5G, the latest telecom standard for broadband cellular networks, is revolutionizing not just telecommunications but all industries where information and communication are at play. Whether built over existing 4G facilities (non-standalone or NSA 5G) or with new, autonomous facilities (standalone or SA 5G), the 5G infrastructure market is expected to grow from $3.5 billion globally in 2020 to $53.8 billion by 2026.
eMBB, URRLC and mMTC
The International Telecommunications Union specifies three classes of usage for 5G. The first category is Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), offering vastly superior speeds and little to no latency mainly for retail subscribers, for example when using applications with augmented and virtual reality. The second class is Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC), which uses 5G for applications that require gapless and dependable connections, for example with tactile UX, which means interfaces where touch is added to audiovisual media for an immersive experience. The third class is Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC), which is used for bringing together a large number of devices, for example to operate smart grids and synchronize a city-wide network of energy devices.
How are service classes made?
At the heart of 5G is a technique known as network slicing. Network slicing creates virtual network instances abstracted from the same underlying infrastructure but defined by different traffic management rules, pathways and network functions. VR and AR, for example, will rely on eMBB's greater speeds as well as bandwidth, and URLLC to maintain gapless connections. Industrial automation will require both the robustness of URLCC as well as the coordination of mMTC.
How does network slicing work? Once the network senses the application type, it routes the associated packets into the most appropriate slice. Mobile gaming packets, for example, are routed using the URLLC-based mobile gaming slice using shorter, priority routes with minimal processing while packets from a movie download are routed through the eMBB-based slice via cheaper routes. These latter packets are also processed through a host of network functions such as compression and caching and are filtered further using security functions such as threat detection and firewalls. Similar segmentation takes place for enterprise users. For an autonomous driving application, an enterprise is provided a URLLC-based slice with the SLAs (such as 1ms latency) that correspond to this class. Traffic from the enterprise fleet that is generated from the autonomous driving application is then directed to this slice.
Creating and managing service classes
Application awareness, delivered by advanced deep packet inspection (DPI) engines such as R&S®PACE 2 from ipoque is crucial for network slicing. Application awareness goes beyond matching an application to the appropriate slice. It actually forms an essential capability supporting 5G networks at every stage of a network slice lifecycle, covering the following phases:
1. Creation of network slices: Instantiation of slices based on application traffic allows operators to optimize network resources and maintain only those 5G service classes which are in demand. By monitoring network traffic with R&S®PACE 2, traffic corresponding to fresh usages of applications and their services such as on-demand streaming or download can be identified, and this gives the cue to network operators to initiate the necessary slices.
2. Management of network slices: R&S®PACE 2 can track network traffic in real-time, which opens up great potency for ensuring that the right applications are passing through the right slices. For example, a network would want to make sure that applications for remote surgeries, with low latency needs, are in a URLLC slice, or that fleets of autonomous vehicles are able to communicate with each other through mMTC. R&S®PACE 2 identifies applications accurately and in real-time. Using machine learning and deep learning, it is able to filter even traffic that is encrypted, anonymized and obfuscated, enabling a large chunk of encrypted 5G traffic to be routed through the most appropriate channels.
3. Optimization of network slices: Not only can R&S®PACE 2 help in making sure that the right application is issued the appropriate service class, it can also ensure in-class optimization. By logging application usage data (such as time of usage, number of devices in a slice, frequency, session length, geographical concentration, etc.), it offers real-time insight into capacity and functional requirements such as the need for security filtering or load balancing. For example, application traffic that peaks during certain hours can be allocated more bandwidth only during those hours. Also, based on application performance data, routing pathways in a slice may be altered dynamically to maintain performance SLAs while retaining network costs.
4. Evolution of network slices: Given that 5G is a relatively new technology, most 5G use cases and applications are still at a nascent stage. As these use cases and applications evolve, so must the slices supporting them. For example, last year's 3GPP 16th release of 5G New Radio announced enhancements to dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), dual connectivity (DC), user equipment power-saving, and more. R&S®PACE 2 enables operators to keep tab on applications as they grow, from the use of new protocols to changes in traffic attributes such as bandwidth, speed, jitter and latency. This allows operators to manipulate network capabilities and respond to future use cases across 5G service classes more effectively.
5. Securing network slices: The application awareness provided by R&S®PACE 2 can identify unauthorized traffic on a slice arising from authentication issues, fraud or fake SIMs. It can also identify malicious/anomalous traffic patterns that may indicate threat, abuse and fraud, enabling security functions to stave off attacks and alert and cordon off subscribers in real time. Operators can become aware of vulnerable applications often used to launch attacks on the network and the type of threats they are susceptible to. This can be helpful in tightening security controls and introducing new security measures, both for specific applications within a service class or the entire service class.
The promise of 5G
The promise of 5G is essentially the promise of eMBB, URLLC and mMTC. These service classes are expected to fuel hundreds and thousands of use cases as 5G networks mature. Application awareness, by providing insight into every 5G application using the network, enables network operators to continuously enhance the underlying network slices, ensuring each service class continues to fulfil the requirements expected of it. R&S®PACE 2 , by providing seamless, reliable and real-time application awareness, is just the tool to get this done.
Download our whitepaper on DPI and 5G - the paper uncovers the need for application awareness and detailed traffic analytics across various network services to support 5G’s new features, such as network slicing and edge computing
 5G Infrastructure Market - Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021 - 2026) - Mordor Intelligence - 2021 - https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/5g-infrastructure-market
5G evolution: 3GPP releases 16 & 17 overview - Ericsson - 2020 - https://www.ericsson.com/en/reports-and-papers/ericsson-technology-review/articles/5g-nr-evolution