily biased toward remote access. 

Do you want a slice of the smart cellular network for your 3G, 4G, and 5G cellular devices? To learn more visit our site.