The High Anticipation

5G is anticipated to greatly benefit IIoT (industrial IoT) with optimized performance, ultra-low latency, and wider network coverage and bandwidth. Among the technological advancements of 5G, network slicing is one of the most expected game changer, enabling cellular operators to divide a physical network architecture into multiple “slices”, which functions as a virtual network, each serving a particular application, cluster or even an ecosystem. More importantly, each virtual network “slice” can be software-defined to meet specific requirements or service, so that QoS (quality of service) and performance are assured with comprehensive, multi-layered security.

Network slicing is also an optimal threat mitigation as each slice is virtually isolated. If a slice is under cyber threat, it will not spread to other slices.

The concept of network slicing is made realistic by the two recent network evolutions: SDN (Software-Defined Network) and NFV (Network Function Virtualization), which have already been employed by major industry players. If this technology is deployed successfully, service operators will be able to maximize their hardware investments to offer customizable services for a wide range of application scenarios. For example, in a smart factory setting, the assembly line can be configured with a specific network slice. All the data generated from the production processing will be processed, analyzed and stored in the slice, so that latency is certainly minimized and performance is ensured. Meanwhile, the data stored in this sliced network domain is isolated from the external threat.

Network slicing is practically a game changer by 5G because it can support multiple service scenarios, regardless the scale of either an application or an ecosystem, while isolating each with a virtually sliced network. The isolation promises the performance quality and ultra low latency within the slice. Network slicing helps service providers to extend their serviceability and quality without expanding their physical infrastructure, which can be comparably costly in a highly competitive business environment.

5G and Network Slicing in IIoT

The realization of 5G requires the uRLLC (ultra reliable low latency communication), eMBB (enhanced mobile Broadband), and mMTC (massive Machine Type Communication) to come into effect. In an IIoT smart factory environment, the key of success lies in the edge computing to achieve the desired reliability and performance. For instance, traditional AGV (automated guided vehicle) require physical tracks to set its routes when conducting transporting duties in a factory. Today, the A.I (artificial intelligence) enabled AGV now travels based on pre-programmed visions and positioning algorithms. However, AGV generates high volume of data and latency may occur. Therefore, 5G with network slicing is anticipated to break this latency bottleneck.

In an ideal smart factory scenario, all the mission-critical equipments, such as automation machinery, robotic instruments and remote monitoring systems, can be set to connect to a particular network slice, which functions like a VPN for the industrial equipments. The software-defined slice privately contains the data only generated from these machines. The latency for the data to travel from machines to the network will be greatly reduced.

Future Implications

As for smart factory and IIoT, there will be more machine vision, machine learning and VR/AR applications in such environments, and network slicing will be largely leveraged to manage the traffics for specific vertical applications.

Recommended Hardware

Since network slicing is largely software defined, the hardware infrastructure shall go with open architecture, like Intel® x86 platforms to run compatibly with third party virtualizations. For instance, Lanner Electronics Inc. offers a wide range of innovative hardware solutions for SDN, NFV, vCPE/uCPE and vRAN for carrier-grade purposes. Their hardware gateways and servers are white-box, compatible with open source software to run network slicing. For high-performance requirements, the HTCA series offers multi-core Intel® Xeon® processors and multi-node compute, networking and storage.