The 5G future depends on network slicing
Of all the trends that come and go in telecoms, 5G has remained a constant theme over the past few years. There has been a perpetual stream of theories from telecommunications providers about what its deployment will enable, the challenges the industry will face, and when exactly 5G networks will be rolled out.
Yet it’s not just telcos theorising about 5G anymore; it’s a far bigger proposition. Gartner recently reported that nearly 75% of end-user organisations would be willing to pay more for 5G mobile capabilities. A broader array of industries, such as agriculture, broadcast and public safety, are all realising what 5G could offer them and what a profound impact it could have on their respective sectors, says Li-Ke Huang, Research and Technology director, Cobham Wireless.
However, the vague timeline of 5G deployment appears as a bit of a stumbling block. Whilst 84% of respondents in the same survey believed 5G would be widely available by 2020, Gartner believes that only 3% of the world’s network owning mobile CSPs will have launched it by that time. Perhaps then, for the time being, it’s more pertinent to be discussing what kind of technologies will be needed to support 5G. This is where network slicing comes in.
Network slicing will enable operators to trial potential 5G services more easily and therefore roll them out to market much faster. It will allow more than one network function to be in operation at one time, on a shared infrastructure. Subsequently, this would enable any single operator to manage multiple, unique virtual networks that would require different latency, throughput and availability.
Each of these virtual networks can be assigned a separate 5G function and allow an operator to test a plethora of 5G use cases; whether that’s data from a smart watch, a self-driving car or even a smart city.
As different 5G verticals have unique focuses, a network slicing model would ensure that each part of a system was optimised at all times. This makes it an essential part of the architecture of any 5G network. Alongside optimisation, it will help operators to reduce costs, maximise their resources and allow network operators more freedom when managing multiple networks. Slicing networks will enable operators to manage various sections independently, granting control, customisation and the chance to test new 5G services.
It is important that those involved in developing 5G connectivity ensure that they start prioritising network slicing. The need to hit interface and network function related KPIs has the potential to blinker developers over the coming years. As a result, they risk being behind the pace on the application of network slicing and subsequently, the actual deployment date of 5G.
Developers must ensure that they do not frustrate the multiple industries that are eager to use the new standard in their respective businesses by neglecting network slicing in the years leading up to the roll out of 5G.
The fervour around 5G is close to fever pitch, with sectors beyond just telecoms having a vested interest in its development and deployment. The IoT, for instance, will be completely transformed when the low latency ability of 5G enables instantaneous communication between machines and sensors.
Yet, operators need to ensure that their peripheral vision is not blinded by the end goal and that they are focussing on background technologies, such as network slicing to help them get there. After all, sometimes it’s not all about the destination, but the journey too.
The author of this blog is Li-Ke Huang, Research and Technology director, Cobham Wireless
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