Q&A with ZTE’s Liu Fangfei: TSN+5G Transforms Industry

Q&A with ZTE’s Liu Fangfei: TSN+5G Transforms Industry

In the digital transformation era the integration of time-sensitive networking (TSN) and 5G offers unprecedented opportunities in the field of industrial automation and smart manufacturing.

China’s ZTE are a key player in this field with over 500 projects. Developing Telecoms recently conducted a Q&A session with Liu Fangfei, Director of Transport Network Integrated Solution at ZTE Corporation to find out more about ZTE’s vision for TSN and industrial automation.

Can you explain what Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) and precision networks are and how do they change transport networking?

Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) implements deterministic transmission in non-deterministic Ethernet. The international organisations for standardisation such as IEEE have published a series of protocol standards that define the time-sensitive mechanism for data transmission via Ethernet.

Depending on end-to-end 5G networks, precision networks can provide deterministic, precise, and guaranteed mobile network capabilities to meet differentiated service requirements on demand. In 5G networks, deterministic Service Level Agreement (SLA) guarantee is provided by the wireless network, transport network, core network, and end-to-end orchestration, among which the transport network is the basis.

By introducing and expanding FlexE and small-granularity cross timeslot, a precision 5G transport network enables the wide area transport network to transmit services with deterministic latency. By introducing Telemetry and Inband OAM, a precision 5G transport network can perceive network traffic volume and quality in real time, and further achieve precise network management and control, diagnosis and scheduling.

What are the key advantages of TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) precision networks?

Precision networks are integrated with innovative technologies including precision slicing, precision management and control, precision diagnosis and precision time synchronisation. Precision networks can support flexible slicing of 2Mbps~5Gbps and implement efficient and reliable service transmission with SLA guarantee. Minute-level automatic slice provisioning, millisecond-level network performance monitoring and end-to-end 10ns time synchronisation enable deterministic service forwarding.

How does network slicing in 5G networks interact with or enable precision networking?

The transport network provides different slicing modes of hard slicing and soft slicing. Hard slicing provides completely isolated forwarding planes to guarantee the service bandwidth and latency, which allows zero packet loss and low jitter during congestion. Soft slicing makes efficient use of the bandwidth to maximise the network resource utilisation. The precision 5G transport network can combine and deploy hard and soft slicing on demand to meet customised service requirements, providing differentiated SLA and refined network operation.

At present, the transport network can implement hard slicing based on FlexE to generate hop-by-hop or end-to-end slicing pipes. In non-FlexE scenarios, it can also implement slicing based on reserved virtual ports. It can generate dedicated bandwidth slicing with reference to RFC7625 and IETF draft (draft-filsfils-spring-srv6-stateless-slice-id-01), and generate soft slicing based on FA, SR Policy and VPN.

What is the role for TSN and precision networks in public transport networks and what business opportunities does it offer for network operators?

5G applications for vertical industries generate a variety of 5G scenarios, which pose new requirements for time synchronisation, latency determinacy, slice isolation and slice cloud service performance of 5G networks. Focusing on the pinch points and key problems in different scenarios, 5G precision transport networks provide tailored solutions for operators to achieve operation transformation to mine the network value.

TSN enables operators to build new cloud network platforms to facilitate industrial digital transformation. Moreover, it can provide differentiated service capabilities for different businesses and value-added services through new service channels.

What is the role for TSN and precision networks in private networks and what business opportunities does it offer for vertical industries?

With better understanding of the requirements of industrial customers, the precision network can accurately identify customer application features and precisely allocate network resources to provide precise and efficient services.

Precision 5G networks and other 5G systems are building new end-to-end capabilities to meet fragmentation features and differentiated requirements of vertical industries. Network slicing and edge computing are applied to implement flexible and quick deployment in vertical industry scenarios. 

In specific industry applications, the precision network selects the solution with the lowest cost while meeting the requirements. For example, slices for industrial control such as power grids require high reliability and low latency. Slices for live streaming require high bandwidth but average reliability. And slices for the financial sector require strict isolation and high security. Precision networks provide different networking profiles for diverse industry application scenarios to empower various industries with one network.

What applications will mainly benefit from this approach?

Since 2019, ZTE has assisted 500 industry-leading companies in 15 industries to carry out 5G+ digital transformation, covering education, media, industrial manufacturing, mining, agriculture, health care, logistics and entertainment, to precisely address industry needs and improve value.

In Binjiang, Nanjing, ZTE has created a benchmark for 5G intelligent manufacturing, realising 5G and automation in the entire production process. A large number of robots and Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) based on precision 5G network connections are used to achieve fully automatic production and packaging of 5G Qcell products, significantly improving the production efficiency.

One of the criticisms of commercially developed TSN is that it takes a “bottom-up” approach which fails to meet the needs of specific applications. How does ZTE’s solution address this?

Whether TSN can meet specific application requirements is not the most important issue. It is only one type of technology and it does not need to meet all application requirements. The communications industry is also exploring other technical solutions, and ZTE’s precision network is one of them. The precision network introduces FlexE and TDM technologies like small-granularity cross timeslot as well as IP deterministic technologies to meet the requirements of various industries and provide differentiated service guarantee.

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