Network Slicing know-how in the industry. My MWC19 reflections
Have we overestimated how much service providers know and are prepared to adopt network slicing technology? After meeting dozens of customers during MWC 2019, the most frequently asked questions I got from our customers were: what is network slicing? Why is it needed? How does it get better with 5G, and how can I build end-to-end slices? If you also have similar questions, please continue reading this post.
"Network slicing is a well know topic in the telecom industry” – No, it is not!
It is early in the morning, and despite a slight chill in the air, the sun is already shining bright over Barcelona old town when I leave my hotel. Once again, it’s time for thousands of people to get together for the biggest annual event of the telecom industry: the GSMA Mobile World Congress. As I try to make my way to Fira Gran Via (the event venue) despite the public transport system strike, my mind keeps working on my thirty second pitch to welcome potential customers to the network slicing/5G proof-of-concept (PoC) demo that I’d be overseeing at at the Ericsson booth.
I was prepared to spend four days mainly talking about this specific PoC, explaining how Ericsson - in collaboration with China Mobile, Kings College London and Tianjin University - combined new 5G stand-alone and network slicing technologies to realize ultra-low latency use cases. The chosen use case was remote surgery.
To my surprise, the PoC became secondary, and I would spend the week mainly talking about network slicing concepts, drivers and applications. There is still much to be understood in this area and after meeting people from dozens of Tier1s around the globe, the most commonly asked questions were:
1) What are the benefits of network slicing?
2) How can I build and end-to-end network slice?
3) What is the difference between network slicing in 5G and 4G?
So, let’s do a quick recap of some important network slicing knowledge
To do that, I will refer to two images I mainly showed during those MWC days.
Network slicing is totally use case driven. With the advent of IoT and 5G, more and more new types of use cases will emerge and demand very specific characteristics from the networks. These will vary in terms of data volumes, latency, resilience and redundancy, to mention a few. It will not be possible for service providers to build one network that excels in attending to all these different use case needs, both in a cost-efficient way and with speed, to address a multitude of new enterprise customers. (Read more on the report Network slicing economic study with British Telecom)
Instead, network slicing will be crucial to allow service providers to quickly build ‘dedicated networks’ to fulfill these needs.
Network slicing does not work on its own. To realize its full potential, it relies on a combination of different technologies. To deliver on different latency and throughput use case needs, for example, a distributed network topology (allowed by Distributed Cloud architecture) is required where Access, Transport and Core elements are placed in different sites that service the different slices’ needs. Moreover, 5G is needed to care for the very ultra-low latency needs (Critical and Industrial IoT use cases) and only with 5G Core (5GC) will it be possible to connect one user to multiple slices, allowing more advanced use cases, business model innovation and network security (e.g. automatically moving users between slices for network resources optimization, changes to user behavior or SLA).
Another important aspect is that from an operational point of view, building network slices is not simple. During the early stages, with just a handful of slices in the network, some service providers may consider the possibility of implementing a “manual” slice set-up. But as the number of slices scale up - with each one having its own life cycle, topology and services - the possibility of creating and managing slices becomes impossible without automation capabilities to set up slices, end-to-end.
At MWC we demonstrated to service providers how our portfolio and service capabilities can support them through a complete process. To learn more, I recommend you start at our Network Slicing page.
Don’t have time to read, but want to learn more about slices, end-to-end?
Watch our online webinar ‘Network Slicing: Building essential end-to-end capabilities in 4G/5G’