How Ribbon is Driving Hybrid Slicing Capabilities for Operators

David Stokes

Spotlight on Network Slicing |

As 5G is fast becoming a promising way to transform global connectivity, telecom operators are looking forward to establishing a resilient network infrastructure that prioritizes high-bandwidth capability to support multiple services on a single network. By utilizing Ribbon Communication’s hybrid slicing capabilities, operators can tailor solutions to fulfill their network’s unique needs, and provide customers with a diverse mix of services without compromising on reliability or scalability.

Ribbon’s Head of IP Solutions and IP Portfolio Marketing, David Stokes speaks with Zia Askari from about how the company is enabling telecoms to embrace 5G in an efficient manner.

Today a lot of telecom operators are looking at 5G to drive revenues and growth. How can they achieve this in a cost-effective manner?

Although 4G catalyzed exciting new advances in VoIP capabilities and bandwidth availability, telecom operators are now prioritizing 5G, not only for its ability to deliver even higher bandwidth, but potentially more importantly for its ability to support new revenue-generating services, characterized by ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) and mass IoT. 5G promises to unlock new revenue streams for telecom operators by enabling new services to support remote work and new cloud based mobile services like gaming and eHealth.

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However, for many organizations, achieving 5G’s full potential remains a pipe dream amid rising costs and concerns about the feasibility of a smooth transition.

Operators need to transition from a monolithic “one size fits all” network approach, to a network capable of supporting different performance metrics such as high capacity, guaranteed ultra-low latency performance, low packet delay variation (PDV), and security and survivability on a service-by-service basis. Building a single all-encompassing network would be exorbitantly expensive however, since each service is provided on a network with the most exacting performance characteristics, forcing operators to over-engineer the network for the services that neither require nor pay for that level of performance. On the other hand, building a separate network for each service type solves the over-engineering issue, but building and maintaining separate networks is both Capex and Opex intensive and slows down the ability to introduce new service types. The solution to these problems is network slicing, where a single network offers shared network resources which can be optimized on a service-by-service basis.

Network slicing is a dynamically controlled and scalable method of supporting simultaneous subnetworks with different performance needs on a single, shared set of network resources. With network slicing, operators can cost-effectively offer a diverse mix of services and gain the agility to rapidly introduce new services to their product portfolio.

Additionally, operators can achieve faster ROI compared to private, individual networks that often take years to see a return. According to Ericsson, network slicing creates a $200 billion revenue opportunity for operators.

To effectively create a dynamic network, operators must implement a combination of hard and soft slicing. Hard slicing ensures mission and business critical applications are fully isolated from other services, and thus protected from network failures and anomalies. It also provides guaranteed network segregation, which is particularly important in multi-tenant networks. With hard slicing, services are given dedicated traffic paths, with guaranteed performance characteristics either by using dedicated optical channels or with dedicated timeslots.

Soft slicing is targeted at services requiring guaranteed performance characteristics (SLAs), but these SLAs do not need to be five-nines guaranteed, as is the case with the business and mission critical services supported by hard slicing. With soft slicing, routing protocols and capabilities are used to support the SLAs required, on a service-by-service basis.

Both techniques are used in hybrid slicing: the network can be split into a number of hard slices, each of which can support a number of soft slices. Hybrid slicing is particularly important in multi-tenant environments, where multiple operators are using a single transport infrastructure.

As consumers increasingly demand services which require service performance differentiation and service guarantees, such as broadband, streaming services, telehealth, remote education, AR/VR/IR, and security applications, network operators will need to react quickly or risk losing customers and revenue. With 5G and network slicing, operators have both the platform and required agility to support these advanced new service opportunities profitably.

How is Ribbon positioning itself to help telecoms towards unlocking innovative services built around 5G offerings?

Our IP Wave for xHaul solution provides IP Optical transport that enables mobile network operators to offer a complete range of telecom services to new markets. With 5G promising to transform global connectivity, telecom operators need to establish a network infrastructure that prioritizes high-bandwidth capability, ultra-low latency, and massive machine connectivity.

In response to the need to support multiple services on a single network, Ribbon’s IP Wave for xHaul solution seamlessly integrates IP and Optical technologies and advanced analytics. By utilizing our hybrid slicing capabilities, operators can tailor the solution to fulfill their network’s unique needs, and provide their customers with a diverse mix of services without compromising on reliability or scalability. Operators can also leverage our intelligent operations and advanced analytics solutions to receive real-time data on subscriber and network behavior, preferences, and needs, to ensure their network is running efficiently.

Traditionally, 2G, 3G, and 4G environments have been satisfied by a simple transport solution, mobile backhaul, which backhauls the traffic from base stations to the network core. However, 5G is changing the game. With 5G advancements, core network functions have become disaggregated and virtualized, with some components moving towards the edge. To support 5G’s more dynamic environment, Ribbon’s IP Wave for xHaul solution is designed to support a shared transport while providing MNOs protected network isolation and increased bandwidth capability.

Additionally, this solution addresses some of the top business concerns operators have about making the jump to 5G. 5G xHAUL’s advanced analytics capabilities help reduce operational costs, deliver insights about network outages, monetize 5G services, and identify potential security threats before they have the chance to cause damage.

If telecom operators want to catch the 5G wave, they must do so with the right IP Optical transport solution, one that enables a service-driven networking approach. Our IP Wave solution enables operators to streamline operations while continuing to scale their evolving needs.

What are some of the most important use cases that will require deployment of the 5G cloud-native core?

For telecom operators looking to accommodate a diverse mix of customers and their individual needs, use cases that will require deployment of the 5G cloud-native core include real-time collaboration, bandwidth on demand, federated computing, and wholesale services. Let’s dig further into these.

Real-Time Collaboration: These activities require low latency and low jitter. Telemedicine, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, entertainment, and even online mobile gaming all demand similarly stringent performance metrics. The inability to provide the required low latency and high bandwidth will at a minimum increase delay times and impact the customer’s overall experience and in some cases render these services inoperable.

Bandwidth on Demand: With guaranteed minimum bandwidth, businesses can securely transport data between data-intensive applications to locations that will use or analyze the data. Alternatively, business locations can back up a data center in a specific maintenance window through this process.

Federated Computing: Network slicing can allow autonomous distributed computing resources to securely share information amongst each other, knowing they are part of the same federation. In this case, network slicing would be used to authenticate endpoints on the network, instead of prioritizing performance metrics.

Wholesale Services: With this use case, telecom operators can make parts of their own network available to other service providers, allowing them to run their own services. As a result, service providers generate profit from reselling underutilized resources. Examples of this at play include alien wavelengths and shared spectrum.

What are the big advantages that 5G deployment brings to the table for MNOs today?

For many MNOs, 5G represents the last opportunity to transform from a commodity business delivering basic bandwidth supply, to a service-driven business providing the high-value services consumers are willing to pay for. Currently, the three largest cloud service providers – AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud – own a whopping 61% of the global cloud market. They have already built out their cloud infrastructure, and are now offering high value services that bring business services to the cloud. 5G allows MNOs to avoid being left behind as customer needs change by creating profitable new revenue streams that can compete with these cloud service providers.

With 5G technologies, MNOs can engage in partnerships with Over-the-Top (OTT) organizations, improve performance metrics such as latency, and venture into new markets that can help boost company revenue. The pandemic has disrupted the status quo and opened new doors for opportunities such as remote work and learning. Today’s networks can no longer be focused on providing the bare minimum of transport solutions; they must innovate, or risk getting left behind.

According to you what are the most prominent challenges hampering this transition today? How can Ribbon help in this direction?

Although 5G is delivering increased bandwidth and promises to deliver the improved performance characteristics required for service, many operators are still reluctant to invest in the architecture they need to make service differentiation a reality. To meet the policy and performance parameters 5G requires, operators must re-engineer their networks, a task that is both challenging and expensive. For many operators, the potential new revenue opportunities do not justify the expensive and complex task of building a network to meet every requirement; as with all previous mobile generations, they are on the hunt for the “killer app.”

However, operators who take the plunge and begin to offer services with varying guarantees on bandwidth, latency, and availability will have access to massive upside revenue potential. The key to this transition is to empower operators to automate and optimize their networks by driving value from their existing investments so that they can quickly deliver new revenue-generating services. This is the approach Ribbon is taking with our IP Wave framework, which is designed to create service-driven IP Optical networking solutions that enable operators to build, deploy, manage, and future-proof their multi-layer data and optical networks quickly, and at a scale that works with existing, multivendor environments. This approach provides operators with the agility they need to rapidly create and deliver innovative services, and fully maximize the revenue opportunities 5G presents.