5G Network Slicing—The Missing Link in SD-WAN’s Armor?

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By Reece Hayden | 4Q 2021 | IN-6381

Incorporating SD-WAN and 5G with network slicing into long-term strategy is set to prove effective for service providers.

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Ericsson, VMware, and AT&T Join Forces


In March 2021, Ericsson, VMware, and AT&T joined forces to combine Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) and 5G with network slicing to demonstrate an enterprise grade real-time use-case. The successful proof of concept (PoC) utilized AT&T’s physical 5G network, VMware’s virtualized SD-WAN, and Ericsson’s dynamic orchestration platform, whilst applying a powerful hosted cloud gateway to enable direct cloud access and an easily scalable network architecture for a cashier-less automated checkout and smart workload placement system. The customer focused use case highlighted that 5G with network slicing could have cross-enterprise vertical applicability, especially for verticals with real-time interactions with customers that require access to applications across independent, optimized, secure, and smart network connections.

The PoC featured multiple Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints that ran on one physical 5G network. Network slicing on this physical architecture meant that each IoT device was provided with a sperate ‘slice’ which guaranteed quality of experience and allowed applications to be run at the edge of the network. To configure these connections, VMware’s SD-WAN evaluated the underlying network and in-real time, determined the most efficient pathway for IoT data. During this, Ericsson’s composite orchestrator provided visibility and control for network managers.

So, what does the convergence of SD-WAN and 5G with network slicing mean for enterprise connectivity? And has this PoC accelerated the adoption of network slicing for enterprise grade use-cases?

What Does Network Slicing do for Enterprise Connectivity?


5G’s promise of sub-1ms latency may still not be actionable, but by leveraging network slicing, enterprise verticals can guarantee each device a unique, low-latency and high bandwidth connection for mission-critical data. This Service Level Agreement (SLA) guarantee means applications can increasingly be run at the edge of the network, utilizing multi-access edge computing, and enable industry 4.0 technologies (i.e., Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality/Machine Learning) that rely on guaranteed, optimized network performance to enable real-time applications for customers. By drawing cloud applications to the edge of the network, data is not required to transmit over public network services, improving network data security. By combining segmentation and slicing, enterprises will gain more granular detail of the entire data transmission process, allowing orchestrators to more closely control end-users, network connections, and the security of each device’s data.

For ABI Research, combining SD-WAN with network slicing is not only important, but it could become critical for enabling the business case for enterprise 5G adoption. 5G networks are composed of small, dense cells, making it difficult and costly to dedicate specific network architecture to individual enterprises. This means that to enable 5G for certain ‘carpeted’ enterprise verticals (i.e., retail, hospitality, sports venues), network slicing is required such that each enterprise can have their own ‘slice’ of a local, public 5G architecture. SD-WAN is critical in that the orchestrator can visualize, deploy, and control private network slices. However, utilizing public network slices will not be possible for some verticals (i.e., manufacturing), as use cases will require ‘on-premises’ 5G architecture that is tailored to specific use cases.

Combining SD-WAN and 5G with network slicing could potentially bring benefits to certain ‘carpeted’ enterprise verticals. It could enable widespread usage of client facing real-time applications, like those the PoC demonstrated, and reduce 5G deployment costs for enterprises by leveraging access to ‘private slices’ off common, public network architecture. However, although promising, ABI Research remains skeptical over 5G with network slicing’s short run impact on enterprise connectivity. Firstly, 5G rollout for enterprises remains sluggish and end-to-end solutions for businesses are still a while off. Secondly, 5G network and device immaturity (i.e., limited guaranteed network coverage and no Release 16 compatible devices) continues to reduce the adoptability of enterprise grade 5G with network slicing. Thirdly, as network slicing is not connection agnostic, enterprise verticals would have to deploy 5G with network slicing on a site-by-site basis, hindering network agility and scalability.

CSPs are in the Driver's Seat, But They are Still Yet to Prove the Business Case to Enterprises


Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are in the driver’s seat when it comes to benefitting from the integration of SD-WAN, 5G, and network slicing. ABI Research recommends that CSPs should integrate their underlying 5G network with SD-WAN to provide verticals with one holistic, end-to-end managed services. These services would drive CSP revenue creation as the complexity of network slicing means central orchestration and slice creation are necessary to enable a quick ‘time-to-market’ for verticals with limited network disruption. Driving new revenue streams is especially important for CSPs given the recent fall in ‘per-GB’ data prices. CSPs must take this golden opportunity to leverage their underlying network capabilities to drive new revenue streams. But given that enterprise verticals remain reluctant to introduce network slicing into their strategy, how can service providers persuade enterprises to consider introducing 5G with network slicing? ABI Research recommends that they continue to prove the economic and customer value of network slicing by demonstrating enterprise-grade use cases, such as the MEF 3.0 PoC program. Only by proving the business case to enterprises, will certain verticals begin to think about introducing network slicing into their long-term networking strategy.

In response to CSPs, ‘carpeted’ enterprise verticals should assess the benefits that introducing 5G with network slicing offers to their use cases. 5G’s architecture suggests that for certain verticals networking slicing may eventually become vital, as it provides enterprises with a lower cost strategy to ensure real-time private 5G connections with guaranteed Quality of Experience (QoE) and SLAs. Whilst incorporating edge computing will improve network security, agility, and resiliency, which are particularly important characteristics for real-time, critical, customer-focused use cases.

However, even with this successful PoC, it is evident that 5G with network slicing is not ready for enterprise. It remains too costly, and many use-cases remain unproven. Instead, verticals must look to the future and continue to assess the viability of the business case for incorporating SD-WAN and 5G with network slicing into their long-term strategy. With this in mind, if certain ‘carpeted’ verticals do validate the long-term benefits of network slicing, it is important for them to choose the right SD-WAN solutions and IoT devices such that the eventual integration of network slicing does not require a complete overhaul of their connectivity architecture.



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