Network slicing: ‘Innovative 5G connectivity for connected vehicles’

As we share more and more data, how can we tailor quality of service to suit every purpose? One solution may lie in network slicing, which involves virtually slicing up a network to better meet the specific needs of different industries. We spoke to Bernadette Villeforceix, Head of Research Projects for connected and autonomous cars within Orange’s Innovation, Marketing and Technologies Division.

‘We will truly see a paradigm shift over the coming years: in the connected/autonomous vehicle domain, a new world is beginning to emerge.’

You presented some 4G network slicing test results at the Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona from 26 February to 1 March 2018. Could you explain how it works in more detail?

Bernadette Villeforceix. As the name suggests, network slicing is a concept that enables the virtual ‘slicing’ of a telecommunications network into several pieces (or slices). This allows each slice to perform differently, and dedicated resources can be allocated in line with the use or purpose, taking into account, for example, reliability, bandwidth, latency, etc. Therefore, each network slice is linked to one use, without overlapping any others.

How has network slicing been achieved?

Bernadette Villeforceix. Network slicing is already technically possible with 4G, and will be made simpler through 5G, since it’s a form of technology built on virtual network architecture, unlike previous generations. It’s this virtual architecture which allows the network slices to be configured and linked to the routing and computing features used to monitor data.

Which different uses will you address with network slicing?

Bernadette Villeforceix. There are currently three separate uses for standard 5G. Firstly, with regard to ‘traditional’ smartphone use, 5G mobile broadband will offer speeds far in excess of those currently available with 4G. This means, for example, latency issues will be removed from using social networks, reading emails, downloading 4K videos, video-calling, etc. The second use is 5G massive IoT, which allows billions of sensors or connected objects to communicate with one another across very low-speed connections. Lastly, the third use is 5G Ultra Low Latency High Reliability, which depends on ultra-reliable connections (99.99%) and provides super high-speed data sharing (in milliseconds). This primarily relates to connected healthcare, industrial robotics and the automotive sector.

Can you tell us about the trials that you’re currently conducting on this issue?

Bernadette Villeforceix. We have worked with our partner Ericsson to roll out a trial network on a driving test track located in the east of France. This allows us to experiment with use cases in real situations. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I presented the results of trials and tests which we carried out in the connected vehicle domain on a 4G network. For example, we configured a network into two slices: one designed to provide mobile broadband, supporting multimedia applications, and the other dedicated to Ultra Low Latency High Reliability, for road safety services.

What was the aim of this trial?

Bernadette Villeforceix. We wanted to protect the transfer of ‘mission critical’ data, giving priority to the car’s intelligent transport system (ITS, low latency) while attributing a different priority level to the multimedia data used for entertainment, e.g. video or audio feeds used by passengers (mobile broadband). Our tests show that the network responds perfectly! When the mobile network cell reaches saturation and stops when there is too much packet loss, this has no impact on traffic in the Ultra Low Latency High Reliability slice, since it’s perfectly isolated, and therefore continues to reach the same performance levels in terms of speed and latency. As such, the safety of the driver and any passengers is never called into question.

Are you working on other projects?

Bernadette Villeforceix. Staying within the automotive industry, we’re conducting further network architecture research; we’re looking at vehicle use cases, involving the See Through service, for example, which allows you to regain visibility when you’re behind a lorry and you want to overtake. This service lets you ‘see’ in front of the vehicle ahead by communicating between vehicles.

How does it work?

Bernadette Villeforceix. The idea is very simple: high-resolution video feeds are shared in real time between vehicles, using on-board, connected cameras. If I’m on a motorway behind a lorry, with no visibility, the lorry can share its video feed with me. I can then see ‘through’ the lorry, and adjust my driving accordingly. This real-time communication requires very low latency and high speed (20 Mb/s).

Also within the automotive industry, we’re looking at other use cases, such as the smooth entry of vehicles along a motorway slip road in the context of autonomous traffic, or using electronic toll booths. We’re also working on projects to increase pedestrian safety. A device with 4G/5G connectivity will be able to feed back the position of a pedestrian to connected vehicles, which, even if they have no visibility through their on-board sensors, will be alerted of the pedestrian’s presence through NLOS (Non-Line-Of-Sight) capability, using 5G technology.

Can you tell us about your upcoming major network slicing projects?

Bernadette Villeforceix. Large amounts of data are shared between providers and partners, and between providers themselves, in a wide variety of ways. It’s a real collaborative process, and we’re all working together to develop future 5G technology. The European ‘5GCAR’ collaborative project is also an opportunity for us to carry out architecture research on 5G roll-out models, aimed at different industries and, in particular, the vertical automotive market. This project will highlight new technical solutions designed to meet the needs of the vehicle industry.

In the meantime, we’re continuing to improve our understanding of these needs, and to increase our use cases. This is because we will truly see a paradigm shift over the coming years. In the connected/autonomous vehicle domain, a new world is beginning to emerge. And 5G’s key feature, network slicing, is adding real value, helping to meet the needs of the vehicle industry, especially by protecting data feeds.

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