You don’t need to wait for 5G to do slicing
There’s a lot of buzz around 5G, and one capability in particular: network slicing. 5G network slicing offers a plethora of opportunities, including the ability to identify new enterprise customers in various industries to offer highly tailored service offerings, as well as to establish revenue-generating B2B2X partnerships.
Today, many CSPs believe that slicing is something to be tackled in the long-term once they have a full standalone 5G network. However, the good news is that you don’t have to wait.
Network slicing standards are largely based on implementation within a 5G standalone (SA) network. For some CSPs, a full 5G SA build might be a reality further down the line. Right now, the first stage begins with 5G non-standalone (NSA) where 5G pieces are added on top of an existing 4G infrastructure. This means there’s potentially an environment of billions of 4G gadgets and related use cases that network slicing could support using innovative services today: from IoT and fixed-wireless access to public safety applications, event infrastructure, transportation and more.
The big deal about network slicing
Now that we are well into the 5G era, all the hype around the lucrative opportunities that comes with 5G is evident: quantum leaps in speed, throughput of data, low latencies, ultra-reliability, etc. The advantages enable operators to provide a range of new services to customers using the same physical network. When network slicing is added to the mix, operators can then create multiple virtual networks or slices, which can be leveraged for unique applications with specific requirements.
As CSPs continue to make investments in 5G, generating a return is bound to be a top concern. Multinational, Netherlands-based professional services network KPMG forecasts that with 5G, around $4.3 trillion in value is to be unlocked through identified use cases across major industries including public sector, financial services, tech, media, telecom, healthcare and more. For 5G network slicing, the ability to service all types of connectivity across a common network infrastructure, as well as enable operators to open their networks up to these industries, is key to tapping into the massive projected revenue opportunity.
A network slice – which is equipment-vendor agnostic and can span across a radio network from one or multiple vendors to the core, to a second vendor and so on – can be configured with specific characteristics such as security, speed, latency, reliability. This way, operators can tailor their network slices to effectively manage network complexities for different applications.
Revenues aside, increasing network complexity is factor that CSPs must consider. On one level, 5G networks will run on virtualized/containerized infrastructures, which are more complex to manage than physical networks. On the other, packaging and offering differentiated slices to business vertical partners/customers is a new form of business complexity that most CSPs aren’t well built to serve. On its own, each of these dimensions of complexity is a lot to handle, but when combined and happening simultaneously, it creates a perfect storm.
For operators to effectively overcome these complexities, automation is a non-negotiable. Automated network slicing can create and update slices in a dynamic manner within minutes, which crucial for combating unplanned circumstances. For example, if an accident occurs in a crowded street, a network operator can create a slice dedicated to first responders, enabling them to use mission critical applications like push-to-talk radio and drone video monitoring with stringent service-level agreements over the same physical network that is used by the general public. By doing so, it eliminates the concern for network congestion caused by passers-by who may be documenting the incident on social media.
Managing network slices can be as easy as pie
Effectively managing slices in 4G-5G hybrid networks requires a digital operations solution that complements these network-based capabilities. A digital operations solution that offers round-trip, closed-loop automation abilities, can provide CSPs a new way of running their businesses by simplifying network slice management processes and digital service lifecycles in multi-vendor, multi-domain and multi-technology environments. A digital operations solution can also support stringent service-level agreements tailored to the requirements of new vertical markets, even as network complexity increases.
Another key factor of digital operations solutions is that they can provide the orchestration layer between network controllers and commercial services, connecting the network to the business to automatically and dynamically interpret business intent into necessary configurations and settings. This streamlines the network slice design, deployment, optimization and assurance from end to end, enabling slice-based services to be produced and deployed swiftly.
On the road to 5G slicing
4G-5G slicing in hybrid networks is no longer theoretical: several vendors and operators have proven that it can be achieved through various tests and real-world deployments. For example, fixed and mobile network operator A1 Austria has tested network slicing technologies while building out its 5G network with enterprise customers such as the Austrian Federal Railways (commonly known as ÖBB) and the Vienna International Airport. Using network slices, A1 Austria can provide these customers with private networks customized to their unique specifications without having to build and maintain individual infrastructures.
Full 5G SA networks will open up even more slicing opportunities, and 4G-5G slicing orchestrated by cloud-native digital operations solutions provides an opportunity for CSPs to jump-start their journey to that future. CSPs who begin experimenting with slicing for their 4G customers today will be better equipped to tap into standalone 5G’s full potential as it unfolds.
Co-authored by Bill Stanley and Malla Poikela