The fifth generation of cellular networks or 5G promises revolutionary improvements compared to the previous generation that reaches beyond merely multiplying the bandwidth and reducing latency. 5G is expected to enable a wide range of new internet-based services such as vehicular communications and Smart City infrastructure that, in addition to connectivity, require on-demand fine-grained infrastructure and resource access to operate. Hence, the allocation of the underlying resources has to be capable of supporting and adapting to sudden changes in demand for resources and be able to flexibly provide customized bundles of resources to fit the demands of the vertical industries using the 5G infrastructure.
Entering the 5G market, an operator may experience up to 65% increase in RAN deployment and infrastructure costs . Discovering new ways to more efficiently allocate resources can, to some extent, alleviate the massive increase in the infrastructure cost. Network and infrastructure sharing is one of the solutions that could help major operators to gain considerable returns by leasing out portions of their idle resources to other service providers that o are willing to operate in the same geographical region.
A Decentralized Marketplace for Network Infrastructure Sharing
The practice of infrastructure/network sharing dates back to the previous generations of cellular networks. However, these sharing models were typically in the form of bilateral agreements and were limited to long-term sharing of passive and seldom active network resources. Such sharing models cannot support either the on-demand short term sharing requests or the larger markets where the parties involved in resource trading exceed only two operators. On the other hand, the intense competition in the telecoms industry rules out the prospect of a centralized marketplace where a trusted intermediary is in charge of the market and makes the final decision regarding the allocation of the resources and the price. Therefore, a decentralized approach is required to incentivize participation by the infrastructure providers, network operators, and over-the-top service providers.
Hyperledger Fabric blockchain technology can provide the foundation for the described decentralized marketplace where all the market players could participate in the resource allocation and pricing process in a transparent and trustworthy way and without relying on a third party.
Case Study: 5G Network Slicing
Network virtualization technology allows the division of network resources into isolated virtual slices of the network that could be then offered to other users. This creates a new business opportunity for network operators and infrastructure providers to monetize their idle resources. Therefore a new business model has been gaining attention where operators and service providers can trade network resources in a marketplace equipped with a market mechanism(e.g., auctions). The aim is to develop a marketplace that does not rely on a third-party broker to conduct the market.
Hyperledger Fabric is an open-source project that is built as a modular software so that every piece of it can be tailored into the needs of the developers. Besides, with Hyperledger Fabric, there are no coding language lock-ins as the platform does not force the developer to use a particular language for the smart contracts. Finally, compared to other blockchain frameworks, the supported high transaction throughput and low latency make it a right candidate for 5G use cases.
A number of operators and service providers are participating in a marketplace to buy/sell network slices . They each offer ask/bid prices for the offered quantity of a network slice and the smart contract that has to be endorsed by every single operator decides the final allocation and price of the network slices.
- The commodity: A network slice consisting of computing, RAN, and storage resources.
- Member organizations: Infrastructure providers, network operators, and service providers.
- Technology: Hyperledger Fabric v 1.4.1, Raft ordering service
- Architecture: Five organizations each with one peer node and 10 Raft orderers.
- The Smart Contract: A sealed-bid double-sided auction mechanism that allows bilateral trade of network slices.
The research team at Connect Centre  have developed the smart contracts and deployed the Hyperledger Fabric network on one of the major public cloud provider’s infrastructure. The results of the performance benchmarks of the blockchain solution are reported in . In addition to the 5G slicing, other resource sharing problems in 5G are expected to benefit from the blockchain technology. One other example is Virtual Network Function (VNF) marketplaces where network operators and software vendors could offer their virtualized network services such as Firewall, DNS, CDN, etc.
 Future Networks. “5G-Era Mobile Network Cost Evolution.” Accessed September 10, 2020. https://www.gsma.com/futurenetworks/wiki/5g-era-mobile-network-cost-evolution/.
 N. Afraz. and M. Ruffini, “5G Network Slice Brokering: A Distributed Blockchain-based Market,” in EuCNC conference 2020.
 CONNECT – the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Future Networks and Communications, https://connectcentre.ie/
If you’re interested in how blockchain is being used in the telecom industry, get involved with the Hyperledger Telecom Special Interest Group.
About the author
Nima Afraz is a postdoctoral researcher with Connect Centre for Future Networks and Communications, Trinity College Dublin. He is a member of Hyperledger Telecom Special Interest Group. His research interests include network economics, network virtualization and blockchain for telecoms.