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Network slicing promises to be an enabler to unlock the full value of the 5G network. To adequately support an enterprise environment with thousands of cloud, SaaS or custom applications, traffic steering in network slicing is key. In an exclusive interview, Lindsay Notwell, senior vice president, 5G strategy & global carrier operations and Lisa Guess, senior vice president, solutions engineering & sales engineering at Cradlepoint, delve into 5G-optimized SD-WAN for traffic optimization to grow secure, scalable and future-proof applications.

With 5G adoption accelerating worldwide, how can carriers benefit from network slicing to provide value to enterprise customers? 

Lindsay: A key advantage of network slicing is service differentiation. Operators can create tailored capabilities, leveraging 5G’s high throughput and low latency attributes. As opposed to prior technologies like 4G, 5G network slicing creates a different class of service that is scalable and less time-intensive to deploy.

For instance, carriers can provision a network slice in as little as 25 minutes. This allows a carrier to readily turn up or down a service. This is particularly important in public safety use cases such as video surveillance for a festival held over a weekend as an example. In this case, network slicing provides carriers the agility to create a differentiated service, oftentimes with a guaranteed service level agreement (SLA).


What limitations does network slicing have in terms of supporting enterprise applications, and how can they be addressed?

Lindsay: A carrier’s ability to support use cases such as real-time video capabilities or automated assisted driving is limited by available spectrum resources. Network slicing requires a 5G standalone network. When an operator transitions from non-standalone to standalone, we lose 5G + 4G (ENDC) carrier aggregation. Operators without an optimal spectrum position will result in slower performance for users. Having said that, we are far enough into the 5G development cycle that 5G can be stepped up given the right spectrum by using 5G NR carrier aggregation.

Lisa: More of a challenge rather than a limitation, operators must recognize that network slicing gives them a WAN technology that is not only flexible and agile but also capable of providing MPLS-like guaranteed SLAs, all leveraging a network’s end-to-end capabilities. To fully tap into the potential of network slicing, carriers must leverage SD-WAN to effectively steer traffic to the desired slice according to the application’s bandwidth, latency and performance needs. This provides network flexibility and security to support enterprise and mission-critical operations.


Can you discuss the latest trends and innovations in SD-WAN and how carriers can leverage them?

Lisa: SD-WAN is evolving to accommodate technologies in IoT, vehicles, offices and stores. At Cradlepoint, we have enhanced traditional SD-WAN for optimal 5G networks and network slicing capabilities.

Last year, we introduced NetCloud Exchange (NCX) SD-WAN as the next-generation, 5G-optimized SD-WAN. An architectural extension of our NetCloud solution, NetCloud Exchange, is a unified network that extends agility and security from the enterprise edge to the cloud. NCX SD-WAN offers secured connections, zero-trust network access, as well as traffic steering and classification to simplify the 5G experience and ease the transition from wired to wireless WAN.

It integrates Cellular Intelligence, a collection of software features built onto wireless edge routers and adapters, to provide users with optimal performance in changing cellular conditions, analytics/insights, visibility of 5G networks and traffic management. Cellular-optimized SD-WAN enables real-time traffic steering based on cellular-centric attributes to improve the quality of service, automatically identifying, labeling and sending network traffic through the highest-performing WAN link, whether that be cellular, wired, WiFi, or satellite. So, when a vehicle enters a particular area where coverage and performance are sub-optimal, traffic can be steered to the best-performing, or in some cases, the least costly route.

Beyond connectivity, what is equally important is a robust cloud-based central management tool that simplifies the monitoring and management of all connected devices. As more people, places and devices are becoming connected, NetCloud offers a single dashboard for ease of management that reduces manpower and costs.

Lindsay: As more businesses are using container applications on our endpoints to leverage secured as well as high storage and compute capabilities, we are also working with several carriers to explore a wider range of applications that can be distributed throughout their network to the cell edge for SCADA systems and IoT use cases.


Can you share any success stories or case studies of customers who have adopted your solutions and the benefits they have seen?

Lindsay: There are many interesting use cases across verticals. For instance, Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service and 5G endpoints are deployed for autonomous vessels in Amsterdam’s waterways. Vessels and connections are centrally monitored and managed, using endpoint’s built-in GPS and cellular metrics to plot the route of vessels on a map. Another use case is the mining industry in Canada, where our endpoints powered by NetCloud connect 10-meter-high autonomous earth movers that can incur a downtime cost of $100,000 per hour if connectivity is disrupted.

Our solutions also allow retailers to pivot strategies with the emergence of pop-up stores. With wireless WAN, retailers can move locations with greater flexibility, ease and security without incurring costly rewiring. A wireless secondary connection can also help to maintain network uptime, should a store temporarily lose its wired connection. This results in a reduced risk of revenue losses.

Lisa: In Australia, a non-profit employment organization replaced wired with wireless connectivity, leveraging NetCloud for centralized management of 160 offices. The all-cellular approach led to increased Capex and Opex savings, improved network uptime and greater performance and IT agility. Similarly, in the US, our all-cellular approach allows a customer to manage more than 50,000 kiosks with just one IT employee. Using NetCloud Service with wireless edge routers, cloud-managed cellular also makes provision for remote management of digital signages in different scenarios.

More than just delivering connectivity, our solutions provide the ease of deployment and management of all devices.


How do you see the wireless communications space evolving in the next few years, and what role do you see Cradlepoint playing in this evolution?

Lindsay: The potential of wireless 5G is limited only by our creativity. Increasingly, we are seeing more creative use cases in terms of how and where wireless communications are deployed. Businesses are onboarding new use cases, and we are stepping up to bridge demands in a secured and managed approach that reduces the complexity of adopting new solutions.

Lisa: From a sensor that triggers a live stream when a police officer pulls out a gun to CCTVs that detect bullying behaviors on public transport, wireless 5G is serving more and more interesting applications each day. At Cradlepoint, we are focused on becoming the tech enabler that addresses diverse enterprise and public service requirements.

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