Network slicing serves up an attractive proposition for operators. The ability to surgically carve up bandwidth based on the needs of the services that will traverse it is certainly enticing. So much so that it is fairly easy to get carried away thinking about all of the possibilities network slicing has the potential to introduce.
There is one glaring issue: network slicing is largely a 5G technology. We can daydream all we want about how to use it, but the reality is that it’s years away from mass deployment. It is possible, however, to squeeze slicing-like capabilities out of today’s 4G networks. It just takes a little MEC magic.
Now, it’s not completely straightforward. 4G networks, which are physical and appliance based, won’t be sliced in the same way as virtual networks. But MEC can emulate slicing capabilities to achieve impactful outcomes, like squeezing more revenue from 4G networks, enhancing operator roles in evolving value chains and powering new services.
A Slice Of Customization Heaven
Network slicing is attracting a lot attention due to its promise to turn operator networks into nimble, highly customizable infrastructure capable of adapting to delivery nearly any service. With it, networks can be virtually sliced based on how different services or applications need mobile network or edge compute capabilities. This could be massive volumes of connections that are low bitrate, such as in IoT, or high-bit rate but less emphasis on speed, for applications like large backups.
As operators continue the journey to 5G, their networks must be smarter and more flexible now to ensure a seamless transition. That’s is where MEC comes into play in a big way. One of the keys is to avoid static approaches that dedicate a certain amount of bandwidth to any application or service all the time. In fact, we don’t believe that bandwidth needs to be carved out at all. Instead, an approach where application flows are recognized in the moment and the network acts on them accordingly is a smart and efficient use of limited 4G resources.
We can do this today. Our Edge Breakout allows third-party applications to “break out” the traffic from its path near the edge and deliver it to a secure, local cloud. We demonstrated its capabilities at Mobile World Congress 2018 by delivering a graphics-intensive PC game over an LTE network to an Android device.
Using this approach, operators could:
- Break out flows for edge processing; or
- Divert certain traffic to private clouds to provide enhanced security or assure low latency.
The possibilities are endless, but the key driving philosophy is that precious network bandwidth shouldn’t be pre-allocated. Instead, operators should use all the capacity they have to best serve demand in the moment. For example, breaking a certain type of traffic out of the public network tunnel in order to transmit it from the edge and deliver it with low latency is a form of slicing at the application level.
When smart traffic management can recognize the needs of data on the network and take steps to change how it’s delivered, networks are effectively mimicking slicing behavior. It doesn’t matter what kind of application, be it a mobile game, low latency IoT traffic or a security feed.
5G will change the game for mobile. But MEC is already figuring out how to transform today’s playing field. Just another reason why MEC is a big slice of mobile perfection.